Wednesday, October 17, 2012

THE RECORD KEEPER, 4,100 words

I'm very sorry if you're here expecting to read the short story, "The Record Keeper." I have indeed removed it from this blog, as I am seeking publishing opportunities for it!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Then and now, continued: a comparative look at exposition over the years

I'm about halfway done with my short story assignment for class, and I'm having a fantastic time. It feels so good to write.

The first part I posted has been altered a bit based on some invaluable feedback; if you were among the ones who commented on the last post (either on deviantART or here), let me say thank you. I learn so much from you all; your input makes me a better writer overall. The fact that anyone is willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help me grow as a writer is one of the biggest compliments I could ever receive. Every word means the world to me. So thank you.

This will be in the same vein as last post. I'm going to take the second half of the introduction I wrote in 2009 and post it, with the rewrite beneath it. As always, any and all feedback is appreciated!

****

Original, dated January 2009:

The receiver clicked and the sound of static silence rippled from the earpiece. I hung the phone up and wiped my fingers on my pants, still unsure if the funeral was in the morning or the evening. Seven o'clock is uncommitted. It goes both ways.

I hate phone booths. This one was like every other one I had been in: the clammy, stale air that ruminated inside the booth reeked, though instead of donning the common dirty hobo odor, this one was much more reminiscent of two dollar hooker and nauseating perfume. An uneven layer of condensation clung to the walls and if I were feeling a bit more festive, I would have written all over them with the tip of my finger. But my mom had just died (four days ago, I kept telling myself) so I let them be. Besides, this particular phone booth already had its share of defilement. Each side of glass was riddled with amateur graffiti and crude drawings: a penis, random names looping in bastardized cursive, 'Mike wuz here.' Mike is everywhere. In the corner, the words 'Fuck me,' were written in bold black marker, with the latter word crossed out and replaced with 'you,' which was also crossed out and replaced with 'God.'

I shrugged the accordion door to the side and stepped out, pulling gloves from the back pocket of my pants and thrusting them on in a single, practiced motion. I've never cared much for the cold, but then again, my fingers and toes are always cold no matter what the season. Bad circulation. It's in my genes.

****

Rewrite, dated October 13, 2012:

The crack of his phone slamming against the switch hook is the last thing I hear before silence ripples into the earpiece. I hang up the pay phone and wipe my sweaty palms on my pants. My hands are shaking. I stand in the phone booth and stare at the bright yellow handset, replaying the conversation in my head over and over.

The dim halo of light above me flickers like it’s straight out of some cheesy horror flick. Stale air trapped inside the glass walls of the phone booth reeks of cheap hooker perfume. One side of glass has a crude drawing of a penis and the words, “Mike wuz here.” Mike is everywhere. In the bottom corner of the accordion door, the words “fuck you” are written in bold black marker; the latter word is crossed out and replaced with “me” and an accompanying phone number, which is also crossed out and replaced with “God.”

Before I leave, I make sure to check the return coin slot; when I was seven, I found three quarters at a subway station, which has always served as a personal justification for my habit since—even thirteen years later. But I don’t give a shit about quarters now, and I fully expect the slot to be empty. To my surprise, my forefinger stumbles over something that is decidedly not change. It’s smooth but textured, like dense paper. I feel around its oddly shaped edges for a couple seconds, unable to identify the object simply from touch. Then I pluck out my prize. A white puzzle piece.

As a child I’d made a pastime of watching my dad sort puzzle pieces on the cleared dining room table according to size, shape, and color, slowly working his way from the inside, out. Using the border was cheating. When he wasn’t looking I would steal important pieces and hide them in my pockets to see if he’d notice. I wanted him to scour the house looking for the pieces he couldn’t do without: a heavily made-up woman’s eye; the hour hand on the face of a melting Dali clock; New York City on a map of the United States. I’d had it all planned out: he would ask me to help him find it, I would save the day, and we would work on the rest of the puzzle together. But he’d never even so much as asked me when a piece went missing. Not a word. All of his puzzles remained incomplete, and I was left with a box full of important pieces that meant nothing without the others.

Unlike the ones I stole, the evenly white piece I turn over in my hand is underwhelming. Maybe it’s snow at the top of the Himalayan Mountains or the bottom right-hand corner of the Beatles’ White Album. Nothing special. I slip it into my jeans pocket, shrug the accordion door to the side, and step out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Then and now: a comparative look at my writing over the years


For my next creative writing assignment, my classmates and I will be writing longer short stories--upwards of 15 pages, double-spaced (approx 3,500-4,000 words). Mine is due next Wednesday. Disappointed in my inexplicable lack of ideas over the past few weeks, I started to sift through some old work I'd posted years ago on my now mostly inactive deviantART account. There, I found an unfinished introduction of a piece I'd written from January 2009 called "It Goes Both Ways" and fell in love with it all over again. But as I read it, I wanted to make changes to it--and I wanted to finish it.

In rewriting the introduction, I am noticing that my style has changed quite a bit in the nearly four years that have passed. My sentences in general have become more concise (what I said in 500 words before is now condensed to half that) and I do feel like I have a firmer grasp on what it means to be a creative writer.

But I'd like to hear other opinions. Below are both versions of the introduction. If you'd like to help me out, here are some questions to think about while you're reading: Which one is more engaging, and why? Which one has more believable dialogue and character voice? Is the newer version too simplistic? Are you more sympathetic toward the narrator in one version over another? Any and all comments are encouraged--even if you prefer the original version! Honesty is the best policy, and believe me when I tell you I have a thick skin; I can take your critiques, and I welcome them. It's the only way I'll improve. Thanks for reading!

****

Original version, dated January 23, 2009:

"Your mother is dead." I could hear him breathing on the other end of the phone like he'd run all the way across Manhattan just to tell me. He hadn't. It happened four days ago. I'd read about it in the newspaper long before my family saw fit to tell me.

"Why did you call me this morning?" I said, chipping at the plum polish on my nail.

"Your mother is dead," he repeated. Each word was pronounced with more space between than was necessary, as if I couldn't understand it otherwise. Though it was admittedly better than having to put up with his screaming.

"I know."

There was a pause. He was piecing something together, like the puzzles he used to assemble when I was young. He would scatter the pieces on the cleared dining room table according to size, shape and color, slowly working his way from the outside, in. I stole one of the center pieces once, knowing with pleasure that his puzzle would never be complete without it.

"The funeral is tomorrow at seven."

"In the morning?"

"Shut your fucking mouth!" Sure as a gun, the screaming. His voice rose though just as quickly shrunk back, and he took to hissing through his teeth like the stray cat I nearly ran over last summer with my car. He still hasn't forgiven me for it, even though I feed him every day as my penance. I pulled the phone away from my ear to dull the noise, confused as to why he would be so upset over such a reasonable question. "You just…" he continued. His voice trailed off and he sighed. "72 East 1st Street. She would have wanted you to come." The last sentence was muffled and rushed and I still don't know if he actually said it but I would like to believe so. Every time I replay it in my mind, the more I'm convinced it's what he said.

The frantic tone in his voice meant that he was scrambling to hang up the phone. "Hey, dad." I didn't even know what I was going to say, but I didn't want him to hang up just yet. "Hey dad," I repeated.

"What?"

"Trevor died. Two months ago."

More heavy breathing on his side of the line. I was starting to wonder if it was interference from his cell phone rather than his breathing. Or maybe he took up smoking again.

The receiver clicked and the sound of static silence rippled from the earpiece. I hung the phone up and wiped my fingers on my pants, still unsure if the funeral was in the morning or the evening. Seven o'clock is uncommitted. It goes both ways.

*****

Re-write, dated October 9, 2012:


“Your mother is dead.” His accusatory tone strikes a nerve.

I clench my teeth. “Why’d you try to get a hold of me this morning?” I say, ignoring him. “My landlady wasn’t exactly thrilled to pass along your message.” I cradle the pay phone between my shoulder and ear so I can pick at my cuticles.

“Your mother is dead,” he repeats, following each word with a condescending pause like I’m too stupid to understand him otherwise.

“I know. Four days ago, right?” He doesn’t confirm or deny it. A small part of me hopes his silence is a manifestation of shame in knowing I’m well aware of how long he waited before contacting me. “When’s the funeral?” I ask.

“Tomorrow at ten sharp,” he says, like he’s setting up a goddamn business meeting.

“On a Tuesday?”

“Don’t you fucking start with me!” he shouts. I flinch and pull the receiver away from my ear; sure as a gun, the screaming. “I’m not dealing with this shit. Not today. For Christ’s sake, not today," he says, his voice shrinking into a sigh. I imagine him shaking his head with a hand resting on his forehead, forever in a state of disappointment. "Moravian Cemetery,” he continues. The reception starts to break up. “She would have wanted her son to come.”

Before I allow him the chance to hang up, I say, “Dad?”

Hesitation. “What?”

Without thinking, I say, “Simon’s dead too. Five months ago.” Shit.

The receiver clicks and static silence ripples into the earpiece. I hang the phone up and wipe my damp fingers on my pants. My hands are shaking.