Monthly Archives: June 2014

Clarion Write-a-Thon Week 2

Self Improvement 150It has been but a week since my dear husband has left me to join the crucible that is the Clarion Workshop. He’s been having a series of mind-blowing experiences, one a day nearly, and I’m so excited for him and a little afraid, like watching your child go off to college for the first time. That’s a weird metaphor, I know, but the whole thing awakens this mixture of pride and protectiveness; I’m sure he’s going to do great things, but he’ll need to confront failure in this really intense way to do so.

On my end, my solidarity project is going fairly well. Week 1 closed out with a fairly light 5200 words written out of 50,000, but I’m gathering a good head of steam to roll into week 2 with. I’m hoping to finish up the two short stories I’m working on presently and jump right into working on two more — one for publication in a private zine, the other a long-overdue commissioned story for a good friend of mine.

I’ve been thinking about writing a great deal more than I have in ages, of course — specifically, the cultivation of my voice and the shape of my first drafts. I think I might be one of those people who cough up lumps of clay right up front; they’re formless and runny, with a strange consistency that can be hard to work with. The real work will be in editing things into a lean shape, something with progression, a narrative that’s lean and leaning in towards its goal. It’s a good thing to know, precisely because it leaves me with less pressure to get things perfect the first time. I can allow myself to be messy and undisciplined during the raw act of creation; once I know the texture of the story I’m working with, I can figure out how best to shape it into something.

So far, I’ve raised nearly $150.00 for the Clarion Workshop — a very big THANK YOU to everyone who’s donated so far. I’m still $350 away from my goal, so I’ll be trying to figure out a way to drum up a bit more support without being too annoying about it. I’ve never been very strong with pushing for something I believe in, more than likely because of my upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. My entire life has been a reaction away from bugging people to take an interest in things that are really important to me.

Still, if I can’t pass the hat around here — where can I? If you’d like to donate towards the Clarion Workshop and ensure this wonderful resource will remain in operation for future budding genre writers, consider heading over to my author’s page and making a donation. Every little bit helps! At present, I need only *7* people to pledge 1/1000th of a cent per word (or donate $50) to hit my goal.

Let’s sweeten the pot a little bit — if you’re one of those seven people, I’ll insert a character of your choice into one of my stories OR take suggestions for a story of anywhere from 1,000 – 5,000 words. I could use a little practice banging out a quick story, or finding ways to fit new characters or ideas in interesting ways. If you’re willing to be experimental with me, it’d be a really fun exercise!

At the Writing Desk this week, I’ll try to have my review of Citizen Kane up on Wednesday and another Clarion snippet up on Friday. Time permitting, I’ll talk a little bit about the premieres of True Blood, The Last Ship and/or The Leftovers as well. In the meantime, write well and write hard this week.

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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing


Friday Fiction: Urban Blight

Writing 150(This is a short story that I’m writing for the Clarion Write-a-Thon, inspired by the short story “Removal Order” by Tananarive Due. I had never seen someone tackle the idea of an apocalyptic scenario from the perspective of an inner-city character, and the prospect is really exciting to me. You see apocalyptic stories from the point of view of “prestige fiction” protagonists an awful lot, but it would be really cool to see the unique challenges such a scenario would bring to someone without resources or connections. Where would they go? What could they do? This is a VERY rough draft, and my first attempt at tackling the idea. I’m thinking the short story in its final form will be way different. But for now…enjoy!)

Marcus sat on the front steps of his home and listened to the silence that had fallen on his neighborhood. He could hear the crows calling to each other from the dogwood and mulberry trees that lined his block. He could hear the leaves rustling in the breeze. He could hear the sound of his own heart beating.

He couldn’t hear cars humming up and down Gwynn Falls Parkway, or the sound of children shouting to each other from porches, parking lots, the front of the corner store. He couldn’t hear the sound of ambulances rushing down side streets, or the occasional sound of raised voices or fights or gunshots. There weren’t people out on other porches. There wasn’t the drone of radios or televisions, or the hum of fans. There were just the birds, the leaves, his heart.

It was disconcerting. Marcus spent his entire life wishing that the city was quieter, and now he realized just how much the buildings around him were meant to be noisy. The houses all around him were quiet and dark, and he knew it wasn’t just because the power had gone out three days ago. It was for the same reason he’d rather be out here instead of inside his own house.

He woke up this morning hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The worst had happened. He walked out immediately, sat on his front steps, and hadn’t moved all day. The sun had come up behind the house across the street, illuminated the emptiness of the road in front of his house, and sunken down behind his back yard before he came out of his own head for long enough to realize the time. It was getting dark; he could see the reflections of the sunset off of Mr. Frank’s bedroom windows. Unless he wanted to spend the night here, he would have to get moving soon.

He had done a lot of grieving over the last twelve hours or so. His brain was a thicket of memories that he had to fight his way through to get here. He reached back for the earliest one he could recall and sat there, letting a jungle of them form around him. He took his time cutting his way through them until he got here, watching golden sunlight crawl up the side of Mr. Frank’s house, listening to nothing. It was time to go, something inside of him said. He knew this. But he couldn’t make himself stand up. He couldn’t go back into that house.

Something moved down the block, just to the right of his vision. It was too big to be a bird or a dog, too upright. He looked down the street to see Tyrone stumble into the middle of it. He stopped, he pulled up his jeans, and he looked around. Before Marcus could do anything, Tyrone spotted him. Then he started walking towards him. He called out. His voice was strong and clear. It startled him; it made him remember how long it had been since he heard someone’s voice.

“Hey yo.” Tyrone hustled up the street, stopped in front of his gate. “What you doing here?”

Marcus felt the rush of adrenaline remind him of his own body. He was suddenly cold, and his ass had fallen asleep, and he was terribly hungry. His heart beat inside a chest that felt too weak for it. His tongue was swollen and dry. It peeled from the roof of his mouth and scraped against his teeth when he tried to come up with an answer.

“Hey man,” Tyrone said. “Come here.” He wore clothes that were so oversized they looked like a mass of fabric, a pile of blues and blacks and whites with him and who knew what else underneath them.

Marcus hesitated. He had been popped by Tyrone so many times before; for the old iPod he had gotten one summer, for the eighty dollars he had right after he cashed his check, for a pair of sneakers that were as white as a new road sign, for nothing at all, just so he could be shoved around a bit when his friends were bored. Whatever Tyrone wanted now, it was not good. He really didn’t want to deal with it.

So he stared at him. Tyrone stared back for a minute, then sucked in his teeth. “Come here, man. I ain’t tryin’ to fuck with you or nothin’. I just need to talk with you for a second.”
Marcus rose. He leaned against the bannister as he made his way down the steps. Both of his legs erupted into that feeling, like he was being bitten by ants. He could feel his feet slide inside his shoes, hundreds of pinches just under his skin. When he got to the bottom, he walked stiffly, slowly down the sidewalk. He must have looked like Mr. Frank. It felt like an hour had gone by when he got to the gate.

“What you want?” The question squeaked out of his throat and garbled between his tongue and his cheeks. It sounded like he had been crying, but he hadn’t. He didn’t know why he hadn’t.

Tyrone looked at him for a second in that way that made it seem like he was, indeed, trying to fuck with him. Then he nodded his head. “You got family in there or somethin’?”
Marcus shook his head. He tried to will the image that came up out of his head. He would not remember her that way. “Naw. Not no more.”

(If you think this story has potential, or you’d like to donate to a good cause, please consider donating to the Clarion Write-a-Thon through my author page. I’m 20% towards my goal of $500 raised; all I need is eight more people making a donation of $50, or a pledge of 1/1000th of a cent ($.001) per word!)

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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Writing


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The AFI Top 100 Films: Casablanca (#2)

Entertainment 150Casablanca (1942)
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains
Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch (screenplay); Murray Bennett and Joan Alison (stage play)
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Even at number 2 on this list, I think this movie is underrated. This love story is unlike any other movie I’ve seen before or since, and I can see why so many people have fallen for it so hard. It has one of the best screenplays ever, featuring actors who are at the top of their game. There are no end of iconic moments and quotable lines, and even the ending is one of the most satisfying ever filmed. This is pretty much what a movie should be; perfectly executed in an artless, almost effortless way. Nothing touches Casablanca on that score.

Bogey plays American expatriate Rick Blaine, a bitter man who owns a casino and nightclub that attracts a wide variety of clients. Vichy French, Italian and German officials rub elbows with displaced refugees desperate to get away from the threat of the Nazis — preferably the United States. Rick is a neutral party, and his Cafe Americain is a safe harbor for anyone who can pay for drink and/or games of chance.

A petty crook shows up with letters of transit — papers that allow their bearer safe passage through Nazi-controlled Europe to neutral Portugal and her ports — planning to sell them at Rick’s club later that night. He’s arrested by Vichy Captain Louis Renault (Rains) before he gets the chance; he manages to leave them in Rick’s care before he’s pinched. An idealistic woman named Ilsa Lund (Bergman) follows the letters to the cafe, accompanied by her husband Victor Laszlo (Henreid). They need the letters so that Laszlo can continue his resistance work in America; Nazi officials in Casablanca are there to make sure he doesn’t make it out.

Ilsa and Rick have a history that makes his decision a difficult one. Suddenly, he has to weigh the bitter disappointment of the past against a moral decision that carries severe consequences for him. Can he live down his anger towards Ilsa? Does he break his carefully-maintained stance of neutrality? What does he say to the various forces pressuring him to fall one way or the other? It’s a decision point that not only decides the fate of several people, but determines just what kind of man he is. It’s heady stuff, and it’s a delight to watch Rick work through it.

The story alone is mesmerizing; Rick has to deal with an internal crisis while bearing incredible external pressure. The Nazis want him to do one thing, Ilsa wants him to do the opposite, and everyone from his frienemy Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet, who is just delightful) to corrupt cop Renault have their own ideas. He has to make peace with something he wasn’t remotely ready to tackle, forced out of his shell to engage in a conflict sweeping the rest of the world whether he wanted to or not. Bogart deftly shows us Rick’s broken soul through the cracks of his aloof, smart-alecky exterior. It’s truly extraordinary.

The rest of the film is populated with amazing characters, from torn Ilsa to stoic, moral Laszlo to good-natured, long-suffering Sam. Even the extras bustle in the peripheries of the screen; scenes are established with snatches of dialogue we get from the patrons’ tables in Rick’s cafe. The film moves through dozens of stories to hone in on the one it wants to tell, but it never lets us forget that they’re there. The story seethes with the bits of its fellows encroaching on its borders, and sometimes (during the duel of the anthems, for example) all of them coalesce into a single shared moment.

Behind the scenes, the shooting of Casablanca was fast and loose; I think this imparts an energy that you don’t see all the time with the polished Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s. The tales, true or not, of everything that went wrong with the movie and what the director and actors had to do to make things work just make me love it even more. To make something that looks so effortlessly great is no small feat — it’s even more impressive when the set is fighting you at every turn.

If you haven’t seen Casablanca yet, do yourself a favor and watch it. No matter how many times its scenes have been spoofed, misquoted and imitated, there’s simply nothing like the original. Of the 100 films on this list, this is the one I would say is the greatest — which means I’ll have to talk about why I disagree with the AFI’s anointing of Citizen Kane. That’s an essay for another time.

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Posted by on June 25, 2014 in AFI Top 100, Movies, Reviews


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Personal: Out of the Hole

Writing 150The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, and it’s been all that I can do to keep up with the crush of work and things coming down the pike. In so many ways, I feel like I’ve been doing that “I Love Lucy” sketch where she’s doing whatever she can to just get rid of the chocolates. I haven’t exactly been stuffing my workload down my bra or anything, but it’s been close. Metaphorically.

I’ve had to drop a few things to make sure that I caught up on other things, and even then it was a rough ride there for a couple of weeks. Now things are calming down a bit, so I’ve got a bit of time to sit down here at the Writing Desk and type up a thing or two.

The biggest news is that my dear husband Ryan has begun the adventure of a lifetime as a Clarion student for the next six weeks. If you’re not familiar with the Clarion Workshop, it’s a great program that molds new and untested talent by giving them access to some of the brightest minds working in speculative fiction today. Ever since we’ve heard about it, Ryan’s wanted in and now he’s there. Two folks in our writing group are full-fledged Clarionauts, and I couldn’t be prouder of both of them.

That’s left me flying solo for the next little bit, and I’ve decided to fill the time by taking a strong stab at being a writer. I’ve signed up for the Clarion Write-a-Thon (my author page is here if you’d like to make a donation) and I’m aiming to write 50,000 words of material by the time the Workshop is over on August 2nd. Hopefully, the very rough drafts of those short stories will be nurtured and polished into something workable — the goal is to have a small pile of things ready to submit to magazines, anthologies and other periodicals both in print and online. I’m excited about the chance to stretch myself out a little bit, to work on things that I’ve always wanted to but kept putting off.

Right now I’m writing a story about what happens when tragedy comes to my childhood neighborhood in Baltimore City. I have stories lined up about faeries in the inner-city, what happens when a zebra who’s left the herd comes back home, and a romance featuring a giant monster just because Ryan asked for one. There will be more, of course, but the exact nature of those I’ll be holding closer to my chest for now.

I’ll be posting excerpts of what I write here, of course, and at the Clarion page. Let me know what you think of the bits, and if you like what you see please consider donating. It’s for a great cause, and helps me tremendously in my show of solidarity with my dear husband.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to settling in to better habits steadily. I’m planning to renew my meditation habit, have made a promise to myself that I shall never eat out alone in an effort to cook my own meals more, and tuck in to a reading list that features black voices in speculative fiction. I’ll probably mix in some Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou because if not now, when?

I make no promises about being here regularly, speaking of — working on stories, reading stories and cooking my own meals come first. But I have a fair amount of free time for the next six weeks; I’m sure I’ll update this space fairly often.

Famous last words, I’m sure. But for now, I’m up and out of the hole. What’s new in your world?

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Posted by on June 23, 2014 in Self-Reflection, Writing


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