Friday, March 20, 2009

Spin Cycle: There is No Write Way

The written word and I have a love/hate relationship. Hand me a pen and paper when I'm in the depths of despair, and the perfect muse will speak through me, scrawling poetry in shining lines across the page. Should I try to write something involving plot or character, however, the experience becomes not unlike attempting to drain the ocean with a sieve. I've had a blank Word document saved on my desktop for the last 6 months titled, "Here is where I will write a bitchin' story". I'm tortured, really. Very sad.

Despite the horror, I have selected three pieces to post for this spin. The first is a picture book that I wrote when my husband wanted something new in his portfolio. I wrote this, and then he put our niece Codi's tennies on the deck railing and drew the accompanying illustration:

The Walk
I was walking 'long the sidewalk
not much looking where I was going
when I slowed to inspect an anthill
and some flowers that were growing
inside a fence, around a tree
and as I bent to sniff a leaf
I felt a tapping on my shoulder,
turned, and to my disbelief
saw a magic little man
mouth agape in obvious surprise
"You have lovely, dainty shoes, " he exclaimed,
"and they look just about my size!"
Now I loved those little shoes,
they had sparkles and red laces
and with a marker on the toes
I'd drawn two funny little faces
(so that I'd never be very lonely
with my shoes to share the view)
but when I looked apon the gnome
I thought, "Might he be lonely, too?"
So I untied my loopy laces
and comforted him, "There, there,
you may have my friendly shoes
as I can make another pair."
Well that man was so ecstatic
you see, he was so very glad
because, he explained,
the holey shoes he wore
were the only shoes he had.
And then he thanked me most profusely
as I reveled in bare feet
that scrunched in spiky, greeny grass
as he skipped gaily up the street.
So I headed for home and saddle shoes
that have been quite transformed, I think
by the sequins and the sparkles,
purple laces and the ink.

Illustration by Jesse Mohn 2000

I'm a huge fan of Jane Yolen, and in her book Here There Be Dragons, she writes about how she was invited to join a bunch of writers that were contributing to a book made up entirely of 100-word stories. I have a hard time with editing, and so tried my hand at writing 100 100-word stories as an exercise (I wrote 8-lol!) Here's my favorite one:

Yuck. Only the love of her man would lead her to make baked beans. Taking up the can opener, she held her breath before continuing. When she resumed, thick white smoke poured from the can, spilling downward to roll along the floor. Yelping, she cleared the kitchen floor in one bound, head turned, looking fearfully over her shoulder. From the smoke emerged a small man. Hours later when Jesse came in the door, he didn't seem to notice the new palatial size and furnishing of his apartment. Lifting a silver dome from a platter he said, "What, no baked beans?"

This last is a work-in-progress, a romance/murder mystery (I think.) I'm kinda unsure as to which direction I want to take with this and my sister Natalie has been less than helpful:

Me: "What if Maribeth finds a body in the freezer? Or wait! What if she kills Cade and puts him in the freezer!?"
Natalie: "No! What's wrong with you?! The heroine can't kill the hero!"
Me: "Okay, what if they fall in love and then she finds out that they didn't meet by chance, he planned it because he is looking for his biological sister and she may or may not be it?!? Then she kills him."
Natalie: "What?! No! No incest!"
Me (in a last ditch effort): "Okay, I've got it! He's a recovering meth addict!"
Natalie: "No, Angela! We're supposed to like him!"

Clearly, I have issues...anyway, here it is:

On a particularly lovely April morning, love found Maribeth Hoyt as she stood unsuspecting beneath a broken umbrella waiting for the bus that would take her to the restaurant that employed her as their associate manager. The moment was lost on her initially, as she was busy lamenting the ruination of her new heels, now standing in a puddle the size of Canada that would, she was sure, prove to be much deeper in the middle. For a second, she imagined that the water would swallow her up, closing over her head for a count of eternity when she tried to board the bus and feed the correct change into the correct slot with cold, wet fingers. Overwhelmed by the thought, Maribeth did not notice that the bus had arrived and the other passengers begun to stream toward the open doors until she felt a hand close over hers, and the handle of the umbrella she held.

Instinct caused her to pull away from this intrusion, until she found herself staring into the face of a man that she’d never met before that looked, on top of amused in the area of his eyes and grim around the mouth, like he knew things about her that she’d never even admitted to herself.

"This is garbage." He said matter-of-factly as he twisted her functionless rain gear out of her fingers so quickly and deftly that if he hadn’t addressed her, he could’ve made the switch (for that is what he had just done she realized) without her being any-the-wiser. The umbrella that her fingers now curled around was of a much higher quality than she was accustomed to. "Oh no, I couldn’t!" Maribeth tried to laugh, but her breath caught when he turned her masterfully and, with a hand at the small of her back, marched her through the puddle-of-death and up the steep corrugated steps of the bus, paying for both of their fares effortlessly, with one hand and no counting or groans of impatience from the peanut gallery. "You can give it back to me tomorrow if it’s stopped raining. The umbrella, not the change. No arguing." Maribeth tried to summon the outrage that came so easily to the heroines in romance novels but could only gape and then blush when he winked at her. He looks slick, she thought, but in a really appealing way.

The next morning, he met her at the bus-stop. Handing her one of two insulated cups from Starbucks, he took a sip of his own coffee before accepting the umbrella that she held out to him. He tucked it under his arm before assisting her up the steps with a hand on her elbow, again paying her fare and sitting reassuringly beside her before winking as she got off at her stop at the restaurant.

"What’s this guy’s name?" Denise demanded, standing in the closet that the restaurant boasted as its office. Denise’s hair was currently red and worn in a spiked fan at the back of her head, held in place by bright lacquered chop-sticks. She wore a skin tight black t-shirt with the store’s logo on it, a black denim mini skirt, and rainbow striped tights along with her steel toed work boots and air-brushed acrylic claws that were currently brandishing a gleaming spat for emphasis.

"How in God’s name do you cook with those damn things and where is your hairnet?" Maribeth asked for the millionth time, and smiled to herself as she sat back to appreciate Denise's ability to escalate.

"I told you, these nails are…stop evading the question! Seriously, spill it! Where did you meet him, what’s his name, and when do we get to meet him?"

"And I told you, ‘at the bus stop, I don’t know and shortly after never! Break’s over, Niecy."

Denise narrowed her eyes and pointed a talon in Maribeth’s direction. "Well that’s just fine. You just remember that while you’re back here playing with inventory and schedules, I’m going to be informing the girls up front and I swear in the name of Prince and the Revolution that I will get the details from you eventually and eviscerate this guy if he harms one boring hair on your head. He sounds like a total psycho, take it from a girl who knows!"

Maribeth raised a hand self-consciously to the mahogany chignon she preferred for work as Denise stomped toward the cook’s line . Her hair was too coarse, too curly to be given free reign while at work. Soon she would be finishing up morning numbers and calling them in to her regional manager and then heading to the floor, where she would likely find herself carrying at least a few trays on her shoulder out to tables before making rounds to the guests and letting the servers go one by one as the day went on. She glanced at the right shoulder of her new suit jacket ruefully, resigning herself to the likelihood of scorch marks from the trays before the day was out, thinking for the thousandth time that the company should either allow uniforms or offer a clothing allowance in addition to management’s meager salary.

By the time Maribeth made it to the front of the house, breakfast was in full swing. Servers swung in and out of the pantry, twirling through like modern dancers in a careful ballet to choruses of "Food up!" "Tray in!" and "Behind you!" Maribeth watched a server named Julie swipe a fry from a plate that showcased a gigantic omelet. "I’m starving!" Julie grinned. "Knock it off or I’ll break your fingers!" Maribeth smiled back, "Now get this food out of my window!" "You know you love me!" Julie sang as she carried the tray as big as she was out the door like it weighed no more than a feather. "And that will be the death of me!" Maribeth quipped.

Hours later, exhausted and trying to talk herself into being enthusiastic for the remaining three hours of her ten hour shift, Maribeth gamely tried to count down the drawers from the morning while her assistant manager smoked a cigarette and grilled her. "So basically what you’re saying is that you don’t know this guy from Adam, and that he could, for all you know, conceivably be a mass-murderer learning your typical movements before snatching and killing you." At this point in the conversation, Sarah offered her boss and friend a cigarette, eyes laughing as she watched Maribeth’s internal war with good and evil.

"Sixty, eighty, hundred, knock-it-off-I-quit-smoking, one twenty, one forty.."

"Is he hot?"

"One six…" Maribeth looked up, "Gorgeous. Mysterious. Exciting. Which is a problem, because as you know I am average, ordinary, and boring. This is the kind of thing that happens to Denise, which is why we need her. So we can live vicariously through her while the rest of us go home to an empty apartment and a cat or a husband and several children that need to be fed, the irony of which should not be lost on you. Now I need you up front, and I need to count this drawer so that I can make the deposit and take your place up front, thereby allowing you to go home. Or is that not the goal?" Maribeth stared at Sarah’s little face pointedly.

"We’re not done talking about this, and you are not ordinary and boring you are sneaky and scary smart, which is why we’re all so worried that you’re being so dumb about this. It’s almost as bad as flying to Alabama to meet someone that you met over the Internet. We do not approve." And then as Maribeth resumed counting, Sarah leaned in to whisper, "Seven, fifty-two, eleven!" before scooting out on a laugh as Maribeth gave a deep sigh and started counting over.


Cade Nelson pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, turned off the engine to his car and wondered why the hell he had driven here after the bus had dropped him off near the park-n-ride. So what if she hadn’t been on the bus for the ride home. What if she had only headed into this restaurant for breakfast these last few days before going to work somewhere else nearby? Why hadn’t he at least gotten her name? He sighed and started the ignition, and then turned it off again. He’d been trying to play this cool. Having learned early on that if you said as little as possible and looked agreeable, most people, good people, when left to determine whether they liked you or not generally decided to like you on very little evidence. He figured that it was because they could imagine that he thought the same things that they thought, which he sometimes did. The stutter and speech impediment of his early years were long gone, but the lessons he’d learned to cope back then were more than useful all the way up to the here and now. What the hell. Worst case scenario he could eat a dinner that he didn’t have to make himself.

"Omigod, omigod!" teenaged server Emily burst into the office as Maribeth zipped the deposit bag closed and slipped one arm into her red overcoat. "There is a really cute guy asking for you at the register!"
"Me me, or manager me?" Maribeth asked, trying to prepare herself for the worst, like being yelled at for forty-five minutes over a serving of lukewarm corn.
"Neither!" Emily crowed. "He described you. He asked if you were a regular customer or an employee. Sarah’s giving him the standard, ‘We can’t give out information about our employees’ spiel! Get out there!"

Maribeth fought the urge to bolt down the hall, telling herself, "It isn’t him. Who else would it be?! No, it isn’t him." Reaching the front counter she asked Sarah, "Did someone ask for me?"
"Uh-huh!" Sarah’s arms were folded and she nodded to the table she’d sat last. "Mystery Bus Guy?"
"Mystery Bus Guy." Maribeth realized that she was fighting for breath only when Sarah slapped her hard between the shoulder blades. She could just turn and walk away, she thought, and as if he’d heard her, Mystery Bus Guy lifted his handsome head from the shadow of his folded menu, met her eyes and half rose to his feet. "Excuse me," Maribeth reached for a normal voice before turning on her heel and clipping back into the pantry.

"How did he describe me?" she asked Emily who was even now half over the cook’s window relaying details to Denise. Shit.

"Really pretty girl who only wears black, white and red. Marginally prepared for disaster." Emily’s wide mouth managed to look mocking while her eyes sold innocence.

"He did not say that!"

"I swear to my mother!" Behind Emily Denise’s face looked like a thundercloud, and Maribeth could hear her acrylic nails tapping menacingly against the cutting board.

"Em, get back on the floor! Denise…" Maribeth tried to think of something managerial to say and then decided against it. Denise was one of the few that never needed babysitting. She always did her job and Maribeth considered her a dear, personal friend. Besides, she didn’t believe in being bossy for the hell of it. "Neicy, don’t look like that!" Maribeth scooped up a carafe of coffee and two mugs in one hand, a dish of creamer and 2 small glasses of water in the other. The familiar weight of the drinks on her hands steadied her. "I’ve still got it." She murmured to herself before heading toward her mystery man and some answers.

Cade felt himself vibrating in his seat as he watched her speak briefly to the tiny woman at the register and disappear back into the unknown bowels of the restaurant, only to appear minutes later, hands full and headed his way. She walked…efficiently, he decided. She seemed different here than she had during their short acquaintance on the city bus, more deliberate, less anxious. It suited her, he decided. He appreciated facets. He smiled as she slid a coffee cup his way, poured it half full and then set the cream and ice water in front of him as well.

"So now I get to buy you coffee," Maribeth announced in what she hoped were round, dulcet, non-insane tones. He nodded sagely, silently. Well, fine. Two could play at that game. Maribeth took a sip of hot black coffee, telling herself that it would weaken her position were she to fuss with little packets of sugar and non-dairy creamer. Rather than grimace at the bitterness of the strong brew that her patrons either loved or hated, Maribeth watched his face over the edge of her thick white cup. Finding his eyes steady on hers, she set down her coffee and laughed softly.


"I feel like we’re playing a game of mirror gone bad. Did you play that game as a kid? You know, I raise a hand and you copy?" Maribeth mimed several exaggerated movements for him to demonstrate.

Smiling, Cade ran a hand though his hair. "Uh, no, I didn’t play that game, but I think I know what you mean. What is your name, Umbrella Girl?"

"Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. Maribeth." She slid her right hand toward him for a handshake and wasn’t too surprised when he held it instead. Pulling her hand from his, Maribeth added with a definite edge to her voice, "Do you have a name, or should I just call you ‘Stalker’?"

Hiding the alarm he felt, Mystery Bus Guy asked, "Is that something you have to worry about often?" He meant it as a joke and was surprised at how serious his voice sounded.

"Only once." Maribeth shrugged.

"You’re kidding."

"No, no kidding. A boyfriend of mine had a friend that didn’t understand…boundaries. After my boyfriend went to college, I’d just turn around and he’d be there. At the grocery store. At the library. At my college dorm. He drove right onto the lawn at my parents place and got out of the car with a huge vase full of roses, a big smile on his wide-open face. He scared the hell out of me. Luckily, my dad scared the hell out of him and that was that."

"Christ. I’m Cade, and I promise not to stalk you."

"Fair enough." Maribeth took another shot of caffeine and noticed Denise coming toward them. "Danger, Will Robinson! This girl’s always loaded for bear."

Cade looked to see a young fury bearing down on them and had just enough time to recall one stanza of the wicked witch of the west theme before she was upon them, sliding smoothly into the booth beside Maribeth, displacing her with apparently little to no effort. The baby-faced medusa bared her teeth at him in a flash of pseudo-friendliness before speaking in a dangerously sweet sing-song, "I’m Denise. Who are you and where do you live?"
Maribeth wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. So much for a beautiful, mysterious romance.

"Denise! You don’t have to answer that, Cade. Denise, what are you doing here?"

"Checking with you before clocking out, of course." Maribeth narrowed her eyes, as both women knew full well that this was something neither of them had bothered with once they’d determined the other to be trustworthy. "Seriously. Steve came in late so I need your key card to authorize being on the clock past my scheduled time out. As for you, I suggest that you do answer my questions. Less painful that way, you know. That is, unless you enjoy having a hostile chaperone while attempting to get the girl." Maribeth shook her head ruefully and made a small strangled sound.

"Cade Nelson." Cade reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and handed Denise a business card. "There’s my work address and phone as well as home phone, cell and email address. Maribeth, " he handed her a second card, "you should have at least as much information as our friend Denise."

Satisfied that she had enough information to give to the police should Maribeth turn up missing, Denise reverted to her usual darling self and said goodbye.

"I don’t suppose there’s any point in asking you to dinner." Cade smiled at Maribeth ruefully.

"No, but you can stay and have dinner while I run to the bank before it closes. If you want to stay until eight we can take the bus together."

"Actually, I brought my car. I usually drive my car into the city and then park it and take the bus. That’s why I’m here, really. I hadn’t realized that I was looking forward to seeing you until you weren’t there tonight. I’d seen you head this way the last few days when you got off of the bus and so…I could drive you home when you’re done with your shift if that’s okay with you."

Maribeth thought for a moment and then decided that if this guy was going to break her heart, he would at the very least be a very good time up until that point. It had been a too long since her last very good time. "Deal!" She stood and reached out a hand for a menu from the dinner hostess just coming onto the evening shift. "Dinner’s on me," she said, and felt a curl of anticipation twist low in her belly. "I’ll be back."

For more creative writing spins, visit Jen at Sprite's Keeper!