Friday Fictioneers: The ‘D’ In DIY Stands For Divorce

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

photo credit: Sandra Crook

Before Jamison could explain, Suzanne dropped her suitcase outside the front door, ran through the living room and out the newly installed patio doors leading to the garden. Seeing the roof she closed her eyes. Her heels sunk in artificial grass, freshly watered but empty of the pleasant dew smell.

“Fuck, James. You had ONE job.”

Suzanne grabbed her phone and speed-dialed the construction manager, one finger in her ear to block Jamison’s noise.

“Ned! Thank God. About the roof…. Well, my husband’s clearly incompetent!”

Jamison opened his mouth to speak then thought, “Why bother.”


This flash fiction is based off of the photo prompt above for Friday Fictioneers – flash fiction under 100 words. This was my first time participating and it was a lot of fun, so I look forward to joining in for more!

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I’m Baaaack

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This post comes as I sit in a coffee shop with an $8 latte and plain bagel. There’s a kid watching an action movie without headphones on, clearly unaware coffee shops are a sacred space for writer’s who can’t write unless people are there to witness it. I came with the intention of editing my most recent short The Great Tribulation, and as I stared at the screen with my fingers and creative brain cells numb, thoughts turning to how terribly hard and pointless all of this writing stuff is, I realized it’s been a whole month since I’ve written anything other than a few passing thoughts. So here I am!

My time away at the farm taught me that as a farm-hand you’ll never have time for lounging over a book or jotting down all the stories that pop into your mind while doing some repetitive task. I started reading Here Comes The Sun the day I left and it’s been such a struggle I’m only 47% through. I’m having a hard time caring about the characters and what they’re going through, I think it has a lot to do with my not finding the characters very definitive or interesting. It’s a bit like a drama where the writer wants to keep things suprising but holds your hand the whole way through. Still, I’ll probably keep reading because

  1. I paid full price for the ebook…
  2. I’m curious to compare it to the other First Novel Prize finalists and understand why it was nominated. The writing is good, but my guess is because the plot falls nicely into this year’s selection of finalists that are culturally rich or have LGBT related plots that are all the rage right now.

It’s been about 10 days since I got back and in my time offline I’ve started applying to some Upwork jobs (a freelance website) and am looking for work slowly, applying to jobs that sound within my capabilities and interesting. If you’re new to freelance writing and have little to no experience Upwork is a great website to gain experience and get the ball rolling.

Before I left for the farm I was undecided whether I wanted to keep this blog as it is or focus more on my fiction. I’ve since decided I’m going to keep things mostly story-oriented with the occasional book review or gif related post, especially because improving my creative writing was why I first decided to start Drunk Off Rhetoric. So expect some short stories and flash fiction in the next few days.

That’s all for now, it’s good to be back and I look forward to checking in with you all 🙂

See You Soon!

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This week I’ve been preparing for a 20 day long camping adventure my husband and I are going on, it’s the furthest north I’ve been from San Francisco. We’re going to spend the days helping at a farm, seeing new things, sleeping under the stars, and I don’t think anything else could be sweeter. While I’m there the internet will be spotty at best so I won’t write here much. When I do have access to WordPress I’d much rather read your blogs than spend time writing my own, so I’ll check in where I can, maybe upload a photo or two. I plan on spending any free time writing stories in my notebook, so hopefully I’ll have a few to post when I return.

As for my Fall reading, I finished The Girls by Emma Cline and there’s no other way to put it: this girl has got balls and an almost obnoxious amount of talent. I’m officially on the Emma Cline train and will keep my eye out for more of her publications. Her contract with Random House included a three book deal including The Girls and that’s the best news I’ve heard all year. I started Here Comes the Sun a few days ago and am having a hard time adjusting to the writing style and tone, so it’s a bit underwhelming at the moment… hopefully it picks up. I accidentally bought Garth Greenwell’s book, so I guess I’ll be reading that one next. Tricky Amazon.

I also want to spend the time away deciding whether I want this blog be more centered on my fiction. That was the original purpose of it, but I sort of veered off from there. I’d like to get back to posting mostly fiction on here and I’m curious if any of my readers have thoughts on that, if they’d miss the other posts.

Well, that’s all for now, I’ll see you all when I see you! And keep writing. 🙂

2016 First Novel Prize Shortlist aka My Fall Reading List

Go here for synopsis’s about these books.

A week ago the Center of Fiction announced the finalists for this years First Novel Prize. Seeing that the list was a lovely mix of women and color (plus one stoic male equivalent), and I’d already read and loved Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, I wanted to read other books first-time novelists were being celebrated for. The winner will be announced on December 6th so I hope to have read all except Kia Cothron’s The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter by then, which is a galloping 800 pages.

I snagged a free copy of Emma Cline’s The Girls during my creative writing class (which was equivalent to winning the lottery considering the amount of other people who’d shot their hands up for it), I’m halfway through and it’s so enjoyable. I find myself both inspired and wholly consumed with jealousy by Cline’s style, humor, and insight – so much confidence I didn’t think could (or should) exist in a twenty-seven year old writer. But Cline is an obvious exception to the rule and was published in Tin House by the time she was sixteen, while most of us teens were still figuring this writing thing out through angsty poetry.

These finalists have written novels that explore girlhood, freedom, homosexuality, loneliness, and race. For the same reasons I think it’s valuable to keep up to snuff with what literary magazines are publishing, I think it’s also good to read books by new novelists – it’s a direct observation of what the publishing and creative worlds are paying attention to.

Of the five books I haven’t yet read, I’m most excited to read Here Comes The Sun and will pick that one up once I’m done with The Girls. Have you read any of the books on the First Novel Prize shortlist? What did you think? Are any of these going on your ‘to read’ list? Do you have any guesses at which book might win?

Craft Quote #9 – On Writing What You Mean

Since I’ve started writing more I’ve noticed that when I’m not confident about my writing or the direction a story is taking, I add filler words to doll up sentences. As if more words will make for a better story. It doesn’t, and usually it’ll make it worse.

Adding unnecessary sentences and words that don’t move the story forward is a common mistake a lot of new or unsure writers make while they’re still gaining understanding of what exactly it is they’re trying to say. They often think they’re following the lead of accomplished writers whose work is dipped in extended metaphor, but fail to see it’s purpose in moving the story forward. Extended metaphors and lyrical language are useful supports to the bare bones of narrative, but overuse (and misuse, with passive language) dull the impact of a story.

As fiction writers, we’ve done half the job when we’ve told a clear story in it’s most basic forms, without any extra words or events that don’t add to or move the story forward, but this is something a lot of writer’s, including myself, struggle to do. Here are some ways I avoid unnecessary language.

  • Since a lot of this is sparked from self-doubt, remind yourself that the first draft is exactly that, a draft – a preliminary version of a piece of writing – not a finished product. Use the first draft to tell the story from beginning to end, and use later drafts to add in all those bells and whistles of imagery and trim whatever other fat that can be spared.
  • Remember, a story is not primarily a place to demonstrate your literary prowess. It is also not primarily a place to explore character. Everything in a story should be there to teach the reader something important and push the plot along, not stagnate it for a few moments of your brilliance.
  • Ask yourself, what organically feels like part of the story and what stops or distracts from that flow? and Could I say this in less words?  when reading over your work.

I find that keeping these in mind while combing through my second and subsequent drafts helps bring out the core and most powerful parts of a story, and cuts out what doesn’t have that effect. I hope you find these helpful, too.

Have you got any tricks you use to make your writing more powerful? Do you struggle with writing what you mean? Who are some authors you enjoy that don’t mince words?

Home: Haiku

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Maui, Hawaii

She felt most at home 

when she bathed in salt water,

and was flanked by green.

 

 

I’m in an honest and fully committed same-sex relationship with nature. Bite-sized poem to put my photographs to use again 🙂 – I miss this creative outlet to my creative outlet.

The Great Tribulation: A Short Story

Woah, it’s has been a minute since I’ve posted a story. Here’s one inspired by way too many wasted Sunday mornings… I tried to make the title a little less obvious, and failed. Ah well.

Curtis roasted like a pig. He moved in a fever between two pots, holding a wooden spoon the length of his arm. The doors and windows of his small shack were open but the heat was unmoved. He looked to see the girl was still naked and sprawled out on top of his bed with a filthy rag on her forehead. The girl’s breasts spilled away from each other like two repelling magnets, a steady stream of sweat licked her from chin to navel. Her mouth was open and dry and it had been minutes since she’d blinked or sighed.

“Hey you. Hey, you still alive?” Curtis said.

The girl made a sound, something like a squawk and wheeze, and managed a few licks of her lips.

“I think so.” she said.

“Unlucky you. Why aren’t you blinking?”

“Oh… I wasn’t paying mind to whether I was blinking or not.” she said.

“You weren’t.” Curtis dashed a palmful of salt into a pot, “I thought I was cooking for a dead girl.”

Curtis took the joint from the corner of his mouth and passed the dregs to the girl. It was mostly ash, but it was familiar so she inhaled and held anyway. Even bare skin felt like one too many layers, she made herself as wide as she could to cool down. Arms and legs spread open so she looked like she was making snow angels in the sheets. And when was the last time she’d seen snow? Heat had built up slow then wrecked them all at once, writhed out of the ground like some vengeful spirit ready to drive them delirious – and succeeding. The girl was half blind and shriveled like a newborn pup when he found her stroked out in the dirt and sand, the poor godless and sun-bleached girl.

Curtis brought a bowl where the girl laid and she finally sat up at the smell. The bowl overflowed with rice and meat, two spoons for sharing. The chunks of meat were mysterious but they both guessed it was goat’s meat; fibrous and swimming in it’s sweetness. He watched the girl’s mouth work the steaming chunk and wondered how she could put her lips on something so hot without batting an eyelash. She caught his slack look and laughed a crack lipped riot saying, cool as anything, “Man, when you’ve been raised by the sun a little heat don’t hurt.”

The girl’s body looked like a heap of Himalayan salt in the distance. Curtis had watched her crawl on her stomach from noon til late, the cloud’s bellies burnt orange and only a few hours left before they’d disappear. If the girl was going to make it, she’d have to drag herself to salvation and prove she wanted it. To be out at this time of the day was a show that at some point she wasn’t sure she did, and Curtis didn’t have time for people who’d given up on themselves. The girl passed out on the steps to the smell of starch and boiled meat.

From the empty bowl of her stomach, Curtis guessed it had been weeks since the girl had eaten. She downed a mug of water and refilled the mug to cleanse her ruddy face, before starting on a plate of sweet bread rolls and jam. They sat on the bed and the girl appreciated not having to move to sleep, the meal formed a content lump in her gut. The solitary candle wisped around in a moment of breeze and they both held their breaths while it bathed them. Curtis pushed the empty bowl away from himself and wiped a rag on his mouth and all around his forehead and neck.

“Why were you out there like a damn slug?” he said.

The girl didn’t open her eyes but cupped the new pouch of belly in her hands like an expectant mother with little more than a peanut in her womb.

“I was trying to find somewhere cool I could lay a while.”

Curtis lit a fresh joint on the candle, the light sparked the girl up like an angel and blasted the rest of the room into void.

“Hm,” he said, “You can crawl all the way to Lakeland and not find a lick of shade.”

“I don’t know. My daddy told me there’s still some places where it’s cool and maybe not so crowded.” she said.

“And where’s your daddy at now? Nowhere good, I bet.”

The girl shrugged and took the offered joint into her fingers. She tried to remember the last letter she’d got from her father and retrieved a memory from a year prior. She waited as the ocean crept closer and swallowed homes in front of hers, before it finally knocked on her own door and swept her inland. She’d stopped believing her father was alive, but not that there was somewhere else to go. If there wasn’t, they would be alone in the dark when the curtain fell on Earth, leaving only godless souls to crawl on their bellies like blind snakes in a barrel, one climbing on top of the other for a chance at dying last. The girl looked at Curtis’s smushed face and missed when there was only man to fear, and the ground boar more than death.

Curtis poured cold water in a large bucket outside and the girl had a good go at washing herself. Her skin was virginal and free of scars; flesh like the smooth hat of a mushroom. He watched steam rise from the pool at her feet. The girl paused scooping water on her body, opened her arms and face and mouth to the black sky in a silent scream. She gave up bathing when a hot wind kicked up and coated her in dust.

Curtis had craned his neck to the clouds in a similar way but let out a primal scream with his own girl’s body laid in his arms and her looking up, too. The gaze was absent and her neck was cut and leaning awkwardly curious. It was done, but she didn’t fly into grace with open arms. Her body laid useless and Curtis left her there knowing this was their punishment and nothing would lessen the sentence.

The girl fell asleep as heavy as a child with a fever, her garish frame barely enough to make a real lump in the bed. Curtis sat up in bed beside her. She looked like a corpse, her skin opaque and veins ribbed up and down her arms and legs. He watched her and grew angry at her carelessness. Dragging herself through the rotten desert for what – she only had to take one look around and it was obvious; this was it and no magic man saved a place for her, or any of them, in the shade. You could live in a dream or with the steady footing and firm disappointment of reality, and he preferred the latter.

The sky was lavender and a steady heat of steam rose from cracks like geysers. The girl was gone when Curtis woke up and he saw her naked body merge with the mirage of wavering air in the not so far distance. She’d taken his boots, but they both knew he had no use for them. She would hear him call her name if he knew it. If he screamed it loud enough and knew he wanted her to stay. Soon the distance was too much and the heat too strong to see her without straining. He went back inside to the unmade bed, still musty and covered in her dirt, stripped the sheets and dumped them in the sink, running water on them until there was a stream of murk. The girl could have her shade, and Curtis would have his. The comfort that even Earth was mortal, and as long as there were sinners you could crawl for eternity and never leave suffering.