Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Art of Contest Writing

So, I type here, procrastinating from the short story that is going completely off-tangent and inducing headaches (or maybe it's the humidity here in godforsaken Lafayette, IN...). As I was staring at the aforementioned story, waiting for words to magically appear on my computer screen without my actually having to TYPE them, this little light bulb lit up over my head. It kind of freaked my boyfriend out. And by "kind of," I mean, not at all, because it didn't actually happen, and my boyfriend is so engrossed in his new MLB '09 game that he wouldn't notice if a homicidal maniac came through our front door right now and hacked my screaming body into itty bitty pieces.

Of what, pray tell, did this epiphany consist?


In case that succinct reply was not definitive enough, I will go into a bit more detail.

As some know, I recently entered ktliterary's "prompt contest." (My entry is a bit further down this page.) Not surprisingly, I was not the winner of a coveted free book, but that's okay. I didn't really EXPECT to win. I just thought, "What the hell?"

One of the best feelings, to me, when writing is that rush I get when I've finished a piece of writing. It's like the world becomes a better place, and I will be set for life because I've finished a crappy first draft.

With contests which a person chooses to enter, comes a deadline, comes pushing oneself to finish a piece of writing, rather than lolly-gagging (I have no idea how to spell that word; corrections are welcome) and saying, "I've written five words...that's good for today...where's my beer?"

I'm exaggerating, of course - I don't drink beer.

To conclude this blog entry, I come to a resolution: enter more contests. More writing means, hopefully, that the writing will get better. I think I'm going to write a contest entry every two weeks.

Now, on to working on this difficult short story. I think...I think my characters HATE me. ;)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A la mode

For a guy, it is as American as apple pie to lose your virginity at sixteen. This is when all of my friends did - relating the fulfillment of a long-term relationship or drunken luck at a large party to me the following day.

So here I am, seventeen, the only one of my friends to retain the purity valued in women and scorned in men.

I guess my problem is that I don't have females figured out yet. I'm a nice guy. Or, at least, I'm not an asshole. Yet when I work up the courage to ask a girl out, she tends to be busy. A smile and a half-hearted apology should lessen the blow of rejection though, right?

I'm too old to be a virgin. So, since I'm not charming/asshole/nice/Robert Pattinson clone enough to seduce my peers, it is time for more drastic measures.

* * * *

"Room 13? Are you serious?" I ask. Not that I'm superstitious, but it doesn't indicate a long, fulfilling sex life, to lose one's virginity in a motel room of an unlucky number. "I thought motels skipped 13."

"Relax, kid,"Trixie says, fidgeting with her shiny gold top. With a name like Trixie, which she assures me is her real name, no matter how many times I ask, a person has to wonder if her parents foresaw what her career would be. "It's just a room. It doesn't mean anything."

I have to wonder, for a second, if Trixie maliciously picked room 13 to screw with me because I'm just a kid. Then I realize I'm paying her to screw with me, so if she does it in the figurative sense as well, I'm probably getting double my money's worth. We walk to room 13.

It's not really that different from the more expensive hotel rooms I've shared in the past with my parents and younger sister. The carpet's a little more worn, the television's a little older, the bedspread's a weird brownish-purple color.

Trixie leans forward to kiss me, and I feel nervous, suddenly - even though this is what I want. "So, how did you lose your virginity?" I ask her.

She raises her eyebrows. "You do realize you're paying me by the hour, right?"

"Well, yeah. But it's just - too weird, to lose 'it' to some chick I don't even know."

"Okay. If you must know - I was raped. Under a stairwell during a school assembly. Other students were cheering while a guy I knew took advantage of the fact that they wouldn't notice my screams."

"Really?" I ask.

"Nah. I lifted that story from a movie," she says, smiling. "Do you mind if I smoke?" I shake my head. She lifts a slender white cigarette to her mouth, lights, and inhales deeply. "What does it matter where I lost my virginity, or who I am? You know where I end up, so it's not a happy story."

"I'm sorry."

"No you're not. If I didn't have an unhappy story, you wouldn't be about to get laid."

I nod my head. She's right.

"So - are we done with this 'getting to know you' shit?" she asks, placing her purse on a square table to the left of the door.

I take a deep breath. "Yeah. I'm ready."

She kisses me, with firm pressure, with her soft mouth, and I taste the smoke that lingers in her mouth.

* * * *

"So, kid, do you feel different?" Trixie asks.

"I'm not a kid," I answer.

"Sex doesn't make you a man," Trixie says, lighting another cigarette.

"I know." I find my pants on the floor, and retrieve my wallet. As I count out the proper number of bills, I say, "I do feel different. Not grown up, but...okay with myself."

"That's good, kid. Let's hope it's not just afterglow." She takes the money from my outstretched hand and walks out of the motel room.

The room's still paid for a half-hour. I turn on the television, and sit against the headrest of the bed.

*This story is a piece written in response to the kt literary blog. I hope you enjoyed it.

The Question

The idea that "There is no such thing as a stupid question" is well-known, and often said. How much truth there is in the stated idea, however, is another matter.

I, personally, think that it is the sign of an intelligent person to ask questions if you need to gain knowledge. I also, however, contend that there IS such a thing as stupid questions.

I was asked one the other day. One of the stupidest questions I've ever heard, in the most condescending manner.

At the moment, one of my jobs is at Coldstone Creamery. For those who have never been there, let me say that the point in going to Coldstone is to get your ice cream with toppings mixed-in. You can watch us mix the toppings in on this cold slab, and you get toppings in every bite, etc.

So this girl got some ice cream the other day, and one of the toppings in it was whipped cream. Whipped cream is one of those finicky items - so I asked her if she wanted the whipped cream mixed in, or on top. She chose on top.

Then: "Why would anyone want whipped cream inside?"

To begin with, this is a poorly phrased question. Inside what? Inside the store? Inside the universe? Inside your mouth? Presumably, she meant inside of the ice cream. Still, a poorly worded question is a poorly worded question.

I will admit, my response to her was less intelligent than could be desired. "Um...(shrug) some people like it mixed in their ice cream, and some like it on top. (Pause) It's just a matter of preference. (Longer pause) The whipped cream makes the ice cream fluffy."

All factual statements, and I was slightly thrown off by the question, which seemed idiotic to me, but not one of my strongest moments.

I restated something which was obvious. I indicated that the preference might somehow be connected to texture.

Overall, I could not be rude to the girl who asked me this question - but really, the obvious, smart ass replies to her question would be the most correct.

"Why not?"

"Why do YOU like whipped cream on top?"

"Does it matter? Do people always desire things that make sense?"

What thinking over this matter really leads me to think of, however, is dialogue.

In writing, stupid questions can help the story, effectively portray character, etc. And the answers are just as important - and hopefully, better than mine was the other day.

Do YOU have a funny, stupid question? Share it in the comments.