6 words



This is harder than it looks.


The new book I’ve been working the last few weeks seems to be moving relatively well.  Most of the plot is mapped out in my head, some character sketches are forming into people who I hope are believable and the words haven’t frozen up on me (not yet anyway).  Every morning before I start really diving into writing, I check my email, Facebook, and some favorite music, news and literary blogs for inspiration. 


Fighting with voices.  In her head.


They’ve been around for a while, but I’ve never taken the leap to actually participate in some of the writing challenges that are out there.  Entire websites and contests dedicated to “Flash Fiction”.  Which is just a catchy title for super short stories like a 55-word story or a 10-word story.  Not a novel or even a Haiku. 


Nothing good comes easy.  Does it?


Inspired by the Six Word Story Every Day website (http://sixwordstoryeveryday.com/) I decided to challenge myself.  I wanted to come up with some 6-word stories.  Not simply placing 6-words in a row, but putting words and punctuation together that resonate.  Words that create a mood and send my mind on a journey. 


That night, he opened his eyes.


I started writing.  And writing.  Truthfully, the majority of them were shit.  But I kept writing.  The great Ray Bradbury said, “If you want to be a writer, you should write a short story every day.  By the end of the year you’ll have 365 short stories.  Three or four of them will be pretty good because you can’t write 365 bad stories.”  So I wrote more. 


Other people listening, she sang anyway.


Babe Ruth, one of the greatest baseball players of all time hit 714 home runs.  He also struck out 1,330 times. He struck out almost twice as many times and he never stopped swinging.  He never succumbed to the fear of failure.  If we never fail, how will we know when we succeed?


His brain ignored.  The bullet remembered.


I worked very hard in music.  I practiced for hours and hours every day.  Just ask my sister.  (Sorry Jodi!)  I went to a performing arts high school and majored in music at a prestigious university.  Then I gigged and recorded and auditioned and toured and schmoozed and never got that one big break.  I never gave up trying though.  I still make music when I can. 


Thirteen stiches.  What an unlucky number.


In addition to being a music freak, my entire life I’ve been an avid reader.  At any given time I’ll have three or five books going.  For years I’ve written down ideas in notebooks or on computers.  I never tried to finish anything because I was afraid it was any good.  Then one day I felt brave and sent some ideas out to be read.  Now my book’s almost ready to be published.   My Mind = Blown.


That one summer, we grew up.


Of course, since I typed the words “The End” on to the screen, it’s been anything but.  Editing and website ideas and artwork and publicity and marketing…Oh My!  The real work really starts now.  Now I have to get the book out there and get people reading it.  Fortunately I have a great team of people helping me at (the amazing!) Booktrope so I don’t have to swim in these unfamiliar waters all by my lonesome. 


Look Ma.  ‘Aint got no hands!


Speaking of being alone, I immediately started work on more ideas for writing more books.  Why?  Because it felt so damn good to finish.  Very similar to the way I felt when a gig or a recording session finished.  Take a tumbler relief and a shot of joy, muddle in some elation and blend in fear.  Then pour over ice and serve with a fancy umbrella.  It’s a twirling drunkenness that can never be replaced by alcohol or drugs.  The closest high I’ve felt next to love. 


Here I’ll always think, of you.


I’m not a big risk taker.  I don’t play poker or go to casinos.  I’ll never bungee jump and for the life of me I see no reason whatsoever to leap out of a perfectly good airplane.  But I do love the adrenaline rush of a good challenge.  That’s why I loved playing jazz so much.  Flying by the seat of our pants, never knowing what we were going to play next.  Sometimes we’d fizzle and blister.  But there were always moments, those shining glorious flashes when we climbed out of our bodies.  Watching from above, dancing in the ether.


A sharper knife might have helped.


It feels almost the same when I get lost in the words.  In the beginning I’m simply moving the muscles of my fingers to coordinate the thoughts and impulses shooting down from my brain.  It can be very mechanical, and most of that writing never see’s the light of day.  After a period of time that can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to a few weeks, the feeling will come.  I am warm and empty.  I am nothing.  I only exist as the letters forming, becoming more than their parts.  Thinking stops.  I hear voices and see events unfolding through someone else’s eyes.  I feel love or pain or fear or joy.  My heart pounds being chased by an invisible enemy.  My arm hurts where the blade enters in through the skin.  Then the phone rings and I tumble back into myself.  Sometimes it lasts three or four pages.  Sometimes it’s only one paragraph.  If I try to think about what I’m doing while it’s happening it stops. 


Quietly terrified of what she’ll say.


To bring that experience to life for myself in a 6-word story is the challenge.  It’s a 4-bar drum solo.  It’s a walk around the block to clear my head.  It’s a 2 day weekend for a 5 day work week.  Definitely not easy, but fun anyway.


Do you like what you see?


just mist


We couldn’t see the end of the street.  Grey embraced everything in sight, including us.  Even birdsong muffled somewhere behind in the trees we knew were there but couldn’t see.  At the end of the driveway I looked left, right and then left again making sure the kids noticed so they’d follow suit in our street crossing safety routine.  It didn’t do any good though.  All we could see was the thick cloud we were swimming in. 

Cars on the turnpike refused to reduce their sense of urgency and flew past at speeds much to fast for these conditions.  There’d be a low rumble of an engine off in the distance.  Then a glow in the cloud would fade up like a miniature sunrise. Suddenly a pair of blinding headlights would appear and the car would flash past us.  The boys knew it was going to fast even at their age.  

We heard the bus long before we saw it.  Fortunately the new driver had the good sense to let up on the gas pedal a little bit.  As usual a line of commuter cars stacked up behind waiting impatiently for the kids to climb aboard.  One of them had the nerve to honk.  The monitor winked at me and took an extra long time finishing up her required safety checks before she climbed back inside and sat down.  The brakes released with a loud hiss of air and the tires rolled forward moving the huge, sour shade of yellow-orange beast toward the next batch of school kids.

I walked through the chill breathing in mist feeling it fill my lungs with moist morning air.  It felt nice.  Cold, but nice.  I opened the curtained window to the left of to my desk wanting to keep some of the freshness in the air while I set myself to work.  It had been a couple months since we left the windows open around the house.  Winter seemed to loose hold earlier than expected though and pretty soon the heat would pound me into ineffectiveness.

I sat watching the cursor blink an invitation on the clean image of a white page.  Searching for ways to accept and enter the festivities, I turned my head back to the mist concealing everything more than a few feet outside.  It happened rather quickly.  Light climbed by subtle degrees.  Low, nearer the ground the grey dissipated leaving dark oranges and bright greens of the now visible ground behind.  Invisible mere seconds ago, the baby blue wood paneling of the house next door whispered its gentle welcoming to the day. 

Birds called out to each other in songs mirroring the exhilaration of greeting the newly clear sky.  A squirrel ran across the low brick wall picking up a fallen acorn shell he might have missed only moments before.  Down the street the big, mean black dog our neighbor kept in her fenced in yard barked back at the birds threatening to chase them down if they entered her precious territory.

I felt a breeze come in through the screen kissing the side of my face.  Sometimes nature does that.  She can be harsh and cruel at times with all the devastation of her tornados or earthquakes.  She must feel the need to constantly remind us that we are at her mercy no matter how technologically advanced above her influence we might think we are.  Her breath can destroy entire communities before lunchtime.  Her tears can wash away centuries of our hubris before we have time to grab an umbrella.  Her anger can crush an entire continent without expending enough of her energy to break a sweat.  Or she can caress our skin, lulling us to sleep with a hush.     

Now I’m surrounded by the overbearing rumble of an oil truck pumping the slimy, smelly substance into the pipes of a house two doors down.  Its bitter tang of diesel aggressively attacking my nose with no remorse.  I’m tempted to close the window.  But why should I let this rudeness shut me off from what’s otherwise been such a beautiful morning?  He’ll wind up his hose and drive away soon enough.  Then the music of the trees will come back in to soothe my ears with songs no man-made instrument could ever replicate.

I may miss out on a lot of things now that I’m no longer a big city Los Angelino.  None of the bands I love come to the sticks to perform.  The might come as close as Boston, but even for me that’s a long haul away.  We don’t have all the fancy museums or Disneyland or opening weekend independent movies like I’m used to.  But back in L.A., the air hasn’t been this clean since the days before they built Dodger Stadium.  Last night I walked out in the front yard and the stars came so close I could reach up and touch them.  I’ve never seen Mars glow such a deep bloody crimson. 

I’m not wearing my sweatshirt anymore.  Embracing the bumps on my skin that come when the chill comes in to visit.  The sun is shining.  Birds are still singing.  Keys are clacking under my fingers.  Soon the kids will be home and need to do their homework.  Bike rides and playing catch until the light fades into another clear sky night.  Maybe after they go to bed I’ll go outside again and try to touch Orion’s belt.

Can Katniss Haz Cheezeburger?

All this hubbub about The Hunger Games.  My neighbor gave me a copy and I read the first couple chapters.  It’s written well, no problem with it there.  I just didn’t get sucked into the story.  Call me picky, call me heartless, call me what you will.  I know I’m certainly not in the target demographic for it.  Here I am, a middle aged man (Oh no I didn’t.  Yes I did. Mmm Hmm.  Yup.  Ouch!) with a wife and two kids. Honestly, it left me feeling flat so I stopped reading it.  Then the previews for the movie started playing constantly on TV and my son got very excited about it.  All his friends were talking about it at school and on the bus.  It must be cool then right?

We read the first Harry Potter book together a couple of years ago and we loved it.  I could not have been happier.  I myself loved the book when I first read it too.  Little did I know that it would be so much more fun reading it along with my son hanging on every word.  When he asked if we could read The Hunger Games together I said, “Sure.  Why not?”

The main issue I had with the book when I first started reading it was its lack of originality.  (In my opinion at the time of course.)  Years ago I read a Japanese book called Battle Royale by, Koshun Takami.  The premise was very similar.  Set in an alternate timeline, a group of schoolchildren are rounded up and sent to an island where they must battle each other until only one of them survives.  All of this is done so the oppressive government can prove to the ordinary people that there is no point in fighting back.  The government has all the power and can do to them whatever they want.  To those who’ve read The Hunger Games this might sound somewhat familiar.

Now, I’m not a snob.  Well, not a total snob anyway.  I know the old saying “There is nothing new under the sun.”  I understand that much of what is considered to be the greatest art in history is not 100% original.  That’s all well and good.  Every great blues song is based on the same chord progression as every other great blues song.  The Beatles started out playing covers of other artists’ material.  So did Led Zeppelin.  These are all good things.

My initial problem with The Hunger Games was that it seemed a little too close to being the exact same story.  A few small changes here and there, but basically it was the same story as Battle Royale.  One other old phrase I neglected to remember during my first reading attempt was, “Good artists borrow.  Great artists steal.”

As we read the book together, I see the excitement through my son’s eyes.  I hear the eager anticipation in his breath while he waits to see what happens next.  Each night we progress one chapter at a time through Katniss’ story in the dystopian country Panem.  It’s so much more fun not being cynical about it and just going along for the ride.

So far she’s a terrific heroine.  Katniss is tough, loving and sentimental without being wimpy or “girly”.  I’m not one to jump on the Teen Fiction bandwagon that’s been over-popularized by books like Twilight.  I’m most definitely not a part of that demographic, but I do understand its appeal.  When I was a teenager I got sucked into all things sci-fi and horror.  I buried my nose in the words of folks like Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Clive Barker and J.R.R. Tolkein.

I’m nervous to admit it in public, but I collected the Mack Bolan: The Executioner series of pulp adventure novels.  I remember searching for older, out of print copies in used book stores and  at swap meets and then laying them out in order on my floor to choose which one to read next.  Mack was a rebellious secret agent who fought the mafia, blew up terrorists and all around evildoers in bloody/gory yet creative ways, gets laid a lot and miraculously saves the world in each and every one of the over six hundred monthly installments.  Basically he was a tougher, Americanized version of James Bond.  All the noise and bravado with none of the panache.  So who am I to nit pick about stories being too similar?  I’m asking myself that same question.

I never paid attention that back then most of the books around were directed at boys like me.  Books girls had were ultra-romancy stuff and soap opera type high school stories about cheerleaders or social misfits.  There obviously was and is a need for a cross breed between geek-boy/sci-fi and geek-girl/girl-power stories.  Bully for Suzanne Collins and Stephenie Meyer for breaking through and finding that need and addressing it.

I’ve got to say that I’m really looking forward to tonight when we get into the next chapter.  I find myself eagerly anticipating what comes next too.  So what if the story rides that fine line of reminiscence to that book I read and loved before.  It’s a damn good story with great characters that we really care about.

Now just don’t expect me to start reading Twilight…