Thursday, May 31, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 31. The wrap up.

I have kind of drifted away from putting up this logo on each post, mainly because it takes a little extra time, but let's start by crediting Steven Seighman for the banner, and Dan Wickett's Emerging Writers Network for coming up with the idea.

Although it was an irrational, mostly quixotic ambition to post something every day relating to stories, I'm glad I did it. I know a couple of people have checked in here, and I hope that is or will be useful to them. But of course the main audience has been myself and I'm sure I've gotten much more out of doing this than anyone else will. I've gotten a couple of stories out of this, which is two more than the previous six or eight or twelve months gave me, and I've marshalled my resources, which will come in handy later. Probably the best thing is that I have had the idea of stories up in my face for 31 days, and that's a good thing.

I'll leave you with a couple of story listening links. One is to a really fine reading of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Leonard Nimoy. I'm a bit hesitant about this, because for me it ran out before I had quite gotten to the end, but you should listen to Nimoy's rendition, even if you have to go out and read the rest of the story for yourself. You can find it HERE.  And public radio has many more stories to listen to HERE.

The other is Colum McCann's "Transatlantic", which was published in the New Yorker in April, and which McCann read for the blog at the same time. You can find this HERE. They have podcasts of many famous stories HERE.

But you were waiting for a prompt, weren't you? Sure you were.

Once upon a time... Now describe the main character. Make the main character you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 30. The Philanthropist. And God of Lakes.

I thought about making this story the final post, but decided against it. It's not quite the way I want to go out on this month, but it will do for the penultimate post.

Remember the Day One prompt? Well, I did start it then and I've managed to finish the story over the course of the month. I'm not sending it out anywhere else, it's just going up here.


After Sarah finished the paper that day, she did what she always did, clipping the stories about animals. She didn’t mean to clip only the sad ones, as Brad had often accused her of doing—it was just that there were so many more of them. She had learned through bitter experience that it was better to have the clips neatly filed by the time Brad got home, so that they wouldn’t have to go through the rounds about it again. All the same, it irritated her. Brad was a nice guy, she supposed that she loved him, but sometimes she thought life would be a whole lot easier if she just lived alone.

She had already blown her budget for the month—again, Brad was the one who had insisted that she make one, but the plight of those combat dogs who would never return home without her help was just too terrible, and she thought she and Brad could probably get by on leftovers a couple of nights this week, but she would have to be ingenious, because Brad always complained if he figured it out. And she’d have to mail the check down at the corner box. If she left it in the mailbox, Brad might find it before the postman did. She knew for a fact that he checked, which was silly, because she was too clever for him, and he really ought to know that by now.

It was all ridiculous, really. It was her money, after all, inherited from her mother. She was entitled to spend it as she saw fit. He griped, because he said that meant it was his money they had to live on, but wasn’t that how’d he’d said he wanted it? For her to stay at home and take care of things there, and not worry about the sordid business of getting a living? A shadowy little thought flitted across her mind, because she knew that for Brad, this had included raising children. But she blinked her eyes and managed to ignore it for the moment.

She was already out on the street and the mailbox was even in view when she caught sight of the hardware store, and remembered that Brad had wanted her to pick up some screws for a project he was working on—she didn’t remember just what. If she had to keep track of Brad’s projects on top of everything else, she would never get anything done.

She stopped by a newspaper vending machine to rummage through her purse. Brad had written the specific kind he wanted on a piece of paper that she really hoped she’d thrown in the bag, because otherwise she didn’t know where it was and there would be a scene. The hardware store would be closed by the time Brad got home and he’d have to drive out to one of the big box stores if he wanted to get anything done tonight. He would not be happy about that.

Ah—here it was, thank goodness. It was only then that she took notice of the stray sheet of newspaper, an inner section, which was sitting on top of the vending machine. There was a picture of some tigers, very bedraggled, and the shocking story of their mistreatment at the hands of a small traveling circus from one of those Eastern European places where the people obviously didn’t care about the fate of animals at all.

And her own paper hadn’t even bothered to cover this! If it weren’t for a handful of people like herself, a mere remnant, the world was just beyond saving. With such thoughts in mind, she entered the hardware store, the bell jingling over her head to let the owner know someone had come in. The device failed to have the desired effect, though, because there were currently several small children running up and down the otherwise orderly aisles, creating havoc.

Sarah sighed. It was barely past ten in the morning. Wasn’t this what schools were for? Well, it was obviously some holiday that she’d forgotten about. Neither the parent nor the shopkeeper was anywhere to be seen. The children, all boys, circled the aisles with mad abandon. Every time they passed her, one of them would bump into her and the smallest one would scream.

It really was a shame, she thought, that some people were allowed to breed. 

A few moments, an eternity, passed like this. Sarah felt that the time for patience was over. There was a little button on the counter with a sign “Please ring for assistance” taped beside it. As she reached for it her hand strayed across something she hadn’t noticed before, and instead of ringing, she picked up the small container from the counter. It was a box of bearing balls from Germany. From the picture on the front of the box, they were small steel balls, a little smaller than marbles.

It wasn’t anything she would have planned, it was just that they were so ready to hand. The top was not sealed, and it was a small matter to pull a few, only a few, from the top of the box. She waited until the children were on the other side of their seemingly endless circuit and squatted down, dropping them quietly down to the floor, where they rolled away from her in random directions. Three children, five or six small metal balls. The odds were that something would happen. She returned the box to its original position.

The result was swift and gratifying. The first child took the corner at breakneck speed, and skidded on one of the slick little balls, falling on his backside. The second one tripped over him, and the third only managed to stumble to a halt by careening into her and clutching her arm. Magnanimously, she steadied him. The boy who had fallen, the smallest one, began howling. Sarah had never had much appreciation for slapstick, but she was beginning to see its point.

Two men emerged from the back room. One wore a shop apron; the other was obviously the dad.

“What the hell is going on out here?” the father said.

“Jacob was running and he fell,” said the boy who was still clutching her arm.

“Jacob, what did I tell you about running?” He turned to the others. “Why didn’t you stop him?”

The boys cowered and said nothing. 

The man picked up the still howling child, then turned to the two other adults. “Honest to god,” he said. “I leave them alone for one minute.”

“They’re children,” Sarah said. “It happens.” It’s the kind of thing that always does happen with children, she thought.

The hardware store owner rang up the man’s purchases, and then man shepherded the now very silent children out of the front door. The bell could be heard quite clearly.

The shop owner turned to Sarah. “And what can I do for you?” he asked pleasantly and even a little apologetically. Sarah brought out the piece of paper with the screw size on it, and he went and found some for her. She was quite calm as she waited—this whole little adventure had taken the edge off her. Perhaps she would even be a bit nicer to Brad tonight—find him something special for dinner.

The shopkeeper rang up the purchase and handed the screws to her in a small paper bag. As she headed toward the door, she had already forgotten him. There was the check still to be mailed, and her mind was back on that newspaper story about the circus as she headed out the door. If there was only something that could be done.

It was a pity, really. If she hadn’t been thinking so selflessly about the animals, she might have noticed that last small steel ball lying directly in her path.

(c) 2012 Seana Graham

(With apologies to philanthropists and children everywhere...)
Today's prompt is just this random thing I found on the Seventh Sanctum story generator--don't even know how I got there. I love this guy. Maybe someday I'll write something around him, but I don't mind at all if you do too...

This playful god of lakes takes the form of a mature man. He has a
broad-shouldered build. His hair looks as if it is made from water. His
slitted eyes are ash-gray. His outfit is that of a bard. His skin looks
more like the scales of a fish. He carries a wheel...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 29. Story Subscriptions

I thought I might leave you with some reading ideas before the month wraps up. Because of course, if you're going to write stories, you are going to read some as well. Here are a couple of websites you can subscribe to, absolutely free. 

Narrative Magazine has a lot of contemporary fiction available, plus they have poems and other interesting content. They used to have puzzles, but apparently they are making room for new features, so I won't promise you that.

Library of America also has a free story of the week feature you can sign up for. True, often this not purely fiction, but may be journalism or some other nonfiction. However, it is all part of their ongoing attempt to bring to the public the best of American writing and is a laudible effort you may very well want to be a part of.

Speaking of literary tomes, here's today's prompt:

You're walking along and, on the edge of a planter, you see four old, red battered volumes in an untidy stack. People are passing by these books without a glance, but you go over and take a look at them and see that they carry the series title, "The Book of Knowledge". What do you do next?

(This is actually a prompt taken from life, but since, by coincidence, it happened to be very similar to the prompt Justin was running over at Forward Motion that day, I realized it might have a sort of archetypal potential.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 28. Thinking outside the box

Today, I'm going to invite you to extend your range a little. It's all well and good to write stories based on our own experience, but sometimes I think that can be too constricting. Not that we can ever truly escape our own viewpoint, but sometimes that idea of jumping into another's shoes can be enlightening.

In the same way, writing in a different genre than you're accustomed to can have surprising results as well. So today, you can choose between two prompts.

Think about an incident in which you found yourself in conflict with someone. Now write about the encounter from their point of view.

Or, pick a genre that you wouldn't normally read. Write a story in it. You can use one of those random generators I've been going on about all month if you like. For me, romance is probably the genre I'd be least likely to read, so I found a romance generator and came up with this: 

This story starts in a port city in France. In it, a heroine trapped by the past falls madly in love with an aged pharmacist.

Unlikely? Sure. But if the aged pharmacist was played by Gerard Depardieu in the movie version, it could work...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 27. Horror

I’m not really making a serious attempt to cover all the genres here, but for some reason this morning I was thinking about horror. I haven’t read a lot of contemporary horror fiction, probably because I get too scared. But I certainly have enjoyed some in my day, and Poe, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker do rank right up there with the best writers in my eyes. And Hound of the Baskervilles, anyone? Yikes.

For some reason, I have a hard time staying within the required genre when I’m writing stories. I have a story in a horror anthology, which, while honoring the conventions, is not particularly horrifying, and one that ended up in a very literary journal is in fact downright creepy.

So, although I’m going to give you a horror story prompt today, and a very hoary one at that, you don’t necessarily have to read it that way. Feel free to let it take you to another kind of tale entirely.

Today’s prompt:

I’m coming to get you. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 26. Southeast Review

I know many of you are saying, but wait a minute, May is almost over. What happens to the prompts, the on the fly adages and etc. once June comes? Well, let's get the bad news over with first. They will stop.

But have I ever let you down before? There is better news to come and that is that Southeast Review is starting up their writing regimen on June 1st, so you won't even have time to catch your breath.

The Writer's Regimen does cost $15.00 but having subscribed to it a few times, it is well worth the money. In fact, you are likely to be overwhelmed by all the prompts, riffs and author interviews that come your way. Trust me--what we've been doing this month is just baby steps.

Anyway--today's prompt. I've been told by reliable voices that it is a good opening for a story, even though for me, it is my life:

A tree fell down and I'm at the laundromat. But not for long.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 25. A Big Storm Knocked it Over (with apologies to Laurie Colwin)

This  is kind of funny, I guess. I’ve been doing pretty well with keeping these prompts and all going, and I didn’t really see any problem getting to the end of the month doing this. Unfortunately, a tree fell down last night and though I had a land line this morning, I somehow don’t have one now. Now that they’ve cut through the branches and all. I actually don’t know how soon I will have internet access here. Tuesday?

Anyway, I have a few workarounds planned.  Tonight, for example, I'll be sending this from the laundromat, which has wireless. But we’re going for the more succinct version for at least the next few days.

I have some good news to share. Remember that Flash Jab fiction challenge from Day 7? Well, I decided to follow it through and send a story in. Jack Bates liked it and decided to publish it in Flash Jab 12. It’s live now and you can find it here. I thought it might be a good idea to show that I am walking my talk here, after the Follow Through post yesterday.
I was going to give you a new one word prompt and I had some ideas about that, but those have been superseded. The new  one word prompt is



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 24. Follow through

So how's it going out there in story writing land? Is anyone actually writing stories because they've been following along? I'm not asking because you need to tell me. I'm asking because I'm hoping to prompt you out of the "dreaming about it" stage into some kind of activity.

When I first really started thinking about writing as an adult, as opposed to just doing it when I was a child, the sequence went something like this. "I want to be a writer, but I have no idea what to write." But my opinion about where the writing would come from shifted over time, and, if it hasn't become obvious by now, I really work under the assumption that we all have more prompts than we know what to do with. The world is rich in possibility once you look at it that way.

Where I tend to see things fall apart, at least for me, is not in inspiration, but in follow through. There are a lot of aspects to this, a lot of places where it breaks down--finishing something, revising it, submitting it. But what about just beginning it in the first place? What about taking a possibility from nothing to something? I find that my real regrets about writing have more to do with letting some opportunity slip away than with rejection slips.

Today's prompt:

Has something come to you in the last month that you thought you might be able to do? The haziest whisper of a notion? Make a start on it. A paragraph will do. 

Hell, a sentence will be fine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Short Story Month, day 23. Tarot prompts

Not enough prompt ideas yet? Really? Well, here's another thing you can do. You can use tarot cards to plot a story. You don't have to spend money on it. You can just go to a free site like and cast the dice, so to speak. There are all kinds of fortunetelling tools there--maybe you like runes instead. Anyway, you don't have to use these things to foresee your own future, you can plot your characters' as well. isn't too keen on people reusing their images, but I can say that the Twisting Path spread might be a good place to start. It's about a couple of choices ahead and a couple of pitfalls. Just what any good story needs.

I'll also point you to Seventh Sanctum again, where their latest project is the Science Fiction Tarot Card Generator. This deck could come in handy if you're writing a tale about technology or the near future.

The Empress of Mutation? The Ten of Time Tunnels? Come on, it doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 22. Crime Fiction

Proportionally to other things I read, I'd say I read a fair amount of crime fiction. But reading short stories in this genre hasn't ranked all that high on my list. I was going to say that I never really got hooked on the short form in this genre, but then I remembered another early formative book, namely, Alfred Hitchcock's Solve-Them-Yourself Mysteries. I remember a summer when I spent a few happy hours reading these stories--I don't remember if I solved them myself or not. (I do remember one solution, but perish the thought that I'd give it away here.)

Anyway, the short form is fun and very satisfying. To the extent that crime novels are puzzle books--not all are--the short form may even be more  perfectly adapted to the task.

I've been fortunate enough in the last couple of years to read a couple of terrific crime fiction anthologies, which have reawakened me to the inherent possibilities here. The first was Requiems For the Departed, edited by Gerard Brennan and Mike Stone, which I reviewed here , which is about as great an introduction to the Irish crime writing  scene as you could hope to find. This is a feisty bunch who really pack a punch.

And this led in turn to my picking up The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime, Volume 8, because it featured some of the same people, and I pretty much devoured that whole.

Suffice to say that I've discovered my enjoyment of the shorter form.

I had a bit of a hard time finding any real crime fiction plot generator, and was going to have to resort to a few tricks up my sleeve, when a blog post by my friend Peter Rozovsky wended its way across the ocean. Peter is on his way to Crimefest in Bristol, but he managed to post a very evocative photo from London, which you can find here.

Today's prompt:

Go take a look at that photo. Make it figure in a piece of crime fiction. Or any other kind of fiction it evokes for you is fair game too.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 21. The Fairy Tale Book

I thought I'd say a little bit about fairy tales today, and fairy tale influences. The picture to the right is the cover of a book that made a great impression on me in my early childhood. We actually had two copies--I think it was a case of the duplicate gift--so we had one at home and one at my grandmother's. Originally, it was called The Fairy Tale Book but it has more recently been revived and kept alive by Golden Books, with the title now shown on the cover.

I don't think of myself as a big fairy tale aficionado. I've never read Bruno Bettelheim on The Uses of Enchantment, so I don't know what beneficial effects these strange tales have on children or if they are beneficial at all. Nevertheless, a lot of the stories I've written have been influenced by this magical realm, even if all unwittingly. Perhaps it was this book, with its beautiful jeweled illustrations (click here if you want to see a bit more) that set the tone.

Today's prompt comes from yet another random generator I found, namely the Fairytale Plot Generator.

Write a fairytale.  Make up your own or use the Fairytale Plot Generator to start you off on your way. Here's a prompt I picked up for you there:

The story is about a shy soldier who must defeat a giant, outwit a witch, and return home to evade an unwanted lover.  Things are complicated by a jealous rival.

Easy peasy, no?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 20. William Saroyan

I've been fairly diligent about the prompts here, but I haven't done too well on giving shout outs to great short story writers. Maybe we can fit in a few before the month draws to a close. William Saroyan is definitely one of my favorites. I came to the stories in a round about way. I first knew Saroyan's work through his play The Time of Your Life, which I saw in Ashland, Oregon many years ago. Then, some years ago, I came across a book, which in some ways I think of as magical or mysterious. In the thirties, Saroyan became famous for his story The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze--to all intents and purposes, it launched him. The book I'm thinking of included that story, but more importantly for me, the first long segment of the book was on writing, his philosophy about doing it, and his account of how The Daring Young Man got published. With writers, as perhaps with everyone, you have to take their autobiographical tales with a grain of salt, but the way he told it was this (to the best of my recollection). He rented a fifth floor walk-up in some cheap part of San Francisco, and started writing a story every day. When he was done writing it he would send it off to the New Yorker. Not at first, but eventually, they published one.

Now this is not a prescription. The New Yorker is a bit of a different beast these days, and you might starve to death before that gambit paid off. The important thing about the story is Saroyan's commitment. His intention. His ability to put it all on line. Saroyan was by many accounts not the greatest guy in the world, especially where his family was concerned, but that's another topic. Here, it should only concern us that he did end up writing marvelous stories, which I think are better than his play. The play feels a little schmaltzy or old-fashioned now (I saw it again a few years ago, and still emjoyed it) but the stories are different. New Directions put out two collections that I read shortly after reading the above: The Man With the Heart in the Highlands, and Madness in the Family. Although it's been some years now since I read these too, I feel secure in recommending them.

The mysterious part about that book I read was that I have never been able to find it since, though I've gone back to the library where I found it, asked on line, and done the usual kind of searches for it. I suppose it doesn't really matter, because it came to me at the right time and might not have the same meaning for me now. But all the same.

Today's prompt:

Before Saroyan's short story break out, "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" was already a very popular song. Think of a popular song title, and write a story from it.

I was actually trying to come up with a list or generator for this, and was unsuccessful, but I did find this and this in the process, which may even be better...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 19. Forward Motion

Forward Motion for Writers is a great website for writers, though you do have to register, so it might be a bit beyond the commitment level of this month's posts. It was started by the science fiction and fantasy writer Holly Lisle and is now run by Lazette Gifford, and has many fabulous things going on all the time. I hadn't been over there for awhile, but I just logged on again and, as I suspected, it's short story month over there as well. There's not actually a lot of reason to waste your time here when they do everything there but bigger and better, especially if you like to write sci fi and fantasy. One thing that's particularly apropos is the thread called Justin's Daily Exercises, which you can read as they come up or get through their random story generator.  I don't want to steal Justin's material, but trust me, it's interesting stuff. Forward Motion is a free site, though you can donate. There's really no reason not to register and check it all out, unless you're against that sort of thing on principle.

In case you are, I'll post a random story prompt here as well--I think I found the random story generator through Forward Motion anyway.

The story is about a cab driver who tends to annoy non-humans. It takes place in a shadowy realm on a world artificially created by magic. The issues of faster-than-light-travel and its effects on society is a major element of the story.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 18. Random images

A prompt doesn't have to be verbal, of course. When I was in fourth grade, I had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Seim, and she gave us a creative writing prompt every week. In fact, as I'm only just realizing now, I am pretty much following in her footsteps here. Her prompts took a variety of forms, but one of the ones I remember most vividly was a picture she showed us and asked us to make up a story about. (What's kind of funny about this is that I got the picture wrong. I thought it was a picture of a tree growing out of the trunk of an old fashioned car, but in reality, the car only had the tree in the background. The story turned out okay, though. Mistakes can be inspiring too.)

Anyway, I've been hunting around here for a picture of the day kind of prompt and maybe spent more time on this than I should have. In any case, today's random prompt is

Or if you'd rather, simply go to the site and generate your own.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 17. Snippets

I walk to work every morning, but sometimes, if I'm lucky, my friend Dave is coming back down the hill from taking his son Max to school and he gives me a lift to work. Often a very charming aspect of this trip is that I get to listen to a bit of a CD that is more or less always in his CD player. It's one of a collection that was his mom's, and is a series of short stories from Jewish writers. Originally, it was part of an NPR series, hosted by Leonard Nimoy. Yes, that Leonard Nimoy.

The funny thing is that the drive is actually very short and so I have yet to hear a story through to completion. This would probably be maddening to some, but I don't actually mind. I've gotten a little taste of Joanne Greenberg on an Indian reservation, Ida Fink, Sholom Aleichem. One day, I will retrace my steps, and read or listen to these tales. (I thought I might be able to post a link for you, but it's proving harder than I thought. You can find a list at least of some of the tales here .)

The point, though, for my purposes is that this is in fact how a significant amount of the stuff we learn is conveyed to us--in exactly these kinds of partial ways. I suppose a case could be made for the idea that all of what we know is conveyed imperfectly and partially.

Today's prompt offers two possibilities. Try to remember a conversation that you overheard only a part of--or seek one out more deliberately if you can't.  Now here is where your road divides. You can a.) complete the conversation, or b.) convey the fragment and why it leapt out at you.

Good luck.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

National Short Story Month, Day16. Ahura Mazda

Undoubtedly this will sound like one of those program generated story ideas, but in fact this is one I am taking from life. I was with a group of friends last night and one of them was talking about her experiences with online dating. I didn't hear the beginning of her story, but apparently one guy she was going back and forth with online introduced her to the idea of Ahura Mazda, a divinity of the old Iranian religion. Zoroaster declared him to be the uncreated God and  he is the highest deity of worship in the Zoroastrian religion. Ahura means light; mazda, wisdom.

Why am I telling you about the god of an Iranian religion? Let me continue the story. For whatever reason, this Ahura Mazda admirer drops out of my friend's life and she starts dating again. The next guy, totally unrelated to the first guy, turns out to have spent the last twelve years carving a statue of, you guessed it, Ahura Mazda. Let's just be clear here. My friend is neither Iranian or a follower of Zoroastrianism.

Today's prompt is simply this:

Take the above scenario and tell a story. You could tell it straight, from the point of view of a woman who just wants to meet someone she can relate to and ends up with devotees of a foreign god. Or you could tell it from the point of view of Ahura Mazda, who has decided to make a comeback. Or you could take this whole little sequence and spin it in an entirely new direction...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 15. Comics

Purists may dissent, but in my book, comics are short stories too. My interest in comics has been rekindled after the early May National Free Comic Book Day, and it seems to me that it's a great way to hone those writing skills, especially in the 'less is more' style.

What? You can't draw? No, me either. But there is good news for the likes of you and me. The web has at least one comic generator. So for today's prompt:

Go to MAKE BELIEF COMIX! Play around with it. Have fun! Because this is supposed to be fun, remember?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 14. Reevaluation

I was on a 'getaway weekend' with some high school friends these past couple of days. I mention this because, though we were all good friends in high school, our ways parted gradually during our early twenties and our reacquaintance in middle age is fairly recent and has a lot to do with the social networking possibilities of this millennium.

I wasn't the keenest on high school or the small suburban town where I spent it. My desire to escape it was strong and I tended to look on my time there with a certain amount of disdain. But meeting up with these lovely people later in life makes me wonder what the big deal was. They are all accomplished and kind and funny. True, I never thought back on the people I knew with disdain, it was more about the 'milieu'. But what was the milieu if not the people? In retrospect, though, it was more that that part of life's journey was to define myself than anything about the place.

It occurred to me that this kind of reevaluation is something we all do from time to time. Often it is in the opposite direction, where we become disillusioned with something, but sometimes it works in this different way, which is why I include a personal example in this post.

Here's today's prompt:

Think about a situation that for one reason or another you realized you got wrong in a major way. (If you're perfect, and have never had this experience, ask around among your merely mortal friends and you're sure to find an example.) Write a story about the process of that change of heart. Or extrapolate and give it to someone who is not like you at all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 13. The Plot Machine

"Under cover of darkness, a butler walks into a bar, fights a band of marching band drummers."

A bit of an overextended weekend, but never fear, the Plot Machine is here!

This fantastic little device is really designed to create instant plots for Script Frenzy, the screenplay in a month challenge, and most of what it comes up with is just plain absurd, but it's amusing and, despite its zaniness, I actually got the plot ot the idea for a full length script from one of its random generations.

Yeah, what am I stalling you for? Script Frenzy and the Plot Machine are here .

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 12. Unbelievable True Things

(I'm updating this to say that I apparently had the comments set to 'registered users only', which wasn't my intention. So if anyone has been trying to comment here, give it another shot...Also, if you do want to post links, pieces of your work, or whatever, feel free to email me. I'm happy to put things up here, as long as they aren't completely insane...)

My blog friend PQ posted a list of a rapid succession of bizarre things that have been related to him recently. You can find the post at a A Building Roam . (There is some violence involved in some of them, so beware.)

While I certainly don't advise you poaching PQ's tales, at least not without asking him, I thought that maybe we could use this as a prompt today.

Cast your mind back to some strange, surreal or incredible thing that happened in your life. Maybe it's something that still bugs you, something you can't believe really happened. Maybe it was just an odd, random image. Now, give it a home in a story. Somebody's story. Anybody's story. It doesn't have to be your own. In fact, maybe it's better if it isn't.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Short Story Month, Day11--The First Line

I'm concentrating a lot here this month on writing stories without an outer aim, but the fact is that sometimes you need those goals and deadlines. One very interesting literary magazine is The First Line. The concept is, every story in the magazine starts with the same first sentence. They do four issues a year, and they give you the story prompts at the beginning of the year.

 I've done a few of these, maybe submitted four or five. I've never actually gotten accepted, though they are good about saying when they like a story anyway. And the good news is that although they request you wait to send the story off elsewhere until after their issue is published, you can certainly do so then. I've had some luck getting these stories elsewhere, in fact, I even won a prize for one of them, so I encourage you not to get discouraged if The First Line doesn't accept yours. A deadline and a reason to write are one of the things that The First Line provides.

The most recent deadline for The First Line just passed, so this means you have till August 1st to try for the next. The months have a way of speeding by, so get started now!

I don't want to poach on their territory, so this time instead of a prompt, this time, I'm simply giving you a link:

The First Line--Deadline August 1st

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 10. Dedication

No, I'm not starting off here with a post exhorting you to be more dedicated. We all should be--let's just say we're working on it. What I had in mind was sending you over to a story that I found through Emerging Writer's Network at the beginning of this month. It's called Dedication, it's by Stephen Graham Jones, and you can find it HERE , at Smokelong Weekly. As he tells us in the author notes, his story was  inspired by another story, so it seems only fair that his story should in turn be a source of inspiration.

Here's today's prompt:

Think of a person who has been on your mind a lot lately. (You could do worse than to read Stephen's story right now, if you want to come up with someone besides your current infatuation, your mother, or your pet bulldog.) Think about their qualities. Think about what it would mean to dedicate a story to them. Would it be a love story? A tale  of vengeance? A nostalgic look back? What kind of story would you like to tell them that you have never, ever told them before?

If the idea is scary, then the time is ripe. Start NOW...

banner by Stephen Seighman

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 9. Wikipedia!

banner by Steven Seighman
I was listening to my friend Rick Kleffel's show the other night and heard him interview Christopher Moore on his book Sacré Bleu, which, among many other things is about the history of how artists obtained the color blue to work with. Moore talked about how he used various cool facts about the history of blue as markers in the compostion of his novel. Here's a link that will lead you to the podcast

This led to an interesting idea for a writing prompt. It crossed my mind that Wikipedia has a random article  generator. You can go on over to Wikipedia yourself (do I really need to post a link?) but here's the one I picked out for you just now:

All you have to do is head on over, read the article and then write a story based on  the information you glean.

Too hard? Did I mention that Christopher Moore is a best selling author, partly based on his ability to look things up?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 8. Take a hike, Buster.

I think my own idea of what a story is has been a bit naive for most of my life. I have largely been under the impression that they have to be about something made up, and was surprised as life went on and I found that so much of what I'd taken to be pure fiction had such large autobiographical elements. I'm still not sure though if a feuilleton is really a story. But after reading Robert Walser, I do now know, more or less, what a feuilleton is. And in fact, quite inadvertently, I recently wrote one .

So here's your prompt for the day.

Go for  a walk. Or if you hate walking, take a ride on a bus. Ride your unicycle--I don't care.The important thing is to go on a little journey. Then sit down somewhere and write what happened.

Simple, yeah? Then what are you waiting for?

banner by Steven Seighman

Monday, May 7, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 7. Flash Jab Fiction!

You know, I really have no idea if anyone is reading along here, and I'm not checking stats, because I have a feeling that that would be counterproductive. Even if I'm only challenging myself this month, that's all well and good. But if you are checking in here at all, I'm happy to announce that Jack Bates, one of my Grimm Tales  partners in crime, has put up a very timely post today, offering another round of the Flash Jab Fiction Challenge, where one and all are invited to send him their best short, punchy crime fiction. Here are his rules:

1) No picture necessary (Note: sometimes he's made the challenge link to a photo.)
2) 750 words or less
3) Please don't plagiarize
4) Get it back to me within the next two weeks or sooner
5) With the authors' permission, stories get posted at Flash Jab Fiction
6) This is a writer's exercise done for fun; no fees, no pay. You get a byline and you keep the all rights. (Please notify me if you sell it so I can yank it from the blog.)
7) Embed the story in an email and shoot it to me at (Bloody Knuckles reserves the right to post or not to post a story.)
Flash Jab Fiction, Bloody Knuckles, and The Hard Nosed Sleuth reserve the right not to post submissions. This is an adult fiction site but there are limitations to what I can run. No bigotry, pornography, or anything featuring the exploitation of children will be considered.
I like the pictures Jack  has chosen in the past, but maybe he's decided they are too daunting. In any case, this blog is all about prompts this month, so in case you need a nudge--or a jab-- I am going to the random word generator for help.... And the word is....


So head on over to Flash Jab , check out the lay of the land, and then, get cracking! You only have two weeks!

You have been warned.  

banner by Stephen Seighman

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Short Story Month 2012, Day 6--Comics and random deities

Assyrian bird-headed deity

Possibly this should have gone up yesterday--in any event I was inspired to post it by National Free Comic Book Day, which took place on Saturday. We have two fine comic book stores in downtown Santa Cruz, and since they were both kind enough to participate in this fun day, I'll take a moment to give a nod to Comicopolis and Atlantis Fantasy World. Long may you prosper.

I was looking for a generator or random superheroes, as I thought that would be appropriate. So far, I've only found names rather than attributes, but I stumbled upon a "deity generator", and was very struck by this character, so it will be today's  prompt.

This god of assassination takes the form of an older man. He is tall and has a boyish build. His deep-set eyes are white. He has dark skin. His outfit is that of a warrior. He carries a sling. He has no shadow. He sometimes takes the form of a flying squirrel.

Scary dude, no?

logo bySteve Seighman

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Short Story Month 2012, Day 5. Why short story month?

There hasn't been time to do much blog posting today, so instead I'll send you to Emerging Writers Network on why we're celebrating short story month. I think all too often the short story is seen as a means to some other, more important, and definitely more lucrative end. But just as a haiku is not a step on the way to an epic poem, the short story is not just writer's training for working up to a novel. It is complete in itself.

Here's the prompt.

The story is about a scuba diver who is in debt to an immoral college professor. It starts in a gun shop in a small city. The crux of the story involves a birthday celebration.

logo bySteve Seighman

Friday, May 4, 2012

Short Story Month 2012, Day 4. Giallo

It's Friday. I suppose it's too early in the month to slack off a little (is it ever too early to slack off a little?) but I thought I'd mention this very funny site where you can generate your own giallo. Giallo is an Italian genre that originated with some cheap yellow genre paperbacks that were probably pretty sensationalist in their day--their day being before the advent of Friday the Thirteenth and the like. Anyway, it soon came to represent a certain kind of lurid film as well.

And thus the Do-it-Yourself Giallo Kit was born. Maybe it's only me, but I find this generator hilarious. I've often thought of writing a whole set of stories based on the things that come up here--the titles alone are terrific, and if you could somehow convey the slasher film mentality while keeping it somewhat tongue in cheek...Well, better minds than mine, right?

For today's prompt, here are a couple for examples, drawn very much at random:

A Butterfly with Teeth of Glass

Directed by
Matteo Bruni

A drug-addicted student finds a human torso which has been hacked up on stage, in front of an audience which doesn't understand what's going on. A politician inadvertently picks up the one piece of evidence that will solve the the killing. When another person is found murdered, he is able to take control of his shattered life long enough to unmask the real criminal.

My Heart is an Assassin with One Red Eye
Directed by
Ovidio Massaprodussi
A strange painter is found dead. A blind writer is implicated in the murder. After several bloody murders, she finds herself faced with the decision to betray her own twin.

Three Dead on a Frozen Landscape
Directed by
Romano Pecorino
A wealthy journalist is found brutally murdered in an old, abandoned warehouse. A bisexual sculptor seems to know a little too much about the the murder; and after decoding entries in a hidden journal, he unravels the complicated plot and leads the police to the criminal. Unfortunately, he is mistaken, and soon the real maniac is on his trail.

A Key of Ice in a Woman's Hands
Directed by Stefano Giocomonte
An old musician is murdered with a hatchet. A controversial student discovers the crime. After decoding entries in a hidden journal, she discovers that she herself is actually responsible; her own son is forced to kill her before she can kill again.

Yeah, I know--I've put up too many of these. I'm telling you, it's addicting.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 3. 300 Characters

So I know what you're thinking now. After yesterday's post, you're thinking, yes, I would like to fuel our modern civilization with a completely random scribble in a cafe, but I just don't have time to write a short story this month. (Really? You don't have time to sit in a cafe and drink some sort of scrumptious coffee beverage while you doodle on a piece of paper? I thought everybody had time for that.)

The thing you should know about short stories right now is that some of them are short. I mean really, really short. You remember that old saw about angels dancing on a head of a pin? Well, some stories dance on the inside of a matchbook cover.

I've mentioned Matchbook stories here before, but it's been awhile. The editor and basically the guy who came up with the whole idea, Kyle Petersen, took a brief hiatus when becoming a new father and sticking with his full time job put artistic endeavors on the back burner for awhile, but he's back. Basically he edits a journal you can fit in the palm of your hand. It's a story that fits inside the cover of a matchbook. As someone in the lit world, he was a little frustrated by how stories don't seem to escape into the world of the non MFA, and had the vision to think that a matchbook, free for the taking, was a great way to put a little story into the hands of the right person at the right time.

But let's forget for the moment the troubling idea of submissions and focus on the task at hand--whittling the story form down to its essence.  The aim is to write a story that takes 300 characters or less (including spaces) and write a true story out of it. On a lark, I wrote one up and got an honorable mention of some sort on the blog, which is neither here nor there, but means I can post my own attempt at the form right here:

The Last Cigarette
As he finally caught a first dim glimpse of the cave's
fabled wonders, Roger thought he'd earned a smoke for his travails. As he
greedily put a cigarette to his lips, he tried to recall Evans' warning about
the place. Too late, he realized it might have had something to do with matches.

However, this was just a light-hearted approach to the challenge, and others proved that you could write a non jokey version even in this tiny context. I think probably the best example to date is Susan McCloskey's "After the War" . In fact, take a look at all the stories over on Matchbook Story , just to get an idea of the possibilities.

I'm thinking of this blog this month as about writing stories without knowing where they are headed. But you don't have to think that way. You could write something that you know you're going to submit to Matchbook Story in hopes of publication. (Kyle has told me that he likes to get little graph style notebook and then block out those 300 squares, but I found it easy enough to do right on his website--it won't let you go further when you've written too much, and this I know for sure.)

So, today's prompt? Well, a complicated scenario isn't quite the thing here, is it? But luckily for you, I have found a random word generator. I'm not going to censor this one, so we better hope it's good. The only thing I know for sure is that it will be some kind of noun...


I mean, are you really, really ready?

Okay, here goes:

...Well, if I'm truthful, which I suppose I should be, the first thing I got was an error message, because the webpage had expired. But the next thing I got was  


Which gives me an idea...

(So far, there have been three matchbook editions. Now Kyle Petersen's looking to discover what he'll put in the fourth.)

logo bySteve Seighman

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Short Story Month, day 2. Private musings

How did you do with yesterday's prompt? Did it spark anything? I surprised myself by getting the beginning of a story out of it, which I'll continue to work on. But it made me realize that it might be too constricting a prompt for some, so I'll be varying the degrees of specificity as I go here.  

One of the reasons I wanted to do this blog right now is that I have recently been introduced to the Berlin Stories of Robert Walser. To tell you the truth, I don't know if I would call them stories or not.  The collection of his Berlin Stories, as they're called, are closer to the essay than to fiction. I did a little meditation on them here, if you'd like to know more, and I'll probably  be getting back to Walser before too long. But the subject of this post was an intriguing paragraph I read while studying up on Walser.

It comes from a blog called Wandering With Robert Walser. I happened to scroll down a ways, and came across this interesting post called A Piece of Paper, Destined for the Trash . Attributing the piece is a bit complicated, because I can't find the name of the actual blogger, and it is quoting an Argentine writer named Juan José Saer on Walser, but the translation is done by Heather Cleary for her book Lost in the Stacks. Just  take a look there--it will be clearer. 

Anyway, here is the paragraph:  


"The truth is, finding inspiration in the paper, in the place, in the table at which one writes is fairly common and generally accepted by the public. But what might generate resistance in this utilitarian and consequentialist world of ours is the assertion that a piece of paper destined for the trash bin has a more powerful energy to it than moral, philosophical, and social aesthetic imperatives, an energy absent in those imperatives and endowed with the unusual ability to generate a work of literature. The assertion that even the works most representative of the values of which a given culture is proud would not exist without the irrational dependence on a private stimulus that is totally irrelevant in the eyes of that culture, and which, because of this very irrelevance, presents itself as its negation. The assertion that this obvious particularity of Walser’s, which, given the nearly thirty years he spent locked away in a mental institution, many might be tempted to write off as dementia, is actually the model of all literary creation."

Perhaps this is a bit scholarly for what you were expecting from this simple blog. I parse it thus: A piece of paper destined for the trash has more energy than all of society's other values, and the society depends without knowing it on exactly these private musings.

Here's today's prompt.

Find a piece of paper, destined for the tr--uh, recycle bin. Write some private musing. Take your time. Think of yourself as Robert Walser, not in an insane asylum, no, but sitting in some Berlin cafe, as he did in his youth before the wars, happily scribbling about just anything at all.

When you're done, take it and dispose of it.

Or don't.

Destiny isn't everything.  

logo bySteve Seighman

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Short Story Month 2012--Day One. Introductions

This is year six of Short Story Month over at Dan Wickett's Emerging Writers Network. I got the cool logo from him, which was designed for his site by Steven Seighman . I've decided to follow Dan's lead and refresh this foundering blog by celebrating the short story during the month of May as well. It's a bit of a commitment, so I've been wavering, but I'm plunging in at the last minute.

My running idea is to post something story-related here every day. I don't lack for links to interesting things--stories, blogs, websites, etc. It's just a matter of finding the time and energy to post them.

The other purpose, though, is to get people writing stories. Or at least sidling up to the idea of writing a story sometime. I think we get too hung up sometimes on the idea of publication and forget that this is both a challenging and pleasurable activity. To this end, I'm going to post a writing prompt every day as well. This isn't going to be the hard part, because I am going to mostly use one of several random story generators. Seventh Sanctum is a very enjoyable one, though it leans heavily toward sci fi and fantasy, so it won't be the only one I'll use. Here's today's:

The story is about a philanthropist who hates children. It takes place in a hardware store. The story begins with an accident and ends with a surgery. International crime plays a major role in this story.

Feel free to alter that in any way you want, or go to Seventh Sanctum and generate your own prompt!

(And you can certainly post links in the comments to anything you'd like to share...)