Truth Unravels

31 DaysDay 31: RUSSIAN DOLL IN REVERSE {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

Truth Unravels

The darkness of sleep lurked in Ruth’s mind as she lowered herself from her bunk and collected the things she needed. She was glad that she had decided to shimmy into her daytime clothes during the transition to lights out when there was more noise than now. Deftly she slid into her black hoodie and dissected her bedding until she could reach around to the top of the mattress where she’d cut a slit into it months ago. From the slit she pulled out the makeshift journal she’d filled with the true history of the Colony and its Assimilation Movement and then carefully redid her bedding.

Ruth tucked the journal into the armband she’d crafted specifically for the purpose of smuggling the journal in and out of the barracks and past the Mentors. Before heading out, she paused by Vivian’s bunk, watching her as she slept seemingly peacefully. It has been a long time since Vivian had been able to sleep without nightmares and Ruth prayed that her friend would not be plagued by those dreams tonight. She had specifically left Vivian out of this operation hoping to protect her from further pain and possible danger. She stroked Vivian’s dark wavy hair before making her way to the window.

She peered into the night and scanned the grounds below and slowly pushed opened the left side of the pane that she’d taken pains to loosen over a matter of weeks to avoid detection. With a deep breath, she hoisted herself onto the ledge and closed the window behind her. It was a five story drop if she fell, but a few other Truthseekers had rigged up a zip line as part of their Communications Building assignment to install new wires and grounds. Ruth grabbed the pillowcase she’d carried, flung it over the line and without thinking pushed off from the building. The wind and darkness wrapped around her and within seconds she was dropping to the ground from a tree limb. She gave a low whistle, waited, whistled again and waited.

Deeper in the trees, she heard rustling and slipped back into the shadows and lower hanging branches of an old weeping willow tree. The rustling stopped and she heard a low whistle, a short pause, and another low whistle. She stepped out from the willow, her hood drawn over her head and face to meet her contact and hand off her journal. Soon, she thought, the truth will be in many people’s hands. 

“I’d like to say I’m surprised,” a gravelly voice said behind her.

Two black hooded figures suddenly appeared on either side of her, gripping her arms forcefully as she tried to run.

“I am disappointed,” the voice said, “But I’m not surprised.”

Ruth tried to place the voice that her accuser obviously was disguising.

“Bring her to the Traitors Building.”

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: RUSSIAN DOLL IN REVERSE - Write a fragment of a story that starts out with a specific detail or image and moves gradually out toward a set of generalizations – in other words, move from the specific to the general in this opening salvo of a possible story. This is what Kiteley calls the Russian-doll-in-reverse style. Russian dolls are those wooden dolls that contain within them a smaller version of the doll, then inside the smaller version yet a smaller version of the same doll, etc. You open your story with the smallest doll, or the most specific and useful detail of this world you’re creating. Then you move on to the next smallest doll. Imitate the quality of these dolls in your sentences – making each sentence contain the previous sentence. {Exercise 125 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

Rewriting History

31 DaysDay 30: CENSORSHIP {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

Rewriting History

Ruth sat at her table in the archive section of the History Building alone, tattered parts of scrolls spread out around her and attempted to recreate the Colony’s timeline of events. Her Candidate assignment was to record the events onto the newly made parchment scrolls being produced in the Creatives Building. As she recorded the events, Ruth worked concurrently to draft a narrative of the Colony history that was being expunged from the official historical records. Such covert actions and blatant disregard for protocols and Colony dictates would be deemed treason and considered punishable by death, but Ruth believed that the truth was more important than her life. Even so, she worked slowly and meticulously on her Candidate assignment and dared only a line or two at most so as to not draw attention to herself or her work.

Today, as she sifted through the bits and pieces of paper and history, her eyes scanned every detail and with her mind, she memorized each word and date and began creating the forgotten picture of revolution and freedom that developed from the harsh conditions so many suffered under around the land. Ruth closed her eyes and sketched the words in her mind, allowing her hand to record only a word or two at a time, her head bowed low and her finger tracing along the new scrolls as if she were proofreading her work.

In a small makeshift journal she’d fashioned from collected contraband paper and letters that other Truthseekers supplied her with and that she smuggled to and from the History Building each day, Ruth wrote the following:

Despite the claims of the Colony, their rule has been in place for only two decades and its stability has only ever been shaky at best. Though they would have us believe that they have the people’s interests at the fore of their laws and policies, their actions both preceding their rule and during it not only contradict this notion, but greatly discredit those who seek to lead this land and enforce these laws. The list of grievances against the Colony is indeed lengthy, beginning with the wresting of power through force, although not of any sort of coup, but rather a far deeper covert military action that began at least three years prior to the final takeover through the general elections. Elections that many suspected were not only fixed but minutely manipulated via a complex system of electric and digital overrides that were essentially untraceable by those without the extensive training of the election officials at the time.

Where power was not provided peacefully, meaning without question or without raising suspicion and greater awareness, use of military force was employed in the form of

Behind her, the floorboards creaked as if someone were standing just far enough behind her to monitor her work, but she dared not turn around. Instead she lifted a small pile of paper scraps and scanned them and shuffled them into chronological order and removing all questionable historical entries. She dipped the nib of her specially assigned fountain pen into the ink and recorded the passing of a law to enable all citizens the right and opportunity to own their own dwelling, which, of course, few outside of the Colony leaders and the Movement actually could or did. Deftly, Ruth reached for the next scrap and knocked a small pile of already completed records to the floor. Without hesitation, she reached for them, realized she couldn’t reach them and turned sideways in her chair. From the corner of her eye she saw Thomas standing just inside the door. As she scooped up the papers, the floorboard creaked loudly and she gasped as if noticing Thomas for the first time.

She smiled at him. “You startled me,” she said, straightening the pile and replacing it on the table. Still looking at him, she carefully slid the journal into her sleeve. “Don’t tell me I’ve worked through lunch again?”

“Not quite yet, but you’re dangerously close,” Thomas said.

“You’re kind to let me know,” Ruth said.

“What were you doing?” he asked.

“Same as always. Review, sift, read and record events.”

“It looked like you were writing in a book of some kind.” Thomas stepped into the room now.

Ruth turned toward her work as if looking for a book and shook her head. “No books here,” she said. “Though sometimes I do like to imagine it that way, you know? I gather up the various scraps and hold them as if they were a book. Out of curiosity, I suppose.”

“Dangerous curiosity,” Thomas said, looming over her now.

“I guess I never thought about it like that,” Ruth said and shrugged.

“Maybe you should start,” he said. He ran a finger across the scroll she was working on. “I’ve heard you have good writing. I see it’s true.” His eyes locked on hers and she willed herself to keep her eyes on his and smile at his compliment.

“Thanks,” she said. “I work hard at it, that’s for sure.” And now she smiled.

“I’ll let you get back to it,” he said, and, just before he turned away from her, she thought she saw a small smile play across his lips.

(this story post is part of at least two others from 31 Days of Stories as I explore the idea and characters of The Truthseekers)

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: CENSORSHIP - Imagine a very ordinary and mundane piece of writing that is threatened with censorship for political, military, or social reasons. This exercise treats our own moment of history as if it were historic – as if we were living in 1930s Stalinist Russia or in England during the French Revolution – but you can also try to imagine a historical moment, what it would be like to write a letter to your mother and worry about an unseen Soviet censor reading the words. Show us the effects of writing something that could get the writer arrested, jailed, or even killed. Show us both the writing itself and the thoughts of the writer. {Exercise 108 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

The Magic of Soon

31 DaysDay 29: AROMATHERAPY {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

The Magic of Soon

Anraí ebbed and flowed in the mist of the meadow. Dawn began etching its presence onto the night and Anraí retreated reluctantly into the shadows of the trees and their caressing leaves. He liked the way they smelled like rays of sunlight that had been hung to dry for several days, unlike the leaves further in the forest, that tended to smell more like the mud by the stream, damp and almost-rotting. How he preferred the lightness and the meadow, so much so that at the etching of dawn each morning he wished for a way to remain beyond the trees.

Most of the guests had said their good-byes and headed off into the night for their own homes, their own dreams and Henry breathed a long, contented sigh, relieved that the night’s entertaining and festivities were over and that Sophia remained, sitting beside him on the love seat-sized swing so that their hands almost touched. He savored the sense of electricity that seemed to jump wildly between their almost-touching fingertips. Sophia took a deep breath.

“I love the smell of fall,” she said. “The leaves, the wisping scent of first fires, the invitation to linger.”

Weaving his way through the deeper, cooler parts of the forest, Anraí sought the dwelling of Priya, the Keeper of Dreams and Visions. As he floated upon the breeze, shimmering through the now-lightening darkness, he caught wafts of honeysuckle and lilac mixed with the decaying leaves that mixed with mud along the well-trodden path. Each twinkle of lilac seized him with a sweet surge of hope and he pressed on.

“Will you share one more glass of wine with me?” Henry asked Sophia and she smiled.

“That would be lovely, thank you.”

Henry poured them each a glass and handed one to her, their fingers brushing and Henry felt a surge of surprise and longing stir his soul and he, too, smiled. He took a long sniff of the wine and enjoyed it’s subtle sweet chocolate aroma playing over the crisp night air. Together Henry and Sophia pushed the swing into motion and rocked gently on the lilting notes of the jazz vocals playing softly behind them in the house where Mia had long-since disappeared.

“So, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you and Mia about this, but I wanted to tell you that I’ll be moving,” Sophia said.

“Moving? Really?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Sophia said and took a sip of her wine. “My mother isn’t doing well and I think I need to move back to be with her.”

“When will you leave?” Henry asked.

“Sometime soon, maybe the end of the month.”

The little girl, Sophia, had told him, “Soon,” and he had wondered how long soon would be. Was there enough time before soon ended? Humans were not like faeries or those in Anraí’s world. He had learned that soon sometimes did not always come, and did not come for him. Although he had continued to visit the meadow and the girl as she grew up, his invitation and her soon never came to pass. 

He still visited the meadow where Sophia’s mother remained, but Sophia had one day stopped appearing in the meadow. She had disappeared like a muted rainbow that fades after a rain. Her essence remained, but her presence was no more. Anraí could still smell the peppermint and freesia of her being. Even in winter, she smelled of freshness and the sweetness of the morning’s first dew. He’d let too many days pass and it was time to act. And so it was that he arrived to see the Keeper of Dreams and Visions.

Henry’s mind wandered through a maze of thoughts as he and Sophia glided back and forth in the night air. It’s funny how you think you have time to plan, that you have time to take time. And then, soon ricochets around your life and demands more than thoughts and plans.

“It’s late,” Sophia said, handing her glass back to Henry. “I should be going.”

“Right,” Henry said.

“It was a lovely night,” Sophia said. “I’ll miss living next door to you and Mia.”

A slight breeze shifted through the trees, catching the blue lanterns so that their lights danced upon the leaves and the bricks. Sophia watched the flitting lights and shadows for several moments and then looked up at Henry. “Do you believe in magic?” she asked with perfect seriousness.

As a wisp of freesia wrapped Henry lightly in its essence of hope, he looked into Sophia’s eyes and with equally perfect solemnity replied, “Absolutely.”

(This post is a link in a growing & continuing story about Sophia and Henry)

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: AROMATHERAPY - Describe a place by its smell, scent, odor, perfume, or stench. Don’t let the olfactory sense overwhelm your description, but use this sense the way it occurs in our everyday experience – as an unconscious trigger of memory. The odor would contain a secret message for one of the characters in the scene. {Exercise 114 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

My Kind of Town

31 DaysDay 28: THE CITY {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

My Kind of Town

When you’re homeless, you have a strangely unique opportunity to observe humanity from an obscure, well, actually, from an almost invisible perspective: people tend to look through you, past you, around you, even at you, but they don’t really see you. Oh, sorry, let me introduce myself. My name’s Clarence. The ascot? Oh, yes, there’s a story behind that and perhaps we’ll get to that. Anyway, like I said, being homeless lets me see people in ways that most people don’t, maybe because most people aren’t trying to see anyone but themselves. I don’t know. I try not to make too many judgements.

And the City? Well, I love this place. Always have. Boston is my kind of town. Isn’t that a line from a song? More songs about New York, I guess, and though I like New York, I love Boston. Beantown. A city built on freedom and guts. And where New York has a frenetic energy that almost overwhelms if you’re a visitor, Boston has a more arms-wide-open welcoming feel to it. The natives here tend to tunnel-vision their way from place to place, but they gracefully and deftly side-step the tourists who tend to travel in wide-eyed, open-mouthed groups, gaping at historic buildings and obvious tourist traps, following the Freedom Trail precisely and taking a moment to absorb the information on the historical marker before sprinting off for the next stop and the next placard.

Today is no different. The sun shines brightly overhead and off the glass of the upper stories of the Prudential and the John Hancock and glitters off the Charles River, casting pockets of shadows along the Freedom Trail and along Newbury Street. My favorite place on days like this is either in the Public Gardens beside the pond where the Swan Boats glide constantly around filled with gaggles of tourists and ducks quack hopefully for peanuts, bread and popcorn, or the courtyard in the Library.

The Library is an oasis in the middle of the foot traffic, the tourists, the noise of busyness of the City. It’s an oasis from the street and from the stares, the blank, unseeing stares that register homelessness as an issue or a concern but not a person. And, so, in the Library courtyard, someone like me can disappear in a different way. I’ve discovered that if you sit in exactly the right spot inside the courtyard, you can’t see the Prudential Tower or the John Hancock Building looming high. You can’t see the hotels or the brownstones. You can almost imagine that you are somewhere in the countryside, some romantic setting.

Few tourists or natives settle in here. Tourists have too much to see in a short period of time and the natives have to much to do before the sun sets. Me? I can amble a bit. I can bask in the quiet and the solitude of the courtyard with its bright colored flowers, its peaceful flowing fountain, it’s green grass. And here? Nobody looks through me, nobody bothers me with their awkward acknowledgments. Here, I am just me. Clarence. No longer homeless. No longer faceless. No longer a statistic. Clarence.

————–

Unfortunately, the sun sets and the day winds down and the Library closes and the crowds thin and I am no longer Clarence. I am homeless once again, a man of the streets, a man of loneliness. A man of sorrow. Where the day’s energy and the Library courtyard provide hope, the night’s darkness and the lonely streets bring despair. That’s usually when my path seems to cross Laurel’s. She’s not an angel exactly, but the way our paths intersect is certainly almost otherworldly. Divine, really. She tends to emerge from the shadows of Newbury Street onto one of the many side streets. Or from Beacon Street near the Charles. There are so many, I marvel that she always chooses the one upon which I am meandering, making my way somewhere I haven’t yet determined yet.

Laurel is an artist and a native and a kind-hearted soul. She was one of the first people to see me in a long time. Mind you, I didn’t give her much choice during our first encounter, I pretty much accosted her, ranting and berating her because there was no one else to yell at and I’d been wanting to yell at someone, to be heard, for way too long. And so there she sat and there she continued to sit as I let loose every crumb of anger I’d been cleaving to. And when I finished? She stood up and said that she needed coffee and that needed coffee. And so, we set off in search of coffee.

Since then, she seems divinely appointed to find me where I am, even in a city this size. Even in the darkness and the shadows of the tallest buildings or the deserted alleys of the brownstones along Beacon Street. The moon hides and seeks behind clouds and behind buildings as I move through the night and the streets of Boston. Night brings a different energy to the City. The tourists are tucked away in their hotel rooms, venturing only as far as a popular landmark restaurant, like Cheers or Legal Seafood or Dick’s Last Resort or, if they’re camped down by the harbor, they flood the Salty Dog or The Purple Shamrock or the Black Rose. The natives, on the other hand, move deftly through the shadows to local pubs and eateries, with some who are hoping to impress dates or potential business partners, choosing to dine along Newbury Street.

Couples stroll along Boylston, Beacon, Commonwealth and Newbury; every night is date night in the City for the young and the trendy and the old and established. Street lights and headlights blend into a subtle daylight along the busier streets and the lights of the windows of the Prudential and John Hancock twinkle like stars above the crowds. They are the few stars the city enjoys with the wash of light drowning out the night sky. In the distance, along Commonwealth, the lights of Fenway glow like a beacon, a siren song for natives and tourists alike.

And then, there me and my crowd. Even more than the day, the night brings a cloak of invisibility that is thicker. While restaurants bulge to overflowing, the corners of the subway stations and tucked in doorways, my population fades away. Some will pass and offer leftovers, some will pass on the other side of the street. Most will pass without noticing. And as I wander over broken bricked back alleys and ponder where I am from where I’ve come, she crosses my path. My Laurel stands before me, two white styrofoam togo containers in hand, bathing her in what one could easily mistake as an angelic light. She doesn’t dine with me every night, but she almost always provides me dinner and usually meets me for coffee most mornings.

Perhaps Laurel is the reason I prefer Boston over New York.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: THE CITY - Write two short scenes in a cityscape you know well, one during broad daylight and the other late at night. Cities are vertical as well as horizontal spaces, so make sure you keep the reader aware of the full picture. One of the common traits of a city is unexpectedness – you run into people you don’t expect to run into; you often find great beauty cheek by jowl with awful ugliness, and poverty and wealth hand-in-hand – so play with this. Don’t be tempted by cliches: A city at night need not be dangerous or foreboding. {Exercise 112 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

No Fear in Love

31 DaysDay 27: HOME {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

No Fear in Love

Ruby stood at the stove putting together some sort of makeshift dinner that she hoped her young daughters would eat. But she’d learned early on that her girls, now three and five, were hit or miss, hot and cold about the food she made. What they raved about one night, they would turn up their noses to on a subsequent night. How she wished that Ethan were home and how she missed him. As she turned the chicken on the spit in the fireplace, she wondered what Ethan would have for dinner or if he would have dinner at all. She forced the thought from her mind.

Three-year-old Clara came running in her running-stumbling way into the kitchen and wrapped her arms around Ruby’s legs.

“Hey, Baby,” Ruby cooed to her, which caused Clara to squeeze even tighter, a wide grin on her face as she stared up at Ruby. “Where’s your sister, baby girl?”

At that moment, five-year-old Phoebe came barreling through the archway that separated the living space from the kitchen and family dining space. Phoebe had a wide, toothless grin and she lit up the dim candle-lit room with the energy only a five-year-old could bring to a room. Ruby laughed and ruffled Phoebe’s crazy curls.

“Hello, my love,” she said to her sweet oldest girl. “I hope you’re ready for some dinner.”

Phoebe grimaced and Ruby ignored her expression, carrying forth with her enthusiasm for the food she was preparing. “You are going to be so excited tonight; so many of your favorites.” Ruby smiled broadly at her girls. “Do you smell that bacon? And there’s toast warming in the oven and we have plenty of butter and some apple slices as well.”

Her girls’ groans mixed with the air raid sirens and all three of them stopped and stared, as if the siren was a noise they’d not heard a hundred times before. Ruby took a deep breath, and ignored the fear that was already making itself known in her stomach, her nerves, along her spine. She removed the bacon from the skillet in front of her and moved to douse the flame in the fireplace where the chicken roasted on its spit. She hoped that the chicken would continue to roast while they huddled in the basement and she quickly grabbed the warmed slices of bread from the oven, quickly spreading them with thick layers of butter before herding the girls into the basement shelter.

How Ruby hated the basement. If not for her two little girls, she would take her chances in the kitchen with its memories and its warm glow of the stove and fireplace and the delightful smells of dinner on the skillets and on the spits. Potatoes and chicken turning in perfect rotations and the bacon sizzling and sputtering with that tempting aroma. And, oh, that fireplace. How she loved to sit beside it after her girls had eaten their fill, even if their fill was but a few bites. The fire radiated the moments of she and Ethan cozied up together after baby Phoebe was swaddled and sleeping peacefully in her cradle by their bed and their love burning as brightly as the fire’s embers.

Alas, tonight, Ethan was somewhere in the air or the French countryside and she was heading to the dirt basement with the stored vegetables and dampness and darkness and who knows what else. But, for the sake of Phoebe and Clara, Ruby stood tall, shoulders back, head high and, with as much confidence as a mother needed, she gathered her ducklings beneath her wings and led them to safety. To darkness. To unknown fears that Ruby discarded with each step on the stairs leading them into what sheltered them from the bombs.

Several months ago, before Ethan shipped out, Ruby and Ethan had set up as safe a haven as they could, creating a corner in the fear-invested basement with its darkness and unknowns, as small a corner of safety and love and at-home-ness as they could. Once downstairs and the door secured behind them, Ruby guided her girls to the safe space she and Ethan had worked diligently to create. It had an old, worn settee with several homemade quilts made by Ruby and her mother and Ethan’s mother. There were several books that the girls favored and a box of candles and plenty of matches.

With great care, Ruby arranged the layers of quilts around her girls, painting this time in the basement as as much of an adventure as she could because even in the darkness she could still see their tiny scared faces. They clung to each other and to her. She settled between them, covering them all with quilts and humming softly some of their favorite hymns, beginning with Jesus Loves You. Ever since Phoebe was a wee babe, Ruby had sung the familiar children’s song, Jesus Loves Me as Jesus Loves You. And nothing settled her girls into peace and stillness like the words of that beautiful and familiar hymn.

She handed each girl a warm piece of toast and bent low to light two of the candles in their holders. Their flickering flames created a somewhat eerie shadowy glow, but Ruby knew that both girls were as thankful as she for the bit of light they afforded. She knew that there were others who were huddled in their basements right now without candles, without toast and without knowing Jesus Loves You. She prayed for Ethan and for she and the girls as she heard the rumblings of the bombs overhead.

As the girls chewed on their toast, she pulled out one of their favorite stories, smiled warmly at each of them and pulled them closer to her, layering yet another quilt over all of them. She opened the cover of the book and began to read. As she read, each girl leaned her weight into Ruby and Ruby couldn’t help but blink back the tears and the fear that welled on the brink of her being there in the basement.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: HOME - Use a house in a story fragment. Think about the power of rooms (kitchens, basements, unfinished attics, walk-in closets) on psychology and conversation. In this fragment, make the house a unique, though passive, participant in the unfolding events. The room need not be in a typical house. Think about all the other rooms we become familiar with – classrooms, office cubicles, public toilets. What are their personalities? How do the more public spaces we inhabit affect our behaviors? You might consider keeping several characters permanently stuck in different rooms in a house, communicating by shouts, cell phones, intercoms, Dixie cups and strings, or telepathy. Ghosts haunt houses, and writers are often ghosts to their own cherished or bedeviling childhood homes. {Exercise 111 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

Epic Isn’t Easy

31 DaysDay 26: COOKING {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

Epic Isn’t Easy

“It’s an Oscar party, Finley,” Julia explained. “Elegance, socializing, drinks, and, most importantly, food.”

“Popcorn and beer,” Finley said. “Drinks and food over which people can socialize.”

“How long have we known each other, Finn?” Julia stood with one hand on her hip and a smile playing on her lips. “Seriously? Popcorn and beer?”

Finley winked. “Worth a shot, my love.”

“I promise you, it’ll be fun. Really,” Julia said. “Possibly even epic.” It was Julia’s turn to wink.

“Lord of the Rings epic or Gilmore Girls epic?”

“I see no distinction,” Julia said. “And either way, epic isn’t easy, darling.” She turned back to the notebook in front of her. Ever since she’d had a place of her own, Julia had thrown an Oscar party, complete with glitz, glitter and glam. Of course, now that it would be Julia and Finley hosting Julia’s annual Oscar party, Julia was attempting to bring it down a glam notch or two, at least this year. Finley needed to get his feet wet this year before she would completely indoctrinate him to her Oscar party world.

“Fair enough,” Finley said. He’d attended Julia’s Oscar parties in the past and, honestly, he really enjoyed them. Of course, he hadn’t really considered what was involved in the planning and the hosting. Apparently it was almost as complicated as the live event itself but without the cameras and the producers and a director. Well, actually, Julia served as a pretty laser-focused director.

“Okay, so do you want to hear my usual game plan or do you want to brainstorm ideas for how to put this year’s celebration together?”

Finley pretended to think about this, but they both knew it would be a bit insane to try and build this annual party, with all its expectations and the anticipation of the guests, from scratch. “Give me what you’ve got and I will assist as much as you let me.”

Julia got up from the dining room table and walked slowly toward Finn, pressing up against him as they stood side by side leaning against the back of the couch. “You’re sweet,” she said.

“You’re in charge,” Finn replied. “Seriously, you throw one heck of an Oscar party. It’ll be fun.”

“Once all the behind-the-scenes stuff is done,” Julia agreed.

“Do you like all the planning and the doing? All the behind-the-scenes things?”

“Pretty much.”

Finn nodded. “Well, I’ll help as much as I can. But there has to be beer.”

“Of course,” she said.

“And popcorn,” he added.

“With butter,” Julia replied.

“And there have to be appetizers that I cannot pronounce but that I love to eat,” Finn told her.

“Absolutely,” Julia said.

“Okay, well, it’s 10 a.m. We’ve got less than twelve hours before the Oscars and only ten hours before the pre-game show. Let’s hit it,” Finn said.

“Well, the mushrooms are in the fridge and need to be washed and the pastry dough is resting on the counter and the asparagus needs to be gently washed and trimmed. You know the chef trick for that, right?” Julia asked

“Big learning curve, love. Like, huge.”

“Oh, this is going to be so much fun.” Julia’s eyes glinted like the edge of her Shun Kaji rocking knife. She took a single piece of asparagus and snapped off the end, then she laid it down on the cutting board alongside the remaining bunch of asparagus and cut them all to the same size. “Voila,” she said.

“Okay. The curve just got a little smaller,” Finn said and he took the knife and the rest of the bunches of asparagus and set to work. “So, tell me, are the chefs of such events allowed to drink at all while they work?”

“Bloody Mary or Mimosa?”

“Mimosa for you, bloody Mary for me.”

“Nothing less than spicy I hope,” Julia said.

“It’s like you know me.”

Julia fixed them each a drink in some of her finer stemware and handed Finn his glass.

Finn raised his glass to her. “Here’s looking at you, kid,”

Julia smiled and tapped her glass against Finn’s, took a long drink of the sweet champagne and said, “Now, back to work.”

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: COOKING - Use cookery – menu preparation, the love of this essential process – as a way of understanding a man and a woman’s relationship to each other. Or, to put it another way, use an evening of cooking (and perhaps entertaining) as a way of exploring a relationship between a man and a woman. If you have any kind of experience with cooking and know of certain unusual recipes, adapt these for the purposes of this exercise. Julia Child noted that “dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” Show us the joy that can be had in this simple process. {Exercise 48 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

The City of Newer Accord

31 DaysDay 25: IMAGINARY CITIES {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

The City of Newer Accord

It was a gradual shift, the way the Colony and the Assimilation Movement began deconstructing and reconstructing the land, especially the cities. Not all of the cities, but the cities that factored into the formation and history of the people. The Colony wanted to obliterate not only the existence of these cities, but also the memories that the people had of these places. Ruth was hoping that The Truthseekers could undo the Colony’s efforts to undo history.

In another sector of the Colony, Tirzah wandered outside the border of what once was a major City but was now more of an ancient ruin. Most of the buildings that had any link to the foundation of the land and the forming of the collective history of freedom and thought and expression had long ago been razed. In the outer realm of the city, those razed buildings remained as piles of rubble, a collection of brick and dirt and distant memories. The Colony focused its attentions on the inner areas and workings of the cities, including this one.

The maze of streets, paved at one point in time, were dirt roads rutted with wheel and tire tracks. Even though the Assimilation Movement claimed that they were all about progress and improvements to the ways of life, these things seemed evidence of the regression of society. There were few gas or electric powered vehicles on the roads here any longer. Horses and various forms of wagons were the more likely sight.

The center of this City – Newer Accord – was a mix of the historical structures and the recent developments. Even so, none of the buildings stretched above seven floors nor did they span more than half a block. Although the buildings lined the pock-marked streets like in the past, they were far more rustic, almost simplistic. In fact, Tirzah had heard rumors that some were not outfitted with indoor plumbing. At the very core of the center, there was a newly created business square, similar to the Town Squares of smaller towns and cities from 100s of years ago.

The members of the Assimilation Movement were known to populate this area more so than the average assimilated citizen. Again, there were rumors that there were members of The Truthseekers in and among the Movement and in the City Centers, but no one could discern one from the other. The City Center was where most of the social activity took place. There were traveling food stations as well as stationary establishments that catered to the elite of the Assimilation Movement. There existed an obvious distinction in the aromas of the traveling food stations versus the permanent places. While the mobile food was dubious at best, its offerings sometimes not only unfamiliar but extremely suspect, the Assimilation gathering spots were enticing with their tempting smells and delectable presentations pictured on oversized menus posted on the walls of each establishment.

This same dichotomy existed in the residences of the assimilated and the members of the Movement. Most of the assimilated lived in the outskirts, where the ruins remained and where few sturdy dwellings existed. Most of those in the outskirts lived in tents or in dilapidated huts or shacks with dirt floors and no running water. Some of the assimilated, who recalled life before the Movement and the Colony, suggested that these makeshift dwellings were what some of the poorest countries in the world had to offer their citizens. This was contrasted dramatically with the inner City housing Movement members were afforded. The further from the City Center you were, the less likely you were to be heard or listened to.

For the sake of the Resistance, Tirzah hoped with all of her being that The Truthseekers’ plan would somehow break down the invisible walls that separated the Movement from the assimilated.

(This is related in part to two other prompts that I’ve posted as part of this 31-day writing challenge: The Truthseekers and Sacred Space. Perhaps, one day, they will weave together into a bigger story; for now, they are at least linked in my mind.)

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: IMAGINARY CITIES - Describe a city that doesn’t exist. Concentrate, if you have trouble inventing a city whole cloth, on the food, the houses, the organization of the streets, and the hand gestures that are somehow related to the geography of the place (a steep hilly town’s coordinates would look different than a flat, water-bound citizen’s sense of spatial organization; so too would someone’s directions inside this space). {Exercise 170 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}