Nov 30, 2011

Dandelion Mist

The twins whispered of revenge beside the rampant marble griffin that darkened the town square. It was a bitter day of drizzle, good for the gray fungi that stained every house door.

Paradise Encrypted

I fell asleep to the whistle and crack of far-off mortar fire, shivering under the standard-issue blanket. I fell asleep cursing the thermal implants that refused to warm me, but the wretched bastards on the other side of the wall had worse things to worry about.

Nov 26, 2011

What can Jim Henson teach you about writing?

"The most sophisticated people I know -
Inside they're all children."

Jim Henson (1936-1990) was an American puppeteer – and the Patron Wizard of Fun.

Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi, home to the evocatively-named Southern Whispers restaurant on Nelson St., which is now included in the Mississippi Blues Trail.

As an adult, Jim would state that the arrival of his family’s first TV was a pivotal event in his teens. He cited the puppetry work of Burr Tillstrom as a definite influence.


In 1954, still in high school, Jim Henson began working for WTOP-TV, making puppets for a Saturday morning children’s show. After high school, he enrolled in college as an arts major but would graduate with – guess what – a B.S. in home economics.

Jim Henson’s TV work and interest in puppetry would lead to a series of zany commercials for Wilkins Coffee. Henson produced more than 300 of these ads. The frog-like spokesman for Wilkins Coffee is clearly a forerunner to Kermit the Frog. 



The Muppets, Henson’s best-known ‘children,’ first appeared in two TV pilots, produced in 1974 and 1975. The Muppet Show would premiere in 1976.

The Muppet Show title card.
Through the show, we got to meet such perennial figures as the Swedish Chef:


Beaker, who used to freak the hell out of a younger me. The, ahem, beaker-faced muppet appears out of his usual lab setting in this video.



And, of course, Kermit and Miss Piggy. I am not ashamed to say Piggy was one of my earliest crushes. Yes, I was an odd child.


So, what can Jim Henson teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Nov 25, 2011

Set Your Phasers on Heartbreak

That morning did not truly begin until Pandora emptied the milk bottle and found a wedding ring at the bottom. She fetched her reading glasses and wiped the ring clean. On the inside, only a name and a number – “Dorothy, 3312.”

Zippermouth

Pete Franzetta kissed his lottery ticket and turned the key on the ignition. The engine hacked and sputtered.
“I’m getting rid of you, you piece of junk,” Pete said.
“Piece of junk,” a voice echoed outside. It made the car frame shudder.
A naked, grey-skinned toddler sat beside Franzetta. 

Nov 23, 2011

Bad Girls Must Drink the Devil's Tea

Maeve crawled on hands and knees among the steaming vats, looking for the red mouse with golden eyes. The scullery maids ignored Maeve, except for Mama Moonface. She sneaked up on the crawling girl and delivered a sidewise kick to her bottom. Maeve lunged and slipped on the wet floor.

The Angels of Provenance

The washerwomen kept singing even as the rider dismounted and hooked his thumbs in the red leather gun belt and flashed a set of ebony teeth that lent him the seeming of a mummified saint.
“A man rode through here just now,” he said.
The washerwomen kept singing.

Nov 19, 2011

What can Ben Stiller teach you about writing?


Ben Stiller (b. 1965) is an American actor, comedian and producer.

Born to the husband-and-wife comedy team Stiller and Meara, Ben grew up around showbiz people – not a traditional upbringing, as he would remark later in life.

His acting debut came at age ten, as a guest on his mother’s TV show. Stiller joined the cabaret circuit after he graduated from high school, opening* for Jadin Wong, a Chinese-American dancer and comedienne who started singing in public at the age of 6 and performed ballet well into her 90s. Ben called her “the original Dragon Lady.”
*Wong’s opening act before Ben Stiller: Barbra Streisand.

Stiller attacks every role with the intensity of a man on the verge of a psychotic episode. If he were a brand mascot, he’d be the Energizer bunny. You know those brief moments onscreen when he stops talking? Look at his eyes. It’s all he can do not to burst.

So, what can Ben Stiller teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Nov 18, 2011

Shoot Down a Star For Me

At one in the afternoon on a hot December day, I loaded my wand with spirits of Mercury and set off for my grandmother’s cave with my faithful rats in tow.

Two degrees west of the Southern Cross, an X-band satellite turned.

Factory Fresh

The six-year-old prophet climbed into a shipping crate and helped himself to the stacks of chocolate he found there.

A small crowd chanted his name beneath a white canvas and sweated in the glare of unforgiving lights.

Meanwhile, the child prodigy ate his way to a coma.

Nov 16, 2011

The Carpet-weaving Show

Gayatri stayed up all night picking her nose, hiding the fruits of her labor behind the five seater in the living room. Her team toiled away in the B workroom – Gayatri called it “the sweatshop.” The producers turned up the air conditioning in the house, slowly but steadily.

Polyester Sun

She rocked back and forth, wearing down the plastic leather seat. The man who slipped into the booth and sat beside her looked much younger than he was supposed to.
“You’re fifty years late,” she said.
“Got held in traffic,” he said.
“Buried two husbands waiting for you,” she mumbled.

Nov 12, 2011

What can Bill Murray teach you about writing?

Photo by Paul Sherwood

I came very, very close to writing about Darth Vader but then decided Bill Murray would make a richer subject. The Dark Lord of the Sith may yet make an appearance – stay tuned.

Bill Murray (b. 1950) is an American actor and urban legend. Murray is part troll, part trickster god, all actor. And if you’re reading this, it’s probably because he makes you laugh.

He was born and raised in Wilmette, Illinois, a bedroom community which is home to one of the seven Baha’i temples in the world. Wilmette is located on the ancestral home of the Potawatomi, the “keepers of the fire,” who took part in the Beaver Wars. Isn’t that epic? But I digress.

Because the family didn’t have much money, Bill’s widowed mother pressed Bill and his eight brothers and sisters into finding work. Murray attended a Jesuit High School, working as a golf caddy to pay tuition costs.

Second City Chicago, an improvisational comedy troupe, was where Bill got his start as an actor. Having spent years doing television work, first on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell (a short-lived ABC show) and then on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, he finally got his first starring role on the Canadian comedy Meatballs, directed by Ivan Reitman, of Ghostbusters fame.

So, what can Bill Murray teach you about your craft?

Nov 11, 2011

And You Call Yourselves Witches

I was expecting black robes, pig’s blood and off-key chanting in a windowless room.

They sat me down in front of a blazing hearth, and McElvoy slipped a fat cigar between my fingers before I could say No, thanks.

“What’s your poison?” he asked. I swear he winked at me.

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

This time, I'm going to give you something different. An ending.



“Oops,” said Wilmington, covering his mouth with both hands. Brett felt a tightness in his sphincter, as if it were trying to climb up his rectum and hide somewhere danker and safer. “I’m almost afraid to ask,” said Brett. He swallowed. “You didn't forget to lock up the geese, did you?”

*

Other unusual prompts:
Seven Headlines That Will Make You Doubt My Sanity

Nov 9, 2011

Blazek's Carrier Wave

A plane flew over the stadium, white and blue and roaring. It pulled Carey’s mind off the game for a nanosecond and the pigskin caught him above the clavicle, crushing his windpipe.

The pain was a burst of music, a dominant seventh exploding in his skull.

The Lab is No Place for the Fearful

A liquid disease. Krausberg held the vial up to the light and shook it gently. What would they taste like, those quiet microscopic swimmers? A sunbeam played through the glass and the vial shimmered.

Krausberg drank the myriad in one gulp.

Nov 5, 2011

What can Winston Churchill teach you about writing?

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” 

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was a British politician and statesman who served two terms as Prime Minister and led the United Kingdom through the horrors of World War II.

Churchill opposed Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement toward the Nazis. He would succeed Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940 and his ability to capture hearts and minds would bring him everlasting fame. 

Winston Churchill is the only British Prime Minister to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Words were indeed friends to the man, and performed admirable tricks for him. A Time writer would observe that “Hitler uses words as poison gas; Churchill uses them as a broadsword.”

So, what can Winston Churchill teach you about writing a novel, story or play?

Nov 4, 2011

The Silver Hand at my Throat

Notto was born dead to a dead mother, but then he breathed. Notto’s aunt wrapped him in her shawl. The townsfolk would take stones and mash his new life to a pulp.
“Give him up,” said the reeve. “He’s all wrong. Bring down a plague on our houses.” 

The Secret Sunbather

Out in back behind the tool shed there was a patch of verdant grass that the neighborhood cameras knew nothing about.

Chucky Millionz leaned against the shed and rifled through the bag he pried from the dead fingers of a Greek Orthodox priest.   

Nov 3, 2011

Can You Write 200 Words? Then Read This

Here’s a challenge –

Write a 200-word piece of flash fiction including at least ten of the following words:

fulsome
lope
jasmine
succotash
petrosomatoglyph
fie
bioluminescent
avow
peyote
Tlaloc
deliquescent
incur
stentorian
zap
Altai
ogle
perambulate
stucco
pugnacious
dinar
bagpipes
field marshal
plead
transplutonian
nightgown
bassoon
sigh
frieze
shoplifter
minestra
gasp
cider
mephitic
feckless
catwalk
maulstick
tremble
assuage
disgorge
promenade

I’ll post the craziest story/stories right here on the blog, tweet the hell out of them, interview you and generally fawn over you until you find yourself wanting to beat me back with a nail-studded shillelagh. In short, I'll be your no. 1 fan for weeks. Except I won't stalk you or try to get in bed with you, because I have a day job. 


See? It's like having an obsessive fan without the obsessy parts. Or squeeing/raving/foaming at the mouth.

Think you can handle it? Then e-mail me your stories at startyournovel.jmb@gmail.com. You have until December 15.

Dr. House's great-great-great-grandfather
wants you to do it.

Nov 2, 2011

Mr. Lindwaldock's Day Out

A Fabergé snuff box

Cabbages, cabbages as far as the eye could see. Manfred Lindwaldock was adrift, a skipperless boat on bandy legs. He loosened his cravat. So purgatory was a cabbage patch – how droll. Manfred sighed. At least he still had a full snuff box.

Something buzzed in his pocket. Manfred… remembered!

*

As for what Manfred remembered, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

I Ain't Cut Out for the Mech Life

Little men in overalls busied themselves with my exoskeleton while the kid made me a solid hyper-protein breakfast. I shouldn’t have come to Yakima – it’s Bigfoot country out here.

The kid approached me, holding a breakfast cartridge.
“How are your vents this morning?” he asked.