Corn for Tallness

Prompt: Express yourself


My dear Wednesday,

I (and you, and anyone) have the opportunity to express myself (yourselves) for thirty days this November, which is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, or Nano. The idea is to sit down with a fresh sheet of real or virtual blank paper and start writing— about 1600 words per day for a total of 50,000 words (about the length of Catcher in the Rye) by the end of the month. A first draft of a book. A novel. Written by me/ you.

I’ve met the challenge every five or six times I’ve “competed”— it is an honour system tally. You post your word count to the NaNoWriMo website and your finished manuscript, which they mechanically verify and then declare you a Winner. You get to print out a full colour certificate, frame it, and hang it on the wall of your office or dining room or nail it to the fence.

I am generally a “pantser” which means I start writing without the benefit of detailed outline, as opposed to a “plotter” who organizes most the structure, theme, plot, and characters ahead of time.

This year I am trying the Save the Cat formula, which divides the story into three acts with specific pivotal plot points (called Beats) in each. So I actually have a story outline, but as yet no defined hero character at all.

I realize plot and character are interactive; each forms part of the other. As the plot affects the character, so does the character affect the plot.

…So what makes a compelling character?

I await your answer.

Seriously.

Meanwhile, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons, only the first of which is even tangentially related to today’s casual prompt, “express yourself”?

cartoon decorator-farming-new-yorker-cartoon_a-G-9180543-8419447

cartoon freshly-ground-pepper-new-yorker-cartoon_a-l-9476900-8419449

cartoon man-on-deserted-island-writes-tuesday-nov-27-dear-diary-still-no-si-new-yorker-cartoon_a-l-9168868-8419449


Peace, love, and lots of writing,

~~FP

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Membership in Heaven

Prompt: Realize

soap-opera-bw

The restaurant was called Liquefy. Dominic had walked past it a hundred times. It had a sage green stucco exterior and white-painted slatted wood blinds, usually open just enough to see the shadows, animated by the flicker of candles, of the privileged, a group that did not include Dominic.

He had been privileged once, though not through his own ambition or talent. His parents were both established day time soap opera stars, with fan clubs, event appearances, a dash of glamour, and a steady, handsome income. Then came the accident, killing his father and disabling his mother. They received help from Actors’ Guild, but not much and it was down to Dominic to care for his mother, who did not want an institutionalized life, however comfortable. Dominic indulged her, helping her cook her meatballs, her fried eggplant, her fruit layer cakes; doing most of the work, in fact, under her supervision. Her passion now was her kitchen. She occasionally did voice-overs for commercials, but even her voice was losing its velvety power. Dominic would get his mother settled in bed in the evening, then go to his overnight security job, during which he studied in the hopes of finishing his degree in engineering.

He was far too busy for a man his age, who needed and yes, craved adventure and experience. His last girlfriend, he was certain, had left him because of his his inadvertent neglect of her in favour of his mother, his studies, and his job. Fair enough. Maybe now was a bad time for a relationship, though he longed for someone with whom to share his small victories, and to commiserate with him over the hundred tiny failures that made the days long, and the nights even longer.

Dominic paused in front of the restaurant and peered at the menu posted in a mahogany-framed glass case. They still had the eggplant gnocchi appetizer, which his mother would love. They had the sage and parmesan meatballs, the duck breast risotto, the flat iron steak with fire-roasted sweet potatoes (his preference). The prices were posted too. Dominic sighed heavily. His mother’s  60th birthday was in a week. This would be a gift she would never, ever expect, or forget. She didn’t need a scarf, or perfume, or another cookbook. He had to do this, somehow. And he had to figure it out quickly, since he was sure that successful Liquefy reservations were made days in advance.

He remembered as a child, when he and his best friend Denny were desperate for a plate of french fries at the local diner. Desperate. They had no money or prospects. Allowances spent, parents unsympathetic, they spent the entirety of an afternoon plotting income strategies. In the end, they came up with a charity scam, wherein they would tear the labels off of tin cans and go door to door, soliciting money for hungry children in India (which was, according to his parents, who reminded him regularly at dinnertime, a real and current issue).

The plot never gelled, thank goodness, Dominic thought. That would be a horrid addition to his resumé for membership in heaven, which would leave out no job, action, or thought. Dominic believed in heaven. Why not?

Still, the larceny of the plan he and Denny hatched to acquire a plate of french fries crept into his consciousness. He realized he could not risk breaking the law and leaving his mother alone, but he wanted this, his mother’s special birthday dinner, a night of spending and relishing and enjoying life, more than anything he had ever wanted. It was crazy, of course. But he walked past the restaurant every day. It was meant to be. Maybe he could come up with a plan. He would talk to Denny. Denny would understand.

 


  • Image adapted from a still from Bridges to Love, a soap opera that debuted on The Filipino Channel in March, 2015 and unrelated to this piece of fiction.

Magda and the Cottage

Prompt: Rebuild

cottage 4

All the rooms looked out onto the internal courtyard, where a small, two-story cottage was surrounded by vegetable and flower gardens, and one very tall, leafy tree, which provided shade in the summer and dropped its leaves to allow the sun to warm the cottage in the winter.

Magda’s room was the same as everyone else’s: very small, with a microwave and cooler sat on a counter, a bathroom, a bed, a chair, and one window only, to the courtyard. The room was painted pearl grey, and the venetian blinds on the window were beige.

They were allowed pictures on the wall, but no nails; only pushpins. Magda had a map of the world across from the bed. It was the only thing she could think of to pin to a pearl grey wall in a compound that surrounded a picturesque cottage.

She had four books. She’d read them all last summer, when they first rotated in. Now she was reading them again. One was called “Surnames Through the Ages”; another was a children’s book about a blue rabbit, a third was a tenth grade history textbook covering 1939 to 1945, and the last book was a novel called “The Lustful Professor”. This was not her favourite book rotation.

It was December now; there was almost always a steady stream of white smoke streaming out of the chimney of the cottage. A dusting of snow lay on the ground. The tall tree was skeletal and imposing, stark against a white winter sky.

Mr Simmons would be visiting her later. They would have sex, then sit by the window to see if anyone came in or out of the cottage. In winter, it was frustrating to see footprints in fresh snow, and not see who imprinted them.

The window didn’t open, but if it had or ever did, Magda and Mr Simmons had a plan to sneak out and set the cottage on fire, watch it burn, and then watch it rise again out of the ashes, day by day, rebuilt in all it’s fusty charm, with the stone chimney, the wrought iron gates, the gabled windows.

As twilight settled in, comfortably blanketing the octagonal compound and the cottage, Magda could see lights twinkling past the cottage across the courtyard. Other Magdas, other Mr Simmons, in their pearl grey rooms, had their eyes on the cottage gate, pondered the footprints, and tested the latch on the windows, plotting.