My foray into flash fiction, oh my!

My blogging friend Luanne over at Writer Site posted about a free online program that generates writing prompts for flash fiction. It’s called The Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator.

Curious, I checked it out and found it to be pretty cool. And the fact that it’s free doesn’t hurt, either!

How it works

When one presses the “Generate” button, five things pop up: Genre, Character, Material, a Sentence to Use, and Word Count.

Like Luanne, I like some basic “constraints” on getting my writing started, and this appears to be the perfect tool for doing just that.

Yes! I thought I would like to tackle this head on for my first blast into flash fiction.

I tried it out, and the first one that popped up was as follows: Romance, Fat Baker, A Painting, “He can change” & 600 words.

What follows is my first effort into flash fiction and using Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator’s criteria. It was fun, and I plan to hit that “Generator” button frequently each week.

What kinds of “constraints” (if any) do you prefer when beginning a writing project? If you try Story Shack, let me know your opinion of it. Happy writing, all!

The Baker’s Tale

 He was slowly steering a tall cart of pastries on their way to the glass showcase in the front of the bakery when he saw her after so many years. He was overcome with a sort of panic. God, what if she recognized him?

Sweating, something he did frequently, he stopped. Was it nerves? Morbid obesity? A combination of both? All he knew was that the pastry cart wasn’t tall or wide enough to shield him from her view as she waited nonchalantly, browsing the baked items.

Cringing behind the aluminum cart, he recalled how they’d once loved and shared and just how lovely she was—her smile, especially—and never an unkind word toward anyone—especially to him!

Life had been good, dreaming young dreams and promising young promises. He, the debonaire and handsome guy in her life, had dropped out of college to pursue his love of painting. But a severe lack of confidence in his own efforts had been the great barrier.

The manager was busily serving customers and would soon spot him in the middle of the place, like a stranded shipwreck victim, clinging desperately to the last bit of flotsam. He had to do something.

He’d tried like hell to be the person she’d first thought him to be—the one she’d fallen in love with one rainy summer weekend at an old cottage in Michigan, where he’d gone to paint rustic scenes in watercolors.

She’d loved his first creation at once, even wanted to buy it from him. But he didn’t feel it was very good at all.

Trying to hide now, sweat stinging his eyes, he mentally kicked himself. If she hadn’t been so nice to me and hooked me right off, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

He glanced her way again and saw that she was blithely scoping out the peach coffee cake, another of his creations he’d finished baking less than an hour before. Great!

Worse, he still didn’t know how to proceed without causing an obvious scene. He’d been hiding behind his cart much too long, and he had to get the baked goods to the front as the bakery was filling with hungry, early-morning customers.

Having no other option, he heaved himself up from his bent over posture and felt his heart nearly jump out of his thick chest. The exertion was killing him, he knew, but he had to move forward, unload the baked items onto the empty shelves, and get back to his baking. 

If only she’d pick something and leave! He knew that wouldn’t happen before it was too late. Karma is about to rear its ugly head. He sighed, resigned to his fate, and resumed his cart-pushing directly toward where she was standing, his heart hammering wildly. A 350-pound person isn’t designed for this sort of thing!

Just then, her number was called and she pleasantly asked for two cherry-filled crescent rolls. A quick exchange of money for the white bakery bag the manager handed across the showcase, and she smiled that smile. He saw this and felt like running to her (as if he could!) and taking her in his arms again.

But he didn’t. He watched her step out onto the busy sidewalk, carrying her white bag of crescent rolls, and disappearing from his life all over again.

He then remembered what she’d told a friend once who wondered what she saw in him: “Not much, but he can change.”

But he really hadn’t.

That unexpected happening…

IMG_0140Something unexpected happened yesterday, and I’m kind of hoping that the same thing will do so again today. Of course, then it wouldn’t be unexpected. But enough of splitting hairs.

I have been struggling—for longer than I care to even think about—with the novel, Birchwood’s Secret, which I began years ago. It is to be my third book published, and a continuation of the lives of the two main characters, Rick and Karen Brenson, who performed so bravely in Black Wolf Lodge. That one came out in 2010, after many starts and stops along the way.

This current adventure in which Rick and Karen find themselves involved was actually begun long before Black Wolf Lodge. For whatever reasons, I simply wasn’t enthused about working on Birchwood’s Secret and pretty much abandoned it altogether. The rough outlines and ideas remained tucked away in the depths of a manilla folder, in the depths of purgatory in my writing file box. It was then that I plunged into writing Black Wolf, a couple of short stories, “Hobo Willie” and “Pinewood Farm,” and a very fun book titled The Good Luck Highway.

What was I going to work on next? About that time, November rolled around and NaNoWriMo reared its beckoning head and drew me in. And then it hit me that I had a wonderful opportunity to finally do something with all of the notes, scribblings, outlines, etc., still serving out their sentence in the confines of that manilla folder. Thus, the beginnings of my current work in progress began to come together.

At the end of the month, I had accumulated well over the 50,000 word target, but the work itself was scattered, unorganized, and full of problems too numerous to even mention here. Suffice it to say, I was once again ready to re-commit this whole thing to the darkness of the writing file box and some out-of-the-way abyss in a Scrivener Projects folder on my Mac.

But that didn’t happen. I actually went back to the beginning of the novel and began to rework it and attempt to develop it toward some kind of logical and satisfying conclusion. As before, though, that process didn’t go as I’d liked, and the frustration and inability to write much of anything grew and grew.

From the very beginning, I’ve always known what the main premise of the story is all about and who the main characters and the roles they’ll play are. It took me a very long time, however, to know how the thing would end. And that’s when yesterday’s “unexpected happening” happened!

Yesterday, as I try to do on most mornings, I sat down at my Mac and opened my Birchwood’s Secret Scrivener project and re-read what I’d written just a few days before. And for whatever reason, I suddenly knew that a couple of characters needed changed as to their roles in the story, and that another major character (main villain) would have to be worked in.

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Realizing this, it became clear in my mind how I could finally build things to the conclusion and outcome that has been eluding me for a long, long time. And I was able to crank out well over two-and-a-half hours worth of writing, the words seeming to flow as they hadn’t in such an extended stretch of time. And, to be honest, it was a wonderful feeling!

Now, as I wrap up this post, I will pour another cup of hot coffee, jump back to dear, old Birchwood’s Secret, and hope that yesterday’s magic shows itself once more.

My “Civil War” Summer

Being back at the cottage after my brief hiatus to the air-conditioned comfort of my home in Illinois last weekend, I actually got back to work today on the sequel to my first book. I must plead guilty to being a bit sketchy this summer in the “disciplined writer” department. Trouble is, the cottage bookshelf above the microwave is full of wonderful books that have—and will—take up my valuable writing time.

This being my “Civil War Summer” I simply cannot get enough of the historical fiction of Jeff Shaara and of his late father, Michael. Killer Angels, The Last Full Measure, and Gods and Generals are outstanding pieces of writing about the battles and the Generals and other officers who were involved. Also, Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America’s Hallowed Ground rests there, waiting patiently for me to pick it up (and not be able to put down, I fear!).

Then there’s Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals still waiting for me to finish this time ‘round. I began reading it a couple of years ago but got sidetracked and seemed to have lost interest, for whatever reason, so I’ve put it on my “To Read” list once again. In that same Lincoln vein, I have Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson. Published in 2006, it’s certainly not a new book by any means, but I couldn’t resist purchasing it on a recent visit to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. Besides, I can never get enough of the John Wilkes Booth stuff, which I revisited this past year in Bill O’Reilly’s excellent Killing Lincoln.

Finally, I’ll round out my reading during this “Civil War Summer” with an interesting-looking tome that I picked up on a day trip a couple of weeks ago out to Galena, home of U.S. Grant after the Civil War. The book is titled Grant and Twain: The Story of An American Friendship. I had always heard that Twain got himself out of bankruptcy by publishing General Grant’s memoirs. Grant, who was dying of throat cancer at the time, became a good friend of Twain, and I’m anxious to read the story behind it.

Now, I know I still should work in more “writing time” each day, and I’ll try…I really will! In short there’s lots to do in the days ahead. Also, there’s the latest John Sandford Prey series novel titled Stolen Prey, starring Lucas Davenport and his associates. But that just might have to wait until fall, once my “Civil War Summer” has run its course! Such problems here in the cottage by the lake in Michigan…CortlandWriter

An Old Friend…

My current writing project is a collection of short stories and memoirs–many started and put aside years ago; some currently “under construction.” One idea that continues to bounce around in my head has to do with my many years spent building and living memories at Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox! As I fired up the MacBook earlier today, I began a “research journey” of things related to the park, surrounding spots, and people and events I enjoyed in person or through radio/TV broadcasts. My earliest memory of actually visiting Comiskey Park is somewhere in the late 50s. But it was the late-60s thru the 80s that hold the most memories, for better or worse.

I often wonder whatever happened to those fellow fans I’d wind up sitting beside out there in the left-field grandstands or center field bleachers, on hot summer days, drinking Meister Brau, Falstaff, or Budweiser. We were all in our early-20s and never really knew each other by names. In fact, very seldom did I ever see any of the same people more than one time. But there was always an undefined camaraderie, a mutual desire for White Sox success, flowing out there amongst us. And the later the game became, and the more beer we consumed, the greater that camaraderie was! It was, to say the very least, wonderful being home from college in the early 70s, spending summers at Comiskey Park so often and rooting for a team that was forever short-handed, seemingly short-changed, and always short on real talent! But there was nothing better than being one of those few fans who showed up for games–usually well before the starting time so we could take in batting practice basking in the cool atmosphere of old Comiskey! 

As I write this, and I really have nary a clue as to how I got onto this less than a week before Christmas, I think about so many things that take me back to those days and nights at 35th and Shields, along the Dan Ryan. Perhaps I’m somehow hoping someone will gift me with a Wayback Machine, allowing me to once again visit my dear, old friend. 

I can dream, can’t I? Down that road I go…MLA

Gorgeous Days & New Look Blog

Just time for a quick post tonight as the hour is late and sleep is needed. It was another beautiful day around here today, and I enjoyed a nice walk earlier. Tonight I’ve managed to get some reading done, some e-mails read and replied to, and have had some fun playing around (experimenting) with various themes and color schemes for this blog. I kind of like the color combinations here–very appropriate for this time of year, I think. At any rate, it’s good to try different things and learn as I go. Someone my age, it takes a bit longer to get the hang of just how all of this works. Will close now and crawl off to bed. Will get back to writing and regular posting starting tomorrow.

What am I currently reading?  The Affair by Lee Child. It’s the latest Jack Reacher adventure, and it’s very good so far. I’m also getting into a non-fiction work titled Hitler in the Crosshairs by John Woodbridge. I’ll write about these two in the days ahead as well as my current state of writing. All for tonight…

Days grow shorter and literary thoughts…

The days are beginning to grow shorter as the twilight settles in around us. It’s good this time of year and all around us the fields are turning that golden color as they sit a while longer, drenched in the moisture from an early morning rain. The overcast is burned away and a spectacular, clear blue sky lights up the afternoon as only it can do this time of year in northern Illinois!

Shadows have begun to take on that autumn slant, growing longer as if to say: “Things are changing soon. Get ready!” The cooler temperatures are very welcome, but the warmth of the summer sun isn’t ready to “give it up” just yet. A sweatshirt or light windbreaker is the order-of-the-day.

We revel in this glorious weather, yet there is something calling to us that seems to strike our thoughts with gathering up our reading materials for the coming foul weather days that lie ahead. As I write this beside my bookcases, I relish the days ahead when I can get into the new Jack Reacher adventure. Anyone who hasn’t discovered author Lee Child is missing a fantastic writer.

There’s also the last two John Sandford “Prey” novels that I’ve been holding off on for some time. Storm Prey & Buried Prey will be two of the very first “rainy day” books I’ll enjoy digging into in the days ahead. Another writer I discovered this summer was Pat Conroy, author of the powerful The Great Santini. I look forward to reading that, as well as his other well-known book Prince of Tides.

Other authors of fiction who I look forward to reading and re-reading include Stephen King, Homer Hickam, John Grisham, James Patterson, and David Baldacci. Of course there will be plenty of non-fiction fare as well. Cleopatra: A Life and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Locks are right up there near the top of my list.

My shelves are crowded with so many books I’ve yet to read, and there are more yet that haven’t made their way to my shelves. My reading life in the rainy, chill days and nights that are lurking out there, soon to find their way to our doorsteps, promises to be an exciting one. I will be sharing my thoughts and impressions on these pages in the days ahead. For now, we enjoy the golden remaining vestiges of a wonderful late summer.