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Flash Fiction Friday: Add your own in the comments!

4 May

If you are reading this, return the favor: let us read you! Or don’t. We don’t want to be pushy. But if you are so inclined, we want to start up Flash Fiction Fridays and it’ll be so much more fun with more people playing along.

Flash fiction goes by many different names and has about as many definitions. For our purposes, though, it’s gonna be anything under 500 words. So, air any ideas, characters, or situations that you just can’t shake. Make shit up or tell us the truth, it’s all the same in fiction. After all, if fiction is “the lie that tells a truth”(via John Dufresne), it stands to reason that it is also the truth told as a lie.

Here’s mine:

The place is empty on a Friday, which works well for him. He retrieves the blanket from his bottom drawer and unfurls his yoga mat in the copy room (where it is warmest). It never gets completely dark – the exit signs glow even in the daylight and at night they light up whole sections of the office like an unholy waiting room, where you sit can for years before one of Satan’s bureaucratic minions calls you to the window. It is a lot like that in the daylight too. And even he is a lot like his daytime self. He is supine, not seated, but his mind cranks around things that are not real to him and he wonders what everyone does with their lives if they don’t do this.

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I intend…

29 Mar

I intend.  I intend.  I intend.  I believe in my intuitive abilities.  I alone create my reality.  I am creator.  My reason for living is to evolve creatively and spiritually, and to bring light and understanding to this world, my world, this layer of reality that I am presently existing within.  These are concepts I’ve been exploring in efforts to become effective and complete.  All of these ideas will come.  I understand that they must come effortlessly, fluidly, naturally.  I am opening, like petals of a flower, organic and true.  I am listening.  I am watching.  I am still.

My dreams whisper a story, my story.  Like a sweet child’s breath, my ear tingles and I know the words.  Where is this place?  What shall I do?  Please guide me.

Thank you.

I recently read “The Bringers of the Dawn” a book by Barbara Marciniak.  It was written in the early 1990s.  Many of the concepts are far out.  But I found the book to be a beacon.  A route to self-discovery.  A spark.  A support.  And a welcome tool full of encouragement to think freely.  To own your actions.  To take back power.  To break free of one’s accepted concepts and unchallenged, core fundamentals.  And to suspend thought long enough…  To fly.  To float.  To fall.  To awaken.  To rise.  To recreate.

There are many moments, images, memories or projections that I remember.  That I have carried with me on my journey.  Sometimes it’s a smell, a feel, a flicker of light or a sense.  Some have been with me since I was a child.  Others have accumulated with my experiences.  Until now, I have guessed at their meaning.  The sun beaming through me.  My feet in the cool wet sand.  I am young.  And I’m holding someone’s hand.  I’m enveloped and it’s gone.  Sometimes there’s no visual, just the sense of that moment.  A smell of the salt in the ocean air.  The warmth and protection.  The love.

I dream things that happen in my life before they happen.  I call that Deja Vu.  And when I get these feelings or Deja Vu, I have come to accept it as a sign that I’m taking the right path.  I’m going in the right direction.  This has been a comfort.  The only real way to check myself.  But then I read “Bringers” and at a crucial moment in the book, all of these seemingly random events collided and strung together like DNA connecting into a helix.  The gravity of a thought catapulted me through time, collapsing sheets of dimensions into one.  Could it be that this book was written for me?  Dawn?  Taking all of these multitudes of people, passing the book from person to person, until it finally reached me?  Until the moment in time when I might be receptive to the concept?  Using all of the words that I use, that speak directly to my sense of self?  Willing it.  Remembering that I am a renegade.  I am here to to break the system.  To bring the dawn.  To ground the message.  A tidal wave of light that will bring enlightenment, finally, and destruction of old ideologies.  We have all been working on this. I am not that ego-centric.  But my role is in the last chapter.  And now I am the main character.  And those memories and unplaceable experiences that have floated just out of reach of my comprehension have meaning.  Grave meaning.  Being born with all of the knowledge.  Only needing the understanding that I must trust myself.  My four year-old voice “No regrets.”  My six year-old voice, “Mom, the magic is gone.”  Born a healer.  A self-proclaimed old soul.  “This will be my last life, ” thinks the two year-old.  This is why Peter killed himself.  This is why Grandpa Jack died.  All soldiers.  Bringing.

My son was to be named Orion.  I was to be named Dawn.  This is our disguise.  Hurdles.  Thwarted.  Almost lost.  And one book.  Many voices channelled by one.  This is my journey.  This is why I am here.  I am a renegade.  I am Dawn.

—Real thoughts by Leigh Stimolo ©2012 and the beginning of my next creative work.  Novel or screenplay?  Still to be decided.

The Playlist Plot

14 Mar

It started as a game over dirty martinis. I’d pick a song, then Charles would pick one, but with two writers playing it lasted all of one round before we had characters and a story playing out before us, one song choice at a time.

I started with “Bang, Bang” by Nancy Sinatra and Charles answered with “Rock On” by David Essex. So: Nancy  killed someone and she and her boyfriend David took to the road. Sure, the lyrics can literally tell the story but it was the music even more than the words that drew us on.

When words are your medium, I think it’s inevitable that you feel the enormity of possibilities offered in other intense, emotional, but inarticulate art forms like music, visual art – even film, as much a visual as it is words in a script. In writing you are tied to the linear lines of the sentences used to draw characters, plots and scenes. But the music, the image – so much can be communicated in that fraction of a second it takes the brain to interpret light or sound and so much more directly and open to interpretation of the viewer, listener.

Of course there is a voice when it comes to music or images – someone decided which notes in what key, someone decided which object and the depth of light and shadow – but the voice is so much more overt in writing where there’s a narrator (even a disembodied, omniscient one) telling you what and how things are happening. No matter how subtly you write, the voice is the mediator between reader and story. And I could write reams, grinding the narrative to a halt, and still miss some of the wordless connections that are communicated in just one frame of film, the blink of an eye.

But the fact is, the viewer, listener, reader supplies their own narrative over the image, sound or prose in front of them. For the writer, the challenge is to tell the story so as to leave enough room for the reader’s own parallel story as they process the words in front of them. As the playlist grew, it was exciting to see how we layered our stories, our characters’ stories, over the lyrics and music.

In the end, we’d decided to work out a screenplay which should prove to be an interesting exercise in collaboration. I’ve read some of Charles’ work and am excited to get a window into his process.  Until then, here’s our raw material. It makes for good, atmospheric listening and trust me, it is gonna be a great story.

“Bang, Bang” by Nancy Sinatra
“Rock On” by David Essex
“Dancing in the Moonlight” by The Smashing Pumpkins
“Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen
“Never Let Me Down Again” by The Smashing Pumpkins
“You Said Something” by PJ Harvey
“Milton Road” by Mice Parade
“I Wanna Be Adored” by The Stone Roses
“I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen
“Hamlet (Bang Bang Bang)” by The Birthday Party (Nick Cave!)
“Love Is Blind” by Alicia Keys
“My Sword Hand’s Anger” by Apostle of Hustle
“In Spite of Me” by Morphine
“Becoming” (the piano version) by Nine Inch Nails
“Strange” by Patsy Cline
“You Were Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley
“Club Foot” by Kassabian
“Long Snake Moan” by PJ Harvey
Three different songs, all by the Black Keys, for three different endings (for now you’ll just have to guess which one we went with):
“The Go-Getter”
“The Sinister Kid”
“Ten Cent Pistol”

Transformation. He’s a She.

9 Jan

Recently, I had a deadline to write two short films and direct/produce one of them.  So I wanted to pick something, short and transformative.  I started writing a voice over (VO) of my own personal experience from when I was a kid, part of my story.   After recording the VO a few times, playing with some vocal effects and subsequently shooting myself as the main character, I grappled with a few different ideas to give it some life.  I created both a deep man’s voice filter and a high-pitched voice box filter.  One version of the piece was to make it about a  woman who’s in a wheelchair and lost her voice box.  Her small nephew comes to visit her and she gives him some words of wisdom through a story of her childhood fantasy of being Jesus Christ.  Great idea.  So many things I could juxtapose poetically revealing other layers of the character.  But I had less than a week to shoot, no time, no actors (especially no child actors, specifically six-year old girls), no one to shoot it, edit it or score it… except for myself.  Oh yeah, and no wheelchair.  I could fake one of those mechanical larynx things with part of a microphone I own… but argh!

Then there was the idea of making an on-camera transformation.  Where the VO was just this girl getting ready in the morning and putting on makeup.  By the end, she’s transgender.  I knew I wanted to be able to direct that character.  I definitely didn’t want to shoot it and be the lead.  So I went to my office mate and writing buddy, Haley.  And she willingly obliged.  I bought props at Target.  Loaded my extremely heavy equipment and headed to Bay Village.  When I got there, I was a bit unsure of how this would play out.  If you asked Haley, I’m sure she’d attest to me being frazzled.  I didn’t bring enough quarters for the meter.  The meter ran out anyway at 5pm.  Yada yada.  But, with some diet coke and a few smokes later for Haley.  I found my rhythm.  I just cleared my head of doubt and trusted myself.  Some ideas I had, flashback cutaways from childhood and adding one of those glue-on hair mustaches at the end, weren’t coming together.   The mustache wasn’t right.  It wasn’t believable enough. But, as the day flew by those ideas quickly resolved and I was editing already on set.  Haley took awesome direction and really jumped in 100%.  I couldn’t have asked for more.  So I wanted to share some pictures because Haley, who played Josephine (Joe) in Transformation, really looks cool.  Check her out.

Joe gets ready in the morning.

Josephine makes a beard.

So what have I learned?  Sometimes, you’ve gotta just push through.  And that I’m thankful for having adventurous and supportive friends.

holiday break

22 Dec

It’s done, finally done! I got the keys to my new place and after the nail-biting thrill of the move in – will the sofa fit down the stairs or will it not? Answer: it will if reduced to sticks – I am a newly minted resident of Bay Village. Two weeks and counting…

And now, during the holidays, is a great time to be living here – the gas street lamps are bedecked with wreaths, strands of Christmas lights twinkle from most windows, there is even a live Christmas tree lot only blocks away. If I ever get my act together to do a Christmas card, I think the photo would have to be taken in front of their warming trailer. So much holiday cheer.

Season's Greeting...from your friendly local Christmas tree lot

While this time of year usually sees me enduring planes, trains, and automobiles on my way home to the Midwest, Christmas 2011 is going to be spent planning and hopefully executing – with a sledgehammer! – home improvements. The new place is totally liveable as is, but it is in desperate need of an update. And we’re not just talking some paint here and a new shelf there – although it will need that too – we’re talking some fairly serious changes to make use of every one of the 480 square feet.

By Boston standards, 480 square feet is small-to-average size for a condo like mine. The real issue is how that space is being utilized. In my place, it is not.

The worst offender is the bathroom. As you walk in you are confronted with the wraparound wall surrounding the shower which juts out from the right and is directly opposite the sink which is jutting out from the left. It creates a narrow chute that you have to manuever through as if you were lining up a move in Tertris. The toilet is installed too close to the wall so that you have to turn about fifteen degrees to the left when, ahem, seated and there is virtually no storage in the room itself. The only bright spot here, other than the fact that it is clean and in working order, is that the bathtub is slightly oversize so that, once you can get to it, you are in for a great soak.

There are many bathrooms smaller than mine that don’t feel half as difficult and the difference is – if you will excuse the repurposing of the term – intelligent design. My good friend Luis, currently studying interior design, has agreed to have a go at it and I cannot wait to see what he comes up with. Stay tuned for that.

Otherwise, the holiday break is going to be a godsend in getting back on track with my writing projects. I have a short story ready to be submitted to a few year-end fiction contests. It’s an old one and I am hoping I can find it a home in this round of submissions. Drafting continues on the novel/fiction project, which has gotten a little derailed as of late – if I let myself think about it too much, I am ready to throw away everything and just start over. Again. A week away from work is just the thing to allow me to plow forward  before my critical mind can catch up with me.

I am also hoping to start posting about Punch, the short film adaptation of Suckerpunch that Leigh and I want to shoot in the very near future. She’s been to this rodeo before, but I’m still a newbie in the realm of film production and am excited to get into it.

fiction project: characters: hen’s goin out west

31 Oct

henry is kind of an asshole. he’s the kinda guy you call ‘hen’ with relish, just to cut him down a bit. he’s not a bad person, not really, but he can be obnoxious enough to obscure that point.

however exaggerated in his own mind, his good qualities tend to shine through where is little sister is concerned. it’s the kind of protectiveness born out of adversity (and here’s where i feel a little like the asshole) – their father died when they were barely in their teens, an event that began (or maybe hastened) their mother’s mental decline. when we first meet hen and cecily, their mother’s been living in a group home where she can be better cared for and the two of them have spent their late teens and early twenties living on their own in their parents’ house.

___

The snow looks bruised under purple pre-dawn light while Hen stands on the back porch taking it all in. His naked legs are stuck into his heavy winter boots. The hem of his parka barely grazes the hem of his boxers. It only takes a few seconds in the cold to realize he shouldda put on some clothes, but by then he’s already lit a cigarette and there’s no turning back.

There’s a space heater in the garage, so that’s where he heads, crunching down a path that’s dug like a trench through three feet of snow. It reminds him of being a kid, but he’s not sure if that’s because winters were that bad or if he was that much shorter back then. Walking to the elementary school before the sun could melt the crust off the snow, he could sometimes make three or four steps on the surface before his weight would punch him through to the ground. Cis, only two years younger but but light as a bird, often walked the whole length of the field, faltering only if she tried to run it.

The space heater roars to life and expels a potentially deadly stream of heat that Hen’s careful to keep pointed to the empty center of the room. Over on the work table is Hen’s latest acquisition, the heavy steel hood from a Chrysler pickup that Dirty’d salvaged from his uncle’s soon to be junked junk car collection. There’s potential, but so far Hen’s only been thinking over it. With his cigarette gripped loosely in his jaws, he sets to sanding off a spot of rust. They used to make everything so sturdy, there’s enough metal here for Hen to continue grinding down to get an even, burnished new surface. So maybe that’s what he’ll do with it, carve into the middle of the substantial old thing a sleek, modern, flimsy sports car hood. That’s it. Genius.

Self-satisfaction surges to his head like adrenalin. A drink to celebrate, except for the fact that Cis would fuck him up if she thought he was getting drunk before 8AM. Never mind that it’s only a sip he’s after, she shows no mercy. Better to wait until she’s out of the house.

Hen sucks down that last of his cigarette and throws the butt at the snow drifting under the door. He kicks the space heater off and tucks a corner of the sandpaper into a rusty ulcer on the hood – to remind him of his brilliant idea – then stamps back to the house.

He checks the clock. Maybe it is too early to have a drink today but then maybe it’s late enough for this to be his last drink of last night. There’s still enough time between now and proper morning for this creative accounting to make sense.

He retrieves the vodka from a cabinet, takes a slug right there, then another. Just a shallow tumbler-full ought to be enough to get him back to sleep.

He trips on a rug in the hall and reluctantly surrenders his clunky boots – they keep the place in deep freeze winter nights to save money. As he passes, he hears Cis’s space heater purring behind her closed door. That’s what he forgot. Upstairs his room is stone cold and silent. So, must’ve been the cold that had him up so early. He clicks it on and burrows into bed, drink close at hand.

___

When he wakes up again and ambles back to the kitchen, lukewarm glass of vodka in hand, he finds that Cis cleaned up and turned the heat on. Good. No harm done. He takes a deep, punishing drink, then refills the glass. His days off could be like this, nothing better to do than drink in between naps if the weather was shitty and Cis had the car.

He finds his phone charging near the coffee maker, right were Cis left it for him. It’s blinking an obnoxious green at the top so he dials voice mail and listens. “Hen.” It’s Cis. “They’re gonna call, but they said they’d let me try first. Mom’s dead. She died last night. Well, this morning.” He punches nine to save the message. He figures he better, that he’s missing something.

“Henry? This is Deanna. From your Mom’s group home? I’ve got some bad news for you. I am very sorry. I am so, so sorry. Clare’s passed on. I am so sorry. I’ve talked with your sister and she’ll be picking up your mother’s things on her way home from work. Her will is being handled by a lawyer, Mr. Clark, downtown. He’ll be getting in touch with you about that. I’ll just need you or Cecily to come down and sign some–” There is a tone and the message is cut off.

“Hey, fuckface.” It’s Dirty. “So we got a dead irrigator to pick over. You get your gear and I’ll pick you up around four. Beers after?”

“Henry? This is Deanna from your Mom’s group home again–” Hen ends the call, checks the time. Dirty’ll be on his way soon. He dresses, checks that there are still cigarettes in his coat pocket and heads to the garage. His tools are congregated in a corner, left there from the pickup salvage. Saws, tin snips, sledge, other toothed and clawed tools ready to strip the metal from the bones of the dead irrigator. He spreads a length of canvass on the ground and begins to roll the tools in it, one by one. He accumulates nicks and scratches in his clumsy work, leaving a slippery, bloody sheen on his hands. He wipes rusty streaks on his thighs.

Outside he hears the crunch of tires. “You ready to go?” Dirty yells from the cab of his Suburban at the open door.

Hen hoists the canvass roll and locks up. “Yeah. You got smokes?”

Dirty holds out a fresh pack. Hen grabs it, then places his tools on the floor in the back. Dirty’s backing out before Hen’s got the passenger door shut. “This one’s just a few miles out. They’re selling the land and everything on it and getting out.” He’s all worked up about a tractor he wanted to scrap but that they’re selling to some antique dealer.

Hen lights up and cold air rushes in where he’s cracked the window. It drills into him despite the heavy coat. Pay day is next week and there are bills due, including the mortgage. The group home is generally paid from the check after that but if they need their money now, what would he let slide this week? Cis would know. But then there’s this mention of a lawyer downtown? Hen slides another cigarette from the pack, tucks it into the hem of his stocking hat for later.

He turns on the radio, loud, to a country station that sometimes plays the cowboy tunes he’s recently gotten into. “What the fuck, man?” Dirty says. Evidently he’d been talking.

“Yeah, the irrigator. Whatever.”

“Yeah the irrigator. Fuck you.” Dirty’s in one of his famously short-lived sulks. They ride on, Hank Williams the only one breaking the silence.

fiction project: characters: the warrior

2 Sep

there are uncountable ways that a character makes itself known. for this story, music has been a favorite.

this is evie’s song: ‘warrior’ by the yeah yeah yeahs. evie’s probably the closest match to me personally in that she is about my age, she is not very excited by her day job, she has insomnia, and is only slightly more aimless about her future than i am. her approach to managing her insomnia is much more fun than mine, though. here’s an evie sketch. let me know what you think…

_____

Evie’s glorious drunk when she starts driving east. On the dashboard is the letter, beerbottle ring stained on the thick paper, that’s sent her out this way. It says that her mother Clare is dead and Evie’s been made the executor of her will.

It’s nothing she wanted to hear but she’s grateful to be on the road. Growing up, she’d always imagined making just this kind of escape under night skies with flat, blank miles unspooling ahead. If this is finally the reason that gets her out, so be it.

Even so. Clare had left when Evie was five, never a sign then or since that Clare’d regretted the decision. To hear from her now—well, about her—it feels like manipulation, a way to force a relationship once the risk of having one has passed. If she thinks about it, the whole situation carries an overwhelming sense of destiny, like their reunion’s always been fated to happen this way. So she doesn’t think about it. Evie tells herself she’s not stopping for the funeral; she’s going to drive until she hits the other coast. She sings with the radio, turning it up to mask when her pitch falters over the high notes and if she doesn’t know the words she makes them up. When the radio station breaks for commercials she hums the song she hopes they’ll play next.

There’s a gentle, banked-up curve in the road ahead. She barely dips under seventy taking it, then pushes up to eighty-five when she levels out on the straightaway. That’s the beauty of the plains: inertia at breakneck speeds.

On the radio static cuts in then resolves into another song, “How to Disappear Completely”. There are lights ahead and she decides she must be picking up a college radio station. “I’m not here….this isn’t happening…I’m not heee-eee-eeere…” she moans along with Tom Yorke, His clear, thin voice creeps into her brain and makes her feel weepy and small. She looks for the next exit, annoyed to find herself so emotional when really it’s just exhaustion that would have her teary-eyed, wrecked in a ditch if she doesn’t pull over to rest.

The off-ramp feeds her into a modest collection of buildings, a town only four blocks wide clinging to life by a well-used rail yard. She pulls in to the depot and tries laying across the front seat to nap, but it’s deafeningly silent without the radio and the road noise. She feels more awake now than before. Finally she sits up.

Outside the snow’s piling deep at the sides of roads and drifted like dunes across the bare acres. Depending on the music playing on the radio, this could be the heart-warmingest, whitest Christmas scene or the last town on planet earth just before the undead come staggering through the snow. She heaves herself over the front seat, it digs into her middle like it would cut her in half, and she reaches for one of the two bags she’s packed., the one that rattles with cans of spray paint. She drags it by the shoulder strap across the seat and out into the cold with her.

She does this when she can’t sleep at home, too—tags boxcars. There’s one sitting just outside of the circle of light falling from the yard lamp and with the little town behind her dark as wilderness, she walks boldly across the crusty ground.

She hangs the bag off the boxcar’s front coupling and inspects her canvass. It’s broad and rusted out, but pristine in that there’s only the crisp, stenciled markings its manufacturers put on the metal. No one else’s work to paint over.

Evie pulls a dark indigo out of the bag and pops the cap. She makes long sweeping streaks. She digs in the bag for another color, then another, another. The dark streaks comprise the strata of the night sky. She stands on her toes, she bends to her knees, gets them wet in the snow. She covers the whole boxcar until the colors accumulate like clouds. Until the side of the boxcar looks like a clear window open to the night sky. Like she’s erasing the boxcar, blending it into the scenery.

When she’s done she gathers the caps and stows the paints. They clink in the bag at her side. She’s exhausted herself and this time when she curls up across the cramped front seat it’s easy to sleep.

_____

It’s a fishbowl sound that wakes her. Someone tapping on the glass. Evie looks up to find a wiry man uniformed in khaki, poised to knock again. His skin looks craggy and chapped and she wonders how long he’s been trying to wake her.

She sits up with difficulty, stiff from the cold and the weird way she folded her body to keep all of it under her coat. Now she pulls it on and clutches at it like a robe when she creaks her door open. “Morning,” the man says.

The haul and creak of metal draw her eyes to the track where her boxcar is coupled and rolling out. She matches the dark streaks of her painted sky to the glowing fingers of red, pink and orange reaching out from the dawning sun. As it moves, her boxcar flashes in front of the sunrise like an eclipse.

“Morning,” Evie says.

“You okay, miss?” It sounds more like accusation than concern.

“Yeah. I’m fine. Just pulled off the interstate to get a little rest.” The man grunts gently and nods his head. In daylight, the town reveals itself to be a short stretch of low, flat buildings in the shadow of a grain elevator at one end of the street, a church steeple rising at the other, its thin, black shadow slashed over tidy little homes. “Where am I?”

“This is Tomahawk,” he says. “Where were you looking to be?”

“I just need to get a little further east.”

“That’s quite a ways away.”