Stephen King

“You Ain’t No Nice Guy”

W 4th Street Courts, aka "The Cage" Tiny, but one of the toughest, most competitive courts in the city.

W 4th Street Courts, aka “The Cage.” Tiny, but one of the most competitive courts in the city with some of the greatest streetball players.  Unusual because it has nets!

The post title above is one of those quotes that tattooed itself on my brain as soon as I read it–many, many years ago.  It’s from The Stand, by Stephen King, earlier on in the book, before Captain Trips has completely taken over, said to the character Larry Underwood.  Simple, clean, all-encompassing, and it stayed in the character’s head the way it’s stayed in mine. I love those types of characters; not nice but interesting.  I will always vote for interesting, and I think that quote shaped the characters I create as much as anything else I’ve read and learned.

Last year, someone mentioned to me that “satire” is currently the kiss of death in a query. Naturally, I immediately started thinking, “what a great idea, I’d love to try satire!”  Thoughts of not nice guys married the idea of satire, they honeymooned in the too-many maudlin days of nostalgic thinking I had while recuperating from my fractures, and Jack was born, he’s the protagonist in the short I’m posting today.  (I think I posted back in the early days of Mrs Fringe about growing up in Brooklyn and falling asleep to the sounds of dribbling basketballs and hard popping handballs in the park across the street.)

I don’t know how other writers do it, but this is me. Bits and pieces of brain mishmash that probably don’t belong together, but in my peculiar mind they do. In some ways this is a continuation of my last post, about it being ok to reach and try new things, even suck.  While part of me mourns for my quickly fading dreams of publication, another part of me sees this as an opportunity (excuse?) to stretch and try all the out of the box ideas that I’ve got without worrying whether or not it’s publishable. Marketable.

If you haven’t noticed from my other stories, I like things that are just a little raw, with jagged bits that stay with me.  With any luck, two of my readers/followers do, too. Please click here for “Blacktop.”

There’s a Frog in My Keyboard

English: head of waterfrog (Rana esculenta) Fr...

English: head of waterfrog (Rana esculenta) Français : tête de grenouille verte (Rana esculenta) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An unfortunate state of affairs, because the letter “f” on my laptop sticks.  About a third of the time when I hit it nothing appears, another third I remember to come down extra hard, and I get three fffs in a row.  But I digress.

You know what I mean, when you don’t have actual laryngitis, but what comes out when you open your mouth is not reliable.

I’m taking a day off from the WIP today, because I’m not sure what my next scene is.  Rather than stare at the cursor and sob, I decided to take a break.  At first thought, the problem is I need a bridge chapter or so to get where I’m headed, in terms of plot and character growth.  I’m also at a point in the work where as I’ve added subtext and subplot, the shape of the whole beast is called into question.  I can keep it on the same light track I’ve been on, or I can take it deeper, shifting the style and tone.   As I engage in this self indulgent pondering, I’m realizing there’s something horribly familiar to this line of thought.  (Let’s be honest, Mrs Fringe excels at self-indulgent exercises.)  Prior manuscripts?  Sure, there are always points where you have to step back and think about what makes the most sense before pushing forward.

The familiarity breeding contempt, having me wonder if the whole damned thing sucks and should be scrapped?  It’s the feeling that I’m on a similar page in life.  Coming up on a plot twist, and just not sure how to write it, or even what it should be, but I know something has to happen.

Contemplation #1

Contemplation #1 (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

This morning I was on the elevator with a kid whose hair looked like a cross between Don King and Gerald,

Hey Arnold!

Hey Arnold! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the best friend with the impossibly high “fade” from Hey Arnold.  Man Child was about four years old when he fell in love with that show, and tried desperately to explain to the gal at Supercuts that he wanted that haircut, while I tried desperately to explain to him that his hair was a different texture, and could never be sculpted into a cylindrical afro that defied gravity.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Hey Arnold was an animated series that ran on Nickelodeon for 6? 8? years, beginning in the mid to late ’90’s.  It was a great show, with fully fleshed out characters, both kids and adults, real problems, and real heart demonstrating life for members of the fringe in a big (fictitious) city.

I began the day thinking I’d like to hide from the WIP and read. Bury myself in my favorite books until I was saturated in Updike, spiked with Joyce Carol Oates, crying Magaret Atwood and bleeding Stephen King.  But maybe not, maybe I should turn on the tv and find some Hey Arnold reruns to remember who I am and the pitch of my voice, as a woman on the fringe trying not to let go.

Justifiers and Qualifiers

The two women friends are shocked at a third w...

The two women friends are shocked at a third woman dressed as a man. But Harlequin and Pierrot are also men. From the Danish “Punch” magazine (not the British Punch), July 1876 no. 30 page 233 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel like I’ve done quite a bit of moaning and groaning here on Mrs Fringe in the past couple of weeks.  New week, I’d like to start out positive before beginning my usual obsessing musings.  While I didn’t write as much as I would have liked at this point in the month, I have worked on both my WIP and a couple of short stories.  There.  I’ve given my dear readers unicorns and rainbows, you too, can chase your tail while sorting laundry and cleaning lost bodily fluids from canines and dependents.

On to the whine portion of happy hour.  As I’ve said  in the past, I write romance (the current WIP) and literary fiction (short stories, and a temporarily shelved WIP).  None of this includes the blogging, which is another entirely different style of writing.  Everybody’s a critic.  Those who like romance,  other types of genre fiction, or even–squee–my romances, don’t understand why I write lit fic.  “Ew. Oh. It’s so dark.  Aren’t those the books where nothing ever happens?  Why do you write that?  Well, it’s not my cup of tea.”

For those who like lit fic, or even–squee–my lit fic, when they hear I also write romance.  “Really?  Why are you wasting your time with that shit?  You can do better than that.  Well, I guess it’s easy money.”

I can’t win for losing.  First of all, let me repeat, for the 8000th time, nothing in writing is easy money, or an easy path to publication.  After 40,000 years I am still, but hopefully not always, one of the unwashed and unpublished masses.  Maybe not unwashed, I bought an absolutely divine magnolia pear scented soap.

As a reader, I have a wide variety of books on my shelves.  Romance, lit fic, short stories, poems, biographies, essays, non fiction books about economics, various religions, cookbooks, thrillers, horror, mysteries, even a fantasy or two.   Some people are more focused, but I know many whose bookshelves look like mine.

Fiction Stacks

Fiction Stacks (Photo credit: chelmsfordpubliclibrary)

So why do these same people with varied titles on their reading lists sneer at me for writing two seemingly disparate styles?  Yes, the style of writing, pacing, sentence structure, word choice, these things are different.  One is more introspective and character driven, the other quicker paced and it’s true, the black moment is a lot more, ummm, navy blue.  But honestly, most (all) fiction is about exploring people, our emotions, our responses, our needs, wants, desires, connection to others, how we respond in any given situation, societal dilemmas and individual dilemmas.

I’m guessing there are slurs for every style and genre, but it feels like the two I write in are particular targets.  Romance is for frustrated housewives, girly-porn (not sure what these critics make of M/M romance, but hey), they can be knocked out in a week, blah blah blah.  And this doesn’t begin to touch the many subgenres of romance, or the different levels of “heat,” from sweet to yowza!  I like writing romance.  It isn’t easy, but it’s fun.  How do two people (or vampires, if that’s your thing) fall in love?  What makes someone heroic, or lovable, for that matter?  What makes someone with an independent, fulfilling life want to make the drastic changes necessary to incorporate a significant other and arrive at happily ever after, or even happy for now?

And literary fiction.  Sigh.  It’s pretentious, self conscious, an excuse to break the rules of grammar, there’s no plot, it can’t be literary if it hasn’t won an award, navel gazing, yada, yada, yada.  If you haven’t been following Mrs Fringe for long, let me tell you, I’m quite fond of navel gazing, and wondering why the fuck we make the decisions we do.  Yanno, the human condition.  Also, not easy to write, and for me, even the pace of production is slower than when I write romance.  Is it “fun” to write?  No, but there’s a depth of satisfaction I can’t describe, and I love it.

I wish I was like Stephen King, able to create believable, relatable characters that battle unreal creatures and situations.  I wish I was like Margaret Atwood, sculpting a marriage of poetry, brilliant prose, and speculative fiction.  I don’t have either of their levels of talent, certainly not the imaginations required.  But if I did have an imagination that leaned towards alternate realities and creatures that go bump in the night? I’d write those stories too.

Why this rant?  Because I am feeling good about working on both, I get different but definite satisfaction from working on each, but I’ve received several of  these not so sly little pinches in conversation this week.   Unknot your panties, folks.  If I’m ever blessed enough to be published in both, they’ll be in different sections of the bookstore (assuming there still are brick and mortar bookstores by then), and I’ll use a pen name for one of the styles.

“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my...

“Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” Margaret Atwood (Photo credit: katerha)

Writing Prompts for Rebels


Exploded pen

Exploded pen (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

In the interest of delaying Christmas prep, I started the day by checking out Facebook.  After hearing whispers and sniggers yesterday, I saw it; Facebook has changed their writing prompts.  They’ve done this before, when I first joined it just said my name and … Then it said “write something.” Today, it wanted to know how I’m feeling. I hit refresh, and it asked “what’s going on?” Really?  I thought this was social networking. Wouldn’t be very social if I began each day telling about my midlife aches and how many times I was awakened during the night.


I understand, the powers that be are experimenting with prompts to encourage conversations and drive traffic. Maybe users reposting all those memes instead of chats are bad for business.


Naturally, this made me think of writing prompts in general, and how very bad I’m always been with them. I just don’t find inspirational-you too-can tomes to be effective for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got enough books on writing and the publishing business to stock the reference section of a medium sized bookstore. But the feel good, court your muse, take out a fresh sheet of paper, “I’m a good friend…” 20 minutes of stream of consciousness, GO! Mmyeah, no. I know Anne Lamott works for many, but she isn’t my gal. My favorite is Stephen King’s On Writing, but I’m also quite fond of Some Writers Deserve to Starve, by Elaura Niles.  Really, no treatise on how to write has ever touched the elegance of Strunk and White, The Elements of Style.



No Spitting sign

No Spitting sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do so many books on creative writing include these squishy prompts and exercises? Whenever I read one, I feel like every elementary school teacher I had has me locked in an overenthusiastic hug while chanting, “What did you do on summer vacation?” And Mr Talbot has a little issue keeping the spittle inside his mouth, some might say slobbery.

So when I see these feel good, meaningful prompts, I shudder. And roll my eyes. If the prompt/exercise instructions actually includes the word muse, I giggle. No matter what I do, I do not feel inspired to write. Not just uninspired, but frozen, locked, hard pressed to remember that I’ve ever strung more than two words together to form a sentence.

Why are all these prompts designed to be feel good? I know many who feel great about themselves and their writing isn’t very good. They don’t see it, because they’re busy feeling good. I know others who question their every word, torture themselves over each comma, also not a surefire recipe for enjoyable work. Can’t tell as easily with this group, because their manifestos are locked in the attic next to the absinthe, waiting to be discovered posthumously.

This has me wondering thinking about what type of writing prompt will work for me. In the past, deadlines have worked. I’m pretty sure a paycheck would work. It’s self evident that looking at the laundry pile will get my fingers tap dancing across the keyboard. But a single phrase or sentence designed to let my not so inner verbose self loose?

Maybe if it was a clear direction to shut the fuck up.

What works/doesn’t work for you? If you read (or have read) books on writing, do you prefer the inspirational ones, dry and simple mechanics, or stories of other, successful writers?

omit needless words. repeat as necessary.

omit needless words. repeat as necessary. (Photo credit: darkmatter)


A Helluva Town

the business of garbage

the business of garbage (Photo credit: David 23)

On my way to pick up Flower Child from school, I was hungry and stopped to grab a slice of pizza.  Hey! It’s a long walk, don’t judge me. I didn’t have time to sit,  I added a heathy six ummm, three, three shakes of red pepper flakes and ate as I walked.  When I was growing up, this was a common sight, but not so much anymore. Is it Manhattan vs Brooklyn, or just different etiquette with the years? Husband always wants to sit down when he eats.  Not me; what’s the point of street food if you have to stop to eat it? Then again, I always liked to stand and walk when I was eating, my mother used to tell me I was going to get fat toes.

As I walked, I ate my slice, hopscotched around the tourists on their way to the museum, and let my mind wander.  Walking through crowded streets is a good time for mind wandering. Like being in the shower, only more reflective than creative. I remembered an incident I was going to blog about a little while back, goosed to the back of my brain by medical mayhem.

A cream Afghan Hound.

A cream Afghan Hound. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had been walking a dog through Central Park, and it was a crappy late afternoon. Cold, sporadic drizzle, one of those days where gray becomes a temperature and a barometer, something you feel in your bone marrow.

Central Park

Central Park (Photo credit: Image Zen)

I heard a small motor coming up behind me, and turned to see one of the golf cart thingies used by the Central Park Conservancy for driving along the paths, reaching different sections of the park for clean up and or maintenance.  The cart stopped just when the dog stopped to pee. The maintenance worker pulled himself out from behind the steering wheel, and grabbed a trash stick from the back.  I don’t know what they’re actually called, but it’s a long wooden stick with a sharp point or nail at the end for picking up loose trash or papers without having to touch anything nasty.

Not a glamorous job, for sure.  Then again, neither is picking up dog poop. But this guy was pissed off, stomping and muttering and then glaring at me like I represented all wrong in his life that had left him stabbing moldy juice boxes for eight bucks an hour. My writer’s mind took a stroll. If he were my character, why would he be so angry?  Big plans thwarted by having to work late? A gardener who had been demoted for poisoning pigeons? Girlfriend dumped him for some bozo with a shiny suit and a desk job? He spiked exactly one piece of paper, tossed the stick in the back of the cart, and started moving again.  By this point, I was walking again, dog veering left where the path forked. I hoped the maintenance guy would be turning right, or straight ahead towards the reservoir. No such luck, this thing was behind me again, and of course this is exactly where the dog needs to stop and poop. I’m now quite certain it wasn’t my imagination, the guy really was glaring at me.  I then began seeing the scene as an episode of Law & Order, roped off with sunshine yellow crime scene tape and the trash pick planted in my sternum.  Mrs Fringe must have been looking swell, maybe I remembered to brush my hair that morning, since he seemed to think I was someone I’m not.

Cover of "Christine (Special Edition)"

Cover of Christine (Special Edition)

Part of my mind was now hearing this cart behind me like it was Christine, Stephen King’s possessed Plymouth Fury.  Yanno, the part of me that was noticing no one else was within spitting distance. Part of me wanted to reach out and make peace? a connection? “Hey, buddy, this fancy dog isn’t mine, and I sure as heck don’t live in one of those apartment mansions across the street.” Another part of me was getting pissed off and resentful.  Fuck him. Who was he to make assumptions about who I was and what I was doing? Your life sucks? Pffft. Get in line, my friend.

I said none of the above.  I did however, begin talking to the dog, and let my Brooklyn out.  There are all levels of socioeconomic class throughout this city. Poor, destitute, working class, middle class, wealthy, and filthy rich. All can be found throughout the five boroughs.  But certain accents there’s no mistaking.  Clear as a tramp stamp, my accent says Brooklyn peasant.

Saturday Night Fever

Saturday Night Fever (Photo credit: Wikipedia)