Fast Fiction: It Doesn’t Make Me Want to Buy Fabric Softener

September 2, 2017

1986-bounce-fabric-softener-commercial_1681600Hello everyone,

It’s time for another pre-scheduled addition to my fast fiction series. For more information about this, I encourage you to give this post a read.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how this works:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random during one of my monthly writers’ group meetings. I will label that prompt at the top and where I use it in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all these posts set up to go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

And that’s it. Here we go.

Prompt:

She was suddenly full of feelings about herself in the city, graceful urgent feelings of sunlight and release.

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Fast Fiction: Lend Me Your Car (A Farce)

August 19, 2017

carkeysHello everyone,

As I have mentioned several times now since this post, I have decided to pre-schedule a series of posts based around writing exercises I’ve done during my monthly writers’ group meetings.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how this works:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random, and I will label that prompt at the top and where I use it in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all these posts set up to go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

And that’s it. Here we go.

Prompt:

More than that, by God, I cannot do!

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Fast Fiction: Motorcycle Drivers are Philanthropists, or at Least the Unselfish Ones

August 5, 2017

TerminatorFootHello everyone,

As I mentioned last month in this post, I’ve decided to pre-schedule a new series of blog posts based around writing exercises I’ve done during my monthly writers’ group meetings. This is the third that I will be sharing, and like the first two I feel it stakes out some contrasting ground for the ground and tone I want to cover in these displays of fast fiction.

Okay, as with all the posts in this series, let’s begin with a rundown of  the rules:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random, and that prompt will appear clearly labelled before the fiction and then clearly labelled again where it appears in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? It’s more impressive showing how few mistakes I made and what I managed to do in the time allotted rather than correcting my errors or improving my first efforts for the sake of appearances. The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt, what I was trying to do, what I am happy with, what I am unhappy with, and some other general thoughts. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all my blog posts set up to automatically go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I would not want to find myself in the midst of a happy moment or a sad moment tweeting some piece of irrelevant and therefore inappropriate short prose. Hopefully a 3 am posting time will keep me clear of that concern. I also reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

With all that said, let’s go!

Prompt:

On the sticky paper next to my bare ass was a Polaroid picture of my foot that no one wanted.

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Fast Fiction: My Little Town

August 5, 2017

HawkFencepostHello everyone,

As I some of you may remember from  this post, I have decided to pre-schedule a series of posts based around writing exercises I’ve done during my monthly writers’ group meetings. This is the fourth in that series.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how this works:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random, and I will label that prompt at the top and where I use it in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all these posts set up to go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I would not want to find myself in the midst of a happy moment or a sad moment tweeting some piece of irrelevant and therefore inappropriate short prose. I also reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

And that’s it. Here we go.

Prompt:

I don’t say I love it. I was born there is all.

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Fast Fiction: It Came From Above

July 22, 2017

FlyingSaucerHello again everyone,

As I mentioned in this post, I’ve decided to pre-schedule a series of blog posts based around writing exercises I’ve done over the last couple of years as part of my monthly writers’ group. This is the second that I will be sharing, and I chose it to go second both because I like it a lot, and also because it’s a stark contrast to the first one I posted. I might as well show some range as long as I am getting this idea up and running.

So, with that introduction done, I said I would start each one with a quick recitation of the rules:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random, and that prompt will appear clearly labelled before the fiction and then clearly labelled again where it appears in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? It’s more impressive showing how few mistakes I made and what I managed to do in the time allotted rather than correcting my errors or improving my first efforts for the sake of appearances. The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt, what I was trying to do, what I am happy with, what I am unhappy with, and some other general thoughts. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all my blog posts set up to automatically go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I would not want to find myself in the midst of a happy moment or a sad moment tweeting some piece of irrelevant and therefore inappropriate short prose. Hopefully a 3 am posting time will keep me clear of that concern. I also reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

With all that said, let’s go!

Prompt:

She turned to the television screen waiting for me to finish my sentence. I didn’t because I couldn’t.

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Introducing a New Recurring Blog Feature: Fast Fiction

July 12, 2017

fastfictionHello everyone!

It’s been a crazy few months. Since you last heard from me on this blog Vice Media commissioned me to write and narrate an animated short that aired on HBO; the New York Times and NPR interviewed me about it; I began collaborating on a film project, and I finished my fourth novel less than a year after publishing my last one. You will hear a lot more about that from me soon on that last one, I assure you.

With all that happy news being said, I do regret how rarely I post here. Since launching this blog back in 2009 I’ve joined Twitter, I’ve launched a Facebook page, and I published my novels through Amazon. I’ve also switched jobs six times and moved three or four times. A lot has happened, and somehow I have fallen away from regularly contributing to this site.

I have an idea that would change that.

Two and a half years ago I joined a monthly writers’ group, and I give them all the credit in the world for helping me develop my craft and motivating me to stick with a first draft all the way through to the finish. When people ask me about the writers’ group I say, “I wrote two novels in my twenties, and I’ve written two novels in the last two years since joining the group.” It really has been a terrific experience, and we begin each and every single meeting by picking a sentence at random out of a book, thinking about it for a couple of minutes, and then writing a piece of fast fiction –ten or fifteen minutes, no edits, and being required to use the prompt sentence at some point– that we then read to each other before moving on to talking about everyone’s projects in earnest.

Some of this fast fiction is not bad. Don’t get me wrong: Some of it is awful, and I will not be sharing anything I deem awful here, but some of it is actually pretty damned good for a first pass on very short notice,  and even the ones that failed to get where I wanted them to go might be worth discussing from a writer’s perspective of analyzing missed opportunities.  Whatever the case may be, I am sitting on easily a year’s worth of good content that I can queue up and forget about. Having that much stuff ready to publish whether I want it or not might even shame me into contributing more regularly for the sake of variety if nothing else.

So, with all that said, let.s have a few rules in place before I jump in headfirst. My friends will probably chortle that it has taken me this long to put some fences around this whole thing. Yes, I do have rules in mind:

Rule #1: I will repeat these rules at the top of every entry so readers who come across this blog at random do not need to seek out the original thread. I guess this first one doesn’t need to be mentioned every time, but let’s say moving forward I will link here for the sake of people who might want the preamble.

Rule #2: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random, and that prompt will appear clearly labelled before the fiction and then clearly labelled again where it appears in the prose.

Rule #3: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #4: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? It’s more impressive showing how few mistakes I made and what I managed to do in the time allotted rather than correcting my errors or improving my first efforts for the sake of appearances. The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #5: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt, what I was trying to do, what I am happy with, what I am unhappy with, and some other general thoughts. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #6: I have all my blog posts set up to automatically go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am. I would not want to find myself in the midst of a happy moment or a sad moment tweeting some piece of irrelevant and therefore inappropriate short prose. Hopefully a 3 am posting time will keep me clear of that concern. I also reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

And that’s it. Let’s begin! For the first one I’m going to wave Rule #6. I know when this is going out. I will also confess I am rather happy with this one. I am picking and choosing the order I post these writing exercises, so I will start off with one of my best feet forward. Here we go!

Prompt:

Even when we drew close, he remained utterly absorbed in his work.

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How Would Every Canadian Prime Minister Fare as Hockey Goons in a Bench-Clearing Brawl?

February 25, 2017
MuseeMcCordMuseum.jpg

Credit Musee McCord Museum

Hello everyone!

I expect most of you reading this have already heard of my most successful blog post ever, “In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why?”

One afternoon’s puttering around Wikipedia almost five years ago has now gone viral twice and taken on a life of its own, evolving into a Vice Media animated short that recently aired on HBO, as well as a mention in the New York Times. This Monday I am looking forward to being interviewed for Wisconsin Public Radio’s/Public Radio International’s Peabody Award-winning program, TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE. The show will air on more than 200 public radio stations across the United States. In anticipation of that interview, I thought I would write something new.

While discussing that fun hypothetical knife fight with people, I have been asked several times how I thought Canada’s prime ministers might do in the same situation.

I confess, I just cannot image any of Canada’s PMs in a knife fight. Where America’s pantheon of presidents is stocked with many soldiers, sailors, airmen, farmers, captains of industry, actors, and other exciting figures to add spice to the more typical lawyers and career politicians, that is not really Canada’s strong suit. We tend to enjoy our lawyers and our career politicians. Sometimes we find a doctor or a publisher and persuade them to become a career politician, but that is about as far as we go.

While researching this piece, I cannot say categorically that any of Canada’s prime ministers have ever fired a shot in anger, despite several of them serving during the world wars. They just don’t seem to be a violent bunch. Even assuming you could gather all of Canada’s prime ministers together and give them knives, I doubt even one of them would do anything with it. No, if I was ever going to write a Canadian equivalent to my most popular piece, I would need to find a Canadian way to do it.

Last week as I was explaining my line of reasoning to the New York Times reporter, she said, “You mean like a hockey fight?”

Yes. Like a hockey fight. That will do nicely! In a fit of enthusiasm I started firing off brainstorming ideas. She stopped me, asking, “Sorry, what’s ‘jerseying?’ ” As an American, she was unfamiliar with the term, but she promised to run everything I was saying by her Canadian editor later. That is when I knew I could have a lot of fun with this.

2007_memorial_cup_towelsI began the American knife fight with an explanation of the ground rules. I suppose I should do the same here:

  1. Every Canadian prime minister will be assigned to either the Liberal team –The Grits– or the Conservative team –The Tories– based on their politics. Players will not be allowed to fight with their own teammates, even if they really, really want to. (I’m thinking of Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien as I say that.)
  2. For the purposes of this mental exercise we shall imagine the two teams clearing their benches and fighting on the ice in an otherwise empty regulation-sized rink. The stands will be empty. The fight is happening whether the participants want it to happen or not, but how they act in the brawl is still very much up to them.
  3. For the sake of including the NDP even though they have never formed a government, the two most famous NDP leaders, Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent, will act as referees.
  4. As the vast majority of readers are going to be more familiar with the most recent prime ministers, I shall walk through the characters in reverse chronological order.
  5. On that note, I do not expect readers to know much at all about many of these figures, so I expect each prime minister will end up getting a lengthier write up than was the case with the American presidents. When I wrote about JFK, people did not need to be brought up to speed. Lester B. Pearson might need some context, even thought they were contemporaries.

With all that said, let’s go!

trudeauboxing

Credit CTV.

Justin Trudeau
#23 Liberal

Canada’s current Prime Minister is the perfect person to start off a conversation about fisticuffs. We literally have video footage of him winning a boxing match against a larger Tory opponent narrated by an arch-conservative pundit who grows less and less enthralled as the match goes on. The younger Trudeau is a trained pugilist, a natural athlete, one of the youngest men on this hypothetical sheet of ice, and his father will be there to have his back. I expect he will cut a path through the Tories until Stephen Harper explains to some of his Tory teammates just what the Trudeau boys are all about. Hockey fights tend to be one-on-one, but in bench-clearing brawls, four or five guys might join forces to mess up our PM’s pretty face. It would be quite a sight to see, though!

Stephen Harper
#22 Conservative

harperhockey

Credit Huffington Post.

Canada’s most recent conservative prime minister is an unapologetic hockey nerd. While governing Canada with a firm hand for almost a decade, he still managed to carve out enough time to write a deep and dense academic tome on the history of hockey in Toronto from 1906 to 1911. Stephen Harper is going to love playing some old-timey hockey with some old-timey Conservatives. He’s going to be pissed that the game is being interrupted for a bench-clearing brawl, and he’s going to be super-pissed that Young Justin is doing better than people thought he would. Stephen hates when that happens.

Now some say Stephen Harper isn’t a scrapper, but that man ruled his party with an iron fist for so long they are still trying to pick up the pieces now that he’s gone. The man is used to getting what he wants, and he wants to win! On the ice, he’s going to drop his gloves, square off with at least one of the Trudeaus, and I have no doubt he will do The West proud. The question is, will the rest of the Tories be able to help him?

Paul Martin
# 21 Liberal

paul-martin-budget-parliament-1997-4397768-tom-hanson-cp

Credit Canadian Business

The fact that I cannot easily find a picture of former prime minister Paul Martin wearing a hockey jersey for a Canadian team does not bode well for him in this blog post. Another thing that isn’t going to go well for him? I distinctly remember when he was prime minister, the yard signs during the federal election read, “Team Martin” in huge letters with “Liberal Party of Canada” in itty-bitty print down in the bottom right-hand corner. When Paul Martin was in charge, he purged his party of all of his predecessor’s people and tried to remake the Big Red Machine in his own image. The Big Red Machine then proceeded to break down spectacularly.

I somehow expect playing on a team made up of the pistons and cogs of the Big Red Machine is not going to work out well for Martin.

Now I have already said in the rules of this hypothetical exercise that Paul Martin is not allowed to sucker punch Jean Chrétien when he is not looking, but that is not to say he isn’t going to skate up behind him with his fist cocked until he is intercepted by Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent. On the whole sheet of ice, that will be the only fight they break up before even a blow is swung.

Martin will demand, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Jack will politely point out he very nearly became prime minister because the Liberals spent ten years in the wilderness recovering from Martin’s tenure as party leader. Shaken, Martin will spend the rest of the brawl on the bench trying to scribble out legacy-saving memoirs on the coach’s white board while staring daggers at his former boss and muttering, “It’s all his fault!” Who am I talking about? A man named…

Jean Chrétien
#20 Liberal

shawinigan-handshake

Credit Toronto Star

The man. The legend. The inventor of the “Shawinigan Handshake” where you grab your opponent by the throat and shake him like a rag doll until he blacks out or apologizes for invading your personal space.

I really like Chrétien’s chances in a hockey brawl. I really do.

A quick pass through his Wikipedia page offers still more promises of on-ice mayhem: As a young man, Chrétien was renowned for his love of violence. He was the neighbourhood bully, known to be quick with a punch and possessing a, quote, “Atrocious temper.”

When asked by a journalist what he was best at when he was in school, he replied, “Street fighting.”

Well, Jean grew up to be a big boy indeed. Six feet tall may not seem that exceptional, but he is also strong as an ox: When I was a student, I had a picture taped up on my dorm room wall of him carrying three two-fours of beer by himself up a flight of stairs in the West Block of Parliament in Ottawa. It was a very Canadian picture. On the ice, I expect him to be a natural two-fisted fighter without a lot of patience for sizing up his opponents or thinking about his footwork. When he does go down, he will go down swinging. Hopefully he will have his deaf ear turned towards Martin cheering from the Grits’ bench.

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