Breathe – a short story

This story was originally published in 2012, in Red Fez issue 49.  It also appeared in Untrue Stories, Volume One.  It’s based on a writing prompt from an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast – Begin a story with the line: She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

I hope you like it.


 Breathe

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.  It’s not like boarding a plane is difficult and if ordinary people do it every day, so could Claire.

Breathe. 

Continue reading

The Whole Does Not Equal the Sum – a writing exercise

A writing Exercise from Writing Excuses episode 4.24 podcast

Concepts to use in the story: Accountant for a church, Contacts that decrease your vision, and brain implants

Exercise: Develop character(s) and conflicts using the three concepts above.  It can’t be silly.

The Whole Does Not Equal the Sum 

by Mitch Lavender

Better living through technology – A mantra that is repeated to the point that it is not even thought about.  No one considers what it means or if they believe it.  They certainly do not question it.  It was the very heart of the doctrine of The Church of π.

Continue reading

Worth Writing About – a short story

Worth Writing About (abridged version)
By Mitch Lavender

How can I describe what it is like?

Imagine putting a plastic bag over your head and binding it closed around your neck. Then, punch a pinhole in the bag where your mouth is and try to breathe. Try to do that for two weeks straight, with a lump of stew you ate days ago sitting in your stomach. With sub-zero wind constantly buffeting you; so cold, you don’t dare expose naked flesh to it for fear of extreme frostbite. Wind so loud, you can barely hear what a person is saying, even if they stand right next to you and shout in your ear. If you can imagine this, then multiply that by ten and you will get an idea of what it is like at Base Camp 4 of Mount Everest.

Continue reading

Amputations

Keyboard

As I highlighted the paragraph of my beloved story, I imagined placing my hand on the chopping block, fingers splayed.  I raised the cleaverLet it begin.  I brought the cleaver down swiftly on my pinkie finger.  Chop.  Delete.

 My carefully crafted paragraph erased, I cleaned up the extra line and read through the piece again.  Holding up my hand, I saw blood spurting with every heartbeat.   Now the piece is imbalanced, as the following paragraph built upon the one I had deleted.  It’s got to go as well.  Chop.  Delete.  Blood spurted from both hands.

Continue reading

I Observed – a short story

SHORT STORY LAUREL November

I Observed
By Mitch Lavender

BUSINESS-CARDS-3I took the card from him and shoved it in my pocket without looking at it.   At an event like this, people handed out business cards like they were throwing confetti.  I’m nobody to these people but they don’t know that.  Because I’m so disinterested, they assume that I’m important.  That’s my bad.  They used to call it socializing.  Now, it’s networking.  Now, it’s opportunity.  Now, it’s as good as it gets.

His name was Dale Staire.  Something in the way the incandescent light reflected off his name tag made me think of the EKG machine flat-lining in my father’s hospital room when I was twelve.  I decided to look him in the eye.  It was twenty minutes later that I broke free from the conversation with Dale Staire. It turns out Dale was a makeup artist (or the way he would say it, ‘artiste.’)   I broke away by dominating the conversation with things I knew from the research I have documented.  Things so horrible, Dale Staire was too shocked to respond.  He could hardly wait to leave my company.
Continue reading

NANOWRIMO 2015 Wallpaper

November 1st will be here soon and with it comes another month of NANOWRIMO – the National Novel Writer’s Month, where the goal is to crank out 50,000 words during the 30 days of November.

I’ve taken a break from NANOWRIMO for the last four years but that’s enough and I’m in it in 2015.  I’ve got an outline and I’m making it ok to not meet the word-count goal.  For me, it will be a month where I begin to focus on improving as a writer again and I’m genuinely looking forward to it.  NANOWRIMO is a time to let your thoughts free and to go with the flow.  For 2015, I have chosen the theme, “Write with abandon.” 

If you are doing Nanowrimo in November, I wish you the very best.  Feel free to download the wallpaper, below. 

And feel free to buddy with me on Nanowrimo so we can track each other’s progress.  I’m Spanish_Inquisition.

 

(click image to view in full 1920×1080)

The plot is clichéd, the jokes are stale – Aimee Mann Rocks

Being a struggling writer is hard, and not in the sort of cool, tortured artist kind of way.  It is like punching as hard as you can into a memory foam mattress – any impression you make soon fades to nothing and it’s like you were never there.  Of course, you can’t wallow in the destitute ineffectiveness of past endeavors, but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s beneficial to look back at what you’ve done.  Even if you can’t see any impression on the mattress, you know you were there.

This song, Invisible Ink, by Aimee Mann is a luxury I allow myself to enjoy once in a while.  I don’t know Aimee’s intent when she wrote the song but I adore the words and identify with it in my own way.  She’s a fantastic wordsmith and performer.

Aimee Mann
from the album, Lost in Space (2001)
Invisible Ink

There comes a time when you swim or sink
So I jumped in the drink
Cuz I couldn’t make myself clear

Maybe I wrote in invisible ink
Oh I’ve tried to think
How I could have made it appear

But another illustration is wasted
Cuz the results are the same
I feel like a ghost who’s trying to move your hands
over some Ouija board in the hopes I can spell out my name

What some take for magic at first glance
Is just sleight of hand depending on what you believe
Something gets lost when you translate
It’s hard to keep straight
Perspective is everything

And I know now which is which and what angle I oughta look at it from
I suppose I should be happy to be misread-
Better be that than some of the other things I have become

But nobody wants to hear this tale
The plot is clichéd, the jokes are stale
And baby we’ve all heard it all before
Oh i could get specific but
Nobody needs a catalog
With details of love I can’t sell anymore

And aside from that, this chain of reaction,
baby, is losing a link
Though I’d hope you’d know what I tried to tell you
And if you don’t I could draw you a picture in invisible ink

But nobody wants to hear this tale
The plot is clichéd, the jokes are stale
And baby we’ve all heard it all before
Oh i could get specific but
Nobody needs a catalog
With details of love I can’t sell anymore

Essay: Time to Stop

Lynn handed me the fortune from her fortune cookie.

“This is for you.”

I took the tiny slip of paper and read aloud, “Don’t be afraid to take that big step.”

20150329_180144899_iOS

“What do you think that means?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but my lucky numbers are 2, 5, 8, 11, 15 and 54.”

She laughed and let me off the hook. I know that she knows she let me off the hook.

I’ve been teetering on the edge for years, trying to balance my career in IT that paid my bills and supported my family with my alter-ego’s career of being a writer, which took me away from my family. I’ll add that being a writer requires doing shameless self-promotion that I detest doing. It is akin to standing in the middle of a busy supermarket, pulling my pants down and yelling, “Look what I can do!” as I hop around like an epileptic donkey.  If self-promotion was an Apple product, it would be called iHateit.

Once, I tried to leave my body while doing self-promotion. No, really. I actually tried to astral project to anywhere but the place where I was pandering my book to some politely disinterested group. It’s no better selling to the black hole of the internet where no one can hear you scream. For the record, it didn’t work – the astral projection or apparently, the self-promotion.

Lynn knew how I hated it though we never talked about it. I knew she knew, and she knew I knew she knew.

Later that night as we lay in bed together and before we curled up and went to sleep, I decided to answer her question.

“What would be a big step?”

I turned and looked at her.

“I want to stop trying to be a writer.”

I had never used those words together in a sentence before. Just saying it felt fresh and new. Was this what is like when a woman douches? I don’t know, but saying it felt good. I could leave the unclean, messy part about self-promoting behind and just write because I like to write, and if no one reads it, meh. It’d be great if someone did, but it’s not key. I no longer fail if they don’t.

I can be THAT guy – the guy who just writes for fun. For FUN!

Wow.

I was so excited, I leapt from bed and standing there in my underwear, I said more words I have never uttered before: I don’t have to write. I don’t have to blog. I don’t have to self-promote!

I was heady from the sacrilege and heresy of my own words. I had just broken my own taboo rules and it made me giddy.

Don’t get me wrong on this, I love writing. Still, in my attempt to improve and produce and be recognized, I have held my own feet to a very hot fire. It was not uncommon for me to sit down at the keyboard and not allow myself to go to bed until I wrote 500 words. Sometimes it was 1000 words. Sometimes it was to edit 20 pages, or submit work to a reviewer. These were arbitrary and unhealthy practices but I did it to myself to force growth, and I did them after working my real job all day long.

In the process of doing this relentlessly, year after year, I broke something. It was like a spring that had been wound too tight and snapped. I don’t think it is something that will fix itself.

One of my favorite quotes is from the author of Fahrenheit 451 and Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury. He said, “You only fail if you stop writing.”

L64-Bradbury-WP1

It’s a good quote. Really, it distills all the fluff and pretense and puts it in perspective: Keep writing.

I will keep writing and by that measure, I have not failed. I simply have stopped being hardcore and mad about it, and I have stopped because it isn’t getting me anywhere. It might get me to an early grave if I kept at it, dead from a heart attack. I’m ok with giving that a miss for a few more decades.

Until that day, I’ll continue to write, casually.

 

Ed. This is a fictionalized account and may or may not be true, hallucinated or completely fabricated out of thin air. Perhaps it was a fanciful thought of yours. You know how you daydream. We all know how you daydream.

The Mountain–A Board Game Experience for Writers

The Mountain-logo

The 2015 Global Game Jam – an annual event where game designers are presented with theme, and challenged to create a game around that theme in 48 hours.  The game can be a video game or a table top game, and there are awards for different categories. 

This year, the theme was, “What Do We Do Now?”   28,837 people registered to participate in GGJ, for 518 different jam sites in 78 countries.  An impressive 5438 games were produced.

The Mountain won Best Board Game, Jury’s Prize and took 2nd Place – People’s Choice Award, with credit going to: David Chircop – Design, Story, Graphic Design. Yannick Massa – Design,  Johnathan Harrington – Story, Design. Matthew Agius Muscat – Story. Fran Bte – Story. Daniela (iella) Attard – Art, Illustration.

BGG game description: “The Mountain is a board game experience for one player. It explores a pensive man’s descent from a mountain from the moment he reaches the peak. You navigate the mountain while exploring the man’s thoughts as he contemplates about the unknown abyss that lies exactly after his life’s biggest accomplishment.

There are five exit points on the board, one for every element that will affect your journey – frost, sun, wind, sky and horizon. As you try and find the path down, you learn more about yourself through the story cards, divided into five different story lines that affect you as a protagonist.

However, the path down is not immediately obvious. Your movement subdues and stimulates the elements. If three or four elements are acting, you start suffering from ennui; a feeling that perhaps getting to the bottom of the mountain is not that important after all. If all five elements are raging, you will succumb to nature and die.

Traverse through the safest path and take care of yourself. This could be either the most important journey of your life, or your last.”

Mountain-1

The Mountain certainly adheres to the Global Game Jam theme of, “What do we do now?”  Playing as a character who has just peaked in more than one way, he is now dealing with self-doubt and the lack of a goal in his life.  As he treks down the mountain, he is fighting his own depression as well as the elements, and his life is in danger.  This is a theme many writers could sink their literary teeth into, and I have been fascinated with this premise for years.

Mountain-3

The game has an interesting mechanic for movement, using 5 controller cards to determine which spaces can be moved onto in a given turn.  This presents an interesting puzzle, as you must plan ahead to insure you can move on following turns.  If you can not or chose not to move, you must still draw an Ennui card (pronounced än-ˈwē), representing a lack of spirit, enthusiasm or interest.  If you draw too many Ennui cards, the character gives up trying to descend the mountain and dies.  In game terms, that means you lose.

Mountain-4

If you can reach one of the 5 exit points around the map, and you have acquired at least 1 each of the 5 different element cards, you can end the game, leaving the mountain.  At this point, if you have more of the element card that matching the space you exit, you can draw the first ending card from that deck.  Otherwise you draw the second, less favorable ending card.

It’s an interesting exercise, and I played three times, which is far from exhaustive.  It did give me a feel for the game, and put my mind to a depressed story theme, but sometimes that is useful.

Note that this game is not available for sale, but the designers have been kind enough to provide a free print and play version, downloadable here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4B7PH3fGut_dkgyZE82dm1zUU0/view

Be aware that the file has a 4-page game board and 9 pages of cards.  The files are in full color, no B&W option currently available.

There is also a Printerstudio version of the game that can be ordered.  More details in this BGG post: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1319190/printerstudio-decks

 

Mountain-5

Short Essay: Until Then, I Write

Writerandstuff-shadow

 

It seemed innocent enough. A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time. Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories. It was only one a week, at first. Then I was doing it more. I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write. They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously, or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine.

Eventually, they suspected something was not right when I didn’t come home for three hours and when I did, I had no bread but was all amped up on triple-tall cappuccino. The pens and pencils in my pocket were a giveaway, too. I denied being a writer, of course.

“What sort of loser profession is that?” I scoffed. “Yes, I write a little when there is nothing else to do, but I can stop anytime.”

The truth was – it was under my skin. I was driven to scriven. I had the bite to write. I would uncontrollably write poetry. Soon, the flash-fic, poems and short stories were not enough. I started outlining novels.

The outlines grew into acts, and the acts multiplied, with peaks and valleys and so help me – they climaxed. It was out of my control now, and I began doing full-blown novels. I tried to stop. I tried to watch TV with my family, but all I could think about was creating my own stories, not watch someone else’s.

So, that is what I did. Every moment I called my own, I wrote. Or I looked at funny pictures of cats on the internet. But mostly, I wrote. I wrote some of the time, ok? Don’t be a nag about it. More days than not, I wrote.

My family resigned to the truth – I was a writer. Not like I was an addict, but more like I was handicapped. Like something was wrong with me. Something really, really wrong. Still, they loved me and put up with it, though it was taxing.

I found myself barging into the bedroom at 1 AM, shouting to my wife, “Wake up! The second act is complete and I need you to read it all the way through. Help me see what I have missed!”

This never produced the enthusiastic response I expected. Slowly, I learned when to bring up my writing and when not to, and my family adapted as well. For reference, most of the time is not a good time to bring up my writing.

I know, as does my family – there is no cure. I may not be good at it. Maybe I’ll never be more than a hack, independent author, receiving only the most benign acknowledgements or accolades. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I do write and I get the ideas out of head and onto the page.

They say the left brain controls the logical thought processes and the right brain controls the creative processes. When you are a writer, neither side is in control of any processes. It just comes together in a big gumbo of thoughts and emotions.

One day, they may have pill to help people like me. Until then, I write.

© 2015, Mitch Lavender

Short Story: Shadow Man

This is an unpublished story I wrote in 2013 for a writing challenge with a photograph as the prompt – a woman, standing alone, gazing out on a frozen lake.   I call the story Shadow Man, and I hope you like it.

Januarysnow-Photo prompt

 

Shadow Man

It happened so fast. There was the telltale cracking sound, but only for a second, and then the ice beneath Jim broke and he, and the baby he held, dropped out of view. From the shore, Shelly witnessed this horror and the sight chilled her to her core.

There were two other skaters on the lake – a man and a woman, and both moved quickly to the hole to help, farther out on the thin ice than they dared skate normally. Carefully approaching the hole, the man took off his scarf and threw it to Jim splashing helplessly in the freezing water, dragging him out and onto the ice.

The cold was like nothing Jim had ever known. As the blood instinctively withdrew from his extremities to retain the heat in his torso, it was like being eaten alive. Like some vicious monster was chewing his fingers off, moving up his wrists and then his forearms. It was excruciating. He tried to breath, sputtering and cold. Through it all, he could only think of Molly – lovely, seven-month-old Molly, who loved to be held as he skated, had laughed and squealed with glee as only a child can do. Jim found  his daughter’s glee intoxicating, and he would do anything to make his little girl laugh.

The two skaters were attending to the hole after Jim was pulled to safety, but there was nothing else. Shelly watched, unable to move from the place on the ice near the shore, hands covering her mouth. When the minutes multiplied and there was no sign of Molly being pulled from the hole, she dropped her hands and stood, motionless and vacant.

Jim survived, and one week later, he and Shelly attended the memorial of their daughter, Morgan Annabelle Lancaster, and known lovingly as Molly. Divers had found Molly under the ice, not far from the hole where she had vanished.

Friends and family comforted them and brought food. Winter in Michigan is brutal, and when the snow got too heavy and the roads weren’t passable until they were plowed, which sometimes took a week or two. People stopped coming by to see how they were doing.

During this time, when friends and family were not present to ease the grief, Jim and Shelly did not talk. Shelly never seemed to focus and would sit and stare into space, expressionless. She had yet to cry for her lost child.

Jim, awash in guilt and regret, relived the moment over and over in his head. Why had he taken Molly out on the ice like that? What if he had fallen? She could have been hurt. And why, oh why, did he skate so far out, where the ice is thinnest? It was so stupid. It was so avoidable.

Weeks became months, and Jim had not returned to work. Phone calls from concerned friends were regular, but Jim was despondent and Shelly never talked. Neither of them went out, and routine things like washing and eating had been forgotten. Slowly, they were dying – eroding.

Shelly noticed something strange, but didn’t care. A shadow seemed to hang on Jim, cast around him like a cloud. While he was sitting in a chair, the chair appeared in normal light, but Jim was in shadow. It was faint, but grew darker with each passing day. After four more days, Jim’s emaciated form was all but obscured by shadow, a darkness that enveloped him and only him, but not anything around him. It heaved and rocked gelatinously when Jim moved, which was very little.

The misery, regret and guilt had become all that was Jim, and when every other part of him was gone and that was all that was left, he exhaled and died, sitting in the chair by the window.

With oily cadence, the shadow lurched, pulling free from Jim and stood in the room, a shape like a man, but not a man. Shelly watched this with disinterested eyes; her gaze was set a thousand miles past the shadow, Jim’s dead body or the room. The shadow, faceless and ephemeral, turned and walked through the door without opening it.

For the first time since standing on the shore of the frozen lake months ago, Shelly thought of something other than her dead child. Jim’s body, withered and destitute, sat across from her. Quietly and dismissively, she rose from the couch and took wobbly steps upstairs, where she brushed her hair and tied it back behind her head. She put on clean, warm clothes that hung loosely on her frame, now. Checking herself in the mirror, she walked to the door, opened it and left the house.

It was overcast but the light still hurt her eyes. The air was still and cold, and snows had blanketed everything in pristine white. She had to lift her legs high to stride through it, and in her weakened state it was exhausting. She took the path to the road, recently plowed so walking was easier, and proceeded the quarter mile to the lake.

In March, the ice on the lake had begun to thaw, but this didn’t stop Shelly from marching into it with a splash. The cold made her gasp, but after a pause she took four more steps out, until she was up to her thighs in the freezing water. She stood exactly where she had been on that day her daughter died.

In this spot, almost three months later, she gasped and screamed, “Jim, you are too far out. Come in closer, please. Molly. No!”

And finally, a tear rolled down her cheek. Then another and another and she wept. Shivering from the cold, she cried and looked around, but no one was there. Panic overwhelmed her and she had to go out and save Molly. This was her baby. She must do something. She rushed forward, deeper into the cold water, but something held her back. Though she jerked and kicked, she was being pulled back by someone, who dragged her out of the water and onto the shore, where she fell backwards, gasping.

Through her tears and alarm, she looked up at the faceless shadow man standing over her, still holding her arm. She felt the utter despair of the creature. It was so empty of joy, but the most overwhelming feeling was that of guilt. She felt how remorseful he was for this terrible accident. She knew, really knew, that he would do anything if he could bring Molly back.

Sitting up, shivering, she reached out to touch the shadow man’s featureless face. Her hand felt the dark coolness of his cheek and caressed it gently.

“I forgive you,” Shelly said.

The words felt good to her. They were liberating, not because it made her powerful, but because it lifted a weight from her. She had blamed Jim for the accident. She was so angry at him that she would not even speak to him. It felt good to forgive because that, above all else, is what people who truly love each other do – they forgive, and in forgiving, release themselves of the burden.

The shadow man released her arm and stood, still looking down at her. Shelly thought there might be the hint of a smile, but wasn’t sure. Then, he turned and went into the lake, disappeared below the surface, and was gone.

 

© 2015, Mitch Lavender

Card Game Review: Pairs by CheapAss Games

Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail? - Game Reviews

Pairs FruitPhoto

Pairs (created by James Ernest by CheapAss Games, $10) is a simple card game that hitKickstarter.com in March of 2014 with a $12k funding goal, and it rapidly escalated to being a Kickstarter phenomenon, raising an amazing $332k and 7,781 backers before it closed. Of course I was caught up in the hysteria and backed it. It was a fun Kickstarter to be a part of as it sailed past stretch goal after stretch goal, unlocking decks with different themes and art to choose from. I backed at the $16 level, for one copy of the game in the deck theme of my choice.

Pairs-theBarmaids

Recently, my copy of the game arrived in the mail. Of the 12 different themes available, I selected the Barmaids Deck, because it had beer and pretty girls on the cards. It was a decision that made itself, really.

Advertised as being a new…

View original post 292 more words

Stop spamming, you’ll scare the potential readers. Marketing: A passive aggressive sport.

It’s a fine balance, getting the word out about your book without annoying everyone with repeated tweets and posts saying the same thing: “Hey I wrote a book! Read it, k?” Or else. Eric Johnson sort of discusses the topic, here.

The Folklore Food Blog

191

How do you let people know that you have written book with out clubbing them over the social media?

Marketing: A passive aggressive sport.

Passive Marketing– I am passively marketing to you right now. I had a catchy title for my blog post. I provide useful information and there is a link to my book, ready for anyone who clicks. I offer tips and tricks and tell a secret, I re-post other authors blogs and read their books. I offer advice, although I am new to marketing. It creates dialogue. People can say, he was helpful or better yet, I was able to help. Provide words of encouragement.

Active Marketing- Deliberate and purposeful. Buy my book, I want your money. Here’s my link www.buymyblahblahbook.com . That sums it up. Active marketing is like fire works, or a one night stand, after the flash and bang, people go home, sometimes…

View original post 344 more words