Writer’s Workshop #5 – “Let’s Dance”

Disclaimer: I went in . . . really hard on the “I’m going to start posting whatever day of the week” thing. If this is your first time hearing this, yes, expect posts on days other than Monday. My work schedule continues to demand flexibility from the rest of my life, so I’m now officially posting on whatever day I have off. I will always aim for “before the weekend” though.

Anyway, thanks for popping in for a read!

 

The other day, I was texting a friend.

She was bored at work, and I, being the world’s biggest enabler, suggested, “Why not try a little writing?”

She perked up, totally went for it . . . and asked me for writing prompts.

Huh . . . It’s not like I have something against writing prompts, but I never do them. Even when they’re posed to me, I have a hard time working on one instead of just gravitating toward a WIP.

So, with that said, I’ve definitely never made one up.

Still, this friend is “The Best Person in the World” on my phone, so I wasn’t going to let her down.

I came up with two prompts . . . both of which came easily, to my surprise.

  1. Your favorite character from the book you’re reading walks into you job. Sure, it could be someone who looks like them . . . but you can’t shake the feeling it’s really them. Is there some way to find out? Some way to ask without being rude or weird?
  2. A living, breathing ostrich walks into your job. No one else sees it, but maybe that’s because it seems tame; it’s not squawking or running around. In fact, it’s just standing there, calmly looking around before expectantly looking at you. There’s a note tied to its neck.

My friend did the first prompt, which she left off with a cliffhanger I’m still curious about.

But, me? I’ve decided I have to do the ostrich prompt. Enjoy.

~~~

It was often quiet at the reception desk. Hours would pass with only the occasional phone call — people ringing to ask the same three questions. After long enough, reception started to feel like its own pocket dimension; was there really an outside? Did people ever see each other, or did they just call to ask, “When are you closing today?”

“6PM, sir/ma’am.”

“Okay! Thanks!”

I mean, what else would people say to each other? Louis wondered.

And that’s when the doors beside the reception desk banged open — the antechamber giving Louis a chance to jump awake and straighten his shirt. Some other poor soul had stumbled into this quiet hell, and Louis was determined to at least nod to them.

But, when he looked up with a casual smirk, there was an ostrich standing at his desk.

Louis went wide-eyed and leaned back. Ages previous, he’d been in the hallway of the Bronx Zoo’s education department when a kangaroo had walked out and started aggressively gnawing at his shoe laces. It hadn’t actually hurt him, but it could’ve. It was big enough . . .

. . . and this was a giant bird. It was looking down at him, triggering his fear of cassowaries.

Only . . . the longer Louis stared, the calmer this ostrich seemed. The quieter. He glanced at the security desk, where an officer sat, staring at a screen of camera feeds. She hadn’t even turned around. Why? Did she not hear it?

Or am I . . . hallucinating this ostrich?

With a deep breath, Louis nodded to the silent creature.

And it quirked its head to one side — a small gesture that unsettled the pink bow around its neck just enough for Louis to realize it wasn’t a bow at all.

“Is –,” Louis began without thinking. Rule #1 of Being Crazy: At least try not to be crazy in public. If the ostrich wasn’t there, he’d be talking to an empty office.

Thankfully, the security officer was still staring at her camera feeds.

Quietly, Louis waved the ostrich closer.

There was something tied to its neck.

Careful, gentle, Louis reached up and untied a small roll of parchment. He wanted to ask the ostrich, “For me?” but it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t — he was going to read it regardless.

As quietly as he could, he unrolled the parchment, and squinted at words in a neat, flowing hand.

“Let’s dance.”

Music came on. A simple jam of loud, obnoxious synth bass on a five second loop.

The ostrich started bobbing its head to the beat. Then started doing ungraceful hops around the reception desk.

Louis narrowed his eyes. No . . . I refuse to believe I’m this crazy.

When the ostrich started squawking, the security officer spun around, cried out, and jumped to her feet, cursing. She rushed off, shouting into her radio . . .

. . . as the antechamber door banged open . . .

. . . and Louis jumped awake, straightened his shirt, looked up.

His relief was smirking at him. “Lunch time, dude.”

As he stood, Louis saw a feather on the floor, caught in the breeze from outside. It was obviously a pigeon feather.

But Louis still smiled as his dumb kid brain gasped, wide-eyed. “It wasn’t a dream!”

~~~

Well, there it is. The first writing prompt I’ve ever committed to. Really, it was just another opportunity for me to write something weird, so how could I pass it up?

I hope you enjoyed this one, and, as always, thank you so much just for passing by and giving me a read.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

May your dreams tonight be filled with dancing animals. And, as always, write well.

 

Writer’s Workshop #3 – Crazy, Teddy Bear-Headlock Lady

I’d just sat down for coffee and a bagel when she walked in. A woman in her 20’s, hair in a wiry bun at the top of her head, wearing a fuschia coat that was too baggy for her stick thin body.

At first, I assumed she had an intellectual disability. If she had, it would’ve meant she was functional–out and about on her own–which is always a nice thing to see. My mother has taught children with learning disabilities for decades, a job focused on teaching disabled kids how to function in casual society.

At first, I also assumed she was nice–possibly because of the pink coat.

But then she opened her mouth.

“I don’t have time for this shit!” she belted, in a voice that made it clear she had no disability. That this was just a woman in her 20’s, pissed that no one was at the counter when she walked in.

That’s when I noticed the first teddy bear. It was clamped under her right arm in a tight headlock.

Another man might have thought she was taking that bear someplace–that it was a gift for a child, maybe–but I spotted a second teddy bear immediately, this one grasped by its face in one of her hands, a talon of thin fingers constricting its button nose.

She kept cursing, walking back and forth along the length of my local Dunkin Donuts / Taco Bell combo.

And I, being a New Yorker, just set in on my bagel. Not saying anything, not telling her to simmer down.

Because I’m also a New Yorker. And a weirdo, acutely aware in that moment that I was wearing a t-shirt with a giant, smiling cat on it, rosy-cheeked as it thought of a burning building. It is not the most embarrassing shirt I’ve ever worn, but it’s close. And yet, I was still outside, wearing it. Not caring. Because I’m a New Yorker. I’ve seen people do worse things than this woman, wear worse things than my shirt, and not a one of them had been actionably crazy.

We’re just a bizarre city.

One bite of my bagel, one sip of my coffee, and she was gone, disturbing no one–never really making a scene.

And a half hour later, while I was in F.Y.E., the bell for the front door chimed. The employees at the counter let up a little cheer–a fond greeting. I looked up from the Nuka Cola shirt I was about to buy, and there she was, smiling, waving, both teddy bears still clamped close to her body.

I smiled.

~~~

Thanks for reading!

If you’re a regular, I appreciate you stopping by again. If you liked what you read, please drop a Like–it helps me determine what my readers enjoy on here.

If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

But no matter what you do, no matter where you come from, thanks for checking out my site. And, as always, write well.

Writer’s Workshop #2 – The Quintessential Cat

Hi there, and welcome back to the Writer’s Workshop.

For today’s edition, I thought I’d depart from tasting things (my memory of roman nougat’s Pink 12 flavor from last week is still too fresh in my mind).

Instead, I’m going visual this week, focusing on reading emotions.

Now, full disclosure, I’d been intending to go to the MoMA and workshop a particular piece that heavily influenced my early fantasy work, but I didn’t get my days off last week and didn’t want to sacrifice a few writing hours to go downtown. Especially when today’s also laundry day.

So, instead, I decided to take the challenge of fully describing something that has a complex personality . . .

. . . but also doesn’t talk.

Why? Because I have a completely non-expressive familiar in my current WIP, so trying to describe my cat, Kendra, in a way that does her justice, feels like a relevant challenge.

Here we go.

~~~

She was a black and white ball of fur and contradictions. In that way, the exact kind of cat that made people dislike cats.

She loved to be pet, but only on her terms. She never bit, clawed, or snapped at anyone, too sweet for that. But if you tried to pet her more than she wanted at a given moment, she’d give up on you. It was the only way to put it; unwilling to give you a second chance, her green eyes would roll away, looking at nothing, following it out of the room, even if she’d run to you seconds before, eager for a petting.

She’d give you an oddly gentle death stare if you pressed your face against her, trying to emulate cat affection–potentially offensive, in her case.

And if you glomped her, she would jump to outraged confusion.

All of those emotions played out on a face of strong features that never moved, her feelings expressed only by a lifting and lowering of her eyelids. If they were wide open, it meant she was surprised, confused, or curious. At 75% open, she was comfortable, tired, or sleepily wondering why I just glomped her. 50% or lower, she was enjoying being pet, or already deep in a dream about ignoring someone who wanted to pet her.

But, naturally for such a cat, she loved having those dreams while cuddling with her human as they slept. As if she wanted to love, but only when no one was awake to see it.

~~~

I wound up posting this a later in the day than usual because I kept trying to get a picture of Kendra for a feature image. She wasn’t having it. Surprise, surprise.

Gotta be honest here . . . That wasn’t hard at all. I feel like I basically just ranted about my cat for a moment, although some of the descriptions were fun.

Regardless, it was okay practice for describing the personality of something that barely emotes–a reminder that you have to rely on such a thing’s actions to illustrate its personality. And that, regardless of how inaccurate they may be, guesses at such a thing’s intentions help illustrate how the viewer relates to said thing.

I’ll take it. Next week, however, it’s challenging workshop or bust. I will get to the MoMA.

But, for now, thanks for reading. And, as always, write well.

Writer’s Workshop #1 – A Box of Discounted Chocolates

It’s Fuck It Wednesday.

What’s that? Never heard of it? Well, let me enlighten you. Fuck It _____day is the day after Valentine’s Day. A day when all of the romance is over, and what matters is that Valentine’s Day chocolate is super discounted. And hey, maybe you’re on a diet.

But eh. Fuck it.

Why am telling you this? Well, I woke up today with an intense urge to turn one of my writing habits into an ongoing series here on the site.

You see, sometimes, I want to write, but I don’t have my WIP handy. At those times, I buckle down and write something insubstantial anyway, just for practice. As a really intense editor, one of my favorite aspects of writing is problem solving, so I often take these WIP-less moments to try to describe something I see in one clear, evocative sentence. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

But either way, I’m here today, on Fuck It Wednesday, to share a box of chocolates with you by trying to describe a few pieces in as few sentences as I can. Just to warm up before the day’s writing session.

My rules: I’m going to take more than one sentence here, because I think it’ll make for a better read. I’m also going to pretend I don’t know what some pieces are, because I’m a fantasy writer, not a food critic; my entire deal is describing new, strange things, not reporting on the quality of $9 nougat.

My hope: I get the one really, really gross piece before I’m done.

Let’s get to it.

First Piece:

wwi-firstpiece

Immediately, he knew he’d made a mistake. The first bite was anti-flavor embodied, coming in slow rushes as he chewed, making his own mouth betray him. There was chocolate, yes, but inside of it waited a clinging mass of chemicals. It tasted like a color. He decided that color was Pink 12, and somewhere, in the heart of a factory, a machine had been too generous with it.

Comments: Oh God. That was it–immediately. I got the gross one. I think it was supposed to be cherry, but it never is. Ugh.

Wait. Hold on. The box has one of those cheat sheets . . . “Roman Nougat.” There it is. When in Rome, eat disgusting candy.

Okay. Moving on.

Second Piece:

ww1-secondpiece

He expected to bite it, but broke it with his teeth instead. A fragile piece of candy that was oddly mute. Safe. Meant to be a buffer between him and its brethren, perhaps, but incapable of impressing on its own, without a doubt. It was only arguably remarkable in the shadow of other chocolates.

A strange thing for a piece of candy, he thought.

Comments: I think that was nougat? Wait. Checking the cheat sheet. “Chocolate Butter Cream.” Hmm. If you say so.

By the way, it feels weird to be giving this much attention to a box of chocolates. But, to be honest, I had no idea what I was going to write for this second chocolate, so at least I’m actually warming up.

Third Piece:

ww1-thirdpiece

It refused to be eaten.

He tried his best, even mouthing a determined grunt as the chocolate fought back. Eventually, he won, rewarded with a mouthful of chewy molasses, clinging to his teeth so long that he wasn’t sure the chewing was ever truly over.

Comments: That one was clearly caramel, so the challenge was not just saying, “It’s caramel.”

Although I’m finding it interesting that I’m getting weird with all of these. I guess it’s just my reflex to make descriptions strange? To personify chocolate and make it contentious?

Whatever. I’m having fun.

Last Piece:

ww1-lastpiece

He was off guard the moment he started chewing.

The candy wasn’t bad, but he had no idea what was in it. No, it was somehow worse than that. The candy didn’t want him to know what it was. There was a crunchy bit that made him think of almonds, but there was only the one–a ghost in a sharp affair of other flavors, all of them rushing in, too strong for him to taste anything but sweet.

Comments: Oh yeah, that’s my last piece. I’m assuming it was almond something? . . . “Chocolate . . . Butter Cream.” What the hell? Well, that was the last thing I expected to happen here. I realize now that this piece does look like the second, but they genuinely tasted really different.

Maybe that means the second piece of roman nougat isn’t as vile? I’m not gonna find out.

This last piece says a lot about paying attention to individuals in a group. Of not assuming that one leaf, for example, will look exactly like another leaf. I’m a big fan of paying too much attention to everything, so I’m glad to put an admittedly bizarre example of uniqueness out there–especially because experiencing it was so easy to miss.

Maybe I’m just being weird, but I would’ve had a much more boring experience if I’d just looked at the cheat sheet and known this last piece was chocolate butter cream before eating it. I’m glad I didn’t.

Especially because I think that, as humans, we naturally do that all the time. We know that each leaf is different, but we dismiss them as identical on a daily basis. I don’t want to get all meta here though, so I’ll just say this:

Don’t forget the small details. They’re beautiful and they matter.

~~~

And also, if you have a box of chocolates, why not have an existential crisis over it? That would make a weird afternoon, you say? I agree.

But eh. Fuck it.

As always, thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this one; there will be more Writer Workshops in the future for sure.

Until then, thanks for passing by. And, as always, write well.