I joined a writers’ group recently. In looking back on my unsuccessful fiction writing attempts, I was most prolific while part of a group. So far, I’ve attended two meetings, and I plan to attend many more. The group varies in age, in ambition, in talent. We’re all at various stages of raw and working to get better.
We start each meeting with a writing exercise. Which, quite frankly, eats up a lot of time. We spend 15-20 minutes writing from the prompts, then spend half an hour reading and critiquing what we’ve written. If I’d my druthers, we’d read from our works in progress the entire time. Maybe the meetings will eventually develop that way. In the meantime, writing prompt and critique.
What follows are my first two prompts. For this first exercise, each of us chose two random photos of people from a pile of photos. I got two guys, one a nebbish (who I named Archibald) and a hunk (who I named Rick).
Rick was a lifeguard that summer at the Bridgefield pool, the summer I died and made a life-long friend. I didn’t have many friends at school — gym class was always filled with “Hey sissy” and “homo says what?” — the bon mots and witticisms uttered by the self-appointed elite at Lincoln Middle School.
Obviously, Archibald Wilson — your humble narrator — was not numbered among these paragons of teenage virtue.
Anyway, it was summer vacation of 1974, the hottest August on record since the summer of ’28, to hear Grandpa tell it. I had just failed my third try at swimming lessons the year at the downtown Y. So, of course, Mom warned me to stay in the shallow end that fateful day at the pool. It if hadn’t been for Susie — my first-ever crush — I wouldn’t have died that day. Not that it was her fault, mind you. No, the stupidity rested solely with me.
And if it hadn’t been for Rick — I learned his name later, having only thought of him as the new lifeguard all summer — I would’ve stayed dead.
I gotta tell ya … being dead is no picnic. I was clinically dead — that’s the word the doctor used — for about two minutes. I didn’t see a white light, I didn’t hear dead loved ones calling for me, I didn’t float over my body — nothing. I was in blackness for a while, then I woke up to the worst ever headache in my life and a terrible pain in my chest.
It seems that Rick had accidentally cracked a rib while he was performing CPR on me.
He had movie star good looks, dark, moody eyes, kind of like Marlon Brando in one of Grandpa’s favorite movies. And I decided then and there that he would be the brother I never had.
… Well, in my delirium, I momentarily forgot about Chuck, who was 10 years older than me and rarely visited. He lived out-of-town with Mom’s first husband. It had been like that since I was six.
At the same time I was deciding Rick was my brand-new buddy/brother, Rick was thinking about what he was going to have for dinner that night…
Exercise #2. For this exercise, we chose two words from a pile of paper slips and attempted to write a story suggested by those words. I picked MAGIC and CASH.
“Watch me pull a hundred bucks out of a hat.”
“Do you mean a rabbit?”
“That’s too clichéd. I’m trying to do something fresh.”
“A hundred bucks. Out of a hat. Isn’t using a hat too clichéd, too?”
“It it were a top hat, then it’d be clichéd. Instead, I’m gonna pull the cash out of … a white, floppy bunny hat!” Stan flourished said hat.
“That’s … unusual, I guess.”
“Yeah, and it makes the trick even harder because it’s a soft floppy hat. A top hat can stand up on its own and hide the trap door in the tabletop where the bunny is hiding. But a floppy hat? That’s the real challenge. It’s formless, shapeless, and makes it hard to do a smooth flourish. It gets in your way and works against you.”
“Not if you already have the hundred-dollar bill already folded up and palmed.”
“What do you mean?”
“I saw you put your hand in your pocket while you were waving the hat around to show how flopping it is. Class misdirection.”
“I — I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Come on, I saw you. Besides, where’s the wonder in producing a single hundred-dollar bill from a hat? There’s no trick to that at all.”
“Says you. Here, look at the hat. See? Empty.”
“Show me your hand.”
“All right, spoil sport.” Stan put the hat on the table and showed Lynn his right hand, which had been holding the floppy bunny hat. “See? Empty.”
“Show me the other one.”
Reluctantly, Stan brought up his left hand and opened it, revealing the folded and palmed one hundred-dollar bill. “Yeah, you caught me.”
“All right, smarty pants, how would you do the trick?”
“Okay, I’ll show you.” Lynn reached for the floppy bunny hat and discovered it was heavier than it seemed. She reached into the hat and pulled out a stack of ten-dollar bills. She looked at Stan, eyes wide. “How the fuck did you do that?”