Wednesday, March 31, 2010

First Sentence, Non Sequitur, Last Straw

From The Writers Toolbox

None of these were read ahead of time. I read all of them as they came up. I got lucky on the last one.

Part I: First Sentence: After only two months, Helen decided to become an exotic dancer.

After only two months, Helen decided to become an exotic dancer. Her job at the grocery store just wasn’t paying enough to make ends meet. All she could think about was her son, Jesse, who was already eating two meals a day at school. And it was starting to show. Poor Jesse had gained twenty pounds from the USDA approved menus and physical education had been cut back considerably due to budgetary concerns but Helen just couldn’t afford to buy healthy food to send to school with him. They already relied on the local food bank for many of their groceries which didn’t offer much in the way of healthy alternatives either.

As she stood outside of the gentlemen’s club, Helen thought back to her last day at her old job for a major corporation.

“I’m sorry, Helen,” said Bob, the outside consultant brought in to “trim the fat” at the company. “Times are tough all around. It’s nothing personal.”

“Bullshit!” she had said to him fiercely. “I’m no idiot. This company has been making record profits for the last five years. It’s stock value has never been higher. You’re not firing us because times are tough, you’re firing us just to push the stock price a few points higher. You’re firing us so some suit upstairs can get a fat bonus for making the company more efficient when in reality he’s just throwing people out on the street.”

Part II: Non Sequitur: We were drinking Champagne and losing our shirts.

“We were drinking Champagne and losing our shirts,” she said to the owner of the club during her interview, telling him about the girls night out she had with some of her other fired coworkers. “We all talked about what other jobs were out there and some of the girls had mentioned that they did some dancing when they were in college. I never thought I would even consider something like that but I’ve taken pretty good care of myself over the years so now I think it’s time to just go for it.”

“Well, Helen,” said the owner. “You’re a very pretty girl. Would you like to get on stage and dance for me?”

“Sure,” said Helen with mock confidence. What the hell am I doing? she thought. She had done some research on exotic dancing, watched some videos and put together a routine that she thought might get her in the door. She approached the DJ and asked him if he had the song that she wanted to dance to--she brought a CD with her in case he didn’t--he did.

She went back stage and changed into her outfit. She waited until the song started then mustered up the courage to walk out onto the stage. She was so self conscious and it showed. She tried her hardest to be sexy and confident but Helen, despite her good looks, just couldn’t get into the routine. She briefly made eye contact with the owner, who did not look impressed. Before the song even ended, she stopped dancing and said, “I’m sorry I wasted your time.” She quickly turned around and ran back stage, almost in tears.

Part III: Last Straw: the time he caught a fly ball.

Helen was sitting in the living room of her small apartment crying when Jesse came home from school.

“Mom?” he said.

She quickly wiped away her tears and tried to compose herself. “Hey, kiddo,” she said. “How was school?”

“Okay. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

Jesse wasn’t convinced. He knew that times were tough for his mom. His dad was nowhere in the picture but he was okay with that. He felt that he and his mother were a team even though Helen did everything she could to make sure that Jesse had a normal childhood despite their economic situation. Helen always managed to put up a brave and cheerful front but Jesse always knew when she was frustrated and hurting inside. So he did his part to cheer his mother up as well. “Remember that baseball game last summer? The one with that team from downtown?” He asked.

“Sure, baby,” said Helen.

“I remember you cheering. I could hear you all the way on the other side of the field.”

“I lost my voice.”

They both snickered at the memory. Jesse sat on the couch next to his mom and reminisced about that summer game and the time he caught a fly ball.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Write the address of an apartment or house where you once lived. Close your eyes and put yourself back there, experiencing it with all your senses, not neglecting smell, touch and sound. Walk through it. Write in detail a description of the place. Now write something that happened there once...

3460 Brinker Avenue, Ogden, Utah. My first apartment. It was a studio apartment in the same complex my late mother once lived in when she was a student at Weber State University. I can’t think of a distinct smell in the place but it certainly smelled like whatever I was cooking for dinner. My bed was next to the window. My desk next to that. I honestly can’t recall too much detail because the place was almost always a mess.

I dated a girl who lived in the same building. She would call me when I wasn’t home and leave long messages on my answering machine. I loved listening to them. One evening I was listening to one of her messages and responding to it out loud. “I miss you too, baby.” “I can’t wait to see you.” I didn’t know it but she was right outside of my apartment and my window was open and she was listening to me listening to her.

On another evening she and I were talking on the phone. I was in my apartment, she was on her cell as she was driving home. When she told me that she was getting close to home I walked outside so I could see her pulling up and we kept talking to each other the whole time. Even after she parked her car and she climbed the stairs. We were maybe ten feet away from each other before we hung up.

One evening she was mad at me and she toilet papered my car. Not just with toilet paper but also with chocolate sauce. We talked out our problems and she went out with me in the middle of the night to wash my car.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An old exercise from "The Archives"

I wrote this with a friend while we were chatting online one evening.

November 1, 2007 11:42 PM

The makeshift spear pierced the rippling surface of the water and nicked the tail fin of a passing fish.

“Damn it!” said Kevin. He’d been struggling to get just one fish for the better part of three hours. The last of the rations from the plane wreckage ran out four days ago and Jesse wasn’t looking very good, huddling under a tree on shore shivering despite the intense heat and humidity. They figured it was probably the insect bite that caused his illness. It flew away before they had a chance to swat it. It was probably a half inch long, purple with green wings. It was very beautiful. Would probably have made for some pretty good fish bait, thought Kevin. Though he thought that if he did see another one he would try and catch it and hold onto it. If--no,when--they were rescued he could take it with them to show whatever doctor would wind up treating Jesse. Maybe they would recognize it and say, “I’ve got the cure for that kind of bug bite right here!”

Kevin let go of the thought and set his mind back on the task of finding breakfast. More like brunch now, he thought. He peered through the rippling surface and saw a fish swimming against the current. It made no progress, just stood in the same place over the river bed as it calmly swam. Kevin threw the spear as hard as he could and managed to pierce the fish right through its gills.

“Ha HA!” yelled Kevin. “I got one!” He ran to the spear and picked it up out of the water, the fish dangling on the end, it’s fins flailing about trying to swim through the unfamiliar medium that was the damp air of the jungle. It gasped as it started to drown in the air rushing by its body as Kevin ran back to shore, stumbling through the water.

Jesse’s eyes had cracked open when he heard Kevin’s shout of success. They opened again as Kevin knelt beside him and spoke, “I got a fish, Jesse. Let’s get back to camp so we can clean it. I promise it’ll be a lot better than those fresh water shrimp we found... and a whole lot bigger.” Jesse managed to crack a smile, giving Kevin some encouragement as he put his arm under Jesse to help him up to his feet so they could shuffle over to their camp about a hundred yards away.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Another game from "The Writer's Toolbox": Protagonist, Goal, Obstacle, Action

Protagonist: Lauri the famous actress
Goal: To find true love
Obstacle: Irene the temptress
Action: Learns to drive

A thump against the bumper and the irritating sound of plastic scraping against asphault filled the cabin of the Humvee.

“You’re the first person I’ve known to get a traffic cone stuck in the wheelwell of this thing,” said the driving instructor.

“Sorry,” said Lauri.”I didn’t see it. We’re so high in this thing.” Lauri couldn’t tell the instructor the truth. That she was distracted by Irene on the side of the course. Distracted because Irene was clearly making moves on Jack, another actor learning to drive military vehicles for an upcoming action film. She had only met Jack that morning but she really liked him. And her heart sank as soon as she saw Irene enter the classroom. They had worked together on other projects and Irene, sultry, voluptuous Irene; Irene the temptress--Irene the succubus was more like it--always made a beeline for the most attractive actor on the set. Sometimes Laurie even entertained the thought that Irene only went after the men that Laurie herself showed an interest in. Is there a female equivalent to a cock-blocker? thought Laurie.

“Little girl, you need to get your mind on the situation at hand,” said the instructor, a man who claimed to be a former Army drill instructor.

“Uh,” said Laurie,”Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”

“Don’t call me ‘Sir,’ I WORK for a living.”

“Yes, Sir... uh...I mean, what’s your name again?”

The instructor told her but she didn’t hear him, they were about to start their third lap on the course and were about to pass Irene and Jack again. Laurie could see Irene hanging all over Jack, laughing and talking. For the briefest of moments Laurie considered having an “accident” and running over Irene but she didn’t want to hurt Jack.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

From Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones"

Write about your morning...

My dog, Philip, sleeps with me almost every night. Last night was no exception. I don’t know how he knows but he seems to always sense when I’m awake. Evening if I’m still lying down with my eyes closed. He just knows. Sometimes he looks at me and I open my eyes and see him staring me down as if he’s saying, “Well? Are you going to let me out or not?” This morning I opened my eyes and saw him standing at the door just looking at it. I’m not sure if it was his desire to go outside or the fact that we heard our roommate Warren rustling around in the kitchen. I wanted to stay in bed but I knew I just wasn’t sleepy enough anymore to justify it.

“I’m up,” I said to myself, as I usually do every morning. It seems that saying it out loud validates the fact that I am indeed awake and need to start my day.

I got out of bed, which got Phil’s attention. He was very excited to go outside and it seemed like he couldn’t wait for me to get dressed and out the door.

Phil needed no motivation to make it to the back door. Most of the time, when I “let” him out for his evening constitutional, I pretty much have to pick him up and place him out of the back door. Sometimes I can lure him there with a cookie. Of course, when he comes in after that, “We’re in for the night.”

Warren decided to make waffles this morning and gave me the first four piping hot out of the iron. It’s great having a roommate who loves to cook. It certainly makes up for the little idocyncracies that Justin and I noticed when Warren first moved in.

Friday, January 15, 2010

From "The Writer's Toolbox"

We were given a sentence and told start writing a story with it. After a few minutes, we were given another sentence and had to integrate it into the story. A few minutes later, we were given a final sentence and again had to integrate it into the story.

“The only way John could pass the exam was by cheating.”

It tore him up inside. He took such pride in his study skills and now he was kicking himself for giving in to his roommate's pleading to go to a party.

“I don’t want to go by myself,” Cal had said. “I need a wingman.”

John couldn’t believe he had been taken in by that. It wasn’t even flattering. Wingman. Sidekick. Mascot. What’s the difference? By the time he realized that Cal really didn’t need any help finding someone to hook up with at the party, John was halfway through a game of beer pong.

“She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober for a change.”

John sat at the bar nursing his intense hangover.

“John?” she said. John turned and saw her come into focus. It was Lydia, a former girlfriend that he remained on friendly terms with. “What are you doing here?”

John looked around himself, confused. “I’m not entirely sure.”

“...the way Herb defrosted the refrigerator...”

The key turned in the apartment door and John walked in with Lydia. “Thanks for the ride,” he said.

“No problem,” said Lydia. “You don’t remember anything?”

“Only that I have an exam this afternoon and I’m probably not going to pass it. Can I get you anything to eat or drink?”

“I could go for a soda.”

John walked to the fridge and opened the door. He was greeted by a wave of warm, sour air.

I didn't get to use that last sentence.

Writing Exercises

I've decided to create a blog for my writing exercises. Every week I meet with some fellow writers so we can encourage and critique each other on our writing but, most importantly, so we can dedicate--at the very least--an hour or so of our week to creative writing.

We meet at Diva's Cupcakes and Coffee and usually get something to drink or eat, chat for a few minutes and then do a writing exercise to get the juices flowing. After that, we dedicate ourselves to our projects.

From here on out, I'll be sharing my exercises here. Accept them for whatever they may be worth, writing that's off the cuff and inspired only by the moment.


-Joe Puente