I’m a writer. I never thought I’d say that, but I can as I am. Soon I will be a published writer. As part of The Narrative Project I have a short story, titled “The Comicbook Detective”, in the soon to be published True Stories. I have learned a lot as a participant of The Narrative Project, but I’ve also learned some stuff from reading other authors and one of those authors published a book on writing. Stephen King. You may have heard of him. He’s written a few books and had his stories translated to the silver screen and the little square box.
I was searching the interweb for some insight into adverbs when I stumbled onto Stephen King’s take with adverbs. FYI he’s not for them. “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” That is precisely what he has to say about adverbs. We can still use them but let’s not sprinkle them in every sentence. As a writer I should be showing not telling. But this blog entry isn’t a diatribe concerning adverbs. I’ll leave that to Mr. King. He speaks to it with more elegance than I.
Those that know me are aware I can spend all day telling the story of what I had for breakfast so I will get to the point of this post. In reading the Stephen King book On Writing I discovered a writing assignment. This was an offering to write something suggested by Mr. King and then send it to him. Well…the book was written twenty years ago but I forged forward.
There were some bumps along the way, am I really going to send Stephen King something I wrote in a few days with minimal editing? Hell yes! So I did. Write something according to the rules of the assignment. I struggled due to not quite understanding the word count allowance but that just made me edit with a sharp knife. Slashing with learned abandon got the piece down to the required word count. I’m quite happy with it. Not the next Great American Novel but it fit the criteria specified, at least in my opinion.
Not sure what Stephen King would think but the reality of it was that wasn’t the point. I understood that going in, but there was the hope that this author of multiple best sellers and movie along with TV credits would get a chuckle at my little piece of writing.
Alas it wasn’t to be. As I’d said earlier the book in question was written over twenty years ago. In my original read thru I fooled myself into thinking it was an email address given for contact, insert WRONG buzzer sound here. It wasn’t. It was to Stephen King.com. Searching the website for the link to send my awesome story to the famous author I stumbled into the FAQ.
Turns out the offer of Stephen King to read the assignment had been discontinued. Who’da thunk? Was I disappointed? Yes, but as the exercise was aimed at utilizing what Stephen King (I must continue to address him that way. We don’t know each other so Stephen or Steve seems too personal for me.) was trying to show us about writing. I look at it as exactly that. An exercise given by an experienced writer passing down knowledge to help the inexperienced writer.
And I did learn from the exercise. If nothing else as I’d mis-understood the word count I needed to ruthlessly slash my opus. And I did. It seemed, at least to me, to get better with less words. The words that were left were to the point and right where they needed to be. But you be the judge.
As Mr. King won’t see this, I’ve decided to still put it out there on the interweb. First though let me tell you what the assignment was. Also, as this is three to four pages of background given to work with, I’m paraphrasing here. This is the general idea. If you are interested in doing this on your own pick up On Writing by Stephen King and turn to page 170:
A woman marries a man. He’s the typical handsome charismatic male. The male unfortunately has a dark side that comes out after the marriage. He’s short tempered, a control freak, perhaps even paranoid.
The woman tries to make the marriage work overlooking the man’s faults (why does she try so hard? She may tell you in the story). They have a baby and things improve for a bit.
At some point two to three years after the baby is born the abuse starts again. The male is certain the woman is sleeping around. The accusations can be specific or not. You decide. This is too much, and the woman divorces the man. Takes the child and leaves.
The stalking starts. Along with the failed attempts to keep the man away thru the courts. Then the man attacks the woman causing the courts to take notice and the man is arrested and jailed. Okay that’s the set up. Next comes the situation for the story.
Shortly after the man has been jailed the woman drops the child at a birthday party and heads home for some alone time. As a parent of small children, it’s great to have some peace and quiet. When she gets home, this is where the situation demands it’s a house. “How she came by this house and why she has the afternoon off are things the story will tell you and which will look neatly plotted if you come up with a good reason’. That was a direct quote from the assignment.
When she enters her home, something catches her subconscious causing some uneasiness, but she can’t put her finger on the source. Could just be a reaction from her years with the abusive man? It’s all good as he’s locked up tight, right? Deciding it’s too quiet she turns on the radio or tv. She needs some tea. Starts the water heating.
Then the news comes on and announces that three men have escaped from the local jail. That’s where the man was in jail. They killed a guard to escape. One is still free as two have been re-captured. The convicts aren’t identified but the woman knows one of them beyond a shadow of a doubt is the man. She knows this as that unconscious feeling she had now comes forward and it was a smell of hair tonic. Hair tonic the man always used. Then she hears footsteps coming down the stairs from inside her home.
Okay it took a while to get here but that’s the basic paraphrased ingredients of the assignment. How you interpret it is up to you as now the back story is there.
Oh, one more thing. Flip the sexes of the antagonist and protagonist before starting the situation. Make the ex-wife the stalker and the husband the victim.
Alright the idea for this all is King’s assertation that there is a huge difference between story and plot. I’m paraphrasing again but King sees story and then the plot comes. At least that’s my takeaway.
Now to the reason for this post. The real reason. I accepted the challenge. And I hope you’re still with me as I present my story based on Stephen King’s suggestion. One more aside. If you are confused but interested in what I’ve been trying to convey I encourage you to pick up On Writing by Stephen King. It not only shows you stuff about writing, which you may not be as interested in as I am, but also gives you a history of King’s life.
From his very first story at an early age all the way to his being runover by a distracted driver and due to fate(?) or the whims of the universe not dying. I found it enlightening and as a writer encouraging. If you read it, you’ll understand when you read his remembrance of writing Carrie. You’ll also get the full force of his disdain for adverbs. Here’s my story:
A Nerd walks into a Comicbook Store
She’d caught his eye in a comicbook store no less. The short blonde hair shaved on one side gave a mod mohawk style to her appearance. The jeans and Harley Quinn t-shirt matched her casual look. She was holding a Deadpool comic, the first movie had just come out. Cyrus heard the giggle slip out as she read. Then glancing up to see if someone had seen her indulging in the silliness that is Deadpool, made eye contact with him. A woman in a comicbook store was not that unusual these days but it still caused his brain to do mini explosions when she looked up. With a nod and a smirk Cyrus was pulled in.
“Hi,” Cyrus walked up, dodging the spinner rack filled with Archies and Betty and Veronica’s, “Gotta luv Deadpool.”
“Aren’t you the bold one.” She held onto the comic, checking out his black jeans and t-shirt with a graphic of a ninja with a sword and the small script, “If you can read this it’s too late.”
With a lopsided smile and eyes that danced, she held out her hand,
Cyrus shook the outstretched hand catching an intriguing scent. It reminded him of a fall day mixed with a smokey fire. The kind Smores called for.
And that afternoon coffee date started the journey.
Fast forward two years. The journey was like any journey. It started out with excitement for the unknown and understanding that the car(?) might break down but with a credit card and the luck of Saint Christopher the journey would end well.
Then the jealousy started. She would accuse him of seeing another woman. Then she’d cry and beg him not to leave her. He’d reassure her every time that he loved her and wasn’t going anywhere. Then the hitting started.
Baby Joey came along a year later and the ride smoothed out for a stretch. Cyrus, Maddox, and baby Joey were able to buy a house when Cyrus hit the Lotto. Baby Joey and the house seemed to level life out for Maddox.
One day after Cyrus, even with the lotto win he still had to work, had been called into work, he came home to find the house is a state of devastation. Walking through the front door he stepped into a room that had been visited by a tornado. Furniture was thrown around the room and lamps were shattered on the floor.
“Maddox!!” he screamed, fearing the worst. “Where are you?” He ran to Joey’s room and bursting through the door found Maddox clutching Joey tight in her arms. Kneeling he said,
“Maddox what happened? Let me take Joey. You can calm down now I’m here.” He sprawled backwards when Maddox looked at him. Her eyes. The whites of her eyes stood out in stark contrast to the deep blue Cyrus loved but now feared. Her lips were pulled back in a grim smile baring her teeth. As he leaned forward and reached for Joey, she growled.
“I’m so sorry sweetheart. Are you hurt? Let me take Joey.” Cyrus said keeping his voice low while reaching out to take Joey.
“Honey it’s going to be okay. Are you or Joey hurt?” Keep talking. It seemed to calm her. Her body started to deflate as he took Joey gently from her clutching arms. Confused Cyrus levered himself from the crouch he’d been in. Her body started to shake, collapsing. Then grasping her hair her fists, she screamed,
“AAARRGH!” She began pounding the floor,
“You PROMISED I was the ONE!” raising her head to glare at Cyrus. He stepped back. She jumped up and rushed Cyrus who’d turned away to protect Joey. She pummeled his back screaming the entire time.
He tried to get away, but she followed him into the living room still slamming her fists on his back and head. Dodging the overturned furniture and her fists, he ran for the door, it was still open from his earlier panic, escaped to the front yard. The hitch in his breath and the tears threatened to destroy him. He knew she was sick, but he had no comfort in him. He ran to his car and set Joey in the passenger seat. No time for the baby car seat. He ran around and threw himself in the car wrestling with his keys as he was still looking at the open front door. With a growl the car started, and he backed out of the driveway squealing the tires fleeing. Reaching the corner of the block he looked back still no Maddox. Good. He pulled over and got out his phone. Not wanting but needing to call for help he dialed 911.
“911 what’s your emergency?” the operator asked in that calm manner they’re all trained in.
“My wife, she,” he stuttered, “needs—”
“Sir take a breath, is your wife hurt? I’m sending a unit to your address, confirm your address for me. Cyrus.” The shock of her saying his name settled his racing heart. Oh, caller ID.
“No, yes. Oh, she’s having an episode please don’t hurt her. Address, right. Umm 1234 Imaginary St. She needs help I think she’s having a mental break down.”
“Ok, I have help on the way. Are you in the house? Where are you?”
“No,” he was thinking more clearly, “I was able to get my son and get into my car. We drove around the corner from my house. that’s where I’m calling from.”
“Maddox is that your wife? Is she on meds?” the 911 operator kept asking questions.
“I think she’s still in the house.”
“Sir…” for a moment the operator hesitated, then cleared her throat, “Cyrus I have to ask. Did you hurt your wife?”
“NO!” Cyrus said, “I was at work and came home and the house was wrecked.”
The police came and restrained Maddox. Took her away to a hospital. The next six months were hell. Cyrus wanted and needed to move on. Maddox was institutionalized for her own safety and life was getting back to normal. The courts granted a divorce.
Cyrus had visited Maddox a few times, but she still talked as if they were married and any day, she’d come home to him and Joey.
After a year life was back to normal. Joey had made friends and Cyrus was dating.
Today Joey was at a friend’s birthday party, so Cyrus had some time to himself. Driving home he felt guilty thinking about the alone time but was happy to have it. Pulled into the driveway and walked the path to the front door. Noticed roses by the corner of the house had been disturbed. He unlocked the door and dropped his keys on the stand next to the door. There’s a feeling in the air. It’s so quiet Cyrus thought. No Joey. That’s it. Walked over and turned on the radio, Black Sabbath started blasting out. Headed to the kitchen. Opened the frig and grabbed a beer. When the music stopped with an abruptness that made Cyrus jerk as if struck by lightning, almost dropping the bottle, the announcer said,
“Hey everybody The Institute of the Human Psyche just alerted us that three inmates or patients, if I’m being politically correct, have escaped. Be on the lookout for them. I wonder if they’re still in strait jackets? Okay back to the music.”
“Thriller” pumped through the speakers. Cyrus stops and thinks, The Institute? That’s where Maddox was. What was that? Was someone upstairs?
Then he sees the vase filled with roses. Another noise from upstairs caused Cyrus to rush into the living room. And now noticed a scent he’d not smelt in ages. The smell of burning wood and Smores. Her scent. Oh God! What is she doing here??
Footsteps sounded from the stairs. His body trembled but he squeezed his fists controlling the shakes. Looking up he saw a naked foot attached to a naked leg descending the stairs.
“Honey,” the voice he expected to never hear again called to him, “I’m home.” Maddox had applied makeup but looking closer he could see she’d used a Sharpie to highlight her eyelids and mouth. She looked like a caricature of herself. The bottle of beer slipped unaware from his hand.
“Where’s Joey? He needs his mother.” The toothy grin reminded him of Shark week. “I missed you both.”
“Maddox. You need help.” Cyrus tried to stay calm and cool.
“NO!” she was almost at the bottom of the stairs but leaped on him. Screaming, “You promised I was the One!” They both fell to the floor and then with her hands gripping his hair tried to slam his head into the floor. With a superhuman effort he rolled their squirming bodies over and jerked away from her. The thought of Smores popped unbidden into his head as her scent invaded his nostrils. He knew he had to get away. Blood dripped from his nose staining his shirt. Calling on the strength adrenaline had provided, he flung her across the room. The coffee table she hit exploded in a shower of wood and glass pieces. His hope she would be stunned by the impact was crushed as she reared up and charged him as he attempted to dial 911.
The spittle flew and hands became claw-like as she advanced on him, laughing, “Naughty, naughty,” slapped the phone from his hand,
“Sweetheart what’s wrong don’t you love me anymore?” The screech this ended on hurts his ears. And as she drove him to the floor, with the strains of ACDC “Hells Bells” in the background his head bounced. The blackness descended.
Okay here’s hoping this was worth the wait. I’m sure I didn’t reach the heights that Mr. King was shooting for with this assignment, but it did fulfill one of his other points in the book. Practice. And that’s how I feel about this piece. Sure, my original intention was that a famous and successful writer was offering to read something I’d written but that’s a secondary item on the ledger. I had fun and learned something so kudos to Stephen King for inspiring me to do this.
And watch this space for announcements of the publishing of my novel, The Comicbook Detective. Coming to a bookstore near you, I hope, soon.
I believe there are no accidents. Your ‘practice’ inspired by my favorite writer is a good example of that. With you not reading all the rules…Serendipitous? Coincidence? I like what you did with the prompt by the master. Nice job, Al.
Thanx Diane. It was fun even if “The King” won’t see it.
Excellent! I got sucked and in to this story and want to know more. Proud of you!
Thanx. I didn’t think beyond the exercise but I just had(thanx to your comment) a thought that this could possibly work in the next Alex story. Maddox may become the villain in that second story. A rival to Naomi? Who knows anything is possible. I’m really glad it worked for you. Your encouragement is one of the reasons I’m writing.