Tag: writing

Flash Your Fiction Workshop Writeup

Day One

worddiceLast night’s Flash Your Fiction class at Howard Community College went great!
We talked creativity, freedom to create, and sparking the flame. We put a little science in our fiction and did the Cloud in a Bottle activity and it applied perfectly. (I am just starting to incorporate different aspects of the activity into every presentation I do. It applies to them all.)
Then, we wrote flash fiction from a prompt word (they had one minute to write a story). And then prompt pictures (ditto). And they did great. It was hard for them to start but once they did they hated having time called on them. But the urgency of having such limited time bumps you into fight or flight and if you decide to stay and fight, the words become your playthings and then the writing explodes!
Interestingly, all but one of the students were willing to read their work out loud. The last one had trepidation and downright fear about it. But then, I found a solution. I used a modification of the excellent Mobius Corpse activity (created by my friends John Cooper or Jacob Davenport or some combination of the two) and had the whole class write a single story collaboratively. Then, they read the entire circular story out loud. Once the student realized she was part of a team, she was able to read the rest of her stuff aloud perfectly well. You never know what will push past the boundaries and break through the fear but when you hit on it, it’s magic!
After that, we gambled and threw my Word Dice (object, location, profession) and Word Cards and the students got homework to do writing sprints with their word cards and also to eavesdrop shamelessly everywhere they go. Like my “Overheard” project, they will hear tantalizing snippets that will yield story ideas if not outright novels.
Next week, we continue with more exercises using the Word Dice, and we will discuss plotting, compelling dialog, pacing, and characterization and how to access those before you edit.
We will finish up with some editing exercises and resources before I send them off to their new writing lives. Exciting!
Really, I could have taught an entire eight-week class on this and had material left over, but I’m glad I’m going to leave them wanting more. 🙂

Happy Anniversary To Me

Forty-three years ago today, on February 27, 1974, my family arrived in the USA after a year-long process of immigration. We lived in Israel and Italy during while we waited for paperwork and visas and all the accompanying bits and pieces of immigration.

passport photo in the FSU
Mine and my sister’s passport photo pre-emigration

We landed at JFK airport sometime in the late afternoon, I believe. Here is what I remember. My mom was very pregnant with my sister, Golda, who was born just a little over a month later.   Mom walked off the plane hand-carrying my 1/4 size violin (no case, no bow, just the wee bitty instrument). I played that violin until I got a 3/4 size one for a bit when I was eight and then my full size one (which I still play to this day) when I was nine.   Everything was busy, busy and people scurried to and fro’ but I don’t recall being bothered by the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world.   I spoke only a few words of English so I observed and let it all flow over me. I took it in with a

Here is what I remember. My mom was very pregnant with my sister, Golda, who was born just a little over a month later.   Mom walked off the plane hand-carrying my 1/4 size violin (no case, no bow, just the wee bitty instrument). I played that violin until I got a 3/4 size one for a bit when I was eight and then my full size one (which I still play to this day) when I was nine.
Everything was busy, busy and people scurried to and fro’ but I don’t recall being bothered by the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest airports in the world.   I spoke only a few words of English so I observed and let it all flow over me. I took it in with a seven-year-old’s delight in the new.
The room at the Holiday Inn (where we stayed that first night) had a square shower stall (I don’t recall ever seeing a shower before much less a square one) and was bright and clean and had glass doors. I remember looking out the window and see color and light all around. We lived up high in Israel (as I recall, we had to climb down many stairs to get down to the bomb shelter), but because it was wartime, there wasn’t much light at night. And I believe our time in Italy was spent on a lower floor so I never saw that much light and motion at night until we came to New York City (the ultimate nighttime light and motion place). So, I come by my love affair with NY honestly. It started first thing.

The next day we flew to Detroit to begin our lives as new Americans.

Happy anniversary my mom and sisters. Our lives would be nothing like we have had in this great nation.

Sitting on a log in the woods by the river
Three-year-old me sitting on a long at a day-long picnic on the Dniester River.

Flash Your Fiction at HoCo College

I’ve been putting the finishing touches on the Flash Your Fiction workshop that I’m teaching at Howard Community College on Monday (February 26 and March 6), and it is going to be great!

We’re going to have great writing exercises, creativity-sparking activities, and we’re putting some science in our fiction and doing the cool Cloud in a bottle activity to start things off.

I’m not sure four hours will be enough! 🙂

I’ll let y’all know how it goes, for sure.


Puerto Rico Travelogue, Day 3 – Ponce to Combate to Rincón in the car

Day three started with a visit back to the car rental place. I have pretty severe allergies to cigarette smoke. They assured me when I rented that all their cars are smoke-free. Not so much. Since we didn’t drive the day before, I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. I was going to power through the runny eyes, stuffed head, and raw throat but my honey convinced me otherwise. 

The folks at Dollar were great! They not only gave me another car, but when that one still smelled, they gave me a third. And it was a nicer car than the one we had had and they didn’t charge me any more. Sweet and wonderful people.

Before I go further, let me just say that everyone we met and talked to was fantastic. They were friendly and helpful and seemed to enjoy interacting with us. Plus, I got to practice my Spanish a bunch and that felt great. Even a token effort at speaking Spanish brought out the smiles, and I was thrilled that so many people were gracious and kept allowing me to communicate in their tongue when the more efficient thing for them would have been switch to English. 

Once we got the car straightened out, we headed out into wild blue yonder, as it were.

Word to the wise: If you rent a car and plan to navigate via google maps on your phone, please note that the directions can be spotty. Google maps will be telling you that you need to turn left at this next intersection but when you get to it and are in the left lane, suddenly it changes its mind and tells you to turn right. I never did figure out why it did that. 

Also, distances and measurements are in metric but speed limits are in miles. From what I understand it’s because the measurement system was in place before Puerto Rico became a US commonwealth (and also before cars had speed limits). Cars came in after the establishment of the commonwealth and therefore the speed limit markers follow the USA methods. Also, google maps will not show you exit numbers so you have to be super watchful in how you navigate. It’s doable but can get tricky.

Once we got out of the city (San Juan/Carolina), we quickly got into the mountains in the center part of the island. It’s a stunning land.

Mountains and sky in central Puerto Rico Mountains in central Puerto Rico – on the way to Ponce

We found a terrific place to eat right at kilometer marker 0. It’s called Origens, and it’s all vegan cafeteria-style place. I’m not sure that part of Ponce is the safest because we had to ring a bell to have the door unlocked so we could enter. Once there, the people were gracious and provided us with a fantastic sampler platter of their items for the day. We had sweet plantains, salad, pasta, spinach patties with a fantastic red sauce, and a bean salad that took our breath away (among a few other dishes). I recommend the place highly for anyone and particularly if you have dietary restrictions. They were willing to work with us and gave us a treat of a meal.

Plates with vegan dishes Fantastic all-vegan meal at Origens in Ponce, Puerto Rico

One of the most amazing sites at KM marker 0 is this statue in honor of the abolition of slavery. I saw it and wept. Stunning and powerful.

Statue honoring the abolition of slavery Statue in honor of the abolition of slavery – Ponce, Puerto Rico

After we left Ponce, we made our circuitous way down to Bahía Sucia (Dirty Bay). This was one of those times google maps led us astray and while I was able to get us back on track, let’s just say we got a more scenic route than we perhaps needed.

On the other hand, my iPhone knows what’s up because the instant we saw our first glimpse of the Caribbean, one of the songs from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack came on the radio. For those who don’t know, Puerto Rico straddles the Atlantic Ocean on its north side and the Caribbean Sea on its south side. You can see the different colors of the water, the different quality of the sunlight, and the vast difference in the height and intensity of the waves. It’s more tame but no less beautiful. Most of Puerto Rico’s shoreline is beach so you could get a different flavor of beach every single day if you wanted.

The reason we headed to Bahía Sucia was that it was recommended by the excellent José, one of the gents at our hotel. I adored him, and he was super sweet and gracious (and let me keep speaking Spanish with him even though he speaks English perfectly well. I’ve also picked up one of his mannerisms. Whenever I said, grácias [thank you], he replied, “Siempre,” [always]. What a fabulous response!). He recommended the Dirty Bay as a local hang-out and a place where we might see manatees. We arrived, and I found the salt flats and the silt in the water (and the minuscule amount of beach) left me reluctant to stay, so we left and made our way to Combate Beach.

Salt flats Salt flats at Bahía Sucia

Combate Beach is a bit more firmly on the west coast of the island. We arrived, walked the 300 feet to the water’s edge and set up camp. The water was a stunning turquoise, and we hung out there until sunset. The swimming was glorious. I had been dreaming of swimming in the Caribbean again ever since I had the opportunity to swim off the coast of Grand Cayman a few years ago, and Combate did not disappoint. 

Combate beach, Puerto Rico Swimming at Combate Beach

Mostly we had the entire beach to ourselves until about 45 minutes before sunset when a few of the locals showed up with chairs, beers, and good conversation (not to mention a very energetic beach dog).

Setting sun and clouds Sun and clouds

I had wanted to toast the sunset with a piña colada and my honey obliged me. 

Piña colada and sunset Piña Colada and the sunset at Combate Beach

For the next little while, we all watched the sunset. I had my trusty new Nikon and was able to zoom in and catch the sun’s dramatic exit for the day.

Sun and clouds Towards sunset
Setting sun and sea Closer to sunset

And here is the last and most dramatic bit of the sunset.

Sunset closeup Sunset closeup

 Shortly after that, the almost full moon made an appearance from the east.

Moon Moonrise

After the moonrise, we made our way towards home. We drove through Rincón but only stopped at the local Subway to get a drive by dinner and then took the main roads back to San Juan. Exhausted and elated, we toasted each other with a couple of sips of Don Q’s coconut rum (It’s delicious. Tastes like coconut candy. Go get some right now if you like that sort of thing), and made our plan for our last day in paradise.

Tomorrow: Travelogue, Day 5.

Travelogue, Puerto Rico, Day 2 (El Yunque and Mofongo)

Travelogue, Puerto Rico, Day 2 (El Yunque and Mofongo)

What a day!
We are staying at a hotel that isn’t on the beaten path so we had to get up extra early to walk to La Concha hotel to be picked up by the excellent Ramón, our guide. We, along with nine other people boarded a van, and we took off for El Yunque Rainforest. 

Ocean and sky in Puerto Rico On the way to El Yunque, this is the sort of vista that greets you

Situated in the northeast part of the the main island, it is the only tropical rainforest administered by the US National Park Service. It’s a small but gorgeous forest. Hundreds of species of plants thrive here, but the wildlife species aren’t as numerous. Puerto Rico is an oceanic island (part of an archipelago) and so has never been attached to a continent. That means that many of the species you might find in another rainforest (monkeys, big cats,  etc.,) never made it here. So, there are only a few species you might find. The Koki frog and the Puerto Rican parrot (or Iguaca) are two of the more famous species. We heard the Koki Frog (the sound is described in the name pretty well) but we never saw the parrot which is notoriously shy. The visitor’s center at the rainforest has a ton of information on the species of plants and animals that thrive there.

After we left the center, we headed to our first stop, the hike. We did a short hike (.7 miles in and .7 out) to a waterfalls. Word to the wise: it’s totally worth it, but make sure you have good knees and good treads on your shoes. The way isn’t too steep, but it is slippery. When they set up the trails, several stretches have rocks in the middle of the concrete. The concrete is fine. The rocks have worn away and are super slippery. I have also gotten to the age where going down paths is harder on my knees than heading up and those who have knee problems might want a cane or a staff to ease the way.

Word to the wise, wear a swimsuit. Your reward for making the hike is to get in the basin and swim in the perfect water. Ramón recommended we head under the water and get a massage. We did, and it was magnificent. I don’t have picture of that, but one of our new friends brought her camera wrapped in a ziplock and at least you can see us in the water.

Waterfalls and Rich and Izolda In the basin of the waterfalls

After the waterfalls, we headed back to the van to go to the Yokahu observational tower. The Tower is pretty tall and provides an excellent view. On good visibility days, you can see Culebra island and on really good days you can get to as far as St. Thomas. 

Tower in the rainforest Yokahu Tower, El Yunque Rainforest

I didn’t make the climb up, but sticking around the bottom provided the view below, complete with rainbow. It was super fun for me since I had just said that I hoped we would get to see one since we had been getting rained on periodically the entire time in the forest. Word to the wise, it’s a rainforest, you’ll get rained on. If you don’t want to get wet, bring rain gear. You can buy a poncho in the visitor’s center, but bringing your own works just as well. Regardless, it was an “ask and you shall receive,” because wow, did we get a treat!

Rainforest and rainbow I am willing to beg for rainbows. I did, and the rainforest provided. (El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico)

After this stop, we headed to one more waterfalls and then lunch!

We headed to Fajardo and had lunch at one of the many small restaurants along a strip of water. The water was behind us and the restaurant (#22, sorry I don’t have a name for you) was fantastic. So far, everyone has been more than happy to accommodate my dietary needs. This place was no exception. We ate mofongo, a traditional food made out of the green plantain. Unlike the ripe version, green plantains are not sweet so they make for wonderful, savory dish additions. A mofongo is made when they cook the plantain, mash it and then fry it. Everyone else got some sort of meat on theirs. Rich and I asked for vegetables, and they came up with an amazing treat. Tons of fresh veggies, including cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, beans, and corn in a garlic sauce that was just delicious.

Mofongo with vegetables Vegetarian mofongo, (the mofongo is usually made with meat but we asked for the vegan version, and they provided a fantastic one)

A quick suggestion, take every opportunity to wander around if you are out and about in Puerto Rico. Behind the restaurant, I met a new friend (this egret was rummaging for scraps but provided a lovely photo or two).

Egret (white bird) Egret taking a break from rummaging for scraps

And this is the view in what is essentially the alley behind the restaurants. I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a non-stunning part of this island yet.

Ocean, trees, and sand The view from the alley behind the restaurants
Rich, in the ocean Rich, in the ocean by the restaurant

After we left the restaurant, we headed to our last stop for the day, the kayaking trip to the bioluminescent algae bay. I can’t say this was disappointing because, hey, we got to kayak into a super cool bay under a moonlit sky. But with the exception of a tiny bit of sparkling, the luminescence was nowhere to be found. It was still cool, though. We got in two-person kayaks and paddled our way through a mangrove forest and into the bay (one of three places you can see bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, this one is on the northeast side of the island). Word to the wise: have good bug spray. There weren’t any mosquitoes, but there were these little biting bugs called mimes (pronounced meemehs). They are tiny but when they bite you, you know it.

Rich and Izolda in a kayak Kayaking with my honey

Please don’t get me wrong. The trip was gorgeous. However, we saw pretty much no bioluminescence. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the moon was up and almost full. And second the algae are going through a growing process and will be coming back at some point. Word to the wise: if you are going to go, go at a time when the moon isn’t up. You’ll see more stars, and you’ll see more algae. I know that for next time because there will definitely be a next time. 🙂

All in all, a perfect day. Today brings a trip to the south coast of the island. We are headed down to Cabo Roja and then around to Rincón to perhaps see a sunset.

More later!

10-26 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt words: horror and ratio)

“Done!” Haley shouted as she hit the Enter key. She collapsed against the back of her chair and removed her headphones.

“Are you serious?” Orson stuck his head in the booth. “We’re finished?”

“Yes, sir, we are outta here, Styled Hunter VII is in the can!” She grinned.

“Mallory DeMarco hunted and trapped The Hatchet Man once and for all, and never faltered on her Dolce and Gabbana strappy sandals. He’ll never attack the fashion industry’s hemlines ever again.”

“So, what’s next for you?” Orson popped open a beer.

“I think Mallory is taking on ‘The Hair Cutter.'”

“What, he scalps people?” He asked.

“Nope. He sneaks into their homes, drugs them, and gives them horrible haircuts.”

“You know, sometimes I think we’ve taken the ratio of horror to fashion too far to one side.”

“Yeah, I miss the good old days when serial killers actually killed their victims.

(Tee hee. There is something fun to me about serial killers who do things like shorten hemlines or give terrible haircuts. The challenging part of today’s story was figuring out the names of the movies and villains. I wanted them to have potential for true horror but be obvious in their fashion consciousness. I hope you enjoyed it.)

9-25 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt words: decoration and pod)

“There! That’s perfect!” GCH11878 nodded to itself. It narrowed its eyes and studied the angle of the decoration that now hung from the top of its sleep pod. It had found the shred of shiny paper on garbage duty and hidden it away in its smock pocket.

“Not quite there,” it whispered and repositioned the bright red, blue, and white scrap so the markings in the center were in a straight line.

Twwoooeep Twwoooeep, the alarm reverberated throughout the Domicile. The whir of a Watcher sounded outside 11878’s pod.

“GCH11878,” the Watcher buzzed. “We have detected contraband in your pod. Remand yourself for reconditioning while your pod is sanitized.”

11878 gripped the outside of the tiny space and pulled itself out.

“Ouch,” it said as its fingers scraped against the markings on the outside of the pod.
G-I-R-L C-H-I-L-D H-U-M-A-N, the strange markings felt familiar, but it knew it would never remember what they meant.

(Yikes! Dystopia seems to be my inclination recently. The tough part about today’s micro-story was figuring out how to reveal what GCH stood for. I hope you liked how I did it and that it wasn’t revealed too early.)

Oh and if you are curious about the piece of paper? It was this: 9781419706325

10-24 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: institute)

“Look at this place,” Miano breathed. She turned a full circle in the main hallway and marveled at the prisms reflected from the millions of crystals embedded in the walls.

“How are they doing that?” Banner twisted this way and that.

Each reflected a different set of colors. Some blazed deep reds and golds. Others projected inky black. One sent blues and purples along with the ultraviolets that pierced Miano’s vision. Gasping, she stumbled towards it.

“Welcome to the Institute of Inner Learning,” the robed figure materialized in front of them.

“I am Nanor,” it continued. “Have you made your Prismic Selection?”

“Prismic Selection?” Miano whispered. She extended a shaking hand and froze with her palm on its smooth surface.

“Ah, I see you have chosen the path of the Universal Traveler,” Nanor turned a page on its clipboard, made a mark, and nodded. “Yours will be an interesting journey.”

“Traveler?” Banner squeaked. “Wait where is she going? Miano. Miano!” He screamed.

“Do not bother,” Nanor said. “She is already gone. And now,” Nanor advanced on him. “I wonder where your journey shall take you.”

(This one gives me shivers. Here’s the thing. The tone of the entire story hinges on changing two words. In the last paragraph, I have Nanor advancing on Banner. It sounds ominous, doesn’t it? When someone advances on you, it is almost always for some nefarious purpose. But what if I had the words, “Nanor turned to him?” Would that make for a more lighthearted ending and therefore story? This entire exercise of writing a micro story every day thrills me for just this sort of reason. I love seeing how judicious use of words and phrases can pivot an entire tale or even book.

Putting the editor’s hat on for a second, I’d love to ask you a question. Does the ending work? Or should I perhaps have ended it with the sentence, “She is already gone.” Does that work better? Is it more ominous? Less? What do you think?)

10-23 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: excluded)

“When I was in college, we ended up doing a guerrilla production of a show” Amanda took a sip of her latte.

“How do you do that? A clandestine production under the cover of night that no one knew to go see?” Charlie laughed.

“No, to protest that the theater department decided to a show with ten male parts and only one female, we decided to do our own since that excluded most of the people in the theater department from even auditioning.”

“That wouldn’t fly nowadays,” Charlie emphasized his statement with a salute of his coffee. “Hell, today, everyone auditions for everything. Look at Laverne Cox playing Frank N Furter in the Rocky Horror remake.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me,” Amanda rolled her eyes. “That movie did not need a remake.”

“True, but that’s not my point. It’s still progress. To progress then,” Charlie raised his mug.

“To progress!” Amanda clinked her mug with his. “Even if it does leave a ‘bad remakes are bad’ taste in my mouth.”

(This one is sort of autobiographical. We did mount a guerrilla production of Antigone [with three different Antigones trading off the role] when Sam Shepherd’s “City of Angels” was the play. We had a lot of women in the theater department and that play only had one female role. And they weren’t going to gender swap any casting so all the women had to vie for one role.

I didn’t audition. Instead, I assistant directed, and I had a blast. But I do remember that feeling of disappointment in the theater department for choosing something that felt so exclusionary. And the characters are right, I think. I don’t think it would fly nowadays. At least I hope it wouldn’t.)

10-22-16 Flash Fiction Challenge (prompt word: certified)

You jerk awake. Into darkness. The spasm explodes in you, and you retch onto the sticky floor.

“What the hell is going on?” You whisper it to yourself because you are alone.

The black is relieved by one square of gray light. You crawl on bleeding hands and knees to the tiny monitor on the far wall.

“Jeremiah Smith,” you read your name on the screen. “Certified: Unpatriotic.”

(Yikes! Is this what comes out of me when I sleep too little and spend too much time looking at political writing before I go to sleep?

And somehow the second person present has a voyeuristic patina to it, don’t you think?

Today’s prompt word could have gone numerous places. It grabbed my hand and took me to a scary 1984-esque land. I don’t know anything about Jeremiah, but I hazard a guess to say he is not a scary man. Rather, his society sounds horrific from just these few words. It could be the beginning of a second person present dystopic novella. I might just have to write it. Someday.)