On Life (4 of 4)

The third part in a creative writing exercise of mine. The first part  was On Beauty, the second was On Faith, and the third was On Time.

(cc) zedzap on Flickr

(cc) zedzap on Flickr

The dirt road grew deeper and more worn, and he passed intersecting paths and crossroads with growing frequency. As he approached the still distant city, the surrounding world was increasingly under its shadow. Another day’s walk and the road would turn to stone under his feet, then grow smooth and busy from the traffic.

He smiled at the thought. When he decided to return after so many years, the traffic was not something he considered. Yet now, surprisingly, he realized he missed it. The chaos and the noise and the craziness were overwhelming, yet it was a comfort in its own way.

For now the dominant sounds were still birds in the trees and rabbits in the brush. He had never come this way before, the long way around the mountains, and it was nice. There was potential here in this greenery.

An unusually large tree grew right up next to the road, its branches extending deep into the woods on one side and far over the road on the other. Nothing grew beneath it but grass, as the greedy green beast stole all the sunlight in its domain. It made a nice spot to stop and fish the pebble out of his boot that had been bothering him the last mile or so.

He took off his pack and leaned it up against the trunk. He sat atop, tugged off his boot, and watched with satisfaction as the nuisance of a stone slid out and into the grass. He put his boot back on and took a deep, slow breath of the cool air. He would have to come back this way again once he got things settled. Maybe a cabin out here for when that bustle of the city finally grew old again.

He fished the letter from his pack and read it. He didn’t need to since he could recite if from memory, but it was more than the words on the page. By holding it as he read he felt a connection that went deeper than the letters and the ink. The page was creased and more than a little abused, with one corner purple from a spilled cup of wine, but that made it all the more real.

He carefully folded the letter back up and slid it into his pack. A strange sound reached him from the far side of the road as he stood to get moving again. He cocked his head and heard it again, but he could still not tell where it was coming from. He left his pack against the tree and stepped out onto the road to investigate.

His pack was still up against the tree, pulled open and scavenged by animals, when travelers paused at the same spot two weeks later. The travelers fished through it, taking whatever they found of value, and left the rest scattered beneath the large branches. As they rode away, the letter fluttered across the road in the wind, caught on some brambles, and tore.

I’ve Got Your Back: Buddy Stories and Female Archetypes

by Scott Shields

Buddy stories date back to the beginning of literature, and they are a fantastic vehicle for writers to display their characters’ personalities.  Whether it is Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Frodo and Sam, Butch Cassidy and Sundance, or “The Dude” Lebowski and Walter Sobchak, countless male examples abound in all story genres.  Yet when looking for female versions of the classic buddy story archetype, the list becomes substantially shorter and the characters’ roles are often different than those of their male counterparts.

The first thing to consider is the moniker, “buddy story.”  The term “buddy” typically carries male connotations, yet there is really no other word in English to describe close female friendships in this way.  Women often use words like “girlfriend” or “sister” in this way, but these words are not exclusive to describing friendships, and they can carry very different connotations in other contexts.  In recent years, the abbreviation “BFF” (Best Friends Forever) has come into vogue, and this seems to be used primarily by females.  Still, no one currently talks about experiencing a “BFF story” in print or on film.  So for lack of a better term, I will stick with “buddy story” in describing tales involving two female characters on a fictional journey.

Very often, female buddies appear in comic roles.  Mistresses Ford and Page from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor set the precedent for female friends who get themselves in and out of trouble together for the sake of a good laugh.  These character types would later appear as Lucy and Ethel in the 1950s and two decades later as Laverne and Shirley.

What is interesting here is the roles these female comics play compared to their male counterparts.  In comic roles, the male buddies usually have two roles:  the straight man and the fool.  The fool is often brunt of the straight man’s jokes or the victim of other characters’ actions.  There is also a hierarchical structure to these relationships;  one of the guys is clearly in charge, whereas the other follows orders.

This dichotomy of roles seldom exists to this extent in female buddy stories.  Instead, the women are either equal in their foolishness or they are the normal “everywoman” characters trying to overcome the foolishness of those around them (more often the idiotic men around them).  Does this suggest that audiences are uncomfortable with the notion of witnessing a woman being victimized in this way or being made to look foolish?  Or is it simply easier or more natural to cheer on female underdogs as they navigate a foolish and oppressive society together as equals (perhaps a more realistic scenario for women, historically speaking)?

Sometimes female comic roles dabble in the dramatic sphere and depict the various life stages of women.  For example, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell portray good friends who navigate the minefields of men and romance together in the comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams explore teenage friendship in the history-spoofing film Dick.  Likewise, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion features two lifelong friends who have supported each other through the travails of adolescence and adulthood.  Cultural differences are bridged in the comedy-drama Bend It Like Beckham, as are the realities of domestic abuse in Fried Green Tomatoes.

Law enforcement, a long-standing platform for male buddy stories, has its feminine counterparts as well.  The television series Cagney and Lacey broke new ground in its portrayal of women detectives, and in the comedy The Heat, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy play a female odd couple waging a battle against crime.  In this female cop version of The Odd Couple, Bullock’s character plays the straight role while McCarthy plays the uncouth fool.

When surveying women’s roles in dramatic films, none conjure the female buddy archetype better than Thelma and Louise.  In a picaresque story reminiscent of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Jack Kerouac’s On The Road (a story that mirrors many elements of Twain’s novel), two friends are brought closer together as they race west while dodging the law.  While they are on the highway, life is good.  But with every stop along the way, they find themselves getting deeper into trouble until they run out of road and there is nowhere for them to go but down.  Truly, they are BFFs to the end (or at least to the end of their steep downward journey).

The buddy story archetype has long been rich ground for writers, particularly where male characters are concerned.  Nevertheless, the list of female examples is rather sparse, comparatively speaking.  In thinking about the roles that women have in these narratives, it is striking how many films depict the female buddy archetype not so much in pairs—as is most common when the characters are male—but rather as an ensemble of female characters.  Is this because close female friendships do not exist in pairs very often in real life, or are there other factors at play?  Perhaps this will be the topic I explore in my next article.

Trying some interactive fiction on Wattpad and I’d love your input

Sometimes I get into a rut and need a challenge to snap me out of it. My rut lately has been a lack of writing word count. It takes way too long for me to put words together, and it’s even a whole mental gymnastics process to get in the right frame of mind to start! No bueno.

To shake myself out of it I’m going to try writing some interactive fiction, along the lines of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ll post a few hundred words of a story and then ask the readers to choose what happens next. The difference here is that I’m not writing every outcome so you can backtrack and try out different paths. After I post a section I’ll take any votes I get and will write that next chapter. I have some general ideas what’s going on when the story begins, but really no idea where it goes from there.

I’m also using this as an excuse to try out Wattpad, a place for people to share stories for free. I’ll be publishing my story chapters for “Power Shift” right here, and you can leave comments there, on this blog, my Facebook page, or anywhere you like. I’ll tally the votes for what happens next after a day or so and write the next section.

Power Shift is a scifi story I’ve had noodling around for a while, and if that genre isn’t your thing, no worries at all. Check out some of the many other great things to read on Wattpad from romance to humor.

Otherwise, please check out chapter one and let me know what you think!

Cakepan Manuscript – Final Chapter

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”.

You can start reading at Chapter One, which began with the premise: “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter 7:  A Twist of Tomasso


Image by mrjoro via Flickr

Dietrich’s borrowed clothes were too constricting for cooking. He needed to keep his whisk moving in the saucepan. He thought the whole outfit was hideous, but agreeing with Terrence and putting it on was the quickest and easiest way to get him out of the apartment and start dinner. As it was he would probably still be cooking when his date arrived even if she was fashionably late.

Dietrich took off the jacket and threw it at the back of a chair, pushed up the sleeves of his shirt. That was better and he started to get into the rhythm of cooking, letting the familiar movements take his mind off the bodega debacle. He was disappointed in young Zach. Dietrich knew the kid faced challenges but he had expected better than what he’d seen in the store. Lesson learned.

Dietrich laid aside the whisk and took up a sharp knife. He had fresh herbs from his window box and he laid them out on a cutting board. Before he could start chopping though the doorbell rang. He glanced at the clock but it was still a bit early for his date. Dietrich started for the door then stopped. He still had the knife in his hand. He didn’t think anyone had followed him from the bodega and he doubted the cops could track him at all let alone this quickly. Unless they got to Zach before Benny and his boys. He decided to use the peephole this time.

The person in the hall was a woman with her back turned to the door. All Dietrich could see was a mass of platinum blond hair. Terrence had said Kelly was a blond so he unlocked the door and opened it. She turned and Dietrich could tell she was scared even though her eyes were concealed by oversized sunglasses. The girl from the getaway car.


Dietrich started to close the door but a foot shot out and kicked it open. Zach had been hiding beside the door away from the peephole. Now he shoved Dietrich back and barged in with his gun pointed in Dietrich’s face.

“Yeah guess who motherfucker?” Zach was trying to sound triumphant but it came off as shrill. His face was still bloody from Benny’s boys.  “Drop the knife!”

“Zach,” Dietrich said. He did not drop the knife. “How did you get away from the mob?”

“When the cops showed everybody scattered. I ran and had my girl come get me.”

“Huh. Sounds like the only thing you got right today,” Dietrich said. “Why did you come here and more importantly, how did you find me?”

“Your phone dumbass!” Zach held it up and waved it. “It’s got Mapquest directions from here to Benny’s.”

“Wait,” said the girl, “you got that phone from Holfinger?”

“Yeah I took it from him in the store so the cops couldn’t trace mine.”

“Well you took one of my phones,” Dietrich said. He reached in his pocket and pulled out another one which he waved in mockery of Zach. “And you can leave it with me before you go.”

“We’re not going anywhere Holefucker.”

“Holefucker,” Dietrich said and laughed. “I like that one better than Dickface. And it’s more accurate. Of course your girl would know that better than you. Right Ashlee?”

“You recognized me?” Ashlee said and pulled off the sunglasses.

“Of course dear. The disguise was a good idea but you didn’t hide your talented mouth.”

“Babe,” Zach lowered the gun and phone and looked at the girl. “What’s he talking about?”

“Why do you think I got fired Zach? For letting you morons play video games?”

Zach looked back and forth from Dietrich to Ashlee. “Babe?” he said in a small voice and Ashlee just shrugged.

“Oh, you’re dead asshole,” Zach raised the gun again and Ashlee grabbed his arm.

“Zach no! You don’t know—” Zach shook her off.

“I’m gonna blow your head off!”

“I kinda doubt it,” Dietrich said and gestured with the knife at Zach’s tattooed chest. “For one thing this isn’t Grand Crimezone. For another I explicitly told Johnny V to give you an unloaded gun.”

“How the hell do you know Johnny V?”

“Zach let’s get out of here,” said Ashlee. “It’s his phone.”

“Who’s phone?”

“When you called me from the store the number came up as Victor Tomasso.”

“But I called you with Holefucker’s phone.”

Dietrich and Ashlee waited while Zach looked from one to the other, then from the empty gun to the cell phone in Dietrich’s hand to the one in his own. Finally it clicked and Dietrich was pleased at the look of fear when Zach met his eyes.

Dunh dunh duhhn!” Dietrich waved the knife with a theatrical flourish.

You’re Tomasso?” Zach stammered. “But how did…it’s not…why?”

“Oh, please,” Dietrich said. “Do you have any idea what an art teacher makes?”

“I’ll tell!” Zach screamed. “I’ll go to the cops!”

“And tell them what? Your art teacher is also a gangster?”

“Yeah but the store—”

“The store you tried to rob? Where you pointed a gun at the gangster and he pissed his pants? I don’t think they’ll buy it. Lucky thing I had to go.”

“Zach let’s go,” Ashlee was backing out the door.

“Yes Zach go,” Dietrich said and advanced with the knife. “Keep the gun but leave my phone.”

Zach did as instructed and Dietrich followed and stood in the hall. He watched them go down the hall toward the elevator.

“Take the stairs,” he called as Ashlee reached for the button. “I’m expecting a date and I wouldn’t want your appearance to upset her.”

Zach and Ashlee disappeared and Dietrich heard the door to the stairway open and shut. The elevator doors opened at the same instant and an attractive blond woman stepped out. She stopped when she saw Dietrich’s knife. Dietrich plastered on a bland smile.

“You must be Kelly,” he said. “I’m Dietrich. I’m just making dinner.”

“Hi,” said Kelly and came to meet him. She handed him a bottle. “I brought some wine.”

“Woodland Syrah,” Dietrich said and fingered the woodcut on the label. “It’s perfect.”

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Cakepan Manuscript – Chapter Two: Playing Games

This is a creative writing experiment, shamelessly stolen from the Chopin Manuscript: a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. The members of this blog are each writing their own chapter, and we’re calling ours the “Cakepan Manuscript”.

You can start reading at Chapter One, which began with the premise: “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Each week we will post a new chapter until we reach the thrilling conclusion!

We hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two: Playing Games

Moravian Stars in the Strietzelmarkt in Dresden

Image via Wikipedia

“Mr. Holfinger?” the gunman asked. “From… from art class?”

My stomach quickly knotted into a boy scout’s clove hitch at the sound of his voice. So had hoped it wasn’t him. My mind kept racing.  I wanted to respond faster but the words just were not there.  Cooperation trumps combative was circling over and  over in my head.

Finally in a moment of rapid teeth chattering, the words escaped and I mumbled a response, “Zack, dude, wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“Maybe I should have said something different,”  I thought as that sounded kinda ill placed for the situation.

“Don’t try and talk hip to me Mr. H as if I’m back in your stupid class,” he said in a stern yet desperate sounding voice I’d  never heard before.  “Shut up and don’t say another word to me or I will pack a round of bullets in here and light this  whole store up like Christmas.”

The surveyor belt was continuing to hum with grocery from the tall guy just behind me.  Baby wipes, chocolate chip cookies, and a pack of rib-eyes started to pile up by at the base of a case of Miller Light that had everything log jammed; stuck just before reaching the spot where the cashier would normally begin to scan the items.

Zack was wearing a grey leather jacket, unbuttoned without a shirt, exposing a Moravian star perfectly positioned in the middle of his chest surrounded by a tapestry of colors including a scroll banner with the word, ” hope,”  inscribed nicely above the start of his six pack.  The star was flowing geometrically with a perfect split between black and red cone shaped points that would catch the eye of any art teacher. It was centered precisely in his chest as if he had merged the Delphi glass and symmetry lessons together in a perfect combination.

He clutched the handle of the gun marrying his left and right hand so intimately that all you could see were fingers tightly closed without interruption. It hit me. That was the exact tattoo, motif, and leather jacket of Artem, the main character of Grand Crimezone.   Zack beat our butt in this game week after week; it was the most popular after school program for student retention. It also was the catalyst of my termination; my being here tonight.

I snapped back hearing an even more elevated tone,  “Miss, give me all the freaking cash out of the drawer now or your family will not see you this evening.”

The young lady was a wreck. Rarely has she been able to open the cash register without it being a point of sale. This was frowned upon by management and required a certain code. With tears in her eyes, she was praying she remembered the manager’s code.  She pressed 0, 9, 1, and the third digit was 2 but her shaking index finger landed in between the 2 and 3 and she quickly pressed the “no sale” button.

The register didn’t open.   It was a frozen moment in time with a deep red floral smell permeating from the Merlot.  Zack was furious and at the end of his patience.

 (continued in Chapter Three)

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