Tag Archives: creative writing

In a White Room

[I know this title has the word ‘White’ in it, but it is not a continuation of my novel in progress The White Lady. This is something else that burbled up from somewhere a while ago and I thought I would work on it a bit and blog it]

white room

One minute you’re There.

The next minute you’re Here.

There for Jennifer Bailey—Jen to her family and close friends, J-Bay to her scenester buddies—was in her little blue Honda Civic hatchback, humming along to random tunes from the thousands of stored songs on her Ipod while driving through the quiet dark streets of Clearbrook at 10PM on Saturday, the 10th of October.

Here was a place she did not recognize. At all. Not one bit. There was nothing to recognize.

Here was all white.

Jen wasn’t sure if her eyes were open and she was in a room entirely painted in white, or if the white was the glare of a harsh, impossibly  bright light beaming through shut eyelids. She saw no lines, shapes, or boundaries, so settled for the latter explanation. At first.

She tested her muscles and other senses … one by one.

She could not hear anything. She could not physically feel anything. She could not move anything. She could not smell anything.

She felt rising panic, so maybe she still had a stomach to contain butterflies of fear.

No, that’s just a saying; it’s all a mind-thing.

She was stuck in glue or mired in some horrible white molasses—nothing responded. She cried, she screamed—only in her mind. She could not hear herself, could not tell if there was any corresponding action from her physical self.

Physical self? I … have no … physical self?

Her ascending terror screeched to a halt.

Am I dead?

It fit.

One minute, you’re There—Earth, home, car, street. The next minute, you’re Here—mind, thoughts, nothing, nothingness!  In a white room.

Oh God!

Panic fluttered around her minda bat unexpectedly caught in sunlight.

Is this Heaven?

Hell?

Something else?

What was she any more? Spirit? Energy? Mind? Angel? Soul? Stardust? Plain dust?

Jen believed she was thinking, so … she must be thinking.

I guess!?!

Jen knew she was a … a … she. She knew her name.

Jen!! She screamed it in her mind, as if to be sure, to hogtie it to her … soul.

Soul?

She had a memory—memories. So, she must at least be.

“Cogito Ergo Sum” and all that.

Jennifer put some of those thoughts away … away somewhere else. She tried to rationalize her circumstance: what had she been doing just before she was … Here?

Driving her car.

She remembered that much very well. Radiohead—on the Ipod—mournful yet hopeful in their melancholy-poet-angst kind of way. She—humming along to Thom and thinking about the Big Step coming up tomorrow. Getting on a plane and going to Europe for a year … two, maybe. That was a distracting thought, for sure. Europe for the first time ever. Away for a long time.

The streets were not busy. Sidewalks rolled up like a good Bible-belt town—four-way stops optional.

Okay, so it is possible that I had an accident. That’s actually pretty logical. I’ve heard of that before. Yeah, in movies and magazines, the actual accident is often not remembered. So this is what it would be like—I guess—first I would be driving, then next thing I would know, I would be in a hospital or …

One minute I’m There. The next minute I’m Here.

So which is it, this … Here? Hospital or Heaven?

Jennifer-Jen-J-Bay felt a slight stutter in her identity—a cog slipping in the machinery of her mind. If I am in a hospital, she thought, why can’t I hear hospital noises and see hospital things? Nurses talking, doctors scolding, machines whirring and pinging, phones and call-bells ringing, even patients screaming—all would be welcomed at this juncture.

And if I am dead—I don’t feel dead—then the question is not just where I am, but who and what am I? Back to this again.

Spirit?

Energy?

Mind?

Angel?

Soul?

Stardust?

Plain dust?

Energy? Uh-oh, I already did that sequence.

Another slippage. Typical … I haven’t been Here two minutes—or was it two centuries—and I am already repeating myself. If this is for eternity, then I am definitely in BIG TROUBLE!

Jennifer began to repeat in her mind the three names with which she had identified for most of her twenty-two years:

Jennifer Bailey.

Jen.

J-Bay

She heard echoes in which her name was prominent. She clung to them fiercely with all her concentrated energy and repeated them in her mind over … and over … and over … afraid somehow she might just not BE if she lost the memory or the resonance it held for her.

“Hi! I’m Jennifer Bailey—you can call me Jen. What’s your name?”

“Yo, I’m J-Bay—baby! Ha-ha, no, no … not J-Lo, you jerk. Do I look like a wide-butted Latina Diva to you?”

“Jennifer Bailey—that’s Bailey with one ‘L”, please.”

“Hey girlfriend, it’s Jen. Wanna party tonight? Mojitos are on me-jito, on J-Bay!”

“J-Bay, you are hot, if I do say so myself!”

“Now you get back here right now, Jennifer Bailey, and pick up that mess!”

“Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer, how many times have I told you—you are switching the tenses in your story … and you want to go into journalism?”

“Jen, you know your father and I will always love you no matter what you do, but sometimes you’ve got to take responsibility for your own actions. We can’t always bail out Miss Bailey, can we? We won’t always be here, you know, Jen.”

With that particular echo, Jennifer’s mind snapped onto another track like some mad captive mouse leaping between wheel and tunnel, food and water, wall and ceiling.

Oh my God, Mom and Dad!!

What would they think? Where are they? Do they know where I am?

If they do, then they are one step ahead of me, Jen thought and would have smiled if she thought she could smile—and after all maybe she was smiling—how was she to know? How could she tell?

Back to Mom and Dad …

If I am dead, then—Jen was trying to be calm—then what day or time is it … to them?

Was it the day after the accident? A month? A year? Had they already had the funeral? Geez, thought Jen, in all the movies the dead ones get to look down at their funeral. Me—Jen Jennifer J-Bay—I get a white room.

What a gyp! What a joke.

If I am in a hospital, maybe they’re coming to visit me, Jen’s mind pitter-pattered. Maybe they’re here right now? If I’m in a hospital, and I can’t see or hear anything, maybe I am in a …in a … Jennifer ‘s thought process stalled … a bed?

No, no, I didn’t mean to say that, she thought. Not a bed.

Ha! Now that is funny. I still think in terms of the spoken word! Of course I didn’t say it. But what was that word? Not bed … why can’t I think of it? Try again: Maybe I’m in a … in a … a … room. Maybe I am in a … in a … a …

Jesus Christ! What is wrong with me?

Well that brings us back to the very first question again, doesn’t it, J-Bay old girl? Jen’s felt increasingly morose. Not only could she not connect to her body, her mind was slipping away. Was she dying now? Is this what dying was: a brief period of white—well they always talked about a white light, not a room—then … snick … you’re out?

No!

No!

Jennifer fiercely rejected the idea. If I am dying, where-oh-where were the celestial beings come to guide me through the veil to the other side? They’re listed in just about every recounting of trips to the afterlife and were all the rage in Kübler-Ross studies—no matter what your religious background, Jen thought.

It would be just typical to be expected to make the trip on my own. But I’ve got great-grandparents at least who should be …

Here.

Mind you, Jen mused—all awash in symbolism now—I don’t expect to see the River Styx or a ferryman, but someone, anyone would do: Gabriel, Peter—even Peter Gabriel—Father Christmas, St Christopher, Jupiter, the old guys from the movie Cocoon—who cares!!

I just don’t want to do this alone, Jennifer whimpered.

Again her mind jumped tracks. If I can think, Jen posited, then surely I am alive. Didn’t someone say: “I think therefore I am?” J-Bay had always parodied: “I stink therefore I am”. It wasn’t funny, J-Bay, Jen scolded her cool self. In fact, it had never been funny.

Wait, I already did the think/am—cogito/sum thingHey—track-jump—what if I am supposed to do my repenting right now? Is the time I have in this white, windowless, featureless, distraction-void space meant for reflecting on all my sins and peccadilloes?

Sure, sure I can repent, but what is the point, if the people I sinned against don’t know I am repenting?

I guess the Man knows—The Big Guy—the Head Honcho—the Big Kahuna—the … Shit!

Jen was surprised she could swear in this state, whatever state it was. Thoughts are thoughts, I guess, she metaphorically murmured …

Jump again … Okay if I can swear, this probably isn’t heaven. It may be only purgatory.

Only purgatory!

No, no, NO!

Jen tried to focus—back to the I-think-therefore-I-am thing. I must have a brain in order to think. Jennifer wasn’t quite so sure of this idea, since computers were getting very close to thinking, but …

 … If I have a brain, I must still be alive. Maybe I am alive, but in a … in a … a—almost got it—cubicle.

God damn it! Shit! … Motherfucker!!!

Jen shouted at the top of her imagined voice, hoping to shock The Powers That Be, whoever and wherever they were, into showing themselves and at the very least, admonishing her for such rudeness.

No such luck.

Why—why—why couldn’t she complete that thought?

I’m in a … in a … a …

Her mind suddenly spun back through all the thoughts ideas and phrases she had thought about since she became aware that she was Here and no longer There.

… could not hear … not feel …not move … panic … cry … scream … There Here … Heaven? … Hell? … Something … ?? … Spirit? … Mind? … Angel? … Stardust? … Driving … Radiohead … Ipod … humming … Thom … Europe … streets … 4-way stops optional … accident … movies … hospital or … dead … There … Here … Hospital or Heaven … Jennifer-Jen-J-Bay … identity … not where I am … … Jennifer Bailey … Jen … J-Bay … echoes … past … name … repeated …afraid … not BE … lost … memory … I’m Jennifer Bailey, call me Jen … J-Bay—baby! Ha-ha … Jennifer Bailey … it’s Jen … party … J-Bay … hot … get back here …Jennifer Bailey … mess! … father … love you … responsibility … always bail out Miss Bailey … Mom and Dad!! What … where … one step ahead … if dead, then … Jen … what day … after accident … month … Year … funeral … the dead … look down … a white room … gyp!

Jen felt the curious sensation of floating up and falling down in a spiral all at the same time, as her mind carried on gibbering, apparently of its own volition.

… can’t see, hear … in a … in a … bed? what … word? think … in a … a … room? … Maybe … in a … in a … a … Jesus Christ! No! … where … guide? … Kubler-Ross … No … grandparents … here … River Styx … Peter Gabriel … Christmas … Jupiter … Cocoon … I … alone … am alive … I am … J-Bay … I stink … I am … Jen … repenting … now … in … white … void space … sins … the Man knows … Big Guy … Head Honcho … Big Kahuna … Shit! … if … isn’t heaven … purgatory … No, no, NO!

Jen wasn’t even paying attention to her own thoughts, now. She was a computer algorhythm, burbling along to logical conclusions.

… focus … a brain … to think … close … have a brain … alive … Maybe … alive, but in a … in a … a … cubicle … God damn it! Shit! Motherfucker!!!

…Why—why—why… in a … in a … a …

SNAP!!!!!!!

To Jen, it was unimaginably loud. An audible crack jolting her back to the … Here.

Fuck.

And she knew.

… I’m in a coma.

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Artist Statement

Apparently everyone who is in the creative arts should have an Artist Statement, much like organizations have vision statements and mission statements.

It is not goal-setting; this comes after that chore.

The idea is to keep you on track with your goal, add fire to your muse and motivate you to carry on when difficulties and obstacles arise, which they always do.

Re-reading your Artist Statement, polishing it, making sure your goal and path align what it states is  important. Sometimes we get lost in the morass and chaos of creation. We get so excited and interested in a new project or work we don’t realize that although we are on track with our goal, suddenly the path or the goal itself are slightly off-kilter from our Artist Statement, our vision.

This is not always a bad thing; often the Artist Statement is made in the early stages of the journey, and we don’t know what we don’t know … or our interests change as we grow.

Using myself as an example, when I set my goal to publish a novel in five years (not a lofty goal, I know, but one I thought I could manage), I was interested in writing suspense/horror thrillers like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I had an idea in mind for a story and I jumped into it.

Thus, when I threw down my Artist Statement, it looked like this:

I want to write to explore the depths of my own psyche, to bring out previously unheeded or unwanted thoughts and ideas within others, and to set something down that will live beyond me.

I wish to speak of the life interrupted, the lightning shift of life events.

Over the last year or so, I have taken to writing stories and works in progress that are better served as crime fiction./thrillers along the lines of Lee Child.

So today I realized that, while my  Artist Statement still applied within the scope of what I was writing and my goal, it was not quite aligned with my current path. So I changed it to match my changed path to my unchanged goal.

I added one line:

I desire to excite the reader and myself with a plot-driven yet character-rich crime fiction novel.

I believe this incorporates what I am doing and how I want to feel about my work.

The Artist Statement is not meant to be shared with the world, as it opens the artist up to the laughter of loved ones, scorn of so-called friends and the onslaught of hordes of were-gypsies casting spells to steal your soul, but hey! I can always delete this later.

So …

What about you?

Do you have an artist statement?

If so, how is it looking today?

Does it align with your goal and the path you are on now?

Are you brave enough to share?

<steps back, laughs, shovels a heap of scorn onto your head, and morphs into a wolverine wearing a diklo and a gold necklace, chanting “tolle animam eius!”>.

No?

OK, <returns to simpering scribe>

No problem, you’re not supposed to, remember?

suck_it_wolverine_by_fonteart-d5efun6

Bad writing ?

Recently I read the blog of an agent I admire because of her no-nonsense advice on querying and general writing tips and I was somewhat taken aback by what she believed was bad writing. While I agreed with 3 out of the 4 examples she gave, I found myself pondering 1 of them. The agent said the following was just plain bad writing:

“A scream escaped her throat.”

She preferred the minimalist:

“She screamed”.

Now, I do understand why she included this, as it certainly feels awkward, but leaving that aside … it does in fact convey something much more than simply “She screamed”.

It infers that the screamer attempted to hold back the scream; thus, the scream just couldn’t suddenly come out, it had to escape her throat.

This raises more questions: was she choking or being choked; was she so terrified to make noise that she wanted to hold in the scream but couldn’t?

In essence, the writer is trying to convey something more than a simple scream, and to generate reader engagement with the screamer’s predicament.

So, is this truly bad writing or simply writing that the readers of today won’t accept, because it may seem too literary in composition and therefore hard to read?

I personally believe the latter.

I mean, Charles Dickens was a fabulous writer of words, providing incredibly rich descriptions. He was a literary giant, but his style of writing would fail miserably today. No one has the attention span to slog through the verbiage. Elmore Leonard rules, Dickens drools. Which is mildly funny, since Leonard had been called ‘the Dickens of Detroit’.

I get it. A writer must go with the flow and realize that his / her writing must be as spare as possible to allow the reader of today to access it. This is or presumably will be your audience after all.

However, perhaps a better example of what the agent was trying to convey might be this: (Full Disclosure: I plagiarized this from http://jakonrath.blogspot.ca/ in a guest blog of advice by Leslie Wells)

“Meticulously and carefully, Dr. Pedantic graded the exams.”

Edited sentence: “Dr. Pedantic graded the exams meticulously.”

Meticulously and carefully convey similar meanings, so the writer needs only one of them to get the point across. Here, the first sentence certainly contains too much verbiage and adds nothing to the sentence or to the story.

Do you agree, disagree?

Do you have more examples?

If so please comment below.

(BTW, if anyone is interested in writing advice and how to self-publish in today’s market, I am just delving into the website mentioned above by Joe Konrath and it looks full of information and good advice ferom someone who has gone that route. Another excellent site is Hugh Lowey’s http://www.hughhowey.com/my-advice-to-aspiring-authors .)

Slice

Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge ran over two weeks: the first week we were to write an awesome sentence, then this week, we were to pick someone else’s sentence and write a 1000 word story around it. I picked a sentence written by ‘miceala’ on September 26, 2014 at 7:44 PM. I will reveal the sentence at the end of this post as I think to reveal it now gives too much away Miceala’s avatar picture for her blog (http://quillaquiver.com ) follows and is somewhat appropriate:

8fe99ff8da30f4522e61388a489361b9

My face.

I try not to look, but when I must—like every morning before going to work—I force myself to search between the flaming angry ridges, to hone in only on smooth skin, the remaining untouched flesh.

My once beautiful face.

Every time, I fail. My eyes—blue and unmarred—forever stop and focus on each line, tracing the raised intaglio threads until the whole of my visage has been traversed slowly, carefully, painfully, like Blondin tightrope-walking across Niagara falls.

Eventually, after applying mascara, I close my untouched eyelids and finish preparing to meet the world, to go to my job. I brush my teeth and hair and apply lipstick blindly. No need for blush or rouge.

Concealer? I can hear him laughing at that thought.

It doesn’t matter; I’ll never be beautiful again. It’s a habitual morning ritual. It’s not for me, anyway; it’s for my co-workers, although I doubt they look at my face either.

These scars are ropes binding my existence, my self-image, to my wounds. I can’t ignore them; they will never disappear. The doctors say plastic surgery will only disfigure me more; there are too many, too close together to fix. Even if my body didn’t reject the transplanted flesh, it would be hard and puffy in so many places I would look like Georges St-Pierre after a losing fight instead of just a Dinka tribeswoman.

But there were so many cuts. So many …

I honestly don’t remember every slice. Just the first ten or so. The knife was cold until it went white hot. Or maybe it was the blood that made it burn. He did it all in front of a mirror at my old apartment. He had to, in order to create his art while holding me from behind. Held my head just so, moving my face gently, tenderly. When it came time to remove the gag and ball he had crammed in my mouth, the better to make his final strokes, I was well past screaming, too far gone to cry for help.

I remember his final words before he slipped out, leaving me sprawled beneath the sink with my face painting the bathroom floor a bright and slippery red.

“Remember always, Dora,” he whispered. “You are my greatest creation. A masterpiece!”

Only my name isn’t Dora. It’s Lily.

Once—in a maudlin drunken fog—I searched the Internet for ‘Dora’ and ‘Masterpiece’. I found Picasso’s portrait: ‘Weeping Woman’ whose subject was his mistress, Dora Maar.

So I guess I get it now, but it still doesn’t help.

If only I hadn’t been feeling … experimental that night. What do I call it? Looking for Mr. Goodbar? A Mosuo sweet night? Exercising my prerogative to enjoy myself?

Everyone says it wasn’t my fault.

Of course, it wasn’t my fault.

Doesn’t matter now, does it?

At first, Van had been fantastic: intelligent, artsy, great sense of humour. I laugh. I take a chance. I take him home.

And he carves me up like an Easter ham.

I told the police who he was. They never found him. Big surprise. They were sympathetic and useless.

But I found him. In a chat room. I know it is Van; he uses some of the same lines and jokes that seemed so attractive to me that night. He uses them on other women. How many masterpieces has Van created, I wonder?

Sometimes I can’t help myself; I must touch the scars. All of them. It’s happening more often, now—almost every day in fact. Before, only my eyes traced the route of each ridge; now my trembling fingers also find the path. Some days, as I do this, it is as if the scars are speaking to me through my fingers, like Braille to Helen Keller.

Lately, though—maybe since last week—as I let my fingers do the walking, I hear the tiniest of whispers. At first, I think it comes from the pads of my fingers sliding along the hard ropey blemishes. Then yesterday the words began to clarify, like the discordant croak of a radio announcer rising up through the static hiss of white noise interference.

It’s coming from my face. It’s my scars.

End it.

This comes through quite clearly. A natural thought for me after what I have endured.

Sl-i-i-ce.

Hissed like Kaa the great snake in the Jungle Book. It makes my face tingle and twitch, as if pricked one last time by the point of the hot knife. Sometimes I weep.

For six days the two phrases repeated.

Today, as I get ready to go to work—listening to my face whispering a sibilant sing-song—I confess to thinking that if I do end it, it would be such a beautiful irony if I managed to do it with a knife—to slice myself. I believe I would finally reveal the masterpiece that Van intended, the final masterstroke, as it were.

Van mus-s-s-t go.

Now … this is a new one. I think it is a clever pun. After all, it is my mind producing the delusion, isn’t it? I think I’m pretty funny … at least I used to be. Then I hear the sequence arranged in a different combination.

Van mus-s-s-st go.

Sl-i-i-ce.

End it.

Last night Van made a date with a woman openly in the chat room. He gave GPS coordinates as if they were some kind of code. I know where he will be later tonight.

This morning I understand what my scars are telling me.

Van mus-s-s-st go.

I stop touching them and stare in the mirror. Eyes open, looking at my face.

Sl-i-i-ce.

All of my face.

Sl-i-i-ce.

All of my beautiful face.

Van mus-s-s-st go.

His masterpiece.

End it.

Perhaps I would be able to move on. Court closure. Carry on, if not healed and whole, at least sated and revenged. I would be every bit as tender as Van was. Then finally, the scars would stop whispering.

The sentence is, of course: “Then finally, the scars would stop whispering”.

weeping-womanPicasso’s Weeping Woman

Jack Hodgins, Award Winning Canadian Author

I wanted to mention Jack Hodgins here, because not only is he a fabulous writer, he is a great creative writing teacher as well. His Book ‘Passion for Narrative’ is one of the best teaching tools I have in my arsenal. Working on just one of the exercises brought me closer to my voice and narrowed my focus to at least one of the genre’s that I now want to write: a fictionalized (well … slightly) memoir style.

His fiction has become literary classics. His spirited and humourous character depictions are not to be missed. Do yourself a favour and check Mr. Hodgins out.

I think of him as ‘Mr. Hodgins’ because he taught me in a Grade 11 Creative Writing class.

http://www.jackhodgins.ca/

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