Sunday, July 20, 2014

Have You Ever...


Have you ever…

“Have you ever written a letter so filled with passionate love that, years later, you simply cannot believe it was you who wrote it?” asked the old man, the most recent addition to the prison system.

“Nope… Where I come from we don’t write love letters. Heck, we don’t write at all,” replied the seasoned cellmate. “Will you write her love letters now that you’re here?”

The old man sighed so deeply that his cellmate thought he was having a heart attack.

“You killed her, didn’t you?” asked the cellmate.

“Love…” continued the old man. And he looked outside nostalgically.
100 Word Stories

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Writing Challenge: 30 Minutes, 500 Words at a Time!

Milk Wood

I get asked frequently whether the Writing Challenge I host Saturdays is a Dash. This happens because there is indeed a Dash taking place throughout the week.

In the Dash, people have 15 minutes to write a story/poem on the prompt provided by the host.

My Writing Challenge is not like that. So, what is my event all about? Let's see!

The Writing Challenge is a goal-oriented writing event. 30 minutes, 500 words!

From the Virtual Writers website"you can make a long story short by taking small disciplined steps every day, instead of sitting idly by waiting for inspiration to strike."

So, the aim of this event is to gear writers, bloggers and anyone who enjoys writing towards getting work done. No Real Life, no Second Life (SL) meddling in. This is the time to focus and write.

We gather at Milk Wood in SL, home to the inworld group of the Virtual Writers, every Saturday at 11am SLT for 30 minutes of frantic writing.

This is an event for all writers! It doesn't really matter what you are working on, your latest book, short-story, blog post, newspaper article or even your roleplay character. What matters is to get to 500 words.

Yes, that is very difficult. Sometimes we simply get stuck. However, the idea is to push you to write, no stopping and thinking, no procrastinating. Just get those words down on a piece of paper (or computer screen!) as fast as you can, as many as you can.

"What if I can't get unstuck?" you may ask. Well, to help bypass that difficulty, I suggest a prompt at the beginning of each event. This prompt is taken from the Virtual Writers prompts page.

At the end of the event, many ask me if they should share what they've written (as it's done at the Dash). You can! It's not a "must", but if you'd like to share for the sake of sharing or if you'd like to get some feedback on your writing, we'll be glad to read what you've written. 

I must add that many prefer not to share their work inworld due to Linden Lab's ToS, especially the Content License and Intellectual Property Rights section. I'll leave it up to you!

Again, the goal is to write, to get unstuck and write as much as you can! 
30 minutes, 500 words!
Join us!

What is the 500 Word Challenge?
Virtual Writers Inc. inworld group
Virtual Writers Inc. owner, Harriet Gausman.

Day: Saturdays
Time: 11am SLT/PDT (Pacific US)
Location: Milk Wood in SL

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Magic Words

Betelgeuse 5

The owner of a store in a terrible neighborhood placed a stories dispenser next to a candy dispenser. The first was free, the other wasn’t.

He encouraged his clients to grab a story, but they just smiled and took candy instead.

One day, a young woman walked in. She seemed undecided.

“Are the stories for free?”

“They are,” he replied, delighted.

The young woman rotated the button and a small paper came out.

“Is it a good story?”

She smiled.

Many people started dropping by and, as unrealistic as it might seem, they began to smile a lot more too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Milk Wood
"Learning never exhausts the mind." 
Leonardo da Vinci


April 28 - June 20 - Start Writing Fiction - Review
June 8 - August 1 - Forensic Psychology
June 23 -July 11 - Good Brain, Bad Brain: Basics

Sunday, July 6, 2014


Avatar Games

The Neuroscience teacher was considered quite the genius. However, he lacked the most basic speaking skills.

“This sausage-shaped thing is called myelin,” said the teacher pointing at a diagram of a neuron. “When it’s gone… bzzzt.”

One day, as he prepared to start the class, someone screamed BZZZZZZZZZZZZT from the back row. All students erupted in hysterical laughter.

The teacher slowly walked towards his desk, pulled a button-shaped thing from inside a drawer and hovered a finger over it.

From that day onwards, before sitting down, the whole class would anxiously examine their chairs while the Neuroscience teacher snickered, waiting.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Story Waiting to Happen

The Far Away

... The Far Away (click here for full text).

This post is part of a series of monthly articles for the Virtual Writers Inc. website about sims in Second Life that could be inspiring for writers. My goal is to trigger ideas for new stories, new characters and new settings. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 29, 2014



If there is any expression I hate is the proverbial “temper, temper”. I have trouble dealing with self-righteous people who wave the flag of knowing-it-all and when they add that sanctimonious “temper, temper”, I wonder how a tragic fatality doesn’t inevitably occur.
Every now and then, there is someone who throws a single “temper” at me, going from a low pitched beginning to a dragged high pitched ending. I’m not really sure which is worse, to be honest.
So, to avoid losing my temper with all this temper business, I’ll wrap up, thinking that perhaps I should’ve written about… swords!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Torno Kohime Foundation

Final submission to
the MOOC Writing Fiction course, running between April 28 and June 22.


It was hard to believe that this woman in her mid-thirties, looking rather fragile, constantly staring at the floor, could’ve killed her mother in such a vicious way. For weeks, a parade of witnesses testified before two rows of shocked jurors about the horrors she perpetrated.

Natasha was strongly advised not to testify, but she did sit on the stand, swore she would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She uttered a few well rehearsed incoherent sentences, a few unintelligible words and absolutely no reply to any of the questions either the prosecution or the defense asked her.

At the end of each incomprehensible answer, she smiled the most captivating smile at the perplexed jurors. When her defense attorney threw his hands in the air for dramatic effect, her fate was decided. 

That smile, that innocent-looking deviously misleading smile, saved her from the electric chair. The psychiatric ward would become her home for the rest of her life.

As time went by, she grew impatient. She still had unfinished business to take care of outside and being caught by that smug rookie detective was definitely an unexpected drawback.

Determined to find a way out, she progressively shook off the image of being a meek, broken woman who struggled with abuse all her life and who, in a moment of sudden anger, killed her mother. She started metamorphosing back into her fierce and daunting self without anyone noticing.

Talking to the shrink seemed to help appease the growing demons inside. 

She told him about her past, her obsessively controlling and abusive cop father, at whose hands the kids suffered some of the most sickening punishments. He would yell at them to stand up for themselves, but he would beat them up if they ever did. 

She told him about her small sister who was found dead in her bed, some sudden breathing problem, they said. Natasha knew exactly what happened. She heard it all. She was only seven years old and her sister, four. 

She told him about her mother who never took the kids’ side, an accusatory tone fluttering in each sentence, the same accusatory tone Natasha fluttered at her mother the moment she did it. It took her a lifetime to prepare for that homicidal moment, but she didn’t tell the shrink about that.

The past, although increasingly distant and crowded by bizarre plans and disastrous certainties, reminded Natasha that moving along, day after day, was her only chance. 

The long corridors of the ward had a slightly disturbing feel of childishness as she walked from end to end, wearing her shinny long black hair in a tight braid, the sides of her head carefully shaven, her sneakers screeching on the bare floor. 

There were drawings of trees and flowers, and elephants and dolls and all sorts of things that would never fit in a corridor, she fabulated. “Aren’t these drawings nice?” she would ask the warden. He nodded. There were no drawings, only the cold whiteness of aseptic walls, but that didn’t matter. She wanted them to think she was still insane. 

However, there was indeed something on those walls. There was a door. Natasha knew it well, the door under the staircase, the door no one else remembered, her way out of there. She found this door by accident when looking for garden supplies. 

Shortly after being sentenced, she took up gardening as one of the occupational therapies the ward offered its patients. A Gothic gardener was something most wardens found quite amusing. She would wear her own black clothes, as patients were allowed to, her short nails painted in a deep black nail polish.

Although it did seem a bit odd, gardening soothed her inner turmoil. She didn’t like flowers though. They would die eventually. She preferred bushes, small trees. They would grow and bloom in their own particular, sometimes peculiar way. Just like her.

Her mind kept coming back to that door. It was partially hidden by an empty cupboard that she could easily slide to one side. She realized that it led to a narrow corridor, probably a discontinued way in for supplies. 

Natasha was almost caught a few times, snooping around under the staircase, but her relentless smile disarmed even the most suspicious warden. For some reason, that clown’s smile, a middle ground between innocence and devilish incoherence, made people think that she was an idiot, that she could not understand things too well. She could. She understood things far better than anyone, even better than most of the staff.

It was paramount though for her to orderly comply with the demands made upon her. She never grumbled; she did as she was told and she always took her medications, the same medications she would orderly and routinely spit out as quickly as she could.

One day, she found herself in the dining room, ducking just in time while a china plate sailed past her and smashed against the wall. Ruby, the most annoying inmate in the ward was causing havoc. She would throw a fit on a regular basis, which included tossing plates in all possible directions for no apparent reason. The wardens tried to catch Ruby, who ran around in circles behind the sofas and the tables and the benches. The patients yelled and screamed and hit their heads with their fists. Some drooled and laughed uncontrollably. 

This routine became quite annoying, however, the confusion, as expected, provided a unique opportunity for Natasha to go to the small door. Finally, it was time. She had gone through this moment over and over again in her mind. She slid out of the room and into the dark corner under the stairs. She was amazed at how smoothly everything went. It took her less than ten minutes to be free again.

The authorities looked for her for months in a frantic urgency, especially when a series of unrelated homicides with male victims caught their attention. There was the yuppie guy at the bar who groped her leg and waved a credit card under her nose. They found the credit card stuffed inside his throat. There was the old man who rubbed himself on her, pretending to reach for the darts stuck on the dart board. They found his eyes turned into two bullseyes. There was the biker dude who wore a black sweaty bandana, who grabbed her braid and pulled her head back to force-kiss her. They found him strangled, the black sweaty bandana waving in the wind. 

She was only doing what she had been taught, anyway. Plus, she was getting ready for that unfinished business she still had to take care of, that pesky matter of her father. 

He did try to visit her back at the psychiatric ward at some point. However, she vehemently refused to see him. Instead, she paid him a visit as soon as she was ready to start a new life. He was found dead, brutally murdered. He too wanted to scream. He too struggled for air when his face was smothered by a pillow. He too died of some sudden breathing problem.

Natasha still wears black jeans and black t-shirts under a black leather jacket, but she cut her braid off and shaved her head completely. She is called Jennifer now. The authorities never caught her again. “After all, tomorrow is another day," she uttered, smiling.


Relevant links:
MOOC, Writing Fiction - Reflections about the course
MOOC Week Two Final Task
MOOC Week Three Writing Task
MOOC Week Five Writing Task
Future Learn

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Water Reserve

Storm was his name. He was a guide at a park.
Storm never missed a day at work.
Storm was an example. Well, except for the hurry. People told him to slow down. He wouldn’t, ever. People told him that they wanted to enjoy the walk. He replied they could enjoy it fast.
Storm rushed through life as quickly as he could, until that day when he decided he needed a change. The midlife crisis, people whispered.
He crossed the street to the park slowly, enjoying the quiet moments before a day’s work and he got hit by a speeding truck.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Skye Elgol

The massive wall had been built to create two worlds, the real and the unreal.

The crowds gathered on one side, effusively enjoying the reassuring calmness. They felt protected.

When the old man placed his cold hand on the wall, a cry of anguish erupted, followed by sheer horror.

At first, there was only a dry muffled sound. Then, as if in slow motion, the wall crumbled in a thousand icy fragments.

The real and the unreal could no longer be distinguished. People no longer had that soothing comfort.

Once more, they were doomed to face reality… and to think.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Unpublished Labor of Hercules

Milk Wood

“Tell me,” the detective uttered.
“I don’t know, sir… She was already dead,” whispered the beggar.
“What? Speak up, man.”
The beggar got closer and whispered a bit more.
As always, the detective stroked his mustache pensively. The beggar did have a point. The victim bore a remarkable resemblance to that writer, something Christa, Christine.
“She was just there...I almost tripped.”
The detective tried talking to the local police, but they went around, scratching their heads, not knowing what to think or say.
“We are doomed,” he mumbled.
It became obvious that now the darn thing would never be finished.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Story Waiting To Happen

Taka no Sakura

... Taka no Sakura (click here for full text).

This post is part of a series of monthly articles for the Virtual Writers about sims in Second Life that could be inspiring for writers. My goal is to trigger ideas for new stories, new characters and new settings. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Skeletons Look So Real

Cerridwens Cauldron

Working at the restaurant was Kip’s bread and butter. He didn’t particularly enjoy being a waiter.
Nevertheless, he was friendly to the customers and people seemed to genuinely like him. But, in essence, his life was boring.
However, every now and then, he felt the lure of the illicit.
When his boss asked him how the restaurant should be decorated for a Friday 13 Scary Night, he knew exactly how.
The result was impressive. The skeletons look so real, said the customers, snickering nervously.
His boss was happy with the extra clientele. And Kip smiled deceitfully, pretending to be human.
100 Word Stories (Prompt: Butter)

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Collins Land

“No one will die on my watch,” barked the cop. “Give yourself up, so we can go home safely.”

The problem was that the man was not going home safely. He would be arrested and sent to jail. “I didn’t do it,” he protested.

“Good. Walk this way and we’ll sort things out.”

When he came out, hands in the air, wearing nothing but filthy clothes, he thought there was hope.

Suddenly someone yelled, “He has a gun.” And a barrage of deafening shots made him collapse.

No gun was found and the real killer was caught two days later.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Nut House Hunger

Collins Land

Event: 500 Word Challenge
Host: Harriet Gausman
Time: 30 mins
Prompt: He ducked just in time as the china plate sailed past him and hit the wall.
MOOC: from 5.7: The serial killer who is an extraordinary gardener in her "free time"...


Natasha ducked just in time as the china plate sailed past her and hit the wall. None of the wardens had foreseen that, coming from Ruby, the soft-spoken, gray-haired elderly patient.

Had it been Natasha, then they would’ve expected it for sure. She was prone to sudden states of extreme irritability. But not this time, this time, she just ducked. Well, not “just”… She immediately felt the urge to wrap her hands around Ruby’s skinny neck and tighten that evil-speaking throat of hers into a total and final silence.

However, Natasha had bigger issues to deal with. Her planned but increasingly annoying stay at the nut house was starting to wear her out.

A few weeks earlier, at the trial, she had uttered a few incoherent sentences, a few unintelligible words and absolutely no reply to any of the questions either the prosecution or the defense asked her. Although she had been strongly advised not to testify, she proudly sat on the stand, swore she would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so helped her God, and smiled the most captivating smile, looking at the horrified jurors. Then she smiled to the judge.

Natasha was convinced it had been the smile, that innocent-looking deviously misleading smile that saved her from the electric chair. When her defense attorney threw his hands in the air for the dramatic effect, he was quite good at that, and asked to approach the bench, the judge had already decided. It would be prudent and advisable to have the accused undergo a thorough psychiatric evaluation.

A few days later, she was visited in jail by a shrink. She told him about her past, her obsessively controlling and abusive father, at whose hands the entire family suffered some of the most sickening punishments. She told him about her mother who never took her side, an accusatory tone in each sentence. She told him about her small sister who was found dead in her bed; they said it had been a sudden death syndrome. Natasha knew what happened. She heard it all. She was only seven years old and her sister, four.

She never smiled while talking to the psychiatrist. It didn’t take long for him write up a report and deliver it to the court. There Natasha would hear the verdict. She would be committed to a mental health facility.

And here she was, ducking just in time while another china plate sailed past her and smashed against the wall. The old broad would have to go, one way or another, perhaps just like she had done it to her mother. Yes… just like that, she thought.

There was a generalized confusion in the recreation room. The plates kept flying, coming from nowhere. The wardens tried to catch Ruby, who ran around in circles behind the sofas and the tables and the benches and the piano. The patients yelled and screamed and hit their heads with their fists. Some drooled and laughed uncontrollably. 

Natasha grew impatient, hoping no one would find the small door. They would block it and destroy her chances of becoming free once more. I must go, she thought. 

She found this door quite accidentally when looking for garden supplies. She had taken up gardening as one of the occupational therapies the hospital offered its patients. 

A Gothic gardener was something most wardens found quite amusing. She would wear the bland cream uniform for patients and her long black braided hair, the sides of her head shaved, her nails painted in a deep shiny black nail polish.

Although it did seem a bit off, gardening soothed her inner turmoil. She loved watching something grow from nothing into a wonderful plant. She didn’t like flowers too much though. They would die eventually. She preferred bushes, small trees. They would grow and grow, and bloom in their own particular, sometimes peculiar ways.

I must go… I must go, she thought. She had spotted the hidden door when her shoulder accidentally hit an empty cupboard that slid slightly to one side. She found out that the small door led to a narrow corridor, probably the way in for supplies. The level the recreation room was located in was the same level of the kitchen. The hospital had previously been a hotel.

Natasha was almost caught a few times, snooping around that narrow corner under the staircase, but her relentless smile disarmed even the most suspicious of the wardens. For some reason, that clown’s smile, a middle ground between innocence and devilish incoherence, made people think that she was an idiot, that she could not understand things too well. She could. She understood things far better than anyone, even better than most of the staff.

That small door would be her way out, back to her hunting grounds. Natasha was hungry again, longing for that sense of completeness of the senses that always appeased her angry fears, the storm growing within.

I must go, but not yet, she thought, not yet. The Ruby issue was still pending. And maybe solving that would satiate her hunger for now.


Character building: The idea here is to use the stereotype (Gothic) and go beyond it, giving the character something a Gothic person would not likely do. Does gardening work with a Gothic-looking character?! Umm... I'm not sure...!

I wonder what would work? I want to show the kill/nurture dichotomy inside of her. A pet? Somehow, I don't see her with a pet... And choosing a crow or a rat would go back to the stereotype of portraying a certain oddity.

I must reshuffle "the cards" and see what comes up. Any ideas? Please, add them in the comments. Thank you!

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Collins Land

Week Three
Make sure you have a strong impression of the characters that will be at the center of the story. Try to write at least 200 words, up to a maximum of 350 words.

Aspects to keep in mind; these will be the review points used by fellow writers:

*How was the central character portrayed and was this portrayal clear and interesting? 
*What made you think this piece was a story and did you want to read on? 
*What were the most, and least, successful aspects of the writing?

Note: The 100 Word Stories Challenge for this week was "Monster". I used the story I wrote for the Challenge as a basis and expanded on it. The end result is  below.


As Natasha walked across the long familiar corridor, her sneakers screeching on the bare floor, she could hear a hasty clock ticking, reverberating against the walls.

The old brittle wallpaper covering these walls reminded her of childhood. There were trees and flowers, and elephants and dolls and all sorts of things that would never fit in a corridor.

She smiled. Now in her mid-thirties, she felt the long corridor stretched much longer behind her than ahead of her. This was her world now, after so much had happened. 

The past, although distant and crowded by bizarre plans and failed certainties, vividly reminded Natasha that moving along that narrow corridor was her only chance. 

The stubborn clock whispered in her ear “step up, Natasha, step up”, and she matched her steps with the ticking, obedient, yet yearning to rebel. 

The elephants lined up, the trees and the flowers too, a welcoming committee in the making.

“Isn’t this wallpaper nice?” she asked the man in white, her long straight black hair caught in a braid of pensive recollections. 

He nodded. There was no wallpaper, only the whiteness of a hundred aseptic walls.

However, Natasha knew about that forgotten emergency door, the door that would be her way out. After all, she did have unfinished matters to take care of.


Collins Land

As she walked across the long corridor, she could hear a hasty clock ticking, reverberating. The old brittle wallpaper covering the walls reminded her of her childhood. There were trees and flowers, and elephants and dolls and all sorts of things. The clock whispered in her ear, step up, and she matched her steps with the ticking of the clock. The elephants lined up, the trees and the flowers too, a welcoming committee in the making. “Isn’t this wallpaper nice?” she asked the man in white. He nodded. There was no wallpaper, only the whiteness of a hundred aseptic walls.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

How Was This Fair?

Water Reserve

Event: 500 Word Challenge
Location: Milk Wood, Second Life 
Host: Lizzie Gudkov
Prompt: "He looked at the tubes and wires and cried silently. How was this fair?"
Time: 30 mins


Peter walked down the corridor, his pace accelerating to match his heartbeat.

He received the news of David’s accident earlier in the morning. A girl, introducing herself as David’s friend, sobbed on the phone for a few minutes before summoning the quietness needed to break the terrible news.

She was unable to provide any detailed information. Yet, amidst the turmoil of tears and sentences chopped in half, Peter found out that his son had been cut off by another car when the traffic lights turned green. As any hot-temped young man, David yelled and waved offenses at the other driver. The man got out of his car and pulled out a gun and shot David.

Peter asked her over and over again where his son had been shot, but that only prompted another wave of sobbing and crying, so he gave up.

During the flight, he couldn’t help thinking that, back then, he should’ve accepted that job in Japan and taken David with him. His son loved The Land of The Rising Sun and always wanted to study there.

However, for Peter, staying was easier than leaving. That happened when his marriage started crumbling; he stayed hanging on to the excuse that David was still so young, not even a teen yet. Years later, when the divorce was final and his life seemed to crumble around him with the financial demise of his company, he still stayed. A prestigious Japanese enterprise tried to hire him, but he refused, alleging his family, by then practically non-existent, needed him.

At seventeen, David moved out of town to go to college and, like his father, stayed away. He then found a job at a start-up company, rented an apartment and most likely found a girlfriend or two.

Now, in his mid-thirties, he never called. David, in his late-sixties, retired and enjoying the freedom of having time and money, didn’t either.

As he approached his son’s hospital room, he slowed down. For the first time in hours, he hesitated. Would he find hope or fatal despair? Would he find his son or a stranger?

His ex-wife Annie, David’s mother, was standing at the door, as if waiting for him, judgmental as always, her arms crossed. “What took you so long?”

He wouldn’t tell her about the four agonizing hours he had to sit in the airplane, waiting for take-off, his legs struggling to survive painful attacks of cramps and sheer helplessness. He wouldn’t tell her about the avalanche of recollections and mixed feelings that assaulted him of David riding his tricycle for the first time, looking as proud as when he rode his Harley out of town into a new life. He wouldn’t tell her about how he loved her back then when she told him she was pregnant. He wouldn’t…

He entered the room and, not even the infinite time he spent getting mentally ready for this precise moment, helped him. He looked at the tubes and wires and started to cry silently.

“David…” His son looked so vulnerable. His face was smashed beyond recognition. Peter wanted to hug him, but he didn’t know how. David was held hostage by a menacing array of medical paraphernalia. How could he hug his son? How could he overcome the gap? How could he put the past behind and save him?

“How can I save you?” he whispered.

Annie sneered. “Save him like you saved your precious whore,” she lashed at him.

A week later, David died peacefully, or so it seemed. The machines were turned off and the comforting beeping that had cradled everyone’s hopes went silent. The funeral was as silent as David’s premature departure.

Annie never shed a tear. It was not the way she grieved. She would cry at home, perhaps even on the flight back. Peter went back home too, a different home in the same town. They took two different flights, Annie insisted on that.

The “whore” was long gone. Well, she wasn’t a whore, she was just a young woman determined to save Peter’s soul. If anyone saved anyone else, it had been her and not him. Lives move in different directions and she moved on as well.

However, the death of his son triggered something in him, an anxiety, an eager and rebellious determination to change. In a totally atypical attitude, he packed a bag, closed his house and bought a ticket to Japan. And he stayed there, never to come back again.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


The Tower by Rebeca Bashly

The ethereal wave invaded the room, its hypnotizing touch swirling softly, at first.

Close your eyes, she thought, before darkness drags you away.

She felt the room twirling around her increasingly. Her shallow breathing sounded like thunder, although it was almost silent.

The wave progressed in a crescendo, speaking in tongues, twisting and turning against the walls, gasping for freedom.

She kept her eyes tightly closed.

Suddenly, the door was flung open. “What’s going on here?” shouted her mother. “Turn the music down right now, young lady.”

That’s when she opened her eyes. Ever so ethereally, the wave died down.


Note: Ethereal Wave is also called Ethereal Dark Wave or Ethereal Goth. “Typical of this kind of music is the use of (…) sound effects like echo and delay. A second typical characteristic is the use of (…) [often] hard-to-decipher lyrical content – and a strong influence of ambient music. The website describes it as being "most characterized by soprano female vocals combined with (...) bass, lead guitar, and drums which creates a surreal, angelic or otherworldly effect”.
Source: Wikipedia -- (visited: April 12 2014)

Monday, May 12, 2014

One Death at a Time


Week Two Final Task

Turn on the radio and take note of the first thing that is mentioned. Use it as the basis for a story of no more than 500 words. Imagine a character, someone who is central to what the story is about. Try to use clear, vivid language so that your reader can see the character. Use some of the characterisation techniques we have talked about so far:

*physical description
*thoughts and inner life
*where the character is located
*the character’s back story
*how the character acts in the world.

You might not wish to include all of these various aspects in your story but you might like to know something about them nonetheless.


An irritatingly persistent rain flooded the streets of New York for several days. Natasha was tense, restless.

Although she was in her mid-thirties, she looked considerably younger. Of average height and normal build, she wore her long straight black hair in a braid, the sides of her head neatly shaved. Black nail polish, black jeans, black t-shirt, and black combat boots, only added to the belligerent look Sean found irresistible.

He met her at a bar the night before. She was by herself. He invited her for a drink. She hinted that she would prefer a quieter place “to talk”. Dangerous looking women always awoke in him a thrill for careless lust. They ended up at his place doing everything but drinking.

The talking happened the next morning. 

“Why?” asked Sean, hugging Natasha, his chin on her right shoulder, both looking outside the window of his posh downtown apartment.

Between them and the window lay a small telephone table. While aligning all the elements, a notepad, a pen, a mail holder, a key dish, and a letter opener, Natasha talked about her life. 

She grew up in a family of abusive parents, dodgy cousins and blurred recollections of vaguely inappropriate situations. She became a nomad. She ran from her family, her small town life, her past. Above all, she ran from herself, but this she never told Sean. She never told him about the feverish need to exorcise that feeling of powerlessness.

“The memory of him keeps me alive,” whispered Natasha in her deep pitched voice.

“Him?” asked Sean, his lips in a childish pout. 

Natasha rambled on and on about a mysterious biker she hooked up with who roamed the highway during the night, committing terrible crimes. She had perfected the art of rambling. Sentences, apparently meaningless, were patched together, gradually shaping an invisible web.

“I’ve never heard of any…” started Sean.

Natasha interrupted him. “Yes…” and tilted her head, revealing the side of her neck. 

He felt this intense desire to kiss her. He turned her around towards him, but for a split second, he couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

“Why, you asked. This is why.” And she plunged the letter opener in his neck, and stepped back, watching the blood gushing out ruthlessly.

Then, Natasha took a long sensuous shower. That always coaxed her back to a certain sense of joy, cleansing her body of those pesky red stains and purging, even if temporarily, her catacomb-like soul filled with unspoken secrets. 

She stepped out of the apartment building. It rained, still. The rain didn’t bother her, not anymore, not as much as it did the day before, this morning or even just an hour ago. She felt calm. She had appeased that hunger and had recovered her self-assurance.

It was now time to buy food for her cat, a black, slim, yellow-eyed trustworthy companion. He too needed to be fed.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


LEA 13 Cica Ghost

“You didn’t feel someone pushing you?” asked the surgeon, checking the exams. The strange object had lodged itself near the spine.

“No…” replied the young man. “It hurts… Can you remove it?”

“I’ll try,” said the surgeon.

The young man added hesitantly, “Odd thing… I also hear strange noises…”

The surgeon frowned.

Well, the operation went fine, yet the young man now heard voices.

In his office, the surgeon opened a sphere and typed “Subject intercepted test messages. Receptor fixed,” and added, “Begin countdown.”

Days later, Earth was not Earth anymore. It was a forced labor colony, one of many.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

MOOC, Writing Fiction

Milk Wood

As many of you know, I registered for a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). This is my first course of the kind, so I was rather curious about the way it'd be organized. Considering that this wouldn't have the traditional teacher-student model I know so well and that it was a course for which no writing experience was required, I wondered how effective something of this type could be.

Start Writing Fiction by the Open University's Future Learn offers the interesting possibility of the learner being able to go through the different steps of the course at his own pace. It started April 28 and will last 8 weeks.

Now, I know that teaching writing is a bit like teaching someone how to cook. There are different styles, different tastes, different ingredients. However, there are a number of techniques that, when used properly, can improve the end result considerably.

So, although I've been writing for a while (I'll never admit to how long... I wouldn't want to give away my age *cough cough*), I thought I'd benefit from a structured learning environment to consolidate those techniques.

Throughout the weeks, I'll post a few comments on what I thought was "Interesting" and "Uninteresting".

Week 1: Starting to write fiction
• Start keeping a writer’s notebook for life observations
• Write both fact and fiction, discussing the difference
• Read character sketches in novels
• Do a quiz on the readings from Orwell and Heller
• Listen to novelists on how they started
• Start writing yourself.

Interesting: Although I already used a notebook to jot down ideas, words, sentences, collect newspapers clippings, names of songs, anything, I never spent much time making notes about people. This course focuses on creating a character, and it was interesting to pay more attention to this aspect of writing. 

Uninteresting: One of the goals I had when I registered for this course was to have feedback from others. As it happens everywhere, people are too eager to comment on anything/everything without giving some thought to what they are commenting on. This is not only unhelpful but potentially harmful.

Week 2: The habit of writing
• Discover your own writing rituals
• Listen to novelists talking about their own rituals
• Read novel extracts for how characters appear
• Do a quiz about the readings from Atkinson and Greene
• Learn about heightening powers of observation
• Experiment with story beginnings and write a mini-story.

Interesting: Reflecting on writing rituals and how published novelists introduce and develop their characters.

Uninteresting: The foreseen small interaction between the teachers and those attending the course. Yes, this is an open (i.e. free) course and I have received an email earlier today stating that more than 20.000 people registered for this MOOC. I'm not sure all of them are actually going through the tasks given, but... it's an enormous amount of people. Commenting at a 101 level would be impossible. However, I guess I'm old-school... I'd like to see the teachers online for an hour or two a week to answer questions in a chatroom situation or a live video stream, for example.

Week 3: Writing is editing
• Discover the importance of reflecting on your writing
• Explore how, where and when to make changes
• Consider what to bear in mind as you edit
• Review work from fellow writers
• Receive feedback from other writers
• Start writing another story.

Interesting: I found it extremely interesting and useful to reflect on my writing process. It tends to be a bit "impressionistic" and unplanned, I must admit. Once I start spending too much time drafting a story, taking notes and trying to make sense of it all, the magic is lost. I get stuck. How to find a middle ground is quite a challenge. I'm still working on it!

It was also very important, this week, to review the writing of fellow learners. Yes, there are a few rules one should follow to produce an effective and actually useful review. Did people follow those rules? Not always...

Uninteresting: Peer review criticizing an aspect of the story but not offering an alternative.

Week 4: Building your story
• Listen to what novelists think about research
• Develop further a notebook habit for research and ideas
• Explore ways of turning events into plots
• Read writing that focuses on personal concerns
• Do a quiz about the reading from d’Aguiar’s novel
• Investigate where ideas for stories come from.

Interesting: I've never felt the need to do much research other than finding the right name for a character. It was interesting to reflect a bit about that and about how much of each writer is in poured into the characters.

Uninteresting: The quizzes are definitely a bit odd. Being a multiple choice type of exercise, I'd expect them to have a right/wrong answer. In many of the questions that is the case. However, there are answers that depend on the opinion of the learner. So, I'd either remove them or rephrase some of the questions.

Week 5: Creating convincing characters
• Read about four ways to create characters
• Do a quiz about Novakovich’s methods of creating characters
• Discover the effect of ‘conflict’ on your writing
• Learn how to turn stereotypes into rounded characters
• Review work from fellow writers
• Receive feedback from other writers.

Interesting: Receiving feedback from fellow writers. At the beginning of the course, learners were offering feedback in a rather unorganized way. This week, I was fortunate to have a few peer reviews that were structured and very helpful.

Uninteresting: I continue to find the quizzes rather "fragile".

Week 6: Developing and portraying characters
• Listen to novelists on developing their characters
• Investigate ways of getting to know more about your characters
• Read a short story to see how characters are portrayed
• Learn four ways of portraying characters
• Experiment with one or more of these methods
• Start writing the first draft of your final short story.

Interesting: It was very interesting to see the methods accomplished writers used to portray their characters.

Uninteresting: Writing the first draft of my story is something I've been struggling with, oddly enough. I am usually fast in planning a story and even faster in writing it. My gut-feeling tells me the reason why this is happening is the fact that I fail to recognize a logical sequencing in the tasks suggested in the course. Some seem to be "out of place" and others quite repetitive. What should have led to this moment, writing the first draft of the story, didn't... At least for me...

Week 7: Reading as a writer
• Listen to novelists on how important reading is for them
• Note your responses to what you read
• Read a novel extract, investigating its technique
• Do a quiz about the reading from Toni Morrison’s Jazz
• Review the first draft of your short story and redraft
• Learn of the benefits of reviewing other work.

Interesting: Reading other writers' work is, in my opinion, extremely important. I have found myself having no time to read, for some reason, and noticing immediately that my writing becomes more difficult, more confusing and in need of a lot more reviewing.

Uninteresting: Well, it's not the first time that I mention the fact that I have been struggling with the tasks suggested by this course... This has led to a certain stand-still in my story...

Week 8: Your final story
• Review work from fellow writers
• Receive feedback from other writers
• Write a reflection on your story
• Edit and redraft your story
• Review the important tools that help you to progress as a writer
• Do a quiz about character and story and the approaches picked up on the course.

Interesting: Submission time! The story had to be ready! It wasn't... Life does tend to kick us about a bit every now and then and,as a result, I finished week 8 at the end of... week 9. So, I am not sure if there will be enough people around to take a look at my story. We'll see. PS: There are still plenty of people willing to review stories.

As a matter of fact, I'm doing my bit. I've reviewed two already. Writing a review is always interesting for me. It makes me reflect on the writing process without being too close to the story.

Uninteresting: Still the quizzes. They don't add anything to the course. In my opinion, they are often embarrassingly easy.

Final Comment: Apart from the weaker aspects mentioned above, I think this course did promote a more systematic reflection upon many aspects of the writing process, especially character building.

Only time will tel whether this course had a strong enough impact on my writing or not. For now, I find myself being considerably more self-conscious about my characters' portrayal. I do hope this is good and not somehow constricting!