2 Minutes Go Road Trip Redux

Cardinal_2During the night, the Mader signal shone through the fog into the night sky, and our hero put on his cape and sped away to fight for truth, justice, and the right to wear vintage clothing…and hats. Lots of hats. So he gave me the keys and his secret burrito recipe, and 2 Minutes Go is happening here today. Or, in Mr. Mader’s very words, which I stole from his blog:

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON’T IDENTIFY AS ‘WRITERS’ – all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the ‘comments’ section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds … no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send ’em here to read your ‘two’ and encourage them to play.

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What? You miss the uber-cool orange background and the motorcycles at JD’s place? No worries. You can hang with Napoleon. Or just close your eyes and pretend. Vroom. Here’s a bit from me to start us out:

The ocean swallowed her whole. That’s the myth, anyway, the news story of the day, the collective shrug of a young nation with jazz on its mind and better things to do than investigate the disappearance of a pirate ship that had kidnapped a flighty American heiress in Dubai and taken her to a fate one could only imagine. You’ve been studying this lost cause for your dissertation—another lost cause. You’ve been studying her. Newsreels, microfiche, cracked and yellowed pages of magazines, the presses of which had long been dismantled or melted down and made into other things. Yes, the clothing – more like costume – looked frivolous and altogether impractical, unlike your up-and-run ensemble of jeans and T-shirts. And to the casual gazer, the smile would appear as if she didn’t have a care deeper than which bit of fluff to wear for dinner. But the eyes. They were smart. They held secrets. They told stories. You’d dug for them. You were relentless. Then your advisor called you into his office. Suggested a different angle. Suggested you’d been working too hard. Hinted at obsession. Problems at home, perhaps? Biting at the inside of your cheek, you thanked him for his concern, said you’d think about it. And then you had the dream. She was calling to you. Three nights straight, she called for you. Told you where to find her. So real, like you could reach out and touch her rouged cheek, her flapper jewelry that would now be called vintage and go for a mint. You took the plane ticket and left the note, because you could not bear to deliver the news in person and watch another face soften with concern, another pair of eyes attempt to hide their disapproval. Now you mash your toes into the hot sands of the desert by the ocean, waves of heat warping the margins between sand, sea, and sky. A bit of something down the beach sparkles in the sun. You dig. It’s battered, tarnished…but it’s real. A necklace, pearls embedded in a delicate, broken web of silver. Vintage. Hers.

I Haaaht Boston

BostonDid you ever visit somewhere and know, deep in your soul, that you’d live there one day? That when the time was right, a place would open up its arms to you? Sure, maybe that welcoming embrace would be scratchy and too tight in the wrong ways and its breath would smell like beer and last night’s nachos, but it would still be home.

My introduction to Boston was a short trip to investigate a few prospective colleges. I stayed in Cambridge with my brother and his partner, who would eventually become his wife and then his ex-wife. It was a bumpy phase for the two of them, so I spent a lot of that visit getting scarce. Not so good for them, but an opportunity for me to investigate the city. I didn’t have tons of money for subways, but the streets were fine. Not frenetic and slightly scary like Manhattan (or at least that’s way I felt about it at sixteen, in the days before Times Square went Disney), but approachable. All slouchy and comfortable, like my faded jeans and satin baseball cap. (Hey, they were in style back then, don’t judge me.)

Life sped forward, and with my shiny diploma and gigantic portfolio, I was looking for a job on Madison Avenue. New York was still frenetic, still slightly scary…and I was miserable. So when my magician friend floated the possibility of finding work in Boston, the dirty water of the Charles called my name.

Visiting the city at sixteen had been fun…like hanging out with that cute, guilty-pleasure guy you’d never take home to Mom. Marrying the place was a whole ’nother bowl of chowder, and I’d apparently romanticized all the bad points from my little high school fling. Among other challenges, I had to navigate a subway system, the job market, the neighborhoods, and the lack of decent bagels. Then there was the language difference. I grew up speaking what I thought was English, an assumption that only lasted until I tried to order a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Cawfy reglah?”

“What?”

Eyeroll from the cashier as the line behind me grumbled. And small, slow words, like I was five. “Ya. Want. Caw. Fee. Reg. Lah?”

I thought I understood. Regular coffee. In my culture, that meant black. Regular, plain old coffee, right? Wrong. Cream and sugar. Next.

So of course my first job involved working the counter at a copy shop and answering the phone. Apparently the Universe had decided I needed full-on language immersion. The owners were two Southie guys who’d been best friends since Scollay Square had strippers. (Google it, kids.) My first week, one of them reduced me to tears—of laughter and pain—when he tried to explain where I was supposed to deliver a box of flyers.

“Havastree,” he said. I shook my head. He repeated it again and again as if that were the secret to understanding, because apparently, the syllable-by-syllable breakdown hadn’t worked for me. Finally he said it slowly enough for me to realize that it was two words: “Havad Street.”

But I’d never heard of the place. I’d even checked the map. Frustration pinched the corners of his eyes. “You know, Havad Street. Havad Street. Like the college.” And then he wrote it down: H-A-V-A-D. No, I’m not making this up.

I did assimilate, eventually. The magician moved on, but I stayed a few more years. I even developed a bit of an accent and a fondness for the Red Sox, much to my Yankee-loving father’s dismay. In my heart, though, I miss the place wicked bad, and I know that those big arms would have me back again, someday. Especially now that I don’t need Rosetta Stone to order a cup of coffee.

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Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases, including her next novel, A Sudden Gust of Gravity, which is set in lovely, lovely Boston? You can do that here.

What IS Flash Fiction, Anyway?

IdeaI’ve been writing flash fiction for a while now, and I love it. I began with Indies Unlimited’s weekly flash fiction contest and really enjoyed the writing challenge of winnowing a story down to the required 250 words. Then JD Mader was cool enough to open up his blog on Fridays to anyone who wanted to set a timer and try a little spontaneous flash. (Okay, sometimes we forget the timer.) I was hooked. I was so hooked that as the stories piled up, I thought about putting out a collection.

But based on some of the reader response, and a question from my father, I realize I left out one very important component: What the heck IS flash fiction, anyway?

Because she’s so good at explaining things (and because she wrote a really succinct post about the five elements of flash fiction), I’m going to leave it to one of my fabulous Indies Unlimited fellow minions, Lynne Cantwell.

As a general rule, flash fiction is considered to be less than 1,000 words long….Flash is a recognized format for fiction, with elements that each story ought to include.

1. A plot. To be clear, a flash fiction piece is a complete story. Just like a longer piece of fiction, your flash piece needs a beginning, a middle, and an ending. I saw one website that recommended writing an outline for each flash story. I think that’s going a little overboard; your outline could end up longer than the story. But if your story doesn’t have an ending – if, say, you find you’ve written a scene that could be part of a longer story, or even part of a novel – then it’s not technically flash fiction.

2.  Characters. You don’t have a lot of space to describe your characters, obviously, but readers should still be able to tell them apart. Use telling details that you can describe in a few words. Keep your character count low, and stick with one point-of-view.

You can read the rest of Lynne’s post on Indies Unlimited.

Here’s an example of one of my flash fiction pieces. I’d never written anything science-fictiony before, so this was a fun challenge.

Fitting Rooms

She strolled past a sign that read “Fitting Rooms” and caught a glimpse of the engineer’s handiwork in a reflective surface.

They’d done a good job.

She looked like most of the other human females she’d passed in the shopping mall. Hair like the others, a suitable length, the same vacant stare she’d emulated with the help of the simulation program. Now all she had to do was keep fitting in, and wait for the signal to start the next phase of her mission. They hadn’t told her what that was, and despite her queries, they still would not explain.

In fact, her trainer had taken her aside and said it was dangerous to ask twice, so she’d stopped.

Her attention was drawn all of a sudden to the collar of her shirt. Her reflection’s hand rose to straighten it, and she noticed that it was a different style than the type worn by the two females who’d just exited the rooms. That didn’t seem right. Maybe the engineer had made a mistake and had given her the wrong simulation.

She glanced up again at the sign on the wall. Perhaps this is where you go to be more fitting. So, following the lead of another, she grabbed a garment and disappeared behind the curtain.

That was when she felt the vibration. The chip implanted in her brain had been activated. Finally, she would know her purpose and how she could help her planet—but why was the vibration so loud? And that whine? It hurt…hurt…so sharp she gasped and dropped to her knees. The human females began to circle her, eyes questioning, hands reaching out, and as her consciousness ebbed away, the edges of her vision going black, she heard the faintest of voices in her mind: Independent thought detected…independent thought detected…indepen…

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Have a great weekend!

Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases? You can do that here.

Flash Fiction, Carnival Edition

nbvyt7L0What a week! So I blew off a little steam at the hula-hoop rockabilly break-the-blog revival at JD Mader’s Unemployed Imagination. Maybe you’ll join us next Friday for a little two-minute (give or take) flash fiction. Here’s one of my pieces from this week. I hope you’ll also roll on over and check out what the other writers threw down. So much fancy word-dancing in one place.

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The kid with the Harry Potter glasses had an arm on him—the only worrisome prospect Joey had seen all night—but three tries, no dice. “This game is rigged.”

Joey smirked. “Tell it to someone who makes more than five bucks an hour. Next!” But the troublemaker didn’t move. Just pressed his lips together and gave him the stink-eye. “What? You casting a spell on me?”

“I want my money back!”

“Beat it, kid. Go get sick on corn dogs or something. You had your chance, let someone else take a turn.” He grinned at the tiny red-haired girl behind him. “Step right up, little lady, three chances to knock a bottle down, three chances to win!”

“It’s rigged,” Harry Potter said to her. “You’re not gonna win.”

She pursed her lips at him. “Says who?”

“Says physics, that’s what. The bottles are weighted on the bottom. The balls aren’t heavy enough.”

“Jeez, kid.” Joey pressed his palms into the counter and leaned forward, trying to look menacing. Not easy in the stupid candy-striped vest management made them wear. “Trying to make a living here. You think my various vices and devices come cheap? Now step off and let the lady try.” He hooked an eyebrow. “Unless you’re afraid she’s gonna show you up.”

The kid stood straighter. “I’m not afraid.”

Still eyeballing Harry Potter, Joey rustled up three balls and smacked them down in front of the girl. She gave the boy a testicle-withering glare, fired back and bam-bam-bam, three bottles toppled over.

Mouth falling open, the kid reached for his back pocket. “I wanna try that again.”

Joey stuck out his palm.

Six tries later, the boy groaned in disgust and skulked away.

When he was out of view, Joey beckoned the little girl forward and slipped a five into her hand. She dropped her gaze to the bill, then back up at him. “You promised seven.”

He slid her a grin and added another couple of bucks to her take. “You learn quick, sweetheart,” he said, tugging on one of her braids. “One day you’re gonna make Mom and I so proud.”

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Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. See what’s on sale this month here.

Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases? You can do that here.

Are Likable Characters Important in Women’s Fiction?

laurieboris:

Interesting. I don’t need “likable.” Relatable, yes. Interesting, yes. Makes me root for her to learn some hard lessons through the story, absolutely. What do you think?

Originally posted on A Writer's Path:

Women

When the moderator of a recent women’s fiction panel asked me if I expected to be friends with the protagonists in the women’s fiction I read, I had the oddest reaction: my mind went blank. Madly scanning my mental spreadsheet of great fiction in an effort to be truthful, in front of an auditorium full of avid readers I would have been happy to impress, I could suddenly recall no protagonist in any book I’d ever read. Could I think of characters who were compelling, closed off, quirky, troubled, clever? Sure. But I had never thought to sort any of them into the column titled “friends.”

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Authors Behaving Badly: The Desperately Seeking Attention Edition

MonkeysToday I read a column in a newspaper I won’t name about an author who trashed book clubs in general and in particular, the group of women who had invited her to visit their meeting and talk about her book. I don’t get it. If a book club decided to read one of my books and wanted me to speak with them, I’d be honored and thrilled. I’ve done it before, and I’d definitely do it again. After passion for writing, connection with readers is one of the biggest reasons I’m in this thing. So I didn’t understand this woman’s behavior. And then, sadly, I did. File this one under the clickbait folder—a provocative headline designed to entice you to click on over and get outraged enough to share it with your friends. And share, and share, and share.

I’m not playing. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the wise old Polish ladies used to say. All that article did was invite me not to share that author’s article. Or buy her book. I’ve already forgotten her name.

I admit that getting attention—the good kind—is tough for an author. Look at all the things books are competing with: video games, binge-watching Orange is the New Black, social media, actually going out and spending time with other human beings. Some days I feel like the short guy at the end of the bar waving my five-dollar bill in the air—I’m attempting to make some noise, but I don’t think I’m ever getting my beer. So I can understand the temptation to do something a little crazy to get a few eyeballs. Desperation can lead to some pretty terrible things. (Believe me, I’ve binge-watched Orange is the New Black, too.) But I don’t want to do anything to risk alienating that connection.

It’s not a good look. Plus I’d probably feel the need for a shower afterward. So I’m not going to wrap myself in Saran Wrap printed with my book cover. I’m not going to accost people on the street and tell them my fictional children are starving. I’m not going to comment on critical reviews. I’m not even going to put one of those “ethical author” badges on my website. Nothing against the authors who do that—I completely believe in being ethical, and I like what the movement stands for. But when I see one of those, I can’t help hearing my father’s voice in my head: “Never trust a guy who says ‘trust me.’”

Maybe it’ll take a little longer to get my beer, but I’m sure it will taste a lot better.

What do you think about these kind of ploys? Fair game in a competitive, do-what-it-takes world? The fast train out of author-ville? I’d love to have a chat about this.

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Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. See what’s on sale this month here.

Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases? You can do that here.

 

Falling in Love with Characters in Cars

Don't worry. I always keep my eyes on the road during this process. Kids, don't try this home. Professional writer on a closed track.
Don’t worry. I always keep my eyes on the road during this process. Kids, don’t try this home. Professional writer on a closed track.

An interesting post by Martin Crosbie on Indies Unlimited this week spurred a few thoughts about my own relationships with my fictional characters.

When I’m writing, they have to feel real to me, as real as someone who might walk into the room and sit beside me. I have to fall in love. Or at least find some empathy. So I get pretty deep with that universe of people in my head. Over the years, I’ve taken a few of my writing teachers’ suggestions for ways to get to know these folks better. Guided meditations. Creative visualization. Imagine the shoes the character is wearing. Imagine slipping into their bodies. Light a candle and invite them in, as one writer famously advised. Once I got over the “are you kidding me?” factor, some of those devices worked pretty well.

Lately, I’ve been taking my characters for car rides. I don’t know why it took me so long to try this. When I was a kid, we lived thirty minutes from almost everything. The car was the venue for parental face time, for solving problems, for just looking out the window and getting a break from the routine of school and homework and piano lessons and Girl Scout meetings. And now? Okay, I like NPR, but do I really need to listen to it every time I get behind the wheel? Allowing more silence into my life has opened up that mental bandwidth for the characters to start talking.

So when I need to go a little deeper with a character, I invite him or her to come along for the ride. “Invite” being the operative word. Some are more willing than others; some play their cards closer to their chests and require a trust zone, a safe space. Or just some time.

I might have fallen in love with Charlie, my last protagonist, when he flopped down in the rocking chair next to my computer and poured himself a virtual scotch. But my new guy, a surgical resident, likes to ride shotgun. He has to push the seat back to make room for his legs, and he advises me that I’m overdue for my next oil change, but he’s really good company. He was recalcitrant at first, but he grew more comfortable with me, and when early critiquers suggested the story needed more of him, that it would only make the readers feel more invested in his journey, he was happy to oblige. But only because he believed it would help others. And now I’m totally smitten.

I used to worry that other drivers would look at me strangely when I took my characters out for a spin, but I got over that. Most people probably think I’m talking on my (nonexistent) hands-free cell phone arrangement. Thank you, modern technology.

Have you fallen in love lately, while writing or reading?

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Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. See what’s on sale this month here.

Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases? You can do that here.