Flash Fiction Challenge

Sally prepared her razor again, she could feel that it was time. She washed it, though she’d washed it before she even put it in it’s case the last time, and gave it a quick polish. She called Kitty into the room, had her pluck a hair from her head, and hold it stretched between two hands. Sally flicked the knife and the hair was cut in two. Kitty hadn’t even been holding it taut.

Sally arranged the razor, brush, and foam on her bedside table, basin and towel at the ready.

Jack came through town whenever he chose but he always opted for a shave at her establishment. Just a shave. It was hard to deny the allure of a straight-razor shave but the other girls usually had to provide services after. Of course, Jack didn’t pay but it was worth the quiet company. Besides, she never had to sharpen the blade after, it was like he’d never been there, the razor was that good.

It was a bit like dancing. He always knew which way to turn his head with just the barest touch of her fingertips to his chin. He knew not to swallow while the razor glided over his Adam’s apple. The same swipes every time, they moved together automatically and quickly. It was all over in the space of a few minutes. He stayed the full hour he’d been given and Sally would take a nap while he sat in the rocking chair, moving it back and forth with his foot on the bed.

Kitty came to wake her once the hour was up. “Hey, can I use your shave kit? I’ve a client I think might like it and I’m in search of some extra tips this month.”

“Alright,” Sally said, still a bit sleepy. She went to her dresser to get one.

“Could I use the other one? It’s a keen razor isn’t it?”

“Sorry love. I’d rather not.”

“I’ll be real careful.”

“All the same. It was my fiance’s.”

“Why isn’t it with him?”

“He died. I had to sell the rest of his effects to cover some of the debt. This is all I kept behind.”

“Strange choice. You could have got a pretty penny for a magic razor.”

“Is it magic?” Sally handed Kitty the other kit and hoped that was the end of it.

Kitty had a meeting with a top landlord who was coming through town. Good shave and he could have an excuse to his wife for the money gone from his account. It’d have to be a very good shave for the kind of money Kitty needed. She took Sally’s kit before she woke up in the morning and returned it that night, wiped clean. Sally never noticed until she opened it up for cleaning again. This time Kitty’s hair only split on the second try.

“Did you take it?”

“Well I….”

“Get out.”

Sally sharpened it and cleaned it again, and then once more, and again until there was the gentle knock and her door opened. Jack stood over her, watching. She held the razor up in supplication. He gave her a curious look and placed his hat on the peg, sitting down in his chair like always. The tension in her shoulders smoothed away and she bustled around, getting everything ready for him, closing her door firmly. Then they danced.

This time he got into bed behind her and held her while they napped. He woke her before he left.  He gave her a kiss on the cheek to let her know he was not angry someone else had used the razor and that he would be back. She showed him to the front door and he hesitated. She insisted and watched as he walked down the street a few paces and shimmered into thin air.

For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge.

Nerds is Nerds

Oh, nevermind. They're just here for Jared.

Shh boy. I think I hear fangirls coming

Hi, Writing Without Stamina, I’ve been cheating on you with Gosu: Lifestyle for the Civilized Nerds. Sorry about that. And now no more apologies, since I don’t want to be this guy.

It’s been a lot of fun, especially with the new podcast we’re launching but it’s also been making me question my place in the universe. Because we’re kicking around ideas for future podcasts and it’s stuff like video games and 90s superhero cartoons and Game of Thrones and… I’ve got nothing. So I wind up thinking… am I a nerd?

If it were up to me the next episode would be all about Song of Achilles by Madline Miller and how YES, omg, Mary Renault has been reincarnated! Amirite guys?! Guys?

And then I watch the play counts diminish.

Sure, I like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but not more than the average fan. I like dystopian novels and Classical history but am an enthusiast, not an expert (though I am working on that). But you know what, I am still a nerd.

Why? Because I’m a fangirl. I define fangirls and boys as rabid consumers of media. As opposed to someone who watches a show or reads a book, enjoys it, and puts it away, fanpeople find something they like and turn into BLACK HOLES OF LOVE, gobbling up everything they can possibly find about that thing. They join fan communities, create art, write essays, write fanfic, ENGAGE with the thing they’re consuming and give back.

This definition doesn’t entirely come from me though I have seen it in action. But I heard it articulated by Henry Jenkens, at the time the co-director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies program, on a podcast about slash fanfic, mostly Harry Potter. And, I’m sorry, if that reference doesn’t buy me back all my nerd cred, I don’t know what I can do for you.

Fandom is a way of life. It’s the way you approach things and it doesn’t apply to everything. I like Star Wars fine, I have Totoro eating Stormtroopers as my desktop, but I feel smug just knowing what a Tauntaun is. That’s the extent of my technical knowledge of Star Wars. I had to google Tauntaun to make sure I spelled it right. However, get me going on Alexander the Great (real or Colin Farrell) and watch out buddy!

So fanpeople aren’t fans of everything. But I think everyone has an inner fanperson. They could be really into… scrapbooking, or jogging, or fingernail art, or anything, but it’s that thing they’re dying for someone to ask them about so they can finally cut loose. I guess I wouldn’t call someone who’s really into March Madness a fanboy for that but all this obsessive bracket-making is nothing more than socially sanctioned nerdery.

So I’m a nerd. I’m a nerd about weird shit, but I’m still a nerd. I hope everyone is.

Whoops! The Apocalypse.

It’s possible that, for people with lives who don’t spend all weekend on the internet, they fired up their computers today and wondered what all the fuss was about. Why is everyone saying I Will Always Love You. Oh. Oh!

Or, like about a year ago I went into a meeting and when I got back to my desk, Egypt had been liberated.

I find it fascinating. Like how someone could have had a perfectly pleasant camping trip in early/mid-September 2001 and emerged from the woods to find out that the world had changed.

This is assuming the hikers are smart and well prepared, which, if they're taken by surprise by the apocalypse, they probably aren't.

Technology is really ruining the good story ideas

So that’s what I’d love to read and maybe it already exists. Some story about a nice group of people who decide to hike the Appalachian Trail and, while they’re in there and out of touch, the apocalypse happens.

But is this revelation act 1 or act 3? Do the stunned hikers walk out of woods and spend the rest of the movie/novel/play trying to cope with this brave new world? Or is the entire bit some Dinner With Andre-type conversation piece with a bizarre twist at the end?

I’d read either version though bonus points if someone winds up eaten by a bear.

Writing Sucks

Why can't you just read my mind?

Good for jamming into eyeballs

The act of writing sucks.

Not coming up with ideas. Or doing research, fleshing out characters, thinking up outlines, developing themes. That’s the best part.

But transcribing all the fun stuff in your head and making it come out right on the page? Actually sitting down and scribbling/pounding away on the keyboard? The feeling that it’s not quite living up to the vision in your head?

Effin sucks.

(In other news, I’ve been doing this more, which we’ll just say is the reason for my radio silence on the blog, m’kay?)

It Isn’t Boasting if it’s True

Now why is my penis so small?

My god I'm magnificent.

I started reading Ransom by David Malouf and I almost gave up by page 7. Not because it’s uninteresting or poorly written, it isn’t. It’s got lyrical but unshowy language and it’s about Achilles after Patroklus has been killed, good stuff. But he had to go and write this:

Days, years, season after season; an endless interim of keeping your weapons in good trim and your keener self taut as a bowstring through long stretches of idleness, of restless, patient waiting, and shameful quarrels and unmanly bragging and talk. [emphasis mine]

Unmanly? Hardly. You got your modern guilt in my Greek mythology!

Yes, the inscriptions at Delphi are γνώθι σαυτόν and μηδέν άγαν, “know thyself” and “nothing in excess” but that doesn’t rule out bragging… if it’s true. Just don’t lie, don’t claim you’re better than the gods, don’t claim to be a god, just try not to talk about the gods at all, they’re a vindictive bunch. But if you’re actually awesome, talk about it. The Greeks valued arete and time (tee-may, not like time on a clock), excellence and honor, and if you’re on a battlefield with hundreds of other men, you’re going to talk about it. They were hardly the only ones. The Germanic pagans included boasting in their rites.

Malouf is hardly the only writer out there who is misunderstanding the culture. And I hesitate to even go that far. I haven’t finished the book yet, maybe it was just poor word choice. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, it’s how I pushed past page 7. But it has come up, mostly in movies, with men treating women well or thinking of the gods as either loving or remote and uninterested in humans as playthings. While yes, these things are upgrades, I’m a big girl and I can take the nasty bits of history. As long as they’re true.

Good Writing Will Out

Who's wonderful? YOU are.

Where I get all my character ideas

At home over Thanksgiving break I made fun of my mom’s new Nicholas Sparks book one time too many and she finally snapped. Doesn’t he write about love and relationships, the same things everyone writes about? How is he different from the stuff you read, how is that better?

My answer: the writing. He’s just a horrible writer.

(Have you actually read anything of his? she countered. Yes mom, a whole page. It was all I could stand.)

This is relevant to me because I had an idea for a story that I really like but I’m holding back on because it seems so self-insert, so self-aggrandizing, so Mary-Sue. I feel embarrassed to write it because it’ll be so obvious that I’m writing about myself and who do you think you are anyway, etc. Stephenie Meyer, that’s who. And that should be avoided at all costs.

Original Name: Mefanie Seyer

Original Name: Mefanie Seyer

But it IS a good idea, and I DO want to write it and you know what, who cares if it’s all about me? How many beat authors write about how cool they are snorting ether and shooting up meth (I don’t know a lot about drugs) and skimming over the waking up in a puddle of what I hope is my own waste part of the experience? It’s hardly a new practice to write about a thinly-veiled self and make that person sound really awesome. The difference is in the writing. It forgives a lot of sins.

Footnotes Ire and other thoughts of the week

Turtles turtles turtles all the way down

*The turtle moves

1. Footnotes are the voiceover of books. They serve to be informative and are illuminating when done right. Mostly they’re done poorly and are distracting and stupid. And don’t even get me started on endnotes.*

2. My favorite style of writing is  the kind employed by Truman Capote, George Orwell, my girl Mary Renault: clear, simple, yet evocative. I don’t mean terse like Hemmingway (though I should give him a try again) and I get put off but extremely flowery language and extended metaphors that go on way too long. I don’t like sitting there wondering “did he ACTUALLY turn into a bird or does he just feel feather-y today?” I just finished In Cold Blood and it feels like a standard piece of journalism but once and a while I would sit back and think “this is actually incredible writing.” And I thought a guy like Truman Capote would be a show-off.

*The only person allowed to do footnotes carte blanche in Terry Pratchett.

Choosing Sides

Still handsome though

Yeah! I root for that guy! ...Wait a minute...

It may be our, the audience’s, fault for being too fickle and stingy with our own money but it seems like some writers (or directors or producers) are hesitant to make any kind of claim about their own work and never explicitly say who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. I can think of three of the most grievous (in my mind) offenders when it comes to laying a stake in the ground and committing to a point of view:

The Wicker Man (1973)

I might be coming to this with a bias but I don’t know who I’m supposed to be rooting for here. On the one hand, Sergeant Howie is ignorant, belligerent, and unsympathetic until the very end. On the other hand, they kill ‘em.

Troy 

In The Illiad there are sympathetic characters on both sides, sure, but Homer was Greek, speaking to Greeks. He was rooting for (wait for it) the Greeks. The movie makes no such distinction. There are good Greeks and good Trojans. There are even pretty people on both sides, so no shortcuts there. There are bad characters sure (Agamemnon), but they’re fighting side by side with the good characters (Brad Pitt). So even if the bad guys lose, some of our good guys lose too. That can’t happen. But we also can’t allow Orlando Bloom and the Trojans to perish. Not when he’s got Galadriel’s bow. (What?) So for all battles the biggest emotion is “…Go …Rah? … Don’t kill em too hard!” For the love of god(s) (which are not present at all for some reason) don’t let anyone die ugly!

Won't you be my neighbor?

So uh... you work out?

Ides of March 

(And here be mild spoilers)

Ryan Gosling, our brilliant hero, in trouble for something that’s not even a big deal (seriously, I don’t understand why a meeting is that important, he didn’t even SAY anything), wronged out of proportion to the act. George Clooney, democratic candidate fantasy from heaven (handsome, pro choice, pro gay rights, anti war, sex scandal that isn’t really that bad, c’mon). On the flip side, Ryan Gosling jumps ship immediately and George Clooney sells out his ideals. A confrontation at the end where both characters are in the wrong and the right. And a speech in the beginning where a character literally says “nothing politicians do matters.” Why would you tell us this?! You have stated, at the beginning of your movie, that anything that follows is completely inconsequential.

(spoilers over)

I’m not saying that a movie has to tell us what to think. But the movie has to know what IT thinks to leave us free to agree or disagree. In these examples, the movie tries to split the difference, never making the good guys too good or the bad guys too bad just in case someone gets offended (even though we love a really bad bad guy). All that makes is a bunch of bland characters that no one cares for one way or the other.

Look at The Prestige. Two (three?) flawed characters but flawed in different ways, at different times. The sympathy shifts midway through and makes the audience reset their assumptions but guides them through the whole way, though always one step ahead.

So, what other movies try to play both sides and wind up canceling each other out?