Chuck Palahniuk’s First Published Story

Chuck Palahniuk was first published in Modern Short Stories, August, 1990.  He was 28 years old.

The story is called Negative Reinforcement, and it’s got the trademark Palahniuk voice, if a little rough in places.  It shows that Chuck was refining his work, over six years before his first novel, Fight Club was published in 1996.  It takes a while.

To quote Ira Glass:

“The most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

 

Picture by Murdo Macleod

Read NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT on chuckpalahniuk.net HERE.

Note: Modern Short Stories is a defunct publication, now.

Zombie: An Original Short Story by Chuck Palahniuk

Not many magazines have the nutsack to publish a story by Chuck.  Let’s face it, he’s hardly New Yorker material, and I mean this in all possible, positive ways. Playboy not only published the story, they made it freely available to read online.    If you are here, you must be interested in reading it, so click the link (below) and go already!  This is classic Chuck, and though the story is called Zombie, it is not a typical zombie story.

I’ll give this a proper review later.  For now, enjoy.

And though this is in the SFW (Safe For Work) section of Playboy.com, I recommend that you DO NOT click this link while at work.  Better safe than explain to HR tomorrow why you were looking at anything on playboy.com while at work.

Just sayin’.

 

Chuckp-Zombie

Zombie: An Original Short Story by Chuck Palahniuk

http://playboysfw.kinja.com/zombie-a-new-original-short-story-by-chuck-palahniuk-1465542446

Third Place Winner of The Hemingway Rules Contest

Ernest Hemingway on safari, Africa. January, 1934.

Third place in the Hemingway Rules Contest goes to M.N. Warner for the entry, Hemingway Begins Anew.  – ML

Hemingway Begins Anew ~ 1914
M.N. Warner

I again searched for the doctor’s son. The boy had a suspicious way of disappearing at night. His father was none too happy, and I was appointed to rescue Ernest.

Fathers anguish over their children’s futures, especially the future of such a young man. Unless my plan succeeded, he would flit through life, humming amusing melodies and performing whimsical pieces at recitals.

My worst fears were realized when I found the lad leaning against a lamp post. With ruffled shirt tucked neatly into shiny toreador pants, he performed street music. He sang falsetto. 

I pushed aside the coin-tossers and rescued Ernie from his caterwaulers.

"Enough of this nonsense!" I dragged him away. He did not struggle but allowed me to haul him to the end of the street. 

I flung him through the open door of Harry’s Bar. Ernie’s eyes widened in horror.

"You can’t do this, N’Cola!" he whimpered.  "I’m too young for a bar!  Whatever are you thinking?"

"Don’t be a damned bloody young fool!" I flung him into a seat at the nearest available table. "No man’s ever too young or too old for Harry’s Bar. It’s time someone took the bull by the horns and made a man of you."

Ernie stared mutely, aghast at my words.  He watched the tray of drinks arrive and cowered.

"Get a grip, m’boy." I lined up the beers and shot glasses. "I will talk. You will drink and listen. Com-pren-do?"

Apparently so. He sucked a breath, held it and choked down the first swallow.

By the end of his second chaser, the lad seemed more confident.

I didn’t mince words. "Here’s what you’ll do, boy. No choices."

Wide-eyed and attentive, he nodded.

"First, lose the silk and the music," I said. "Then tie on the gloves of life. Look your opponent right in the eye and swing. Grow facial hair, lad. The ladies will love it…Oh, and drive a big vehicle.  The bigger the better."

His sigh bordered on ecstasy. "An ambulance?"

"Get serious, Ernie." I stacked the shot glasses. "Travel. To Kansas City, to Italy, to Africa. Live. Chase stories, fight bulls, shoot an oryx…be a man.” I paused to push the alcohol beyond his reach.

“This is your chance, Champ. It’s your generation. Don’t be lost…be found.” I shook my finger at him. “Don’t end up an old man adrift in a murky sea. Understand?"

Ernie staggered to his feet, excited.  "Yes.  I do."

He blinked amd leaned closer. In a manly whisper he asked two questions revealing the deep intellectual and tempestuous hunger within his evolving soul.

"Help me, N’Cola. Give me honest answers, I beg you.” The lad tugged at my sleeve and gulped.  "What is an oryx…and why should I shoot it?"

Young Ernest Hemingway had a difficult journey ahead.  I eyed the remaining liquor with longing.

~~~~~

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2nd Place Winner of The Hemingway Rules Contest

American Author Ernest Hemingway aboard his Ya...2nd Place in The Hemingway Rules Contest went to Marion Clarke for her entry, Here’s Johnny! – ML

Here’s Johnny!
Marion Clarke

As I hurry through the field, I wonder how autumn arrived without me noticing. All the foliage looks withered or dying. I quicken my pace and make it to the bottom of the field. I don’t dare look back as I push my way though brambles and leap across the brook where Ellie and I used to fish. Poor Ellie. I squeeze through a gap in the tree line, cursing as I notice a growing blob of blood on my arm where a thorn has pierced the skin. The air in the forest hangs heavy from the trees. It feels like I have been swallowed up by the gloom. I take a deep breath, but forget to release it and continue towards the heart of the woods. Twigs snap at me as I move forward. My heart thumps against my ribcage like a lobster in a pot. Nerve-ends scream when I hear footsteps cracking behind me. His footsteps.

I move faster and faster along the path, sunlight blinking at me through the canopy, allowing me glimpses of the way ahead. He is getting closer. When I break into a run, so does he, but I can hear his breathing becoming labored. He makes a throaty sound and bile floods my mouth. I gag and spit on the forest floor. My spine squirms in anticipation of fingers, a touch at my back.

His voices reaches me first. “Aww, now come to Uncle Johnny, Carla. Don’t I always bring my girl a special treat?”

"Nearly there… nearly over," I chant under my breath. “Go away, Uncle Johnny. You hurt Ellie real bad. I’m going to tell.” A sob sprung up from somewhere in my chest.

“Get back here this minute, you little bitch.”

I can hardly breathe as I turn the corner and stop. Despite the covering of leaves, I know it is there. The old bear pit. I skirt round it, then stop and turn. A splintering sound tells me Uncle Johnny is nearly here. Yes. There is his, his huge frame lumbering along the path towards me. Those black eyes peering out from under a furious brow. Finally, he lunges forward with a triumphant look on his face. His hands are outstretched, ready to grab me. But he disappears in a shout of rage and the sound of splitting wood rises from the branches and twigs I used to fill the pit. I scrabble around in the pine needles at the base of a tree and uncover my kit. My fingers fumble with the lid of a can. Soon the smell of petrol fills the air. I swing the container back and forward then stop, allowing the contents to escape. For a moment, the fluid forms a shining arc in the air, then rains down, spattering the dry leaves below. I click the lighter and hold it to my home-made torch. It whooshes to life. I smile as I drop it into the pit.

~~~~~

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First Place Winner of The Hemingway Rules Contest

Ernest HemingwayI completely agree with the judge that this story epitomizes Hemingway’s style, and refined, succinct sentences.  I’m very pleased to present this winning story on Life64. I hope you like it as much as I did.   – ML

Tumbling Visions

by Twana Biram

Dick surveyed the room. It wasn’t like most hospital rooms. Maps of Haiti papered one wall. A Pittsburgh Pirates pennant showed loyalty to baseball. A quilt covered the sheets of the railed bed. Still, no one could mistake the oxygen tanks. Even a blind person could identify the hospital smells of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant.

Dick smiled at the man in the easy chair next to the bed. “Hey, Reverend! Remember me?”

“Your dad was my best friend,” Jesse said in answer. His gaze fastened on Dick’s face.

“Yeah, Dad felt that, too.”

Jesse smiled. This unfamiliar smile, crooked because of a stroke, broke Dick’s heart. Dick remembered Jesse’s smiles from the past.

Dick recalled an afternoon of fun and smiles. A trout stream reflected the summer sky. His father and Jesse fished. A blanket covered the bank. Mom and Jesse’s wife, Laura, lounged watching children, guarding the picnic feast, talking of godly matters.

The water rushing past his knees took Dick’s breath. It was cold. He and his best friend, Jesse, Jr. waded and splashed.

Laura called, “Time to eat!”

The men put their gear down. The creel filled with trout promised an evening meal. The fishermen and children joined the women on the quilt. Fried chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, chunks of raspberry pie smelled so good. Jesse offered “blessing.” Dick remembered his impatience; his stomach growled. For all he loved the man, Dick wished his “blessings” were shorter.

Dick never forgot the day’s colors and scents. He recalled the evening’s campfire, fresh trout, and roasted potatoes. They ate in a twilight lit by fireflies.

Months later, his father took Dick to a Revival Meeting Jesse preached. Dick half listened to the sermon. His thoughts wandered to that summer’s day. He thought of it until Jesse gave the altar call. People rushed up to get “Saved”. Dick had, too.

Jesse gave hundreds of altar calls over the years. He preached to crowds in Haiti. Hundreds of people responded. Churches across the Valley held revivals; when Jesse preached, people got saved.

Now, Jesse slumped in a chair, left side paralyzed.

“I can’t stop seeing him,” Jesse said.

“Who?”

“The Jap sniper.”

Jesse had gone to war?

“No one else could see him high in that tree. He’d picked off dozens of us. My Lieutenant said, ‘Jesse, you’re our marksman. Can you get that Jap?’

“Yes, Sir!

“I found a spot. Seemed I kept still for hours. I got a uniform button in the crosshairs.

“Bang! Bet he didn’t know he was dead. He somersaulted down two, three times from that tall tree. Our column could move on.” Jesse stopped. Tears wet his cheeks.

Dick took Jesse’s hand.

“Next time you see that Jap, remember all the people who got saved because you preached.”

“I’m no hero,” Jesse murmured.

“You’re my hero. Since I was a kid you and Dad showed me how to live right.”

Jesse frowned. Then the care eased from his face.

“Is it lunchtime?”

~~~~~

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Not in The Mood To Write?

by Sue Morgan

Sue Morgan is a dear friend and writer, and I appreciate her thoughtful take on the subject of writer’s block.  I am proud to feature this piece on Life64. – ML

Not in the Mood to Write?

No, it doesn’t happen to me either. Only kidding, of course everyone comes across that dreaded block now and again…or even again and again and again and I have a few practices that help me to some degree.

Writer's BlockMy first line of action is just to get up and move around. A change of scene sometimes makes things shift enough in my brain to start the words flowing. This is usually just a walk to make coffee and raid the cookie jar, but if things are more serious a walk outside can really help. I live amongst rolling green hills with the view of mountains, within a hundred meters I am deep into an ancient copse of beech trees. It is difficult not to find some kind of inspiration here. This morning it was the ‘cute and cuddly’ spectacle of watching a mother squirrel show her youngster how to gather nuts.

A A longer term block needs a different approach. I find that turning to another art form can help me at times, listening to music (try something you don’t normally listen to) or I looking through a box of art postcards that I have collected over time. But, the failsafe option for me has to be reading, anything and everything I can get hold of, books, magazines, cereal boxes…

I write mainly poetry though and I can almost guarantee to find enough inspiration for the next move through reading someone else’s poetry. I go through phases of having a favorite poet and so I will generally turn to the current flavor of the month first. Inspiration can come to me through their subject matter, an unusual turn of phrase or even a word. Sometimes, following T.S. Eliot’s old adage about imitation I will try to ‘copy’ a poem, using my own substitutions for various parts of language…sometimes just taking a poem apart to see how it works can throw up the most curious of effects. But, In the direst of straights I turn to the Bloodaxe anthologies edited by Neil Astley, so far he has never failed me.

Wasp Alert!

by Sue Morgan

Yellow Jackets are in season and I’ve had to wipe out two small nests already.  Sue is a treasured friend and writer from Ireland, and I got a kick out of reading her ordeals with the “little yellow and black blighters.” – ML

The ‘Season of Bursting Beech Nuts’ aka ‘the Season of those Friggin’ Wasps’ is upon us again. Having been away for a week’s holiday, which didn’t tie in nicely with the council’s fortnightly schedule of bin collection, meant that I came back to a black bin swarming with the little yellow and black blighters.

I couldn’t get close to the bin without them sensing me and starting to get agitated, squirting their ‘angry’ pheromones and freaking me out with the idea of multiple stings and possible anaphylactic shock.

But, the bin was due out. It has to be put on the side of the road, handle side out ready for collection. This means dragging it about a hundred yards down a rutted lane to the gate. Normally this is a MAN’S job. It involves brute force strength and so in our house a mere woman wouldn’t be allowed to tackle it. Sure though, what do I care? I get out of bin duty. But, where are the men when you need them? When the wasps are in a frenzy of late summer hunger? They are up in the hills, bonding over canvas and fishing rods, that’s where, leaving me to deal with the wasps.

Well, what do I do? The first thought was to wimp out. Do nothing, pretend it didn’t happen. ‘Oh, bin day. Yes, when was that? I must have forgotten’. But, no, I’m a Mum, I couldn’t do that. I have enough guilt to be going on with, thank you.

Next, I googled the council offices to get the phone number to talk to someone with responsibilities for the bins. ‘sorry, I thought I should tell you about the wasps. Health and Safety and all. I wouldn’t want any of your men to be stung’. That’s it. Shove the responsibility onto some once else. But, no, I couldn’t do that, that would involve guilt and shirking. And then, guilt about shirking.

So, I looked up what to do when you have an infestation of wasps in your dustbin. Would you believe that there are whole websites devoted to such a thing? Well, there are. I read several, most of which revolved around getting the ‘men’ in to deal with the problem. I then noticed that they had brand names on their pages and phone numbers to call ‘for immediate, next day attention.’ My problem was that the bin men would be here at eight thirty sharp the next morning. So that was out of the equation too.

I am ashamed to say that my next action was to phone the ‘hills’ for advice. It came in the form of ‘ask the neighbour’, another version of passing the buck, letting a man do it, and the guilt of someone else being stung in the process. Definitely not my style at all. Back to the internet it was.

I found one helpful nugget of information though which led to a PLAN OF ACTION. Wasps go to sleep at night. Ah ha! I had them. I waited until it was dark. Or nearly dark – this is summer you know! I would move the bin whilst they were unawares! I had to prepare.

http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)Firstly, I had to don the correct clothing. I didn’t want there to be any flesh exposed to wasp attack. So, already being in my pjs, these formed the base layer. I tucked the bottoms into a pair of sports socks. I then put on a pair of good thick black jeans. I don’t know if wasps can see in the dark, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I pulled a hoody over my top half and then a long black coat with a tight funnel neck over the top. God, I was warm. To finish off the ensemble were the ‘mucking out’ boots, to confuse their sense of smell and a then, dish cloth over my head for good measure.

All went well enough in the general approach. The web site was right. The wasps did seem to be asleep. I gently taped the bin shut with two strips of ‘duck tape’ and grabbed the handle at the back. Now, if you ever see an Olympic sport in the future where a granny does the 100 metre sprint, in the dark, in fancy dress, think of me. It started here. I pounded down that rutted road like no-one’s business, with fears in my head of the swarm of wasps that was becoming more and more angry trussed up in the bin that was being jolted up and down.

Nevertheless, bravery and courage won out and I got right to the end of the lane. By now the sound from the bin was hysterical. I positioned the black buzzing nightmare with the handle correctly positioned facing into the road and high tailed it back up to the house. I texted the other half –‘job done’, then slept the sleep of the proud.

But, you’ve guessed it! I went down this morning to collect the bin. There was a neatly written note from the council stuck to the top of the bin. ‘Sorry, we couldn’t empty your bin today. It was taped up’.

Back to the internet. I’m sure that someone has posted an article on what to do when….

*****

About Sue: Sue Morgan lives in Northern Ireland with her husband and two teenage boys. Her work has appeared in print in the Static Poetry Anthologies, the Belfast Poetry Map, the Best of Writing3All 2010 and online, at Every Day Poets, HaikuJ and Keep Her Lit. This summer she makes her debut in the Irish literary magazines, Southword Journal and Crannog.

Precious

Rachel Sutcliffe

I take a lot of the things in my life for granted, it’s true.  Rachel has a very down to earth grasp of what is precious and should be cherished, and I’m very happy she chose to share it on Life64 this week.  – ML

It sounds corny to start this with the cliché ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, but it is so very true, as anyone with a bit of life experience behind them will know. Anyone like me that is.

I never realized how precious good health was until I lost mine in my early twenties. Ten years later, with ten years of chronic illness behind me, I think it’s fair to say I’ve had the time and experience to learn how very precious good health actually is. So what if you haven’t got it? Where does that leave me?

sunrise-in-AfricaLearning a very valuable, though hard, lesson that’s where. I’ve realized I have so many precious things in my life. Things I wouldn’t have given a second thought to at one time…..waking to sunshine on my face, feeling the spring breeze in my hair, watching the mother duck with her ducklings, exchanging morning greetings with a neighbor, sharing a sisterly hug, putting on my favorite PJs, savoring a frothy hot chocolate ……and the list goes on.

So I’ve just one thing left to say here and that’s thank you chronic illness, for teaching me the art of appreciation and with it the true meaning of precious, in so many more ways than one.

*****

About Rachel:  Rachel has always been obsessed by words and language. Writing is her therapy; when the going gets tough Rachel get writing! She’s had several stories and many poems published. Her blog can be found at http://projectwords11.wordpress.com/

Why I Started Writing

by Robert Bourke

Pulling back the curtain of pretense and pomp, Robert (aka Bobby) presents the struggle with the written form as he sees it.  I love that about this piece and like Bobby, I also dig King’s work. – ML

Back when I was in school the only thing I seemed to get right was storytelling. One English teacher in particular took a keen interest in my writing but I did not take a keen interest in being taught, and so we went our separate ways in dramatic fashion – I threw a book at him and he got me expelled.  C’est la vie.

I guess I would have to thank Mr. Stephen King for my ventures into story writing. When I was twelve years old I bought a book called The Devil Rides Out, by Denis Wheatley. My mother did not want me to be swayed by his writings and so we compromised on a copy of The Stand by Stephen King. I was hooked.

He opened up a whole new world for me – albeit a world whose population had been diminished by 98%, give or take. It was his characters and characterization which drew me in. It would be my first view and awareness of the intricacies of writing: when you get the reader to care about the character, they will turn every page to make sure you are getting said character out of trouble; although as a writer the trick is to place them in as much trouble as possible. I have learned a few pointers since, but that one was a dawning moment and it shaped my writes in secondary school to which I was encouraged to pursue. I didn’t.

I explored my teens with Cujo, The Shining,  IT and Salem’s Lot, to name a few, but two things struck me outside of my favorite books.

One was The Tommyknockers. I hated it; still do. It was the first time I felt let down by someone I did not know. How could you do this to me, a pimple faced boy of confusion living in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, surely you’ve heard of me, Mr. King?  No? I was disheartened.

The second was his short story, The Long Walk. It was a great read – if you haven’t come across it, please get a copy. I may be over hyping the tale but for me it showed how you can take a simple concept and layer it with characters, and once again worry about them all in such a simple scene as a long walk.

I got the biggest push into writing when I felt Stephen King had wandered off the path, or it could have been me who drifted, perhaps a bit of both. There was a time in my late teens merging with early twenties where I did not read anymore. There was no one to read.  Yes, there were millions of writers out there which I had tread upon, but I wanted horror with feeling. None did it for me the way King did, and I would talk endlessly of this drought at parties or bars or such.

“What about Frank Herbert or Dean R. Koontz?” What about them?  They ain’t King.

One night out clubbing, a girl turned to me and said, “Ya know what, seen as you keep harping on about having no one to read, and, ‘ah gawd but this is droll,’ why don’t you kick it up a gear and write?”

Write? Me? Well I wasn’t bad at the stories in school, but my technical abilities leave a lot to be desired. Still, why not!

So I penned a book length manuscript. Was it a masterpiece? No. Was it up to a standard to send it out? No. But it was mine. It had characters which I cared about, it had plot, it had arc, and it had a wow ending.

If it had all that then why not send it?

Because it ain’t good enough. Simple.

UnderwoodKeyboardI wrote another over two years, just to prove I could write a hundred thousand word piece – easy just type All work and no play 20,000 times. True. And having learned the value of words I would guess I could cut it down to 30,000 and still have the story with a thriftier read.

Then I drifted between writing outlines for characters and stories but not knuckling down to anything concrete – echoes of the same attitude I had as a teenager. I’ll do it my way, won’t be swayed by the constraints of others… yada, yada, yada. Gawd I can still hear my attitude-rich voice ringing now.

There are moments in our lives when we look back and see the most innocuous action leading to a significant event.

In 2006 my wife, and child [a young girl of eight at the time] and my parents, along with my younger brother decided we should go visit my brother in America. He was living in Hendorsonville, North Carolina. So we began to research North Carolina, having only seen America in movies and not fully knowing the layout of the country. What we found were the most amazing landscapes I have ever had the fortune to see – if you have not been to the Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Mountains, I urge you to make the trip sometime. Mountains veiled in a thin blue haze, trees of every color, valleys in shade and lakes in sunshine. Amazing.

And so we planned our trip for late July early August of the following year. We found an amazing log cabin to stay in, with big decking overlooking Maggie Valley, waking every morning to clouds beneath us as we sipped coffee and ate bagels – my first time eating bagels.

However I was not prepared for what I experienced. The beauty of the mountains, its streams and lakes are a part of me now, more than just memories they are part of who I am.

When we returned my mother said to me, “You better write about them mountains, and soon don’t let the feeling leave you.”

I did.

But what to do with it? My practical English was lacking in abundance. I knew nothing of nouns, pro-nouns, adjectives or verbs, nor sentence structure and so on.

I found a website, a writers’ site. Joined but did not participate. Near on six months of revising and editing my piece The River. Until one day I hit send instead of delete and it was up and could be read and commented on.

It snowballed from there. I was told of the amazing book by Strunk and White: The Elements of Style, what an eye-opener. I have sites where I go most days to learn about the seven elements of sentence structure, it does not sit easy with me, but hey if you’re gonna write ya better respect the reader and learn how to execute the craft. I learn – I still am learning; I always will be. I grasp a few things, not all, but more than I had known.

I don’t have a rip-roaring success tale to end with, as in a book deal or an agent. What I do have is a greater understanding of where I want my writing to go. How I want it to evolve. And one day I will go back to that teacher and tell him I am sorry for not having listened to his words earlier, and perhaps throwing the book at him wasn’t the best decision of my life.

*****

About Robert: Robert Bourke lives on the east coast of Ireland with his wife and daughter, and loves it there.
Robert has been published in anthologies of both poetry and fiction. He continues his learning everyday in the knowledge that he is a writer with the desire, and need, to improve. He faces rejection slips with smiles knowing one day he’ll get it right.

You Are More Than Just a Detail

by Eamon O Cleirigh

I’ve learned a lot about writing and grammar by studying Eamon’s style. He was also the editor for The Infection Anthology, published by Pantoum Press in 2011.   I’m honored to feature this piece on Life64. – ML

Creative expression is not just about filling the canvas, but using the essence of a specific detail, in all its varied levels of shape, texture, color, substance, and spirals of light and dark, to bring the space to life without it necessarily making sense to an outside observer.

mona-lisa1The point, of course, is not to spend time ‘thinking’ about composition, or even reasons why, but to have confidence in your ability to take that step into the spectrum of the unknown.

Time spent wondering about external reaction to subconscious manifestation ultimately hinders that forward momentum needed to make the required leap of faith, which is basically about believing in who you are, and that you are more than just a detail.

Allowing the shades and colors of your personal rainbow connect and swirl through form and thought, puts time and space together on the canvas of your mind, and slowly, so slowly, there grows before you an abstract that mirrors the twists and turns, the hot and cold, the dark, deep dynamic of who you really are – that quantum of experience – unreadable beyond learned speculation.

Brush on, brush off – deep reflective strokes, drying and congealing like blood before the camera shot. Your board is full and heavy with the labor of belief. Exhalation acts as a semicolon, leading to an expansive smile, and recognition that stepping across that dark and colorless threshold didn’t lead to artistic annihilation after all.

*****

About Eamon: Eamon is from Ireland, from a long line of homeless novels and short stories. In his spare time he likes to write poetry and tell others where their writing is going wrong. He’s presently coming to terms with being a realist. You can view his musings at: http://writingfromtheoutsidein.blogspot.com/

Writing

by Zoe Karakikla-Mitsakou

Zoe is a friend and fellow writer, and I dig her vibe a lot.  This is her piece about the writing process; with aspects that are therapeutic as well as haunting. – ML

Writing has always been a cathartic process for me. I always loved to write, but could never find the motivation to reach for the pen or keyboard unless I had reached “the danger zone”. In the pits of despair, right before (or sometimes shortly after) a small breakdown or personal tragedy I would lock myself in my office and write.

Fiction or nonfiction, my writing was like an extension of the psychotherapist’s couch. What better way to let some of the darkness out than to turn despair and agony into creativity? Sublimation, the channeling of our most primal impulses, our darkest corners into something positive and socially acceptable is one of the most common defense mechanisms in our arsenal. Punching someone that really deserves it in real life isn’t socially acceptable? Perhaps a story about a girl who murders her flat mate would be a more productive way to unleash some of the underlying rage. It sounds logical enough.

typewriter-girl-bw-png-tkahrs_pringlehillstudioImagine my dismay when a few months ago, I found myself for the first time in a good few years feeling…happy. I was in a satisfying relationship, my health was stable, my friends and family were well, and work was going ok. I spent a month staring at the keyboard, too afraid to type. I had bumped into one of the, many, myths associated with the ‘creative professions’. To be creative you need to be dark. To be dark you need a degree of personal dysfunction, of decadence, of addiction. It’s all very mystical, very esoteric and simply untrue. Tragedy, personal instability, dysfunction are not necessary elements of creativity. All myths, however, have an element of truth. The artistic temperament has long been linked to mental disorders, like manic depression. Many artists have led almost haunted lives. Equally as many sculptors, musicians and writers have led lives untouched by horrors and madness.

We are inherently creative beings. Is being a writer a creative profession? Most of the time, it is. More than anything else, writing is a job. We spend endless hours practicing, focusing our creativity, sharpening the tools and skills we need to write. We are dedicated, patient, and perhaps a little ambitious. We practice every single day and are comfortable with the sometimes-chthonic nature of our imagination.

Whatever we do with our creative urges, however dark our characters may be, when a day’s work is done we return to the world and are sometimes functional and sometimes happy, like everyone else. The monsters we create will lie in wait until the next time we reach for the pen or keyboard and summon them into our lives.

*****

About Zoe: Zoe Karakikla-Mitsakou has only recently started writing. Her fiction and nonfiction pieces have been published by various magazines and anthologies. In her free time she enjoys thinking of new ways to destroy computers using just coffee.

My thoughts on Writer’s Block

By Daniel Kaye

Sometimes the words just don’t come at all.  Guest writer, Daniel Kaye tackles the subject. – ML

Picture yourself driving through the countryside, it’s a beautiful day. The birds are singing and the wild flowers are blossoming, each road you take, leads perfectly on to the next. You are so carried away with the smooth journey and your surroundings that you did not notice some time ago that you must have taken a wrong turn because now you no longer recognize your surroundings. You decide to pull in at the next farmer’s gate to do a U-turn to retrace your steps in the hope of finding a familiar landmark. What happens next is where your real problems start, the car in which you travel will no longer move, it is stuck firmly in the mud. You have all the tools you need to get yourself out of the situation; you have four wheels, an accelerator and fuel. Yet no matter what you do, you’re stuck. In the same way writers block occurs, you’re happily going along with your story when you grind to a halt. Again, you have all the tools you need, a pen and pad or a keyboard and screen but nothing happens, just a cursor flashing in the top left corner. It is often like a monitor in an intensive care unit waiting for either life to burst back into your story or death to slowly come and end the piece you’ve been happily working on.

failed_writerWhat is the answer? There are many suggestions, one is reading, the more you read the better. Read everything you can get your hands on, not just your chosen genre but everything within reach, magazine articles, love stories, horror and crime. In today’s frantic world, we often hear the remark “I’m too busy to read, I can never find the time.” There are plenty of opportunities to pick up a book or an article that may inspire you. I try to read everywhere, including the toilet, but my favorite place is the doctor’s waiting rooms. I hate visiting the doctor and waiting rooms I despise, looking round at individuals all sick and feeling sorry for themselves. I always bring a book and while reading I create a shield around me where I do not have to sympathize with the other patients. Unfortunately, the last time I visited the doctor I entered the waiting room and my worst fears happened, I knew somebody sitting there with an empty seat next to them. I had to go and talk to them; I could feel the book in my pocket screaming at me, “Open me! Read me!” Oh friend how I wish I had listened to you, for as I didn’t know this person well, the conversation soon dried up and guess what, it was the longest wait for the doctor ever.

When I was sixteen I went to work for London Underground, while working there I remember one of the best bits of advice I received, it was from a man named Freddy Hut. He was sixty-four and fast approaching retirement. Freddy had quite interesting stories to tell about his past, the most famous, or infamous, of them was he used to do boxing for the Kray brothers back in the early sixties. He was a proper old east London character and daily would tell everyone he met in his rough gravelly voice, “You’ve got two ears and one mouth, use them in that order.” I think what this translated to was ‘Always listen twice as much as you speak’ this I think is great advice for a writer. Everywhere you go gives you an opportunity, whether it is a small gathering of people, a wedding reception or presentation in a grand banqueting hall to study people. Listen to the people talking around you and the way they act. This can give you great inspiration for developing characters and dialogue, each face tells its own story. Pause for a moment every time you are in a crowd look and listen you never know what may inspire you, I feel there is only one exception to this rule, doctor’s waiting rooms.

Sometimes when your car is stuck in the mud, you have to think out of the box to get free. Many people have suggested putting bits of cardboard or an old blanket under your wheels to enable them to get grip. You may get your feet and hands muddy doing this but eventually you will become unstuck.

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About Daniel Kaye: Daniel Kaye is a published author of short stories, he works and lives in Co. Cork Ireland. After finishing his first novel I, Vladimir, he is now busy with the second in the series, Anonymous Jack. You will often find Daniel on twitter @DanielKaye_ tweeting about all things writing.

Crossing the Age Barrier

by Mary Bradford

Mary Bradford is my guest, a fellow writer and a friend of mine. She penned this amusing piece and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  – ML

It is the coming. It is the going. It is the celebrations. It is the condolences. It is the noise. It is the silence. It is my life.

I turn fifty, this year, the month, April. I have been both blessed and broken-hearted. I have endured much and been endured by many. This is a magic age. It is the age when I finally conceded to life and accept that I am a grown up.

But a grown up with a difference. I am now free to be me. I can come and go, celebrate and commiserate, make noise or remain silent. I have a wisdom that others this age ignore or older slide by.

What my Creator has asked of me, I have answered. Now I ask of Him to allow me enjoy what I have brought to this world through my family. I have acceptance. I have trust in Him. My children reared are now free to follow their chosen paths; it shall be their journeys not mine.

50 speed limitI am feeling mixed emotions with each passing day. No longer running to the beat of others I start my mornings my way. What a joke! Family phones and I drop all to taxi them to their destinations. My wishes pushed aside until I can deal with them later in the day. Is it part of being Irish, an Irish Catholic that you do not say no to parents? Honor thy father and thy mother.

My weekends are filled with my children returning with washing and yet more taxi requests to friend’s houses. Why do I feel guilty if I try to pawn them off with a takeaway dinner instead of a home cooked hearty meal? Is it part of being Irish, an Irish mother? Do they not know the fourth commandment like I do? Is that my fault if they don’t?

So am I any closer to being the free person I expected to be when hitting fifty? Questions by the gallon, yet the answers would only fill a postcard. Being fifty means I have crossed the threshold to senior citizen country, well so the life insurance ads on TV shout out. Plus the wonderful discounts on golden age holidays, over fifties of course. But my weekdays are filled with parents and siblings and my weekends are filled with my children so where is the free time I dreamt of.

Yet turning fifty is a blessing. My childhood was happy. My twenties were marriage and giving birth to four healthy children. My thirties were rearing my family and supporting my husband. My forties were illness and my open heart surgery. My fifties I pray will be as good. I am the mistress of my own destiny. It shall be whatever I want it to be with Oscar my Guardian Angel watching over me.

Bring it on and let me take the rough with the smooth, see you when I’m sixty, God willing.

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About Mary Bradford: I have been writing for a number of years now and have enjoyed publishing success. Any spare time is spent either crocheting/writing/ reading/an odd vodka or two and helping out, but not necessarily in that order! All my children have left home so I am waiting patiently to hear the patter of my future grandchildren’s feet. You can find out more at www.marytbradford-author.blogspot.com and on Twitter/Facebook.