Flash Fiction: April Showers

April 16, 2018 – The raincoat did little to keep her dry. She hadn’t bothered with an umbrella; rain hit from all sides rendering it useless. Perhaps the storm would wash away the fear that clung to her like ivy growing around an old tree. She closed her eyes and let it consume her.

Can you write a complete story with no more or no less than 50 words? It proved more difficult that I expected.

Screenplays I Wish I Wrote

April 9, 2018 – With a passion for writing and a love for movies, you’d think I would want to attempt writing a screenplay. I’m still waiting for inspiration, but here are ten screenplays (in no particular order) that have made me crazy with envy over the years:

1. The Big Chill (1983)William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, JoBeth Williams
Seven thirtysomething college friends reunite for the weekend and the funeral of another college friend. It is the perfect scenario, the perfect cast, and the perfect blend of drama and comedy. Who wouldn’t want to have their name on this wonderful script?

2. Passion of Mind (2000)Demi Moore, Stellan Skarsgard, Sinead Cusack, William Fitchner
I may be the only person who saw and/or liked this little Indy film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth viewing. Moore plays a woman stuck between two worlds – her real life and her dream life. The problem is she does not know which one is real and which is the dream. Just when I thought all of the original ideas were gone, this clever movie was released.

3. Notorious (1946)Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
This is my favorite Hitchcock film, and my favorite film overall; therefore, by law it has to make this list. The script is compelling and at times witty, combining spies, romance and Nazis – and how could you go wrong with that?

4. The Breakfast Club (1985)Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hall
Five very different high school students spend the day together in detention and it changes their lives and their opinions of each other forever. I am willing to bet everyone can relate to one of these characters, who represent the best and worst of our high school years. A tender and heartbreaking story, and one of John Hughes best.

5. Being There (1979)Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine
A brilliant performance by Sellers highlights a unique and wonderful script. He plays Chance, a simple gardener who had never left the estate where worked his entire life until his employer dies. Sellers is thrown out onto the street to survive on his own, and runs into a plethora of people who mistake his views on gardening – which is all he knows – as pure genius. The script is a clever take on suddenly becoming famous.

6. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza
This Indy film is based on a real classified ad the writers found in a magazine that read: “Wanted – someone to go back in time with; must have your own weapons; safety not guaranteed.” Intriguing? Yes. When you find a real life gem like that, how can you not write a fabulous screenplay around it?

7. Amelie (2001)Audrey Tautou
A wonderful and heartwarming French film that focuses on a shy and lonely Parisian waitress (the adorable Tautou) who secretly does good deeds for her neighbors. The story is simple, yet it balances humor and drama brilliantly, and it will change your outlook on life forever.

8. The Sixth Sense (1999) Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment
This is perhaps the best “I didn’t see that coming” screenplay in history, and although everyone probably knows the twist, I won’t ruin it just in case. In addition, with the Philadelphia connection (M. Knight Shyamalan wrote the terrific screenplay), it’s as if my neighbor wrote it, which means I am close to his perfection.

9. Midnight in Paris (2011) Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams
Woody Allen’s fantasy about a writer vacationing in France who accidentally finds a wormhole back to the glory days of Paris in the 1920s, and the wonderful writers and artists who gathered nightly at “salons” to discuss their art. Hey, Woody, it’s my fantasy, too.

10. Airplane! (1980)Robert Hays, Leslie Nielsen, Julie Hagerty
This hilarious spoof on the disaster movies of the 1970s, is one of the best comedies ever. Whenever I try to add humor to what I’ve written, I fail. Since this is the ultimate funny script, it makes my top ten list. It proves simple humor can be very funny, and makes me believe that one day I will succeed.

Another Lost Art

March 26, 2018 – Cursive handwriting is on the decline and could be in danger of becoming extinct, Many schools have made the decision that cursive handwriting isn’t a necessary skill for the 21st century.

We live in an age where our younger generation is already lost to art of communication due to mobile phones and social media. To take another skill away will limit their communication abilities further. Can you imagine future generations not able to read Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution unless it was printed in a book or online?

As a graduate of Catholic school, the Palmer method of handwriting was ingrained in me at an early age. By second grade, printing gave way to handwriting, and now printing seems so foreign. Sure, I still have the ability to print, but it is my handwriting that is far more legible.

Does the end of cursive handwriting mean that beautifully penned wedding invitations  are on the way out too? That’s just as sad as love letters or letters in general that have succumbed to texting. I keep envisioning Daniel Day-Lewis’ character and those lovely thank you notes he wrote in The Age of Innocence. The calligraphy was almost a character in the movie, and it wouldn’t have been the same if he simply printed his name instead.

What about signatures? How will future adults approve tax forms, loan documents and important other papers that require you to sign your name? Your signature is supposed to be your unique identifier, so a simple X marks the spot won’t due.

Most likely the signature issue will be solved by scanning our retinas to give our approval. That’s even more depressing than the thought of losing the art of cursive handwriting.

Short Stories at Your Fingertips

February 26, 2018 – In the mood to read a short story by a classic American writer? Or perhaps discovering new short story authors is more your style.

Thanks to the vast resources on the Internet, you can have both 24/7.

Americanliterature.com allows you to revisit many of the classics by Stephen Crane, Virginia Woolf, O. Henry, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Louisa May Alcott, James Joyce, and many more. You can even sign up and have the story of the day sent to your email box. What could be easier than that?

If discovering new stories is your thing, Everydayfiction.com features short stories by authors trying to break into the business. The site publishes a new short story each day, with a catalog index if you want to peruse previously featured short stories. It feels good to support new writers and the huge range of topics the site features is fascinating.

If you’re a short story lover, you can’t lose.

Celebrating the Written Word

October 16, 2017 — This Friday is The National Day on Writing and that’s cause for celebration.

Selecting a day to honor the written word began as a project by the National Council of English Teachers to encourage people to share why they write. If you visit their website you can view video clips of several popular writers commenting on this topic.

The site also asked writers to tweet why they write. Here are a few responses that caught my eye:

1. “It’s cheaper than a shrink.”
2. “I can’t always say what I want to be heard.”
3. “To retain sanity.”
4. “To become a better person.”
5. “It’s the first thing I was good at.”
6. “There are restless characters clamoring to get out.”
7. “Because I can lie things into existence.”
8. “It comes out a heck of a lot better than when I speak.”
9. “It’s the least destructive addiction I could find.”
10. “Who says I have a choice?”

While I can relate to most many of these responses, especially #8, my answer is a little more simplistic. I write because it makes me happy.

Read a Classic Novel in Less Than a Minute

September 11, 2017 — Ours is a fast-paced world where everyone wants instant results.

If you’re into classic literature and the old-fashioned way of reading by the fire slows you down too much, here’s something that will help you finish a story faster than the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course.

A site appropriately named Book-a-Minute offers ultra-condensed versions of classic novels, bedtime stories and science fiction stories that you can read — not by fire light, but at lightning fast speed.

My favorite … The Collected Works of Virginia Woolf.

Better not let the kids know about this one. Teachers would probably hate it more than Cliff Notes.

A Writer’s Challenge

August 28, 2017 – Ever heard of the term lipogram?

For someone who has written most of my life, and who has worked in the communications field for the last 20 plus years, it was a new one on me. However, this week I learned that a lipogram was a composition from which a writer systematically omits a certain letter or letters of the alphabet…on purpose…as a challenge.

An example of a successful lipogram is the novel “Gadsby”, a 1939 novel from Ernest Vincent Wright. The novel contains more than 50,000 words, but none of them include the letter “e”. That’s quite a challenge considering the “e” is a common letter.

Another type of challenge is writing extreme short fiction, known as flash fiction. Typically, flash fiction tells a complete story in less than 1,000 words, but many authors have challenged further. Legend has it, for example, that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a six-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Those words tell a complete and tragic tale. Author Margaret Atwood joined in the fun and penned: “Longed for him. Got him. Shit.” That six-word novel tells a different kind of tragic story.

As a writer, I enjoy challenging myself, but I’m not ready to tackle a full-blown lipogram, unless I choose to omit the letter “x” or perhaps “z” or “q”. Any other letter would be too mind boggling. I do, however, tackle flash fiction from time to time, but haven’t yet captured the passion or drama of Hemingway or Atwood. Although I did accept a WordPress challenge a few years back to write a complete story with no more or no less than 50 words:

“The raincoat did little to keep her dry. She hadn’t bothered with an umbrella; rain hit from all sides rendering it useless. Perhaps the storm would wash away the fear that clung to her like ivy wrapping around an old tree. Giving in, she let the rain wash over her.”

The story isn’t as vividly clear as the six-word novels above, but I will forge on. Mark Twain was right when he once apologized for writing a long letter to a friend, explaining that he didn’t have time to write a shorter one. Brevity takes time.

An Editor’s Eye

July 3, 2017 – No one is immune to making the occasional typo or grammatical error. Likewise, no one is immune to pointing out the error only to end up with egg on his or her face, although this is much less common.

I admit to feeling giddy when I find a typo in a book, a newspaper, or a magazine article. I may even take the time to report the issue. Never smugly, I handle it with care because as a communications manager, I have been on the receiving end of that confrontation, and whether you are the creator of the typo or the snitch who called it in, it can be a dangerous game.

For example, I carefully explained to the woman who runs the food cart on the corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, and in a prime spot across from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell where the world is watching, that there was a typo on the sign hanging on the back of the cart. There is not a lot of copy on the sign; it should be an easy mistake to spot, even from the printer’s perspective, who isn’t typically accountable for typos. The other signs on the cart were fine, and the exact ice cold water sign is displayed with the correct punctuation on the front of the cart, so I’m not sure what went wrong.

The woman looked at me, offered a half-smile, and told me I owed her $1.50 for the bottle of water and soft pretzel. Somehow, I don’t think I am the first customer to bring it to her attention. I’m not sure if I should admire her restraint, or be appalled that she turned a blind eye. With a few strokes of whiteout, it would be a simple fix, and she wouldn’t have to go to the expense of printing a new sign.

Now, here is the egg on my face part of the story. Driving past a garden store a few years ago, I spotted what I believed to be the king of typos on a sign by the front door. “Hardy Mums”, it shouted in letters so bold you could see them a half a block away. I pulled over, promptly marched in to the store, and shared my discovery with the person behind the counter. My face turned red when she told me that Hardy was actually a brand name. I tried to laugh it off and save face by explaining that I’m not a gardener and I’ve never heard of the brand. I further explained that I thought the sign erroneously tried to portray “hearty”, as in sturdy enough to stand up to the brisk fall weather ahead. I was wrong.

There is a two-fold lesson here. Don’t be quick to judge a typo without knowing the all of facts. However, if you are certain there is an error, don’t ignore it. For your sake and mine, fix it.

Just Words

May 15, 2017– I’m about to reveal a big secret. I am a writer who is terrible at crossword puzzles, and who doesn’t have a huge vocabulary.

I love playing Scrabble, which is sort of like crosswords if you use your imagination, and I can do cryptograms with the greatest of ease, but when it comes to vocabulary and those five-dollar words often associated with crosswords, I panic. I appease myself with the fact that I was taught to write clearly and simply, on a level that everyone can understand.

Of course, you could argue that a writer with a limited vocabulary is like a painter who is colorblind. But I’m not that limited.

When I read “11 word games writers love” I wondered if the author considered writers who are crossword challenged. Even though she refers to the relationship between the writer and crossword puzzles as iconic, we must exist. Surely I can’t be the only one. I’ll give her a pass this time because she compiled a nice list of games aside from crosswords that will please even the mightiest of literary snobs.

And I’ll add one suggestion of my own:

If you’re mad about cryptograms, you can play to your heart’s content at www.cryptograms.org.

Muses at My Beck and Call

inspireJanuary 20, 2017 — No matter how much you love what you do, there will always be days when you need a little extra kick to get started. When the writing process becomes difficult, for example, a little Internet surfing does wonders to spark my creativity—or shock the hell out of me, which also works.

Sometimes I turn to great quotations from published authors to get me started. They act as a muse and provide instant inspiration to get writing juices flowing again. My favorite is a quote by author Tom Robbins. More clever than inspirational, it always puts things into perspective for me:

“I have been sick ever since I started working here, but I’m well today and I won’t be in anymore.”

Here are a few “more traditional” quotes that do the trick to round out an inspirational top 10:

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” – Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” – Agatha Christie

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” – Tom Clancy

“Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”  – Lawrence Kasdan

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway