I know that New Year’s resolutions are unfashionable but still, hands up those of you who are still crafting your overly ambitious list for 2019? Don’t be embarrassed, I think it is endearing. The calendar turns over and we believe we can as well, starting anew so we can achieve all we wished for the previous year but better, for now we possess the wisdom gained by not accomplishing a damn thing on last year’s list.
In this final issue of Volume 1, write your own resolution and give it to one of your characters. This is a two-week prompt and you get a whopping 1000 words to work with in this very special New Year’s issue.
I grew up with a kid named Alan. He and I had the same last initial so we were always sitting one in front of the other throughout school. Alan and I shared a love of reading and music, though on both fronts we had vastly different preferences. He liked Megadeath, I liked Bob Dylan. He liked Dean Koontz, I liked Tolstoy. To each their own, I would say now, but it is possible that I was not so open-minded in my youth. Alan, on the other hand, possessed a surprisingly liberal attitude from a young age. Alan could readily appreciate Dylan and Tolstoy whereas I could not tolerate Megadeath or Koontz. I found it particularly irksome when Alan went through a copycat stage with his writing, mimicking Steven King and Dean Koontz in the stories that he wrote for English class. After perhaps a little too much complaining on my part, he wrote a story that featured me.
It was not a long story. Basically, I went over to his house to spend the night with his younger sister and he invited me out for a walk. Living in Florida, there was naturally a swampy area along the path which made it easy for him to tie me up, duct-taping my mouth first, of course, and push me into the water, where I was immediately devoured by alligators. I thought it was hilarious and I did let up on the complaining after that.
Five years ago, Alan died, just a few days shy of his thirty-fourth birthday. His death was sudden and heartbreaking for everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. Today, November 26th, was Alan’s birthday. In honor of my horror-loving childhood friend, I am asking you writers out there to craft some horror stories that would make Dean Koontz’s skin crawl. And, due to the fact that I am busy with the print edition, I am giving you two weeks to complete your stories with an expanded word count of 1000. Let the blood ink flow, writers.
The quiet of the world as it turns from night to day. The light just before sunrise, dim and yet somehow everything is visible, still but visible. Emptied streets, shuttered shops, a lone runner. A few birds stir but hold their songs until the great star shows itself again, as if they are unsure that the cycle will continue to repeat itself. There are lesser stars still in the sky, minor in their distance and influence. The moon seems listless, already fading. A young woman looking old sleeps on the bus stop bench, torn tights and black leather boots, her purse serving as a pillow. For her, dawn is not a beginning but the end of a long night of flashing lights and dizzy laughter, of hoping strangers would be anything but. The first bus of the day approaches, its driver used to collecting stray people. The sky shifts from lavender to pink and the birds let loose their pent-up melodies. A new day has dawned.
This week, include dawn in your stories, whether it be as setting, action, or person. Dawn can have many different meanings: I want you to choose one to weave into your story.
As always, 500 words or less. Submit by Thursday, November 15th here.
For this week, let’s include a tree. Or trees. Include a primeval forest if you like, or perhaps a petrified one. You do not need to anthropomorphize them into characters, though you certainly could if you wished. Perhaps they are magic, perhaps they are giving, perhaps they are rotten, perhaps they contain treasure. Or perhaps a tree just casts a shadow in a bedroom where a woman lies weeping after being forsaken by her lover. After all, trees exist in the background of our lives, only coming to our attention when they blush into beautiful pinks or crush a garage during a hurricane.
((Oh, and I included the Japanese up there because it just seemed appropriate: it is the kanji for ki (tree) and mokuyobi (Thursday). ))
Oh, and the podcast is on the way (it is hard to record in a house crowded with people and with night construction banging along outside my window for the past week) and I will contact the two author’s for the next podcast today.
There are still a few days left to nominate a story for The Pushcart Prize. I have received a lot so far but would like to hear from as many readers as possible.
Have you ever known someone described (or self-described) as a saint? A holier-than-thou individual whom you could never warm up to, for some reason? Or maybe you have encountered a bonafide, no-cynicism-necessary saint, one that lit up the world with goodness. Or maybe we are discussing those who were officially declared saints, like Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of beekeepers, or Saint Bibiana who was abused by a lesbian and eventually killed by the Governor of Rome but died with a smile on her face. (In fact, there is a whole treasure trove of possible stories with just the Catholic saints alone because they were often canonized for weird feats, like causing their fathers to burst into flames postmortem- see Saint Barbara.)
This week, in honor of All Saint’s Day (11/1- when your stories are due), let’s bring out the saints in whatever form they appear. Include one character in your story who fits some definition of a saint.
What was that?
Just there out of the corner of your eye? Was it the girl you have a crush on, looking your way? Was it your husband, checking illicit text messages? Was there something there in the shadows, waiting for you to pass? Your partner checking his gun before getting out of the patrol car to investigate a strange man, laying on the sidewalk? A moth fluttering around a streetlamp?
This week, dear readers, I want you to look at what you cannot see directly. Explore your character’s peripheral vision, what is possible to discern and how they infer that sideways information.
As always, 500 words or less due by Thursday at 8 pm EST.
In Japanese, the kanji for autumn has two radicals: grains and fire (秋). Before living here, I did not understand how this came to be but if you happen to visit a rural landscape in September and October, you’ll have an immediate explanation: after the farmers harvest the rice and late summer vegetables, they burn the dead plants in giant bonfires in the middle of their fields. Japan is a mountainous nation and the farms lie in the nutrient-rich valleys, dissected by streams. In the countryside during autumn, if you manage to ascend to even a slight elevation, you are afforded the sight of smoke rising over shorn squares of yellow and brown, crisscrossed with rivers, usually running full from seasonal rains and passing typhoons. Autumn has become a smoky season for me.
Thus the decision to use the word fire for this week’s prompt, coming just after the autumnal equinox (for us inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere, at least). It is a heavy word, weighted with possibility. Fire played a significant role over the course of humanity’s evolution and while many no longer encounter physical flames directly, it still exists as a regular linguistic feature in metaphors, verbs, and adjectives.
Fanning the flames. A flicker of recognition. I’m on fire. Burning with desire.
So, dear writers, this week I am giving you permission to play with fire.