November 28, 2006
John finished his banana, got up from the couch and reached for the crutches leaning up against it. He hobbled into the kitchen, where Lucy was ostensibly washing dishes, but had stopped and was staring out the window in a trance. She woke up again when she heard him levering himself along.
“Do you need something?” she asked.
“No, just want to move around. My leg was getting stiff,” answered John.
Lucy nodded and went back to the dishes.
They had been back in Schenectady for two weeks now, after John spent two days in the NORAD base hospital, they had both been debriefed and sworn to secrecy by more intelligence officials than they even knew of agencies before, culminating in a personal visit with the president of the United States, who informed them that, although they could never tell anyone about it, they were true heroes, and the American people were in their debt. Then they had spent a few days with each of their parents, who grudgingly accepted that, somehow, all the news networks had mistakenly reported that they were wanted fugitives at the same time that John and Lucy decided to take in impromptu road trip and both lost their cell phones. John had shaken his head in disbelief after that meeting.
“You know, when I was a kid, I got busted for saying I was staying over at Jimmy’s house but really going out to a concert. Clearly I wasn’t aiming high enough with my story.”
“I know what you mean,” commiserated Lucy. “But, when you get down to it, it’s such an unbelievable tale that we couldn’t possibly be making it up, right?”
“I suppose. Tell you what: when we tell our roommates, we need to add something about a flying saucer.”
Lucy laughed and agreed with him.
But their roommates had not been interested in any of their explanations. Whatever the story, they were scarred from the arrests and interrogations, and knew only that it was somehow caused by John and Lucy, and that the two weren’t telling. They all moved out within a week.
John put two mugs of water in the microwave to heat up for hot chocolate. The first snow had fallen during their escapades, and it was now well into winter.
“Want to look at those roommate ads I wrote?” asked John, as he went to the cupboard to get the hot chocolate powder.
“I’m not sure if I can bear it just yet,” said Lucy. “It seems too accepting of normalcy, and I’m not quite ready to share my home again. I mean, who knows what kind of crazy plot another roommate could get me embroiled in.”
“Yeah. I always say you shouldn’t trust people who don’t have the common sense to stay out of other people’s mail,” said John, wheeling around toward the microwave and reaching out with a crutch to stop the microwave timer with 0:07 left on the timer. The first thing John had done on arriving back home was to gather up his map, his letters, and his record book and burn them all in the fireplace. He and Lucy had spent the evening feeding bits of
Lucy accepted a mug of cocoa with thanks, and started to sip it. Outside, a twig snapped, and she turned so quickly that she spilled the chocolate on her hand. It was just their neighbor’s son jumping through the snow in his backyard. She winced at the hot chocolate spill, then reached for the dishrag to wash it off. She sighed and tried to settle her racing heart.
“I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s someone creeping up behind me. How will we ever know when this is really over?”
John put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “This seems like as good a time as any.”
November 26, 2006
The second machine finished processing the cards and spit out a single card into the output hopper. After moving the diagnostics cards over to the third machine and started it running, Reynolds retrieved the output card and plodded over to the terminal, where the card was scanned in to be interpreted by the computer. By now, Reynolds was familiar with the look of a successful test run, having seen the cards three times a day for more than a year, but the procedure was mandatory. After the computer verified the output, the card was tagged, logged, and filed away for God knows what purpose. Reynolds worked in a trance: Pick up card, curse assignment. Walk across the room, curse his recruiter. Tag it and bag it, curse his old man. Reynolds was well into cursing his university advisor, his younger brother, and the bus driver who had yelled at him that one morning of second grade when he’d forgotten his lunch and wanted to go back for it, when the third and final machine did something it had never done before: it caught fire.
Reynolds was quick to react. Until you’re in a situation such as this, you may not know if you’ll really hold up to the strain. Reynolds calmly and cooly walked over to the fire extinguisher mounted on the wall, removed it, and began reading the instructions. He had gotten through the English and Spanish versions, and was grappling with his high school French when the fire alarm went off. Lights started flashing and sirens started wailing, but Lieutenant Reynolds’ calm demeanor was unspoiled. He finished reading the instructions on the extinguisher and carefully stepped over to the smoking machine and emptied the contents of the extinguisher into it.
He answered the phone, which had been buzzing since the alarm was triggered, and reported on his situation. A few moments later, the alarm was switched off at the central control panel, and Reynolds relaxed in the silence. He composed himself as he picked up the phone to report to his superior officer, but he couldn’t hide the smile that crept onto his face as he informed the General that his daily session of purgatory was now down to forty minutes a day.
November 22, 2006
Liz: The people who will enjoy your book the most are other writers. They’ll get all the in-jokes you’re putting in.
Ian: I think you may be vastly overstating the enjoyment potential of my book.
Liz: Well… whatever. If it really tanks you can always become a professional Pass the Pigs player.
Ian: Yes. And I’ll always have my looks.
John watched with childlike glee. I may be on the run and destitute and clueless and about to be killed, but how many people get to see the boys in blue force the Man of Steel and the Dark Night into the back of a police cruiser, was his first thought.
His next thought was that it was hard to see with a pillowcase in front of his face like that.
His next thought after that was that something smelled like dry erase markers.
His next thought after that was not for several hours, and concerned the unfortunate tendency of a bouncing van to exacerbate an ether headache.
November 20, 2006
Lucy wearily lowered herself into a worn bench seat and sighed. John stood in the aisle and motioned with his eyes for her to move over. He glanced behind himself toward the front of the bus, and toward the gathering mass of grumbling and pushing people —long distance bus travelers are generally not known for their patience and societal graces— and turned back with a bit more urgency.
“Uhm, Luce, could you, maybe…” He motioned with his hands. for her to slide over to the window and let him sit down.
“Look, buddy, I’m about ready to kill someone for a shower and a clean set of clothes, and you’re first in line.
John spread his hands out in front of himself.
“I haven’t got a shower.” He sniffed under his armpits. “Or a clean set of clothes.”
“Well, then I’ll kill you over the lack of a shower and a clean set of clothes.”
“Hey, buddy. Just buy her some flowers at the next stop. I’ll split it with you if I get a chance!” shouted someone from behind.
“Ok, but unless you move over pretty soon, you’re going to miss your big chance to kill me.
November 19, 2006
…is what I’ll be saying 2,000 words from now.
Randy and the other technicians no longer read the prompts on the supervisor warning windows. The applications team had tried implementing technical measures to force each technician to read them but none had yet been successful. Their first attempt had been to change the wording of each warning so that you could not always just click “Yes.” When that didn’t reduce the number of up transferred calls, the technicians began to randomize the buttons, then the position of the windows on the screen, and finally randomly generate the actual language used in each warning. Randy and his fellow technicians had developed a resident program that would read the screen buffer, OCR the image, parse the warning text, and position the mouse over the proper button. This is what happens when you take MIT-educated engineers and make them work with customer service software.
November 13, 2006
You probably know crap about writing for a deadline. Don’t worry. I was once like yourselves. Carefree. Light-hearted. Sober. But this series of articles (unless I forget to write more) will fix all that. And then some.
The most important aspect of writing for a deadline, the “thing” of it, if you will, is increasing your wordcount. Today, I will share with you a word extension technique that I’ve recently discovered: misunderstanings.
Think about it. A natural flow of dialog is essential to believable fiction. After all, what are your characters but talking heads? You’re certainly not investing any time in in-depth characterization. So what you’ve actually got is pages upon pages of people talking to each other. And a quotation followed by “character name said” only gets you so far. What you really need to do is increase the word count that each utterance gains you. And the route to that goal is having your characters repeat themselves because they were not correctly heard. Consider the following:
“Let’s go do something,” said Jim
“Ok,” said Sally
It’s bland and mundane. That’s ok. I mean, you’re not Shakespeare. Of course it’s going to be bland and mundane. But compare that to this:
“Let’s go do something,” said Jim.
“What?” said Sally.
“I said ‘Let’s go do something,’” repeated Jim.
“Thanks, but I already ate,” said Sally.
“What?” said Jim.
It’s much longer. And we haven’t even heard how Sally will respond. Your readers will likely be waiting with bated breath.
In order to pull off this particular style with maximum effectiveness, you will need to have two things:
- A rhyming dictionary
You may think that using this technique will require that your story will have to take place somewhere that old people congregate. Such as the library. Or a nursing home. This is ok. You may be afraid that the lack of dynamicism that having old people as characters implies will doom your story to mediocrity, but let’s not kid ourselves: It wasn’t that great to start with. But while basing a story around the geriatric is a time-tested and effective way of achieving your writing goals, as seen in the following examples:
- The Old Man and the Sea
- Miss Havisham.
- Scrooge (at least, I’m pretty sure that the duck was hard-of-hearing in the Disney version)
But it is not necessary to do so. You could also base your story around a loud place, such as a dance club, saw mill, or nuclear war. Or maybe your story could be about a particularly tenacious group of deaf people. “I Have No Hearing, Yet I Must Talk” would be a good title.
In conclusion, I leave you with this parting wisdom.
- Lists should really have more than one item in them.
Tune in next time when I shall berate the contraction to within an inch of its apostrophe.
November 11, 2006
It’s a little bit creepy when a corporation that has your birthdate for financial reasons decides to wish you a happy birthday. It’s just not supposed to be part of the deal.
“My bank just offered me 25% off of something for my birthday. Oh, nevermind, it’s just their branded junk. Like, who on earth would want to—oooooh!”