Friday, September 27, 2013

Writing Prompt: Manifest Destiny

So my mother and I are in Midwest City, Oklahoma for the Rose State Writer's Short Course. (I promise I'll write all about the conference later!) It's really great to get to spend some time with her and what's one of the first things we do? Pull out our 642 Things to Write About and pick a prompt. So here it is, from page 52.

Flash Fiction Prompt: You wake up by the side of the road lying next to a bicycle with no memory and no wallet. What happens in the next hour?

photo by Lee Orr

Memory is a strange creature. Gravel scrapes my palms as I sit up. I remember the word gravel. I recognize the pain of raw, exposed skin. The sun is setting over the mountains.

 I remember sunsets and solar systems. Nine planets. Well, if you count Pluto. I do.

The front wheel of my bicycle is bent and spinning slowly, an awkward elliptical rotation. Like Pluto’s. How can I know so much about a tiny frozen rock that I’ll never see? Never touch or smell or stand on. And yet… I can’t remember my name.
I stand, dusting pebbles and dirt from my capris.
They took away Pluto’s name. No longer called “Planet.” I doubt it noticed.
The prairie stretches around me, empty and nameless. Where was I going? My bicycle points towards the mountains like an injured bird-dog. West.
Manifest destiny. Go West, young man! Pikes Peak or bust. It’s strange what the brain chooses to store. What gets erased. The sun sinks lower.
Even without a name, I exist. I think, therefore I am. I am, therefore I act.
I pick up my mangled bike, pull it back to the road, and point my feet towards the mountains. Maybe I’ll find my name somewhere on the road. Maybe I won’t. Either way, my feet lead me West.

I head into the sun. 

Check out my mother's very different - but equally fun - response to the same prompt here!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Writing Prompt: My Mother Broke Every Plate

From page 260 in "642 Things to Write About:"

Prompt: Start a story with the line "My mother broke every plate in the house that day."

My mother broke every plate in the house that day. Shards of blue and white porcelain sparkled across the kitchen tile like fragments of her life. She'd collected each piece meticulously. A saucer here, a plate, a teacup.

I held the only survivor behind my back. A sugar bowl. I wanted to place it gently in a basket and send it down a river to keep it safe from my mother's wrath. From her grief.

The violence of her act shocked even her. She stood quivering, surrounded by the shattered remnants of her collection. For the first time, the willow print made me feel like weeping. 

I sat silently for my own protection, and for that of the refugee that I clutched. The small bowl felt cold against my skin.

She'd been washing the dishes when the phone rang. I was supposed to be drying them.

The first plate dropped from her hands by accident. The second she let go, releasing her grip slowly. Intentionally. The third she threw.

Then the next. And the next. Harder and harder, building herself up like a tsunami. A ceramic wave crashed through her. The result of some far off earthquake. 

The last plate slipped through her fingers like sand. It landed atop its ruined family, a single chip in its oriental edge.

The wave collapsed, leaving my mother alone in the rubble.

Check out Claudia Bookwright's response to the same prompt here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Haiku Challenge: The Art of Tentacles

So this week I've been refocusing on my artistic pursuits more than my literary ones (Bad, Grace!). So while I have been pretty productive with pen and ink, I only managed to write four haikus last week. Here they are, along with a sampling of my latest visual arts.

"Cephalopod"                                                             "Our Lady of Diablo Rojo"


Momentum matters.
A lesson I learned today
from herding llamas.


La petite sirene
in moonlight, she calls to me
and turns to sea foam.


My art lacks focus.
What's the solution to this?
Just add tentacles.


Drawing tentacles:
a lesson in the physics
of undulation. 

"Cephalo Rojo"

Friday, September 13, 2013

MaddAddam: A Book Review

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood is the third installment of her apocalyptic series that started way back in 2003 with the phenomenal Oryx and Crake. The series explores a world of powerful corporations and biotech and the consequences that a single individual's actions can have on the world.

Let me start by saying that I loved the first two books. Oryx and Crake was exciting and fascinating and set the apocalyptic stage perfectly. The Year of the Flood, the second book, is my personal favorite. It follows an extreme sect of environmental/religious fundamentalists and two of the members' survival before and after a plague known as the waterless flood. Both of these books raised significant questions not only about their fictional world, but about our world and our belief systems. They made me question myself and the culture I live in. They gave me a new way to think about our world.

Then comes the much-anticipated end of the series: MaddAddam. I live in a small town with only one bookstore and I bought the only copy they had on release day. I went home, read it, and finished it within a couple of days. So why has it taken me nearly two weeks to write my review?

Throughout my reading of this final book, I had mixed feelings. I love Margaret Atwood's writing style. She is eloquent and thoughtful and her word use is superb. I love the world she created. I love the characters. Yet...I did not love this book.

It was okay. It wasn't bad. It was significantly better than a lot of other stuff that manages to get published. But it wasn't "Margaret Atwood" good. It wasn't what I had come to expect ever since I picked up The Handmaid's Tale when I was a sophomore in high school. I was disappointed.

It's hard to convey just what that disappointment meant to me. I even tried to convince myself that I wasn't disappointed. I was just having a couple of "off" days. Maybe something else was stressing me out so I couldn't enjoy the book properly. Then I finished it and realized that, no, it wasn't me. For the first time, I was disappointed with a Margaret Atwood book.

I think the main reason the book was lacking in comparison to its predecessors was that the first two books were full of powerful questions. MaddAddam was full of answers, and, honestly, they weren't as satisfying as the questions. It felt like the entire book was an attempt by Margaret Atwood to tie up the loose ends of the first two books. It lacked the inspiration, the spark that brought the others to life. It felt like literary checkbook balancing. I think I would have been just as satisfied if she'd never have written this book. In other words, it was very anticlimactic.

For an author that is known for writing powerful and relevant speculative fiction, MaddAddam falls far short of the bar she set for herself. The writing is technically good and the characters are the same ones that we fell in love with in the first place, but the book itself did not meet my expectations.

I haven't read any other reviews and, frankly, I'm not interested in them. I understand that many people will probably rave about the book and it is good. Just not in comparison to her other works. This experience has been much more to me than just a disappointing read. It was a fall from grace. Margaret Atwood has always been my inspiration. The paragon I aspired to be like.

And she still is.

But now I know even the best authors can write mediocre books.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Haiku Challenge: Science, Sci-Fi, and Cats

I've been feeling kind of melancholic this week and I think my haiku reflect that. I was also influenced by the latest Margaret Atwood book "MaddAddam" (review to come). So here are this week's haiku.


Will the future split
between gritty and shiny?
Sci-fi metaphors.


Sit doing nothing.
Maybe it is a slow healing.
I'll wake when it's through.


Gathering more words
for my curio cabinet
of better phrases.


Bypassing the pleebs,
The technocratic elite
splice what's left of life.


Two cats sleep under
my wingback chair while I write.
There is peace at last.


My brain's diluted,
lost among the molecules.
Reconstitute me.