In A Few Words (1) . . . Loneliness is a Funny Thing

In a Few Words

Welcome to the first installment of “In a Few Words,” where readers get to read and enjoy some original writing. The writing samples used in this segment are generally pieces that were stories that were never finished, writing exercises, or just some writing pieces I’ve discovered in my archives. 

“Loneliness is a Funny Thing” is two thousand words of a short story I started but never finished. It was one of those classic cases where I started the story and then after that first session never went back to it, whether it was because I didn’t know where it was going to go next, or I didn’t get back to it soon enough, it was a story that never came to fruition. Nevertheless, what did get written I think is pretty interesting and I can see the original idea I was playing around with with these first couple thousand words. Also being the start of a story, it’s a rough first draft.

This part of a story is in my “Out to Pasture” file, which you can basically think of as the place where writing pieces and failed stories go to die, as I have no plans to do anything else with them, but I certainly don’t want to delete them. Now at least, they get to see the light of day through Bookbanter.  

Loneliness is a Funny Thing

You don’t realize how quiet and lonely it can get until you start talking to dead people.  That’s what Jimmy Dogan’s subconscious realized once his conscious mind decided to strike up a conversation with the rotting corpse sitting next to him.

“So, it looks like it’s gonna be another scorcher today Red.  Better put some lotion on or you’re gonna burn.  But then, what the hell do you care,” he said with a chuckle.

Dogan looked down for the hundredth time at the cracked, bloody kindling of his legs; forty-eight hours ago the Saab had decided to ignore the road sign indicating a tight curve – had not even bothered to move is front axle – so the car had gone straight off the cliff, just like a cartoon car or one of those where you laugh at the car as it plunges to the bottom of the ravine, because you know it’s not real.

On the road, looking down into the ravine, Dogan had realized he was a hefty percentage over the alcoholic limit, but then as he took the slow-motion plunge – the dive that seemed to last a lifetime – he felt himself becoming more sober, until the painful crash at the end, where the honorable judge Dogan began presiding.

Each person has their own unique reaction to a perilous situation – in this case the situation was either going to kill them, or at least inflict an unconscionable amount of pain.  Dogan’s reaction was to laugh uncontrollably: tears ripped from the edges of his eyes as if tiny talons were reaching out to grab them; his voice hoarse and petering out in volume, until it was an aggravated whisper.  His passenger’s reaction was to scream continuously, as if by venting this amount of volume, a special lifting cloud would be created and escort them to safety.  Soon the two occupants of the Saab sounded like two of the three tenors at age ninety: croaking pathetically.

The landing had been especially painful, Jimmy thought.  The car had landed on its nose, crumpling but not collapsing, then falling back.  Jimmy’d had his seat-belt on, so he’d simply been pulled forward (he knew there was a red, raw band across his torso), while his feet and legs had been crushed by the forced contraction of the Saab.  There’d been a two-second period of crunching, as if he’d stepped on a pile of cornflakes, then the pain had reached up through his thighs, gripping his groin, crushing with tenacity.

Red had not been wearing his seat-belt, so upon impact, he’d shot forward like a hammer on a gun, slamming his head into the dashboard.  With him there was also crunching, though at a lower tone, as his neck was compacted and reduced to merely a thing connective tissue between his head and shoulders.  His juicy brain had taken a hard smack on the top of his skull, causing thousand of minute hemorrhages to erupt in the crevasses and wrinkles of this delicate organ.  The bruised brain had then been sent southwards at an illegal speed, plowing through what remained of the neck and plugging the hole like an expanded, oversized cork in a wine bottle.

For the first sixty minutes, Jimmy had just sat there, not moving, his lower legs a numb wreck best forgotten.  After ten of those sixty minutes, the pain had decreed that his groin had suffered enough agony and had begun migrating further higher up his body, going through his torso, reaching up higher and higher with each rib, as if the pain were using his rib-cage as a ladder to get to his head.

Jimmy’s only defense was to whimper like a baby.  Five minutes later: tears were coursing down his cheek, working against the traffic of his pain.  His only solution had been to begin counting, starting with zero, because when you worked in the computer industry, zero was just as important as the number one.

“Zero . . . One . . . Two . . . Three . . . Four,” he’d begun, speaking aloud, but this had forced muscles into action and caused his body to awake from its quiet sleep and begin working – the pain receptors also began working, so Jimmy stopped speaking, continuing to count in his head.

Five . . . Six . . . Seven . . . Eight . . . Nine.

When an hour had passed and he was at three-thousand-five-hundred-and-ninety-six, his body seemed to have settled into a numbed stasis, where the pain was still apparent (the pain was always apparent) but bearable – like when you have a nightmare where your wife dies and you spend the entire day with the dread in the back of your mind; you know she’s not going to die, but the possibility is still there and grips onto your mind, bugging, annoying, relentless.

At the beginning of the second hour Jimmy began thinking about someone other than himself and his pain for the first time.  His girlfriend was person number one: they were close, had been together for three years now – the relationship had reached a point where the two partners realized they were going to get married and spend the rest of their lives together, and it was now a case of waiting for the respective families to make the connection and therefore make the union a foreseeable event in the future.  His parents next: how long would it be before they realized something was wrong – days?  He talked to them about twice a week and visited them at least once every two weeks.  They wouldn’t suspect anything might be wrong until at least five days had passed and they’d wonder why he’d not called.  As for Lena, she would realize something wasn’t right when he didn’t come home tonight – but that was many hours away.  Jimmy looked down at his digital watch, saw the cracked glass and was unsurprised to find the LED non-functional.  On a gut feeling he looked at the clock above the radio, below the futuristic Saab logo, shocked to find it operational – nothing wrong with that LED.  The luminescent green light pointed out in stark fashion that the current time was 11:34 AM.

It would be a long time before anyone began wondering what the hell had happened to them.

Ninety minutes after the plunge, Jimmy finally faced his fear and forced his neck to creak round and look at his passenger.  Since there’d been little reaction from Red so far, Jimmy assumed he was dead.  As his eyes settled on the mighty cleaved fissure running down the center of Red’s skull he gasped and quickly turned away, the tears and pain flaring up synchronously.  But that wasn’t before he’d seen the halo of blood on his shirt, as if it had once been a healthy yellow, sitting on top of his head, but had dropped down to his chest, blood-soaked.  As for a neck, Jimmy realized that Red no longer had one.

“Oh,” Jimmy sobbed.  Best friends were not meant to see their best friends like that, not dead; if there were a God, surely he would’ve the decency to stop that incident from ever happening.  You’d think.

But now Mike’s sitting there knowing he’ll probably never be able to stand again.  He’s just made the comment about Red needing some sunscreen, and as he chuckles, he wonders where deep within him something like that came from.

It’s been almost three hours now, so the dash LED tells.  His eyes just flicker at the green light, knowing if he fully looks at the time, out of the corner of his right eye he will see Red leaned forward, head on the dash, opened up like sliced watermelon.

He takes a breath.

“I . . .”

He stops himself, wondering why he’s bothering to talk.  Who’s he talking to?  Himself?  Red?

Yes, his subconscious tells him.  You’re talking to Red.  Not because you’ve gone mad from the pain.  Not because you need someone to talk to otherwise you will go mad.  You’ve got things you want him to know.  You never told him when you were alive, so you might as well do it now.

“I . . . I’m sorry man.  Sorry for all this.  I never meant for this to happen.  Well, course I didn’t.  Who the fuck wants to end up mangled and trapped inside a car with his best friend’s brains splattered on the windshield.  But we shouldn’t’ve been drunk this morning, so earlier.  We shouldn’t’ve been drunk still from last night.  I meant to tell you.  I meant to tell you then about it all.”

Mike’s voice is shaking, wavering in the sizzling heat of approaching noon, like a man uttering his last words.  For all he knows, they are.

“I just couldn’t man.  So I was going to tell you in the car, just after we got round that long turn, I was going to tell you everything.  But we didn’t make it.  At least you didn’t.  But I’m not sure how much time I have left, anyway.”

Mike replays those crazy few minutes in his brain: approaching the curve, preparing himself, even leaning to the left a little.  But the wheel just didn’t turn.  It was stuck.  He looks at the wheel and his eyes widen when he sees his arms still extended, hands wrapped around the wheel at ten and two.  He hasn’t moved them in over three hours.  It has been quite the shocking morning so far after all.

He tries to move them, but finds stiffness and pain.  They are straight, the elbow joints locked.  They couldn’t have been like this when the car landed otherwise his arms would be broken in many places.  He must’ve kept his hands on the wheel, loose, and after landing had stretched them out for further bracing.

He begins flexing the muscles all the way up his arms, trying to move his fingers.  There’s a lot of numbness, and as he does this, more pain, but they eventually start to loosen.  Feeling drips back into his fingers and hands.  Then the elbows finally loosen and he lets go.

Mike stops himself.  He’d looked at the wheel for a reason.  He feels a coldness in the small of his back for the first time, branching up and across his shoulder blades.

Slowly, he reaches out and grasps the wheel at ten and two again, then he turns the wheel to the left trying to use his arms only.  There is still pain, a flaring burn in his crotch and below, but the wheel turns not much, because the power steering isn’t on, but it turns.

And why didn’t this happen when they went around the curve?

The coldness enfolds him, making him shiver and exploding pain from below.  He cries out, biting his tongue to hold the pain at bay.  It doesn’t.

Some time later, when he regains his breath and stamina he looks at his hands.  They look worn, not like a software developer’s hands.  But they’re also the hands that didn’t turn the wheel when they should have.  These are the hands that did nothing and let the car fly off the edge.  These are the hands that did nothing because Mike couldn’t force himself to open up and tell Red what he wanted to.  These are the hands that killed his best friend and probably doomed him to a slow and painful death.

“Well I’m going to tell you now Red.  I’m going to tell you what I should’ve told you a long time ago.  I’m going to . . .”

Red’s head lifted off the dashboard with a squelching sound as the reduced brain matter slipped back into its skull.  The head turned to look at Mike.

It wore a frozen rictus, teeth missing, but still terrifying.  One eye was completely white, the other focused on him.  The left cheek bone had been severely broken, jutting off in the direction of Red’s ear, a splinter of bone poking through the skin.

Mike’s mouth was open, a raspy sound coming from his throat.

“Whacha gonna tell Mike?  Whatsh sho damn-fucking important you’ve got to tell me even after I’m dead!”

That was when Mike fainted.

Review of 2014 Writing Goals

Since we’re working our way steadily through 2015 now, with January approaching its end, it’s time to look at my writing goals for 2014 and see how I did. And then next week I’ll be putting up my writing goals for 2015. The goals from last year are listed below with commentary in blue.

1. A new edit/copyedit of Kyra: The First Book of EnchantusThe book is currently on Amazon, but CreateSpace has opened up further distribution channels, and before I make my book available through these new channels, I want to do another run through and catch any typos, etc. And the good news is I’ve already gotten a start on this.

This goal was achieved relatively early on in the year, much to my delight, and the new revised edition, the second edition essentially, is up and available on Amazon and through further distribution channels.

2. Self-publish Erotica story. I have an erotica story I wrote that I want to get up on Amazon. It will be published under a pseudonym. At the moment I’m having a friend work on the cover.

This goal was also achieved in the first half of the year with a fantastic cover and it’s now up on Amazon and Smashwords. If you’re interested, shoot me an email at alex@bookbanter.net.

3. Edit “The Innkeeper’s Wife.” This is a short story I wrote last year, and I want to get it edited and finished through another draft or two and then start submitting it for publication.

This goal was completed and I was really happy with how the final edit turned out. I submitted it to the New Yorker, because you always have to start at the top – right? – and haven’t heard anything back, so will be submitting it to other publications through 2015.

4. Submit stories. Continue submitting stories for publication.

This I did do throughout the year and had one particular story get accepted which I will explain under goal #5. I also started a new story late in the year which I need to get back to soon.

5. Write stories. I’ve get a couple of story ideas up my sleeve that I’d like to get written down this year.

Early on in the year I’d submitted an old vampire story I wrote to an anthology seeking vampire stories, which was rejected, so I’d decided to write another vampire story to submit to the anthology, which I managed to get written and edited through a couple of drafts and submitted before the deadline. Then later on in the year I was delighted to hear that the story had been accepted for the anthology, These Vampires Still Don’t Sparkle, which was released in December and is now available in ebook and print and can be found here

6. Start the book. By “the book” I mean the novel idea that jumped into my head last year and wouldn’t let go. I need to do some more research and work on it, but I’d like to get that close to completion and hopefully get some start on the book, even if it’s just the first line or first page.

This goal was not achieved, however I wasn’t too hopeful that it would be and that is mainly because just as in 2013 I had a big change in my life with the birth of my son, I started a new job midway through 2014 working for the United States Post Office as a letter carrier. It took a lot of time and energy learning the job and once the holiday season hit I had to basically shut down my writing as I was often working 12-hour days. Nevertheless, I did get some further research and plotting and planning done, as well as creating my map for my made-up town and filling in a lot of details, so in a way the goal was a completed.

Overall, I think this might be my most successful year yet for setting reasonable goals for 2014 and pretty much achieving them all. I think the key was knowing how much I could set myself to actually achieve, and will need to apply the same rubric for my 2015 goals.

The Most Inspirational Thing For a Writer I’ve Ever Heard: Writing Excuses Season 5 Episode 27: Perseverance

Every writer, whether published or aspiring, has had that low moment in their writing where they’ve mentally and emotionally hit rock bottom, and have felt like quitting and never writing another creative word again; just giving up; some may have had it happen to them on multiple occasions.  Often, during those low moments, you need something to pick you back up and get you back writing away at the keyboard again, seeing life and hope in your work.  There are numerous books that can help, various public speakers . . . But honestly, I just think you need to listen to one fifteen-minute episode of Writing Excuses to make you realize your talent and love for writing and to get you back into the typing seat.

If you’re not familiar with it, Writing Excuses is a great and entertaining podcast to help aspiring writers, with each episode around fifteen minutes long, featuring the talented minds of bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells, and popular web-cartoonist, Howard Tayler, on a particular topic about writing.  In Season Six, author Mary Robinette Kowal joined the casters.

The episode of Writing Excuses in question is from Season Five, Episode 27, entitled “Perseverance.”  The episode features a guest appearance from New York Times bestselling author Sherilyn Kenyon, know for her very popular paranormal romance series.  The subject of the episode was actually suggested by Kenyon, and its highpoint is when she tells of her driving battle to first get published, which involved countless rejections until the point when she admitted she would never do it again for her own good, and then stole a postage stamp off her husband (which they could barely afford), and it was with that query that she got her her first publishing contract.  She also tells the story of how in the mid-nineties publishers stopped accepting and publishing paranormal romance, and all of a sudden she had no career and her family was poor once more, until she climbed her way back up to become the bestselling sensation she is today.

Sanderson also shares his low-point story, which was after he continued to receive nothing but rejection for his twelfth novel until he was almost ready to give up, and then three months later got a publishing contract.  Dan Wells’ story is a little different, as it happened after he’d published his first novel, but it hadn’t done as well as he’d expected, compared to other bestselling authors like his good friend, Sanderson, but he soon realized that his was what he loved to do and nothing was going to be make him stop.

Ultimately it comes down to this: even when you have so many other things like jobs and family and social lives happening constantly day-to-day for you, if you’re still making that time to write because it’s something you love to do and will always be doing no matter what happens, then you’re a writer.  There’s nothing else to it.

And for when you’re feeling a little down about your work and wondering if it’s all worth it, or whether you should bother writing anymore because nothing’s really happening with it; give this episode a listen, it’s always available online (or you can download it and have it ready for these particular situations), and you’ll find yourself inspired and excited about your ability and typing away at your keyboard in no time.

And in case you missed it in the post, here’s the direct link to the episode.

“2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market” edited by Adria Haley (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011)

2012 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market
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In the 2012 version of Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market — the 31st Annual Edition — perhaps more so than ever, the key to the 600+ page book is its ease to navigate through it to help the user/reader get the information they need as quickly as possible.  It begins with a thorough contents listing and a “how to use this book” guide, along with the detailed index, finding that necessary publisher or magazine is a cinch.

This volume features articles divided into sections: “Craft & Technique” includes “Avoiding Cliches,” “Writing Authentic Dialogue,” and “Crafting Short Stories” to name a few; “Fiction Genres” on “Romantic Author Roundup,” with specific articles on authors like Julia Quinn, Lisa Gardner, Michael Swanwick and Ken J. Anderson; as well as “Managing Work” covering “Agent,” “Self-Publishing” and “Practical Tips for the Nighttime Novelist.”  The “Resources” section helps clue in every kind of writer on terms and organization, even with a special section for Canadian writers.  The editor has even included a whole section called “Writing Calendar,” featuring a page for each month of the year, as she talks about the importance of goals, and there’s a page for each month to help the writer hit his or her goals.

The layout of the publishers and magazines makes it quick and easy to find a contact email or website, which is crucial in this technological age.  This edition also includes a free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com (www.writersmarket.com).  The volume has been thoroughly updated and made ready for the advent of the ebook and self-publishing revolutions, providing many necessary tools and references for today’s writer.  Whether you’re a novelist with plenty of books under your belt, or a first-time freelance writer looking to publish that first piece, 2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market is a simply must have book.

Originally written on December 30, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of 2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“White Horse” Progress Report 23

WORDS WRITTEN:2,327

TOTAL WORDS: 64,583

REASON FOR STOPPING: Reached a good stopping point for the week.

WORDS FOR THE WEEK: 14,181 words

This was easily the most productive week writing-wise I’ve ever had in my life.  Who knew the key was to not have a job keeping you busy each day.  It was kind of fun to feel like a full time writer for the week.  And here were the word goals I hit each day:

  • Monday – 5274
  • Tuesday – 4419
  • Wednesday – 2161
  • Thursday – 2327

Completed all of chapter fifteen and made some good headway with chapter sixteen.  The novel is moving along with great speed now that I’ve completely outlined the rest of the plot.  I think 75k is still a good final word count goal for the manuscript, though there is a chance it may go over, but this is definitely the right ballpark for it.  The other goal I hit at the end of this week was I reached PAGE 300!
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“White Horse” Progress Report 5: 1458 words

Made some good progress tonight. Not only was chapter three completed, but the novella is now taking shape.  I’d reached the point in a previous draft and wasn’t quite sure where the story was going to go next, but fortunately my characters were established enough that they knew what to do and the scenes flowed one after the other.

It’s without a doubt my favorite part of writing: where you have no clue what is going to happen next in the story, and your subconscious takes over and continues the story for you . . . somehow.  It feels like your characters are writing the story for you and you’re just along for the ride, which is kind of crazy to say, but is partially true in that some part of your mind is using the characters to drive the story.  Sometimes this facet of writing is readily available and the story writes itself; other times it’s hard work, requiring rewrites.

Today was one of those important days where the complete story took its shape.  This being the first novella I’m writing (I’ve either done short stories, full-length manuscripts, or short stories that turned into books), I was starting to wonder how to keep the story honed so that it wouldn’t turn into a full book.  Well, today, my mind did it somehow, and the story has its novella shape now that just feels right.

Also the entire four-novella project feels less like a giant piece of work with no end in sight that will take years.  Now I can somewhat see an end to this novella, with the whole project having more structure and substance.

Enough banter, time for some work in progress:

“Something on you mind Alan, or do you just like spooking your customers when they’re using the facilities?”

He laughed at that.

“No, something just came through the grapevine I wanted to pass along to ya.”

I was going to thank him before he said anything, but in the dim light I saw a serious look in his eyes I’d never seen before.

This wasn’t good.

“Seems like something’s spooked the honchos upstairs.  Spooked them in a big way.”


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“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000)

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Stephen King’s On Writing is out, so go get a copy!  Having read past the three-quarter mark already, I can veritably say that this book is a doozy.  First off, this is not an autobiography, even though it is being marketed as one.  Trust me, I have heard from Steve himself (in the book that is) and he most certainly does not want the Constant Reader to think that.

The book is just under three hundred pages long, for the simple reason that King wanted to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible, without the boring drivel that so many other authors employ.  In his words: “This is a small book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.”  There are many sections throughout the book, but it can be divided into two main parts.

The first consists of Stephen King’s life, growing up in a poor family, without a father, and with a mother who was always working.  He talks about how he spent most of his early years traveling from state to state; his family struggling to get by.  He graduated from the University of Orono, Maine with a degree in English education, but he couldn’t get a job, so he ended up working in a Laundromat, washing sheets every day.  His first story to generate a substantial income was “The Graveyard Shift.”  Then there was nothing until a publisher picked up Carrie, whereupon he began the journey to success, fame and riches, not to mention being one of the world’s bestsellers.

The second major section of the novel consists of his view on writing: what he believes to be good writing, and what he thinks one should look out for when writing, the pitfalls and hang-ups, as well as his pet peeves.  The reader also learns of how he came up with his ideas that eventually led to the lengthy novels that have given him great success throughout his career.

Now for some secrets:  the main character in Carrie was actually based on two girls Stephen King knew in high school; for the first fifteen years of his career, he was an alcoholic and a cocaine addict; he remembers nothing about writing Cujo; in Misery he is the writer and the number-one fan, Annie Wilkes, is all his problems, including the drugs and alcohol.  This helps to explain the numerous characters in his book who are either raging alcoholics or have been.  It also helps to explain some of the wickedly twisted and fucked up, yet always entertaining, ideas that he has produced throughout the years.

If you’re an aspiring writer, read it.  If you’re a published writer, you should still read it.  If you’re a fan, don’t hesitate!  And if you’re none of the above, still read it because it’s a great book.  On Writing is currently available pretty much everywhere, but the nearest location is your campus bookstore.

The book is filled with pearls of wisdom for everyone; you will not be disappointed.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on October 9th 2000 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.