July 24, 2015No Comments

Fiction: Opportunity Knocks, Part 3

Robin slid limply down the side of the turbine until she could feel the cold tile floor through the seat of her pants. His fall played on repeat in her head. He was just a man, blood and flesh and bones like all of us, the power he held completely vanished -- dispensed into the air like humidity. She’d had entertained a few fantasies about killing him, or at least having him disappear, but now, incredulously, someone had actually taken that ultimate step. A small smile found its way to her face.

She waited as the group filed down the stairs, shoes clanging on metal. Ladonna’s knees went wobbly on the staircase, and she fell backwards against the fire chief, who grabbed her by the elbows and guided her slowly down. Harmon stood back, away from the body and seemingly out of its line of sight. Robin realized that Harmon somehow wasn’t completely confident Paul wasn’t going to sit up, point his finger at Harmon and shout “murderer!” But Robin could see Paul’s eyes were closed and his neck was at a very unnatural angle. A trickle of blood ran down his chin. He was clearly dead.

The commissioners whipped out their cell phones in near unison to call 9-1-1 while the head engineer spoke intently into his radio.

“...horrible accident...”

“...I was scared of something like that when he suggested we go up there...”

”...the catwalk was slippery. I almost lost my balance...”

The police arrived, as did paramedics and some employees who were stationed at the power plant. The police shuffled everyone into the conference room. But they didn’t seem to notice when Robin peeled off to hide the camera.

She needed to think. From the way everyone was acting, it was clear that no one saw what happened but her. The right thing to do was to tell the police what happened. Because it was a terrible accident, right? But still, something held her back. Why hadn’t Harmon said anything?

A policeman in a stiff blue uniform stood at the door to the conference room with watchful eyes and a neutral face. The head engineer slouched in his seat, head tilted and resting on the chair back. Harmon sat by himself at the far end of the u-shaped conference table.

“Cup of coffee, Commissioner?” Robin said to Harmon, holding out a steaming paper cup. Up close, he smelled metallic, a scent Robin associated with fear and sweat and adrenalin. And blood. The armpits of his suit were stamped with damp rings and he’d loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his broadcloth shirt.

He took the cup with a nod, and peered at her through wire-rimmed reading glasses as if seeing her for the first time.

“I’m Robin. Paul’s assistant,” she said.

He took a sip of the coffee and shuddered. “Still very hot,” he said. “I’ll let it cool down.”

He set the coffee on the conference room table and gave her a quick smile as though she was dismissed. But when she didn’t move away, he tilted his head at her and raised his wooly eyebrows.

Her head was churning ideas so fast she was afraid they would pour out of her ears. Career blogs always talked about seizing opportunities. Should she seize this one? She had come to enjoy the small powers of invisibility, but didn’t she want to have the power to make real change? And, to be honest, to taste the pleasure of being extremely visible for once? To be someone who mattered?

“Terrible accident, wasn’t it?” she finally mustered.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I was right in front of him when it happened. If only I had turned around --  I might have been able to grab him...”

I’ve got you, old man, she thought.

Out loud, she said, “Really?”

His eyes, now cold and calculating, bored into hers, as though he could see into her soul. She held herself perfectly still, feeling her breath go in and out of her lungs, just like in yoga class.

“And where were you when this terrible accident occurred?” he said.

“You didn’t see me?” she said. She leaned on the edge of the table, but didn’t break eye contact. She wanted to see every one of his reactions.

“I’m not surprised you didn’t notice me. People tell me I just blend into the background,” she said.

His grey eyes were steady on hers, but his tongue darted out to quickly wet his lips, betraying his discomfort.

She smiled. “I’m always amazed what people do and say around me. Paul never understood that. I could have been a valuable asset to him, but he was too much of an asshole to see it.”

His eyes popped wide open at her profanity.

“Not a very kind way to speak of the newly deceased,” Harmon said, tapping the coffee cup thoughtfully. “But I understand what it is like not to be appreciated. Or maybe I should say to be to misunderstood.”

“I saw you two arguing.”

She was surprised how strong her voice sounded. It felt so good to have real power. To be in control instead of at the mercy of another. She saw it clearly now. Her invisibility was a defense mechanism. The way she coped with an impossible situation. And now, she felt she could shed it like a winter coat on an early spring day. She just didn’t need it any longer.

Harmon closed his eyes for a beat. When he opened them, she knew he wasn’t planning on confessing anything to the police.

“Perhaps there was a little spat about how a contract should be awarded. Just a little mix-up in the course of business, my dear. Barely worth mentioning.”

“Funny,” she replied with just the hint of a smile. She stood back up and planted her feet, thinking of yoga’s tree pose. She envisioned her legs growing deep roots in the ground, making her unmovable, connected to the earth.

“I was thinking it was barely worth mentioning what I saw today from the floor of the power plant. Where I was taking pictures of all the VIPs on their important tour,” she said.

She forced herself to keep her hands at her side so as not to betray her nerves under his glare.

“What a talented woman you are.”

He stood up with a grunt, taking advantage of his height by forcing her to look up instead of down at him. She could smell the coffee on his breath. He was a killer and he was trying to intimidate her. But she had leverage. She leaned into his coffee smell, close enough to see dots of white wax in his mustache.

She laughed.

“Like I said, you see a lot when you are invisible.”

Neither one moved for several beats. Harmon locked his eyes on hers as if waiting for her to back down or state what she wanted. Robin did neither. She just breathed and waited, the black silk camisole fluttering against her breastbone with each exhale.

Doors were opening for her she had never imagined. Just yesterday she was hoping Paul would grant her a merit increase on top of her cost-of-living pay raise. Now, she could take his job.

“Where’s the camera?” he said at last.

“It’s not with the police, if that is what you are asking.”

“How can I be sure it stays that way?”

This was it. The moment of truth. Robin told him she wanted Paul’s job, then waited. She reminded herself again of tree pose, the deep roots extending through the carpet, the building’s foundation, on into the soil and rocks below, but her branches reaching for the sky.

“Paul taught you well, didn’t he?” Harmon said with a curt nod.

A detective in a brown leather blazer opened the conference room door and spoke quietly to the uniformed officer.

“Can we see Robin Duffy next?” the detective said.

Robin tugged the seams of her blazer down and stepped away from Harmon and the conference table. She turned back to look at Harmon. He was staring at the tabletop like it was covered in hieroglyphics.

Two weeks later, Head Commissioner Harmon opened the regularly scheduled meeting of the commission in memory of former chief of staff Paul M. Boyce, a loyal employee of Creek City who died tragically in an accident at the city’s hydroelectric power plant. Harmon read from a bulleted list of Boyce’s accomplishments and tried to sound sincere.

“Now, for the next order of business,” he said, his hands shaking slightly as he turned the loose pages of his detailed agenda. “Appointing Paul’s successor.”

Robin sat in the first row, her knees pressed together and feet angled to the left. She smoothed her navy blue skirt across her legs and tried to project confidence and professionalism.

“As you know, I’ve taken a very personal interest in filling the chief of staff position,” Harmon said. “And on behalf of the committee, we think we have found the right person for the appointment from within the staff. Robin Duffy has worked for the city for fifteen years, most of those under the tutelage and guidance of Paul Boyce. Her job title of administrative assistant does not do her justice, for her work has gone far beyond that. In the past two months, she has demonstrated the ability and the knowledge to step into Paul’s wingtips. I can tell you firsthand that she has learned so much from her mentor.”

Harmon waited for a beat while David McNerney made the motion to appoint Robin to the position, and Ladonna Jackson made the second. Just as he’d asked them to a few days before, in exchange for chair positions on the finance and revenue committee, and handshake agreements to help move pet projects forward.

“All in favor?” Harmon said.

Twenty “ayes.”

“Any opposed?”

Silence.

Robin flashed what she hoped was a grateful smile at the commissioners. Some smiled generally in her direction, others looked at their papers or their laptops, a few checked their mobile phones. Two minutes into her new job and she was already becoming invisible again. She glanced over at Harmon, expecting the same from him. But he was sitting up straight, staring directly at her, unmasked hatred in his eyes.

Oh well, she thought. She could manage him. She’d found the dossiers Paul had prepared on each one of the commissioners. And Harmon’s was the juiciest one of all.

March 13, 20151 Comment

Fiction in a minute: Dude, Part 1

Neil crunched through the chords of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” on the corner of Hill Street and Main in Santa Monica, the mini-amplifier stealing power from the corporate coffee seller without gaining the attention of its many baristas. If the caffeine junkies sitting outside noticed the theft of electricity, they didn’t care. Nor did they care about Neil’s guitar playing. Two pairs of women talked non-stop, while the singles at the other tables stared into the abyss of whatever electronic device they brought with them.

A green striped polo shirt blocked Neil’s line of vision to the cars obeying the corner’s stop sign.

“All right, du-u-ude!” The man clapped his hands and whistled a long shrill note. A few coffee drinkers glanced up to see what the fuss was about, but no one else clapped.

“Come on, peeps! Give it up for this du-u-ude!”

Neil noticed the man had a way of drawing the word dude out as though it had three syllables, like a caricature of a laid-back beach bum in the eighties. He squinted into the sun and craned his neck to get a good luck at Dude’s face.

He was older than Neil expected, though maybe the old school “du-u-ude” should have been a clue. Deeply tanned skin hung in creases from his bony face, and a hot pink circle on his nose suggested a recent skin cancer intervention.

He extended his hand then curved long fingers around Neil’s outstretched palm in a loose, but not limp, shake.

“Linus,” he said, his left fist banging on his chest.

Neil introduced himself and thanked him for the applause in a low voice. The attention, though welcome, was a little embarrassing.

“Du-u-ude, you are awesome. You should be playing the Civic Center, not the street corner.”

“Yeah,” Neil said. “Tell my agent.”

Like he had an agent.

“You got any of your own songs?”

“Sure, but no one wants to hear those.”

“I do.” And with that, Linus folded like a penknife onto the low brick wall surrounding the coffee shop patio, drawing his knees up to his chin and bringing his worn flip-flops encasing surprisingly well-manicured toenails into view.

Why not? Neil thought. He pulled the amplifier cord out of the guitar and strummed a little.

“I’ve got this song I’ve been working on lately,” he said. “I don’t have a name for it yet, and only an idea for the chorus lyrics.”

“Lay it on me.”

Neil played the song, humming where he didn’t have the lyrics worked out. Linus was an attentive audience of one, his eyes trained on Neil’s fingers pressing and flicking over the guitar strings, a smile playing on his face throughout.

“That was epic, du-u-ude,” he said, rising from the brick wall to give his standing ovation. Neil couldn’t stop smiling.

“Come with me,” Linus said. “I want you to meet some people over at this pub. They’ll let you play there. Maybe even pay you.”

Neil glanced at the guitar case with its few crumpled dollar bills and loose change. He’d put half of the money in there himself, just to make it look like people were donating. The corner wasn’t working out so well, he thought. What did he have to lose?

Editor's note: You can read part 2 here.

February 6, 20152 Comments

Fiction in a minute: Unlikely aid

Bradlee felt thick with lack of sleep. Her body was moving at the speed of sludge and her mind couldn't keep up even with that. Her keys should have been on the counter by the door, but they weren't.

Merry babbled in her baby carrier, her hands bouncing in the air like she was conducting an invisible orchestra.

"Dyah ba ba ba da," Merry said. "Ah er kay ba ba."

Bradlee bent at the waist to give the baby a kiss on her cherry red lips.

"And then what happened, sweetie? Tell me the rest of your story," she said.

"Ba ba ba mwah be," Merry said.

If only she could snuggle with Merry all day, Bradlee thought. But she had to get to her card shop. She had the opening shift. Who scheduled that anyway, she wondered wryly. She was the shop's owner and its only employee.

She scanned the counter and the table again for her keys, lifting up a pile of junk mail to see if they'd slipped under.

"Did you see where Mommy left her keys, baby girl?" she said, in her habit of talking aloud to Merry. The experts said talking to the baby developed language skills, but sometimes Bradlee felt like she was talking to herself.

"Ba ba pock et," Merry said.

Sounded like a word, Bradlee thought. Pock et. Pocket.

She patted her blazer pocket over her hip and felt the sharp ridges of a set of keys.

She touched her nose to Merry's tiny one. "My smart girl," she said.

January 2, 2015No Comments

Fiction in a minute: Warning

My phone blared a low-pitched tone that woke me up faster than reveille ever did when I was in the Army. The clock said three eleven a.m. I rubbed the sleep crust out of my eyes and made myself focus on my surroundings. Light from the full moon slipped through the cracks of the cheap plastic blinds and onto the dark green wool blanket in a tangle around my legs. I was alone.

A robot man voice replaced the tone. They never used robot lady voices for these messages. Someone once told me that male voices have more authority. I didn't buy the argument. If they used a voice like my mother’s tobacco-ruined rumble, I’d be at full alert in a minute.

“This is the emergency broadcast channel. This is not a test. Please seek shelter immediately. Do not look outside, do not make noise, do not...” The transmission ended abruptly.

The Army trained me to take orders, but it had been years since my last salute. I threw on some clothes and boots, grabbed my gun and flung open the door of the cabin.

The freezing high desert air blasted the last bit of sleepiness out of my head. The scrubby little plants that grow like acne on the sandy soil threw huge shadows in the moonlight. At first glance, I thought she was my mother, summoned like Jumanji or Bloody Mary from purgatory or hell by my passing thought of her. She was a bony bird of a woman, hunched over so her head seemed to emerge out of her chest. She had long, stringy grey hair that slid over some kind of black judge’s gown that hid her feet.

When she was close enough to me that I could hear her bones creak, I pointed the gun at her chest and flipped the safety. She smiled the way my mother did, with no mirth or joy. More like someone was pulling the corners of her huge mouth upward with puppet string.

“The gun can’t help you,” she said. “I am Pontianak, from the spirit world. I am here for the Great Offering.”

I must be dreaming. I smacked my cheek hard with my left hand.

“You’re not asleep, my child,” she said, and I felt the dirt underneath my boots give way. I tried to move but some cosmic vacuum cleaner started sucking me into the earth.

Pontianak’s smile grew wider and wider until it reached her ears and revealed a full set of animal teeth glistening like old piano keys under the moon.

My feet were immovable, like they were dipped in cement. When the earth started shaking and rolling like the worst earthquake I’ve ever been in, I bobbed and flayed around like a child’s toy. The gun fell from my hand.

“Help me,” I said.

Out of that grotesque mouth emerged a thin, forked tongue that stretched to my throat and wrapped around it. Then blackness.

September 12, 20141 Comment

Fiction in a minute: Gardner’s chill pills

Gardner's Chill Pill Cure Ad

Doc Wimple loved to diagnose the curious fair goers who came to his traveling medicine show, and this show in Jamestown was no different, despite the heat and threat of rain. After quickly sizing up a teenage girl with eczema and a baby with colic, he focused on the tiny, wasp-waisted lady who with a swish of skirts and a snap of her fan pushed her way to the front. Her dark eyes bored through him like thread through the eye of a needle.

Woman's troubles were the obvious choice for a high strung filly like her, Doc thought, but that was too simple. He ruled out headache or back pain, because she didn't seem to be suffering acutely in the sun. Nervous disease maybe?

She solved the mystery for him. "Do these pills help a person sleep?" she asked. Her lips pressed together in a thin line like she'd already decided he was a liar.

Doc Wimple nodded. Some fellows got insulted when a woman presented such attitude, but he didn't mind. He liked her confidence and he liked questions from the crowd. Years of experience taught him that disbelievers like her actually wound up convincing others to buy more of his product.

"Yes, without question, Gardner's Chill Pills will help you sleep. These pills are prompt to act and sure to cure. And just 50 cents for this full bottle."

"I sleep fine," she said. "It's my husband who has trouble sleeping most nights with stomach pains. Do your pills help with stomach ailments?"

"Gardner's Chill Pills can cure all diseases of the stomach, liver and kidneys. It is also proven to remove pimples, shrink boils, cure headaches and purify your blood," Doc said. "You, sir, there in the overalls. You got back pain? Headaches? Because this pill here can stop those - and also your toothaches, earaches, neuralgia, stiff joints."

The man in overalls nodded and opened his mouth to answer, but the lady in the green dress cut him off. "What about gout?" she said. A teenage girl with a face full of freckles looked at her wristwatch; two young men exchanged glances and drifted away.

He'd misdiagnosed the woman in the green dress. Her confidence, he thought, wasn't confidence at all. It was a deep neediness to be heard.

"Gout, consumption, croup, melancholy, dropsy, pain in the back -- Gardner's Chill Pills help with all of that. Heads of state, Arabian princes, movie stars and even the Governor of North Carolina can attest to their effectiveness."

"Does it make your stomach burn? I took Brown's Bitters and..."

Her words trailed off as a tall man with a scruffy grey beard and wire rim glasses framing flint grey eyes appeared on the edge of the crowd, taking the place of a young couple who had wandered off hand-in-hand.

Doc Wimple watched as the woman physically transformed, her body deflating like a pin-pricked balloon. Her lowered eyes darted between him and the grey man.

She pressed her lips even tighter and bowed her head. She walked to the man and silently followed him through the crowd and home without buying the pills. They wouldn't have helped her problem anyway, Doc Wimple thought.

September 7, 2014No Comments

Fiction in a minute: Voodoo Hoodoo

14770134062_a2ccc768ae_b The tidy parlor smelled of decay and burning. Hand over her nose, Eustace scanned the floors, furniture and walls for the smell’s source. But the only disorder in her orderly room was the jumble of toys the twins left on the sofa. The boys were gone, but somehow she still felt their presence with an animal sense. They often hid at bath time. Her nephews inherited their father’s violet eyes, blond hair, and his tendency to flee any responsibility.

“Rene, I want you to leave now,” Eustace said to the old man sitting on her grandmother’s favorite chair. “You filled the twins’ heads with enough voodoo nonsense.”

“There’s the matter of payment,” he said.

“I’m not paying my brother’s debts.”

“I thought you might say that,” he said, still and coiled like a snake ready to strike.

A chill of unease spread through Eustace. Rene rose from the chair to pluck two identical male dolls from the toy pile. He gently sat them side by side, their blond heads back, eyes shut. Eustace watched as their eyelids fluttered open, revealing the twins’ violet eyes.

“RENE!” she screamed in horror. “What have you done to my nephews?”

December 9, 2010No Comments

Get past write fright to the first draft

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Write fright, or fear of the blank page, is hard to overcome. The white page on the computer screen seems naked, and my attempts at sentence fragments, much less paragraphs, offer it as much cover as a fig leaf. Maybe I should use a larger font. Try double spacing.

 

More experienced writers offer abundant counsel on how to handle write fright, and it usually boils down to the simple imperative. You wanna be a writer? Then write.

 

In her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote that an aspiring writer must free herself to write shitty first drafts. Just get the words down on paper. Revise them later. No one has to see the first draft but you. But you have to get the words down to have something to work with.

 

And you have to write every day, according to author Walter Mosley. In a timeless “Writers on Writing” article from the New York Times, Mosley likens writing a novel to gathering smoke.

 

I read that line and feel a wrenching inadequacy. I’ll never be able to write like that. An image that perfect must have sprung from his creative mind fully-formed, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead. I pause, remind myself that I could be wrong. Maybe it actually took him two months, seven drafts and a helping of self-doubt before he got it exactly right. Maybe he first thought that writing is like herding cats or climbing a mountain, comparisons he dismissed as clichéd.

 

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“Ideas are smoky concepts liable to disappear at the slightest disturbance,” Mosley wrote. Gathering that smoke onto the page every day keeps the story alive in your mind, and helps it form into something larger and more substantial.

 

Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, in his 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, talked about sitting at his table, “for days, months, years slowly adding new words to the empty page.”  As a bridge or wall is built stone by stone, a writer uses words, he said. This imagery of words as stones comes alive for me, for writing seems like architecture and construction to me.  A combination of form, structure, detail and place.

 

My first stumbling block is that damned internal critic, who delivers writing critiques with shrill contempt. A writing instructor from hell. Where a wonderful  fiction writing instructor (like author Robert Eversz, who turned me on to the Mosley and Pamuk pieces I referenced above) would gently prod his students to think about the scene objectives, in my head I hear a sneering and rhetorical “what on earth is this scene about?”The answer, according to that critic, is that it is a scene about nothing, and I should give it up entirely because any good writer would, could, should write a brilliant first draft of any scene.  I relayed a less intense version of this to Robert, who told me to turn that voice off. If only I could find the switch. But I’m trying—at least for the first draft.

 

So I will take their advice and write. But more importantly, I will fill that blank page with ideas and words, remembering that I am travelling down a path already well-worn by successful and aspiring writers.  

 

November 19, 2010No Comments

Funny Writing Has Attitude that Binds

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Like a stand-up comedian, a writer who wants to make a reader laugh out loud uses attitude combined with observation. 

Usually, this means departing from the norms of polite conversation or objective writing, and incorporating feelings, opinions and (mis)perceptions to grab the reader's attention. Observation provides the topic; attitude makes compelling writing.

Judy Carter, author of "The Comedy Bible," put it this way: "...people tune in to hear someone say all the stuff that most people are too polite (or scared) to talk about--the things that scare them, that are stupid, and so on." No one wants to hear about what writers or comics love. 

Don't take that to mean that this writer is condoning outrageous statements made for shock value. Funny writing must have attitude, but cheap shots or rants are not the only means to that end. A good way to bring attitude into your writing is to mine your life experiences for material. Blunders, misunderstandings and being at the wrong place at the wrong time are a rich vein -- and all of us have experienced doubt, confusion and embarrassment, so we can relate. The television show Seinfeld made us laugh about how we react to office birthday cakes, puffy shirts and ugly babies. Memoirist David Sedaris wrote humorously about his job as one of Santa's elves at a department store and a visit to a nudist colony, finding the funny through his acknowledged self-consciousness and powerful observation of the strange details of each.

It is disconcerting to talk to someone on the phone and know that he is naked. Every now and then I might call a friend who says, "You caught me on my way to the shower," but that's different. The man at the nudist colony sounded as though he had been naked for years. Even his voice was tanned.

David Sedaris, Naked (New York: A Back Bay Book, 1997)

Often, finding the funny means taking a magnifying glass to our own flaws and goofs and then sharing our opinions about those with the reader. This takes both confidence and humility. And fortitude. In a 2009 interview on National Public Radio, writer/director Harold Ramis said that a certain amount of alienation is helpful for a comic posture. "You need to feel like an outsider and a bit of a loser to get up there and so assertively express your own shortcomings and talk about your body parts or your most painful and difficult relationships," he said. Focusing on commonalities when creating fresh and authentic observations for characters can help writers avoid crossing over into mean-spirited humor. The key to getting the big laughs is to make your observations the kind that bind us humans together, not the ones that pull us apart. More work, but worth it.

 

October 27, 2010No Comments

Writing Humorously

Humor is a funny thing. It is easy to make some people laugh -- employees, mothers, bartenders, the guy at the coffee shop -- but being funny to strangers is an art form. I recently attended a workshop by author and comedy instructor Judy Carter on how to write funny. 

 

Let me stop here and warn the reader that this blog posting is not actually funny.

 

Judy boldly stated at the beginning of the workshop that she could make anyone funny. And by the end of the workshop, I believed her. The key is in finding your authentic voice, and then finding ways to embrace your defects and be more human.  Think about what other people (spouses, lovers, siblings) would say your defects are, and make it into a joke. My mother would say I spend too much money on clothes and shoes. To be funny, I would need to embrace that defect and make jokes about it. To do this, I need to put myself down in front of people.

 

For example:

 

You know you spend too much money on shoes when...

  • Your credit card is always maxed out.
  • You’ve never even come close to wearing out the soles on a pair of shoes.
  • You’ve taken photos of all your shoes and taped them to the shoebox lid so you can remember what you have.

 

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Yes, the last bullet is something I have actually done, as you probably guessed from the picture of gold sandals -- Taryn by Taryn Rose -- on sale!

 

But the example above also illustrates another point that Judy made, and that is that comedy is about lists. And the key thing to know about lists is that anytime you make a list, be sure that the first two items in the list are relatable to most people, and that the third item is spun to be funny.  According to Judy, specificity is funny. The formula for funny lists is general, general and then funny. Your list can be more than three, but should never be less than three. And your challenge in writing these lists is to think about the distinctions of whatever topic you are covering. What is weird about spending too much money on shoes? Not being able to afford going out in them. So I’m sitting in my studio apartment eating ramen noodles in a $400 pair of stilettos.  What is hard? What is weird? What is scary? Those are the other questions to consider as you try to write humorously.

 

I like to think of humor as something that comes naturally, but after Judy’s workshop, I realized that there is an art to writing jokes and being humorous to more than just a handful of loved ones. You can learn more about Judy at her website http://www.judycarter.com/. Thanks to the Independent Writers of Southern California for bringing her to its members like me.