X, August 26, 2022

This Show Case features five pieces submitted in response to our twenty-fourth Writing Prompt: X. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for this page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt, which you can find on the Show Case home page.

And please share this Show Case with your family, friends, and other writers.

The Forex Fitness Center

by GD Deckard

Roy’s Brothel for Medicare Recipients was a surprising success. He received $108,405 in government funds for the old Bed Bath & Beyond store, now repurposed as the Forex Fitness Center and duly registered with the Feds under Title XXXX as a gym providing exercise to Senior Citizens.

His attorney squinted in the morning sun coming through the window behind his desk and came right to the point. “There is no Title XXXX, Roy.”

“Get to the point, Sarah.” Roy had little time for lawyers, especially ones who billed him.

“You commit fraud every time you file for payments,” she told him pointedly. “The government is bound to find out and you will go to prison.”

“If that’s the way they’re going to treat me, I’ll stop dealing with them.” He still had most of last year’s payment. “I’ll give them back their money.”

“You still have it?”

“I live frugally.” He had bought U.S. Savings Bonds and used the bonds as collateral to take out loans online in the name of Sarah Brady, his attorney. Roy relied on attorney-client privilege to mean that he didn’t have to mention it. He could afford the refund. “Besides, most of my expenses are covered by the brothel.”

Sarah Brady shook her head. “I still don’t get that. You don’t have any women working for you.”

“We cater to men and to women. Old people prefer dark rooms. They don’t know they’re both customers.”

Sarah shook her head and opened her briefcase. “Let’s get that money returned.”

“Well, that was great! Been too long since I -” the old man stopped short just inside the room. “Uh, Sarah?

Dad! What are you doing -?” Sarah Brady blushed and closed her briefcase. “I’ll ready the refund paperwork at my office, Roy.” She jumped up and brushed past her Aunt May on the way out the door.

“Oh. What’s her hurry?” May smiled at the old man. “Good to see you here, Ike.”

“You too. Both of us still benefit from a roll in the hay, now and then, ‘eh Sis?”

“Yeah. I don’t know where Roy gets his men, but this last one was great.”

“Thanks.” Roy smiled at his first two customers of the day.

The Art of Waiting

by Boris Glikman

Waiting is an ancient art that is, perhaps, dying. Nowadays, it seems people either have no time for anything except patience, or they have time for everything but patience. 

There are those who wait years and years just to discover their true nature. Even then, their raison d’être is only revealed to them when they align their bodies in a particular way with a specific arrangement of objects in the sky, at a certain time and place. As it is quite likely that that precise pattern of stars and clouds occurs just once and is never repeated again, it is imperative for them to be there on time; otherwise they may never find their calling in life.

As burdensome as this sounds, these people may actually be the lucky ones compared to those who do not know where and when the right configuration of stars and clouds will arise; those compelled to be forever on the move and to keep positioning their bodies in different ways against the ever-changing sky, every instant of their lives, until the appropriate heavenly pattern appears and their destiny is divulged. If only there was an X that marked the spot, so that they could know for certain where to stand.   

The least fortunate of all, however, are those for whom the correct alignment comes at the very end of their lives, just as they are passing on to the next world. Only at the death’s door is their life’s calling disclosed to them – their wait and their existence ceasing at precisely the same moment. 

A Deal. A Heel. A Pearl. An Earl.

(Actually a duke, can’t find a rhyme for duke.)

by Mimi Speike

This is an excerpt from The Rogue at Sea, book two of Sly.

SET-UP: Pedro, a runaway duke disguised as a cabin boy, is being ferried north to a French grandfather, out of reach of a murder-minded uncle. The Santa Clara, tailed out of the port of Bilbao by an English privateer, has been overtaken and boarded. 

Hernando Del Gado (aka Gato), aide to Captain Moreno, the boy’s protector, was put in charge of the youngster. He’d stumbled on a cache of gems he assumes to be Pedro’s. (They belong to Sly, who, finding his belongings disturbed, moved them elsewhere.) Gato intends to find the relocated gemstones before the English do. He cobbles a plan with John Cole, one of the enemy marauders.

* * *

“Listen,” says Gato. He and Cole are conferring in the galley. “Here’s our story. We’ve worked out a deal. You’ve agreed to help me help the brat escape. We’ll get him ashore, from there to the Grandpa, who will pay as well or better than the uncle, and you won’t be having to share the proceeds twenty ways with shipmates. I ask but a quarter share, the rest is yours. 

“The worm will be dug out, no way around it. But he can count on you to work on his behalf once he’s transferred onto the Turbulent. No promises. You’ll do your best for him. This here ring’s the payment for your trouble, in case it don’t work out. He knows how I value my pearl, my father’s bequeath, that I treasure. So I tell him. Actually, I won it at dice.

“Turns out, it’s a clunker. I wear it to remind m’self: trust no one, least of all a swell. Look, I don’t push. I never push. I let all fools bust their money as they like. Men will bet while they got breath in them. I give ‘em a fair bilk. If I got a better memory for cards, that’s a fair go. If I thrive on cheerful losses until I’m ready to be vicious, that’s still honest enterprise. And if I have jiggered-dice, well, that’s on them, not to be up on tricks.

“Gentlemen, titles even, are not honorable, not to a lowlife like me. They got appearances to keep up, paste taking the place of the blunt they’re forced to hock from time to time. When they run through their bank, they toss a fine-looking ring into the pot. A dumb country boy, dazzled by fancy threads, says to himself, these folks stink of money! That’s a honey of a pearl! How was I to guess it weren’t the real thing? That’s how I know them sparklers are no bamboozle. After that trip-up I made it my business to know stones. Here’s your ring, put it on so he sees it on you.

“I’ll warn him, don’t try to bullshit me. A duke ain’t shipped north with empty pockets. I don’t buy that, not for a minute. You got coins or, more likely, gems on you, hand ’em here. These thugs are gonna strip you bare-naked, turn every stitch of clothing you own inside out. Stash your pretties with me. I got a trick heel will hide them, no one the wiser. The boy agrees, he has no choice. You get me boarded with him. Talk me onto your slut – I’ve watched you in action, you’ve got one hell of a mouth on you. We play it by ear from there.”

* * *

Pedro, concealed within a heavy pile of sail, has cried himself to sleep. He realizes that if his crew mates are to survive, he must surrender. If he hesitates to betray his location, it’s because a) he still hopes the cat can save them and b) he’s gagged and bound.

* * *

What’s that cat up to? Sly’s aware of a mysterious log. He’d watched it withdrawn from a secret compartment as he relaxed in front of a bank of windows, enjoying a sunset. He’d jumped to the captain’s desk and gotten a look into it. It consists of page upon page of coded entries. Entries of what nature? Who cares? He’s conceived a use for it in regard to the current situation. To get the ship within sight of coast is his immediate objective. He’ll worry about a code later. 

He’ll tart up the pages with art – coins, a chest of gold and, most crucially, a map. They’re off La Rochelle, France. He’d passed time there years back. He can construct a decent representation of landmarks and distances.

He rushes to Moreno’s cabin. Normally, he would have tapped at the door. Pedro, his bed just beyond, would have let him in. 

The door is cracked open. Sauntering past a lone sentry, he heads to an embellished footlocker. The cabin is deserted. A search of the space will not commence until the captain of the Turbulent sets foot on the Santa Clara. He’s not yet come on, the coast is clear. Sly inserts a claw into a flaw, causing a concealed drawer to jut forth slightly. He hooks the lip, pulls it open, and extracts a red leather sleeve.

* * *

Shipboard furnishings are either built in or bolted down to prevent migrations. You’ll see no open shelving, only doors with latches, everywhere. There are few of the cubbyholes cats are partial to. But within a small Delft-tiled coal-burning stove, installed by a man who demands a minimum of comfort in cold climes, a grilled slot above the fire-chamber, used to keep platters warm, or to heat gloves and mufflers prior to facing frigid temperatures topside in northerly latitudes, might also be occupied by a small animal. Sly is especially pleased to be able to watch the comings and goings in the cabin from a central vantage point, behind iron fancy-work, in no danger of being kicked, as Hernando Del Gado is apt to do.

Gato is allergic to cats. He can’t enter the cabin, since Sly’s arrival, without sneezing his head off. Captain Moreno, glad the man’s allergy signals his remarkably quiet entrances, has a bowl of choice leftovers available to the animal at all times, to keep him close.

The aide had been foisted on him by a coalition of investors in Madrid; he’d had no say in the hire. His is a unique set of skills, he’d been told, the board of directors is delighted with his qualifications. He has nothing specific against the man, he just plain doesn’t like him.

* * *

Sly adores the seclusion of the cubby. No, there is no danger of a fire lit under his butt, not off Aquataine in mid autumn, thanks much for your kind concern.

The cat squeezes into his hideout, folio between his teeth. The English filth – his countrymen, but that doesn’t alter his assessment – must not catch him at work. He’d previously stocked the site with ink and quill and paper, he enjoys writing verse. Why doesn’t he use his pencils?1 He has a finite supply that is dwindling rapidly. 

His plan had been to dress up Moreno’s code with scrawls of coins and gems and the map, a flamboyant X marking a location. The thugs would surely prefer to investigate a bonanza in jewels, and postpone a trickier attempt to collect what had to be an inferior compensation.

In that cramped keep, his nose an inch from papers he had previously regarded from a distance, Sly recognizes a faint odor. Lemon! To one with his experience in intelligence, this means one thing: invisible writing. This has to be investigated. 

His new plan is to create a document from scratch. The drawer will be discovered in due course, one way or another. A coded ledger will be found in it.

He will convey Moreno’s log into the hands of one better trained to decipher what may be a highly sophisticated code, once he’s back on English soil. 

* * *

  1. The pencil had been invented thirty-odd years earlier in the north-western corner of England. It was used to mark sheep in the field. The discovery of the only large deposit of the hard form of graphite ever found (to this day!) was a closely-held military secret. (The more important use of the substance was in the production of cannon balls.) Sly has a small stock of pencils. (Pilfered from Prince Bittor, in Haute-Navarre.) He’s trying to make them last.  

Treasure Hunt

by John Correll

The window opens on a quaint island in the middle of the south pacific. Some deserted heap of silica between Fiji and Tahiti. 

What an idyllic place to search for my treasure — buried gold, jewels for the queen of Spain, a real pirate horde.  

If you find it, your hard work and dedication will be paid off. You can fulfill the dream where I failed because now, where I’m going, I can’t take it with me.

So, with the brief time I have, here’s my map:

First, find the grandmother of coconut trees and stand by it. Then spy around until you see the half-empty rum bottle. Walk six paces towards the bottle. If you go beyond the rum, you’ve gone too far, but feel free to take a sip. Turn left and take two more steps. Now, lick your finger and hold it up. You should feel the prevailing breeze. If you don’t feel the breeze, you need to start again with a better finger. Travel with the wind for three short hops and look at your feet. If you don’t see an X,  you picked the wrong tree. Unless the little coconuts multiplied, there should only be two more palms to try. 

If you don’t find anything, then the sands of time have washed away my X. But don’t despair. You can use a 21st-century solution to find my gold. 

Don’t bother with a metal detector or compass. The anomalous ten-tesla magnetic field that surrounds this island renders these devices useless. I didn’t want any Blackbeard, Ching Shih, Francis Drake, or Jack Sparrow digging up my money. So, this isn’t going to be easy.

No. You’ll need to employ kiloflops of raw computational power.

Take your smartphone and download a graphic calculator. Now you’ll need to solve for X in terms of y, z, and t. This is a real-world, four-dimensional equation. Climate change has likely shifted this pathetic pile of pulverized, long-gone marine invertebrate exoskeletons; namely, the scorching sand you’re standing on. Consequently, my treasure may have migrated.

In order to account for any shift, you’ll need to add the constants a, b, c, and d and assign one to each variable. Pray that these don’t morph into irrational or imaginary numbers; otherwise, your phone will overheat and melt in the tropical sun. If you feel your hand burning, you can cool your cellphone in the pleasant waters only a short stroll away, but beware of the sea mites, jellyfish, sharks, giant clams, poisonous sea snakes, and broken splitters of rum bottles. I had a great party when I buried my treasure.

If all else fails, if your phone gets stuck in an infinite loop, an albatross steals your reading glasses, or you just get tired and lonely, there is an easy escape. You can leave this hell hole in the water in a zip-zizzle. You only need to find a better X. 

Don’t worry; this is an easy peasy X. Look at the window’s top right corner (unless you have an Apple, it’s on the other side). Find the X, click it, press it, or do whatever you do to smash it. Done.

Once An X

by S.T. Ranscht

Image credit: S.T. Ranscht

141 thoughts on “X, August 26, 2022

  1. Oh John … you brought me back to the nightmare of the Half-way to Hawaii game United Airlines used to play. The calculation used to tie me in Nauts. lol (terrible pun I know) So I would usually guess. Did I win? No but I did get to Hawaii … several times.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Boris,
    “The Art of Waiting” suggests that you are, foremost, a philosopher. It brought to my mind Bertrand Russell’s comment that, “The greatest invention of the Twentieth Century is the art of suspended judgement.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks GD. This is another ekphrastic piece inspired by a painting by Vladimir Kush that is included above with my piece.
      I have been called many things and “philosopher” is definitely one of them.
      I wasn’t familiar with that Bertrand Russell quote. However, this aphorism of mine: “Nowadays, people have time for everything except patience.” (I use a variation of it in the first paragraph above) was inspired by the paradoxical aphorisms of Oscar Wilde.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Boris, I am really enjoying this. I have to tell you, I can hear much of this coming out of the mouth of my John Dee and/or Sly. It will make a fabulous conversation between them. I hope you don’t mind. I’ll credit you in the footnotes, and mention whatever you have published, as I’ve done in other cases.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    “In order to account for any shift, you’ll need to add the constants a, b, c, and d and assign one to each variable. Pray that these don’t morph into irrational or imaginary numbers.”

    John, another fabulous piece. I see great promise here in regard to Sly. I believe you’ve read some of my verse, which is my story of his childhood adventures. His adult adventures are covered in my series of novellas.

    Keep it coming! I am loving this.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    I see the whole world through Sly’s eyes. After all, I’ve been co-existing with him for almost forty years. Any news item, any random interaction, I relate it to one or another of my characters. That’s the way I’ve built my story, off the unintentional input of damn near everyone I’ve ever been associated with.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    This feature is a bonanza of ideas for me. Sue, I can’t thank you enough for starting it up. Most of you think very differently from the way I think. Every entry here expands my apprehension of possibilities for nuttiness.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. mimispeike says:

    I am just now listening to one of those sales pitches that precede videos on YouTube: “How can I reduce the resistance in the human mind?” (The Silva Method of training your mind). Very, very interesting.

    In my file of “MISC NOTES’, I have thirty years of possibilities saved, that I rummage through from time to time.

    The Silva Method of Mind Control. I believe I’m going to have to get it. If you want the CD it’s around fifty dollars. The book is $6.95!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Mimi!
    Isn’t that what all writing is? We’re just filters for the input… how it comes out is twisted or woven through our own experiences … I love reading how the prompts “translate “ through every writer.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. GD, what a warped, disturbing, and hilarious short. I keep looking at the retirement community down the street with added suspicion.

    Mini, great pirates think alike, arrr.

    Sue, a concise postulate on the algebraic charm of x, if I’m not mistaken. But poetic variables usually confuse me, and perhaps this x is ‘the ex’, in which case I’m entirely wrong.

    Boris, I’ve been waiting decades for an asperitas cloud to point my way, but all I got so far is the orange ash from the bushfires on your side of the Tasman. Truly, a natural wonder. But I am beginning to suspect that my calling will remain a mystery even at death’s door.

    Liked by 3 people

    • John, I am quite inspired by clouds and clouds have appeared frequently in my writings, but I don’t think that I have heard of asperitas clouds before. According to Wikipedia, it is a cloud formation first popularized and proposed as a type of cloud in 2009 by Gavin Pretor-Pinney of the Cloud Appreciation Society, which is quite interesting as in 2009 the same Gavin Pretor-Pinney published another one of my cloud-themed poems on his Cloud Appreciation Society site. (Anyone can submit their cloud-themed poems to his site here: https://cloudappreciationsociety.org/cloud-poetry/)
      Anyway, my advice is for you to keep trying positioning your body in various configurations against the orange-ashed sky and see whether your destiny is thereby revealed to you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an asperitas cloud that reveals your fate to you.

      Liked by 4 people

  10. GD, perhaps you should patent your “aged people-don’t realise-they are all customers-in dark rooms-bordello” idea before some unscrupulous operator reads your story, claims the concept as their own, puts it into practice and gets all the profits. (By the way, I will be away from the show case for a few months, as I’ve just had a brilliant idea for a new enterprise and will be heavily involved in developing it.)

    Liked by 6 people

  11. I am not sure if this show case is the right place to ask this, but I would appreciate some feedback about a particular sentence in my piece and whether its meaning is clear enough. If this is not the right place to ask, then just please ignore my request.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I would appreciate some feedback about the second sentence in the first paragraph of my piece, namely ” Nowadays, it seems people either have no time for anything except patience, or they have time for everything but patience.”

    I am not sure if it is clear enough and if it expresses the self-contradictory, paradoxical meaning that I want it to express.

    This is the meaning that I wanted that sentence to convey:
    If you have no time for anything except patience, then it means that you are patient and so, by definition, you do have time for everything and everyone. Conversely, if you have time for everything except patience, then it means you are not patient, and so really you have no time for anyone or anything.

    But now I am not so sure if that sentence does express that. And so I am thinking of revising it to make its meaning clearer.

    This is the revised version: “Nowadays, it seems people either have no time for anything except patience, or they have patience for everything except waiting.”

    The way that I interpret this sentence is that if people have no patience for waiting, then it means they are not patient and so really they have no patience for anyone or anything.

    I wonder if this revised sentence better expresses what I am trying to convey?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I can accept that GD and Sandy understand the meaning of the first sentence. I do, too. But in order for the sentence to be paradoxical, the two separate parts would have to appear contradictory to each other, but prove true when the reader thinks about it. Because the first sentence construction is merely an obfuscated way of saying, “There are two kinds of people: patient and impatient,” there isn’t an initial appearance of being contradictory. (I suspect this has always been true about the human race. “Nowadays” implies otherwise and feels false.)

    The second sentence seems to want to establish an apparent contradiction between the two parts you want the reader to discover are true. The first part by asserting, “people either have no time for anything except patience…” which means, as the simplistic equivocation of patience and waiting implies, they do nothing but wait quietly. And the second part by claiming “…they have patience for everything except waiting,” which immediately appears nonsensical and untrue, not apparently true. And because you want it to mean that they are not patient, the second part doesn’t seem to contradict the first part of the sentence. Hence, no paradox.

    Apparently, the idea you want to communicate isn’t paradoxical. Maybe your truth lies in just saying exactly what you mean.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sue, thank you for your detailed analyses of those 2 sentences. Firstly, just to clarify, I didn’t mean that the first and second parts of the first sentence contradict each other. Rather, what I meant, and what I tried to explain in my comment, is that the first part of the sentence contradicts itself and is itself paradoxical, and the second part of the sentence contradicts itself and is itself paradoxical. The self-contradiction and the paradox don’t come from the interaction between the 2 parts of that sentence. Rather, the self-contradiction and the paradox come from considering each of the parts separately.
      I think the best and clearest way for me to explain what I mean by the second part of the first sentence being paradoxical and self-contradictory is to quote this Oscar Wilde aphorism which is similar in its underlying semantics and structure to my sentence: “I can resist everything except temptation.”
      The reason this aphorism is paradoxical and self-contradictory is because the first part of it states that he can resist everything, meaning that nothing can tempt him. But the second part says that he can’t resist temptation. But if you can’t resist temptation, then that means that you can’t resist anything, because in order to resist something you have to resist the temptation that makes you want that thing. So, this aphorism is paradoxical and self-contradictory because the first part of it says that he can resist everything but the second part says that he can’t resist anything.
      Now, compare that with my sentence: “They have time for everything but patience.” The paradox and self-contradiction of this sentence is similar to Wilde’s aphorism. The first segment says that people have time for everything, which means that they are patient with everyone and everything. But the second segment says that people have no time for patience, which means that they are impatient. And so there is a contradiction between the first and second segments.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I understand how paradox works, Boris. Wilde was wise enough to confine his paradox in one sentence as a joke worthy of Will Rogers. But to say, “if you can’t resist temptation, then that means that you can’t resist anything” is simply erroneous because “in order to resist something you have to resist the temptation” is false. “I cannot resist the bully’s assault.” Am I tempted by wanting the bully’s assault? And that’s just the first example that came to mind.

        Likewise, to say “that people have time for everything … means that they are patient with everyone and everything” is also false. It would necessarily mean they have time to be frustrated, or beat their children, or cut other drivers off in traffic. The same is true of the error in “…they have patience for everything except waiting,” because patience isn’t just waiting. We can be patient with someone else’s ignorance, but that doesn’t mean we’re waiting for it.

        So if you use the same sentence structure as Wilde did — as hundreds of standup comics and comedy writers have for more than a century, maybe you can make your attempt at paradox work. I look forward to your success in that endeavor.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sue, I think I already have achieved that success. But the thing is is that you can’t approach aphorisms as if they are mathematical problems that can be disproved. There is subtlety and nuances to aphorisms and word paradoxes, and the reader must make certain assumptions about what the writer intended by them. For example, with Wilde’s aphorism, it is obvious that he is using “resist” in just one particular sense of that word. namely “resisting temptations”. I quote from dictionary.com, which lists the 3rd definition of the word “resist” as following: “to refrain or abstain from, especially with difficulty or reluctance” It is obvious that Wilde’s was using “resist” in that sense only, as otherwise, if he used it in the sense that you used it, the aphorism wouldn’t work. So you have to give that latitude and make an assumption about the intended meaning of words when interpreting his aphorism.
          Similarly, with my sentence “They have time for everything but patience.” you “disprove” it by using the definition of “time” that is different from what I intended by it. I think that the other show case participants liked and understood my sentence (as they mentioned in their comments) because they understood implicitly as to which definition of “time” I was using. Namely, when people say “I have time for you.” or “I have time to hear you out.” or “I have time to learn that.”, it is equivalent to saying that they have patience. My aphorism works provided that you know which meaning of “time” I am using. Using other meanings of “time” to ‘disprove” my aphorism is just not valid, for an aphorism is not a mathematical result that has to be logically 100% foolproof. Rather, aphorisms work provided that other people respond to them, for it means they understood them and it resonated with them. Given the comments that I received from the other show case participants, I think on that account that I am successful with my aphorism.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. “I wonder if this revised sentence better expresses what I am trying to convey?” This is what makes me think you are over thinking.
    Making sense with your writing is one thing. That’s what proper grammar is for. Making your readers think and go beyond what you want to convey … that’s what literature teachers are for. Think of every literature class you’ve ever attended. I know I always felt small in those classes with teachers and their big explanations for what the writer meant, until I realized it’s not what the writer meant, It’s what the reader gets from their own interpretation.
    You say what you say. How it is perceived is not your problem.

    Liked by 3 people

    • And to that end, whenever someone reads my work and comments on it … I always laugh when they tell me they are not qualified to critique …. If you read, you are qualified to have an opinion on the work. As the writer, you are then responsible for how you accept or reject that opinion. We don’t write for the reader. We write because we have something to say. We read because we are hungry for the thoughts of others, the stories, the knowledge they provide us with. Reading and writing. It’s a dance between opposites that are the same. Paradox maybe? I dunno. Two sides of the same coin might be the better description.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Isn’t writing communication? Doesn’t the writing that lasts convey ideas? Isn’t a writer’s motivation to communicate a story or a principle or history or a lesson of some sort? Communication is not only what someone reads or hears, but also what someone else writes or says. If what a writer means doesn’t matter, then why write?

      I applaud Boris’s concern about conveying what he means as clearly as he can. Here, I think he just got caught up in trying to express it like step sisters trying on the glass slipper.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I agree wholeheartedly Sue, my point is, you write as clearly as you can, but at some point it’s up to the reader to decide exactly what you mean. Communication is a complex business. Concern for clarity is indeed very important, but there is a line where you wreck yourself in overthinking your clarity. At some point you have to allow that you’re clear enough. My mom and I have this conversation when it comes to artwork… how much time do you spend tweaking it before you declare it done? I think with writing we’re so close to our own work it stops making sense when we read it over and over again.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. I remember studying communication at Ohio State. My professor -rated nationally as one of the very best in his field- became frustrated with my well thought out definitions of communication. He actually pounded on his desk and loudly told me, “Gary! If I stub my toe in the dark, that’s communication!”

    Liked by 2 people

  16. My take is that while most writing can be simple and clear, there are thoughts too complex to invoke with straightforward words. Like something seen out of the corner of the eye, some thoughts exist just beyond language. They are often expressed by poets.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I suspect the number of possible approaches writers may take to writing outnumbers the number of writers by a factor of infinity. As we learn what works for us, each of us narrows our choices to a manageable two or three — maybe even only one.

    I don’t like talking about my writing process because I’m comfortable knowing that each of us has our own and it doesn’t really matter how they differ. But here I go. I, for instance, edit as I go — over and over again — regardless of all advice to the contrary because this process works very well for me. If a story takes a turn, or finds a sudden clarity, it triggers all the places I have to revisit to revise or add some helpful foreshadowing. If I write myself into a corner, I can step back to see my target destination, and either find the path that takes me there or reconsider the goal. If a metaphor or turn of phrase that would express exactly what I want to express eludes me, I know to stop for a while, maybe seek feedback, and try again — over and over if needs be — until I’ve got it right. I don’t see that as overthinking because it doesn’t lead to paralysis, and experience has shown me that I will always eventually get there. And my desire to honor the language compels me to read everything I write out loud, listening to hear if I’ve found its music.

    I love every part of this process. Even the inevitable frustrations.

    I am extremely fortunate to have a close community of people who don’t know each other, both writers and non-writers, who read some of my stuff and tell me what works and what doesn’t work for them. None of them are family, some of them are friends I’ve had for 20 to 65 years, some are people I wish I knew face to face, but I’m grateful are in my life from a distance. They make me a better writer.

    It’s important to me to read my own work with an editor’s eye. That’s how I read other people’s work if they’re interested in feedback, and I give the kind of critiques I hope to receive.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever write anything important. I’d like to. I think one of my stories brushed up against the lower limits of importance, but I know my stuff is primarily about entertainment. Hopefully, complex entertainment with interesting ideas. Personally, that’s how I like being entertained, and I do like being entertained.

    So here’s to us. Writers on our own journeys, stumbling every now and then, and lifting each other up.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. mimispeike says:

    It’s crunch time for Sly.

    I’m rereading obsessively, looking for boo-boos. Last read-through I found one sentence of dialogue that was not indented. In that exchange, I rely on a 1-2-1-2 structure to cue the speaker (no tags), so this is a big flaw. I mostly find a quotation mark missing, and the like.

    I’m reading with an eye to how to get a bit of Tomcat Murr’s deliciously wacky introspection in. I can’t let go of that. I see nowhere for that feel to be folded in. My piece has a very different sort of wacky, and I suppose I’d do best to let it be what it is.

    But oh, I do love Murr, and I do love Tristram Shandy.

    E-publishing is easier on my nerves than would be set-in-stone trad-publishing. I can continue to revise, as I understand it. So don’t be surprised if some of Murr’s fabulous introspection turns up sooner or later. Sly ruminates, but not like Murr does. E.T.A. Hoffmann has out-done me in that department, and I adore him for it.

    I have another six books in the series. Four are written, or close to it. Two have a long way to go. I may end up Murr-ish by book seven.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. My working definition of communication is that something changes. If nothing changed, no information was communicated. Think, talking to a brick wall. This definition applies to anything that causes change. A light switch, a new thought, a first kiss.

    Fundamentally, a writer creates a world, characters and situations and then changes them. To me, a good writer engages the reader in that process: Show don’t Tell. Of which my favorite example is

    “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
    – Anton Chekhov

    Liked by 3 people

    • That Chekhov quote is what finally connected with me about what showing really is.

      “My working definition of communication is that something changes.” That helps me understand your instructor’s remark about stubbing a toe in the dark. Would that include changing leaf colors in a forest where “going-person be none”?

      My working definition includes a transmitter and a receiver, but I’m on the fence as to whether or not that applies if there’s never any evidence of receipt, either by direct response or directly related action, no matter how delayed.

      Liked by 3 people

    • GD and Sue, I have a big issue with the “Show Don’t Tell” rule. In fact, a few years back, I posted a whole article about it on Writers Co-Op, explaining why I am opposed to this rule and including one of my stories as an example of not following this rule.
      GD, you might recall that you commented on this article. Mimi and Mellow also commented on it.
      Here is a short excerpt from it:
      “My view has always been that one cannot hinder one’s creativity by saddling it with artificial rules. And so, when I write, I refuse to follow any established rules of writing, such as the rule that there have to be characters in one’s stories, the rule that a story’s plot needs to follow a “Conflict-Resolution” pattern, and the need for a story to “Show, Don’t Tell”. I simply do not care for any artificial, external, prescriptive rules that one is supposed to follow when one is writing and I will always reject any restrictive, constraining limits on my creativity. I refuse to shackle and lame my creativity by any prohibitive limitations. It’s like deliberately putting chains on oneself when one is being creative – why would one do that to one’s creativity and constrain it so?”
      The article is called “Show, Don’t Tell”, “Conflict-Resolution” and Other Writing Shibboleths” and can be found here:

      “Show, Don’t Tell”, “Conflict-Resolution” and Other Writing Shibboleths

      Liked by 4 people

      • Boris, I look at the “rules” this way. Everyone goes bowling. It’s your first time, you have no idea how bowling works. Someone gives you a few rules/parameters and puts up the bumpers in the lane so you get an idea of how bowling works. You play around with it. You like some of the rules/guides, others not so much. You join a bowling league, fun for a bit, but too constrictive and you strike out on your own. No bumpers thanks, and if I’d like to play more than 10 rounds or less I will, thanks.
        Writing is like bowling, there are rules to be followed, but those same rules can be ignored. As long as you pay for the lane … you can play by whatever rules or not, you want.
        I agree with you. Why restrict your creativity when you don’t have to? Taking a class in college and writing a paper, sure if you want the grade you follow the rules. But when you sit down and write for yourself, it’s anything goes.
        The caveat goes back to the communication discussion. Rules help provide clarity, but the rules aren’t the end all be all of clarity.
        Words are tools. How you string them together depends on what you are trying to convey/communicate and your ultimate purpose for doing so. Some people are fabulous show don’t tellers … others excel at telling. Some of us use both.
        So basically, in my opinion, rather than shackling creativity, the rules should enhance creativity. If it stifles yours, definitely don’t use it.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I don’t believe any of us here adhere so strictly to the “rules” that anyone’s imagination — which is in prodigious supply from every writer here — is somehow restricted. But the Show-don’t-tell advice is particularly astute for storytellers who want to enchant their readers by transporting them to a place — real or imagined — the author wishes them to experience. Effective showing elicits an emotional response in the reader that telling simply cannot.

        Perhaps it’s a matter of writing style. Boris’s style, for instance, strikes me as more of an essayist’s. The events he describes don’t have to be true, but there isn’t a sense of build or climax. The pace is consistent from beginning to end. Always interesting on an intellectual level, but not visceral. And that’s a perfectly valid style to write in.

        John’s story about his downhill adventure, however, actually made my heart pound as the action his words engulfed me in accelerated. I still carry those vivid images.

        This also brings to mind the adage that before you can break the rules, you have to know how to follow them. Writers who use the rules to express themselves in whatever way they consider to be most effective, are the masters of the rules, not their chained-up prisoners.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Sue, readers have told me that my writings are quite vivid and visual, that my writings do take them to another place, that my writings do create a strong sense of place and evoke an emotional reaction. And so either I am able to achieve those things without using Show Don’t Tell or else I am using Show Don’t Tell without realising it. Perhaps you will see those aspects of my writings in my future contributions to the show case. I write in many different styles and genres, and there is a lot of my writings that you haven’t seen as yet. So, your summary of my style is accurate but it does not apply to all of my writings.


      • Wherever there are rules, there are jerks who prefer enforcing the rules to accomplishing the mission.  There are also people who overreact to the jerks by advocating anarchy.  When the rules make sense (as some do and some don’t), it’s better to follow them much of the time but sometimes bend or break them in a thought-out way.  This metarule has been stated in many ways by many people.  I like the wording in

        «Know the rules, so you can break them effectively.»  ~ Dalai Lama XIV

        Liked by 2 people

        • When I was a shiny new employee at United Airlines, I did my first six months in reservations. LOTS of rules to follow and enforce and someone always looking over your shoulder to make sure you enforce them.
          Then I transferred to the airport. First day on the ticket counter the customer service agent training me says “Oh those rules you learn in res, we break them all here.”
          What I learned, was that rules in an orderly contained environment made some sense. At the airport things could go from orderly to chaotic in the space of minutes. Rules get in the way … at least ticketing rules get in the way. There are still FAA rules that can never be broken and some that can only be broken in the event of an emergency.
          One of the rules that changed was the age of unaccompanied minors. It had been age 12. United went to age 15. The reason was somewhere something happened and I believe United got sued for losing a kid over the age of 13. Nevermind the parents left the kid with no supervision and no notice that they were a minor. So to protect themselves from this happening the rule changed. I had an angry customer lamenting the rule and I simply told him, someone took advantage somewhere and United paid the price. Therefore they changed the rules. Sorry, but your kid will be safe with us whether you want it or not.
          Big corporations have rules (in my opinion) for the good of the big corporation more than any other reason….

          Liked by 2 people

          • When I was seventeen, I travelled alone from San Diego to Racine, Wisconsin. Of course, it wasn’t a problem for me or the airline, which I recall was American. But once I sat down in my aisle seat, the flight attendant brought a brother and sister, both under the age of 12 and traveling unaccompanied, to sit with me. The attendant smiled a warm and happy smile and said, “You wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on these two, would you?”

            She didn’t even offer to pay me my normal $2.50 and hour for babysitting. Several draining hours later, I considered submitting an invoice, lol.

            Liked by 2 people

            • You should have. They can’t get away with that now. BUT I will admit to once seating three people together who I thought deserved each others company … It was a cranky older couple who couldn’t understand the rules of their ticket (lol) and a bratty unaccompanied minor who the mother looked pretty relieved to leave the kid in our care …. Guess where he sat from Kona to San Francisco … Yup … window sit next to cranky couple … My advice to any traveller … don’t place your karma in the hands of the person who assigns seats …

              Liked by 2 people

              • I think she must have felt a little guilty later — when she came to take drink orders, she asked if I’d like a glass of wine. I said, “I’m only 17,” and her response was, “That’s okay, we don’t check IDs up here.”

                Liked by 2 people

                • Oh my! Then again when I was 19 flying from Frankfurt KY to LAX on Delta I had a flight attendant do the same … fast forward to working in the industry and Republic air a United express partner, was sued by the state of New Mexico for over serving a passenger who got off the flight and killed someone while driving drunk… consequently they couldn’t serve alcohol on flights inbound to Albuquerque…

                  Liked by 1 person

  20. GD, Roy is one twisted son-of-a-gun. Surely he contains a book’s worth of twisting ventures and adventures that we of a certain age would savor like a fine martini with a twist. Good fun capped with laughter leaning into a wide-eyed, “Oh, no!” at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Mimi, the plot thickens and intrigue abounds. I’m enjoying Sly’s development. Where on earth did he learn about invisible writing? I remember that as one of those cool science experiments for kids — all you need is paper, something to write in lemon juice ink with, and a warm light bulb to decipher the secret. I imagine Sly will have to use a candle.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Dammed if I know. I’ll figure that out in book four, when Sly meets John Dee. I figure it had to be in Italy, after he jumped ship in Naples (ten years before he hit Haute-Navarre). The Italians were the most advanced in Europe for poisons. Maybe for invisible writing too.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. John, you took me hopping, skipping, and jumping at a trippingly light pace across an absurdist island in what turned out to be a digital escape. Delightful, but I’m glad you showed me the way back home. The journey was the treasure.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I know this is the 112th comment and it’s exceptionally long. I’m posting it anyway, because it’s from my heart and something I want you all to know.

    Boris, I’m sure you find feedback that reinforces your own hopes for your writing easy to accept without questioning how deep or shallow the analysis behind them goes. Most of us feel the same way when we receive unabashedly supportive comments. Why would we question their depth or sincerity? Of course, there is always the possibility they are sincere and well informed, and we hope that they are. But that doesn’t negate the possibility that constructive criticism is valid.

    If a single reader takes the time to carefully express what about a work doesn’t work for them, it behooves any serious writer to resist becoming defensive, and truly examine the possibility that accepting such criticism can help them improve their writing. That’s the reason I am so grateful for the thoughtful, honest people in my life who point out weaknesses they perceive in my writing that cause me to see it through someone else’s eyes. They are helping me find ways to improve it.

    To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me what other people think or say about your writing or anyone else’s if it’s purely complimentary. It doesn’t prove anything about the quality of your writing or anyone else’s, including my own. Most people want to offer comments that make the author feel good about their work. Even if they read with an editor’s eye, they’re uncomfortable about suggesting anything that might be taken as negative or hurtful, particularly if they don’t know the writer well. That’s kind of them, but not helpful. I admit it’s nice to hear positive things about my work, and I appreciate those comments, but I crave the substance of constructive criticism that can help me grow as a writer.

    My own critiques are based on objective, thoughtful, discriminate reading and a reliable ability to identify inconsistencies, imprecise use of language beyond mere grammar, and gaps in interior logic. I offer my critiques in the spirit of honesty and helpfulness, and my experience is that, given time to consider in private, writers who acknowledge ain’t none of us perfect at writing, find some value in them. It is exceedingly rare when the recipient can’t resist dropping into a defensive crouch and responding in a way that makes me believe they think I’m an absolute moron, but then I know I’m talking to a brick wall. Now, in the spirit of community and good will — and as I shake my head and laugh — I promise I won’t talk to any more brick walls here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are exactly right, Sue. Of course, not everyone has “a reliable ability to identify inconsistencies, imprecise use of language beyond mere grammar, and gaps in interior logic.” That makes your critique of my writing particularly valuable to me. But I don’t know how to do it.

      What I do is to rely on a feel for the writing and the story and if those two are good, I’m happy. So, I encourage the author to keep going. Obvious (to me) errors, I do point out. But I stay away from the thought processes of the writer and rely on their creativity to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Not because I’m high-minded, mind you. It’s just the best I can do.

      You, on the other hand, should become a developmental editor. You have the knack for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your critique style consistently provides me with insights, GD. To mention only a couple: sometimes by sharing advice you’ve received from authors you respect, and other times by describing how something seems unclear or dim. Those insights have guided me to ground each scene at its beginning, to temper “technical” explanations with everyday analogies, and to expand descriptions of concepts and characters so they more fully match the visions in my head and I can present them more effectively. You are an excellent critique partner.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Sue, first of all and for future reference, I wanted to say that I always welcome frank feedback on my work. I have appreciated your thorough analysis of my posts in the past and I look forward to your future thorough analyses of my work. So I am not afraid of constructive and frank feedback. Otherwise I wouldn’t post my stuff on public forums like this show case, I wouldn’t have gone to writers’ critique groups, and I wouldn’t have worked with editors who went over my every word and sentence. I have worked with a number of editors over the years and we would go through many drafts of my stories, as I would accept their suggestions and make the appropriate changes to my work. In fact, just recently, I had an email exchange with a member of this show case and I specifically asked them to give me a frank feedback on the story that I shared with them. Let me quote from that email: “I always appreciate frank and constructive feedback.” So, I am not precious about my writings and I never think that there is no room for improvement. And, after all, I was the one who started this whole discussion by publicly asking for people’s feedback about my sentence, so obviously I value and accept feedback on my work.

      Having said all that, it doesn’t mean that I have to blindly and unquestioningly accept all feedback. I can take criticism but it doesn’t mean that I have accept all of it if I see an issue with it. Just because I don’t agree with your feedback doesn’t mean that I am a proverbial brick wall who is deaf to and ignores what you say. In fact, I went carefully over your feedback and responded in detail to it. Does a “brick wall” kind of a person do that? Also it doesn’t mean that my issue with your feedback is necessarily based on my ego and feelings and that I am being defensive in questioning your feedback. Just as you gave your feedback objectively, so I responded to it objectively. I think that in my previous comment I presented an objective case for my issue with your feedback, and if I, in any way, inadvertently, made it seem like a personal criticism of you, then I apologise and stress that it was completely unintentional. I always believe in keeping my discussions on public forums like this completely professional, especially as there is such a huge potential for emotions getting out of hand when something as personal and sensitive as one’s writings is involved.

      Now, you seem to imply that positive feedback is to be questioned as to its sincerity, validity, depth and worth. That for me undermines the whole point of show cases like this, for if you can’t trust the honesty of people’s comments then why participate at all. Let’s just, as an example, refer to the positive comments that I received from the participants here in response to my question about whether my sentence made sense. They were not under any obligation to say anything positive about my sentence, and if they were reluctant to give negative comments, then they always had the option to say nothing at all. To bring into question the sincerity of people’s positive comments, as if it the case that only the critical comments are the sincere ones and have depth, kind of makes this whole show case concept seem meaningless, as then one can never know what to believe and who to trust. And so, I always assume that people are being totally honest and sincere in every comment that they post.

      (By the way, you didn’t accept my interpretation of Wilde’s aphorism. Does that mean that for you his aphorism doesn’t work? If so, then why is it so famous and has remained in public consciousness for over a 100 years?)


    • So far as I know, we can only link to a picture. That photo is on a website that sells bears. My Charly sets on my desk, close enough to bite if my thoughts stray from good humor.

      And if a stronger hint is needed, there is aways the reminder from my video game where scrawled in blood on the wall in a torture chamber is,
      S҉T҉O҉P҉ ҉W҉H҉I҉N҉I҉N҉G҉

      Liked by 1 person

        • mimispeike says:

          Amusing, Sue. I’ve wondered, if I were to start a blog, what would I write about?

          My garden, for sure. How many times have I fallen in the garden this summer? Yesterday was fall number four. I was tugging on a plant, trying to get it out of the ground. I fell backward, down a slight slope. I must have good seventy-six year old bones. I don’t find anything broken.

          Maybe a blog of my thoughts would be the key to finishing Tristram Shandy. I’ve been trying to do that for twenty years. Tristram Shandy, I love it, but it’s a lot like listening to Memphis Minnie. A little of her goes a long way.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Thanks for visiting, Mimi. It’s easiest for me to attend to the site if I have some specific purpose in mind. Just writing to maintain a presence turns it into a chore. I must admit, however, that my authentic “voice” developed more fully there than in any of my other writings.

            If you made garden stories your main theme, there’s a wide range of sub-topics you could address — like weed-related falls.

            Liked by 2 people

  24. mimispeike says:

    Sue! With your keen eye and instinct for criticism – really wonderful – you should write about – writing! It is a pleasure to read what you have to say. I bet you would attract a considerable following. I’d be glad to spread the word. So would we all here.

    Liked by 2 people

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