Friday, October 24, 2008

Fine. I'll tell YOU a story.

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that in my last post I challenged you all to write a story based on a picture from Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Sadly, no one stepped up to the challenge. To recover from my disappointment, I decided to write a story myself. I had such a fun time writing it that it ended up longer than I'd anticipated, so I've decided to post the story in three parts. Today I'll post the first part, followed by part 2 when I feel like it, and part 3 when it's ready. Way to be cryptic and a little ostentatious, huh?

So, without further ado, here is Part 1 to "Under the Rug," by Katherine Downie. (Copyright Katherine Downie, 2008. No stealing my work, or something may just get on...)

Frank Batton liked nothing more at the end of the day than a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. Every evening for the last twenty-seven years (with very few exceptions) he was in his green wing back chair by 7pm, hot cocoa in hand and a well-loved book in his lap. His reading chair was so old and worn that you could pour plaster in it and come out with a perfect mould of Frank’s backside. His friends joked that he could sell them both to museums – the chair to a historical museum, the mould to a museum of modern art. Frank wasn’t much of a jokester, but that always got a chuckle out of him.

Twenty-seven years of the same thing every night seemed boring to his young neighbor Maggie Grippin. She urged him to try something different for a change, but Frank always told her that he liked tradition, order, and familiarity, thank you very much. Maggie loved new things: going to a new play at the local theater, trying the new coffee flavors at the coffee shop on the corner, a new dress, the smell of a new book. And she loved science fiction, something Frank Batton could not tolerate.

“Hogwash” was Frank’s favorite word to use when he disapproved of something, and Maggie kept a secret tally of how many times Frank said it concerning her latest sci-fi novel. Nevertheless, Maggie was insistent, trying to interest Frank by telling him surprising plot twists and unexpected endings. Being a kind man, he usually let her go on for a while, until she knew her time was up by the unfailing utterance of his favorite word.

“Hogwash! That’s all these newfandangled authors write!” Frank spat a little in his excitement. “What happened to the classics? Moby Dick, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, David Copperfield! These are books worth reading, my dear.” Frank took a breath and gave Maggie a steady look. “This book you’re reading is pure and simple balderdash.”

Balderdash?” Maggie thought to herself. That’s a new one.

Maggie had stopped by Frank’s on her way home from her job at the Lonesome Dove Bookstore in town. She often dropped in on Frank, worrying that he might be lonely, all alone in that big house with nothing but “tradition, order, and familiarity” to keep him company. Though Frank could be a little grumpy during these visits, Maggie often caught him smiling into his hot cocoa when he thought she wasn’t looking.

“Mr. Batton, how can you call this ‘hogwash’? This writer has been compared to Jules Verne, ‘The Father of Science Fiction’ and one of the most read authors in the world!” Maggie watched as Frank scratched his balding head and gave her a pitying look. “You say this book is balderdash, but how can so many readers and literary critics be wrong?”

“They may not be wrong…” Frank said slowly, “but I don’t have to agree with their opinions, do I?”

She turned the book over and pointed to a name on the back. “Look at this, Mr. Batton…Frank…see this name here? M. John Livret. Your favorite literary critic! You told me once that whatever Mr. Livret recommends, you read. Well he read this book, he loved it, and here is his testimonial right here!” Maggie jammed her finger at the words in quotation marks as she set the book on Frank’s lap. An onlooker observing this scene might have thought that Frank had just been told that his best friend and confidant had published Frank’s innermost secrets in the book now lying untouched in his lap. “L-Livret?” Frank felt almost betrayed by this critic, to whom he owed so many pleasurable hours of literary joy. “He…recommended it?”

Half a minute passed before Frank could bring himself to pick up this unknown book and look at the words printed on the dust jacket. Maggie saw his lips move as he read, and caught phrases like, “more magician than author,” “instant classic”and“story brought to life” as Frank’s consternation grew.

“Try it, Frank. Livret wouldn’t lead you astray.”

Frank sat there for some minutes staring at the book, lost in thought.

“Well, Frank, I’d better be getting home. I’ll stop by tomorrow to see how you’re liking the book.” Frank barely lifted his hand in farewell as Maggie stepped off the porch. It may have been her imagination, but she thought she heard a faint “Balderdash” as she walked towards her house.


That evening, 7:00 found Frank in his usual chair with his usual cup of cocoa and his usual well-worn book. All thought of the “Abomination,” as Frank called Maggie’s book, was lost as he dove into the ocean with a well-known whale. Frank could hear the sea gulls and smell the salt in the air as Melville carried him on the waves of the sea. The outside world was lost on Frank, totally lost…but...what was that shuffling sound?

Pulled from his novel, Frank looked around the room to identify the noise, but all was still and silent. Returning to the book, he got 2 sentences in and heard the noise again, but again found no change in the familiar room. Except…the Book, Maggie’s book, caught Frank’s attention once more where it lay on a nearby table. He stared at it for some moments…

When out of the corner of Frank’s eye, he saw something move under the rug.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tell Me A Story

If you are familiar at all with SpongeBob SquarePants, you know how fun imaaaginaaaation is. You also know that Squidward Tentacles has very little imagination, though he plays a mean clarinet. While Squidward can entertain himself to a certain extent with his clarinet skills and his hobby as a painter, what does he do when he's out of reeds and his paint has dried up? And the TV is broken? And Patrick Starr borrowed his radio and used it to rig a jelly fish trap? And the Krusty Krab is closed due to one of SpongeBob's shenanigans?

He needs to hone his imaginaaaaaation!

And so do you.

There's a book that I've been wanting to buy for a while now called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (the author/illustrator of Polar Express and Jumanji among others). In this book, a fictional editor introduces the images contained therein by telling about an author/illustrator named Harris Burdick. Burdick came to his office wanting to publish some books he'd written and illustrated, and left one picture from each book with the editor, each with a title and a caption. Before they could be published, Burdick disappeared, along with the rest of the stories. All that is left are these mysterious images with their cryptic captions and our thirst to know the whole story.

Below I have included one of the images from this book. The title of the image is "Under the Rug," and the caption is, Two weeks passed and it happened again. (OoOoohh...mysterious!!) My challenge to you is this (it's pretty simple): come up with a story to go along with this picture!

Here are some options:
Option one: come up with a full story on your own and post it on my blog.
Option two: start a story to go along with the picture, but leave a cliff hanger. The next person to sign on will continue the story, and so on. (You've all played games like this at parties...) I like this option, but want to leave you to choose.

Let's dust off those imaginations and get writing!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I have no time to post because I'm busy doing boring things.

Monday: made 2 phone calls, sent 7 emails, responded to 6 more, worked, complained about work, bought some supplies for work, did some grocery shopping, and did some laundry.

Tuesday: made 3 phone calls, worked, complained about work, panicked when another student said she had head lice, got a flu shot, responded to 2 emails, and sent 1.

Wednesday: worked, had a break down at work, complained about work, talked to one of my students about his bad behavior, pulled that same kid out of another class to talk to him about bad behavior as he travelled from my class to his next class, sent 1 email, responded to 4, made dinner, ate a lot of junk food, and complained about the pain in my arm from the flu shot.

I'm thinking it can only go up from here.

P.S. I'd like to give a shout-out to Joe the Plumber, who's having a much more interesting week than me.

Note to self: In order to make blog more interesting, run into a presidential candidate next week and become a sound bite.

P.P.S. I'd also like to give a shout-out to Joe Six Pack, who's probably feeling a little resentful of Joe the Plumber for stealing his name and air time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Roald Dahl Tells It Like It Is.

I have read almost all of Roald Dahl's books. I own most of them, and just recently got his second autobiography, Going Solo, for my birthday. There is one part that I really wanted to share with my female readers. (I was inspired by Christi's blog!) In this part of the book, Roald Dahl is in the forest in Africa with a group of African soldiers and hears frogs croaking incessantly. He describes the way that the frog's croak sounds and goes on to say,

"This is his mating call and when the female hears it she hops smartly over to the side of her prospective mate. But when she arrives a curious thing happens and it is not quite what you are thinking. The bullfrog does not turn and greet the female. Far from it. He ignores her totally and continues to sit there singing his song to the stars while the female waits patiently beside him. She waits and she waits and she waits. The male sings and he sings and he sings, often for several hours, and what has actually happened is this. The bullfrog has fallen so much in love with the sound of his own voice that he has completely forgotten why he started croaking in the first place. We know that he started because he was feeling sexy. But now he has become mesmerized by the lovely music he is making so that for him nothing else exists, not even the panting female at his side. There comes a time, though, when she loses all patience and starts nudging him hard with a foreleg, and only then does the bullfrog come out of his trance and turn to embrace her.

"Ah well. The bullfrog, I told myself as I sat there in the dark forest, is not after all so very different from a lot of human males that I could think of."


Just thought I'd share that with you. I don't know about you ladies, but I was picturing a couple of guys of my acquaintance when I read that passage... For any fellas who read this, I know you're not one of those guys. You would never fall in love with the sound of your own voice! Or if you did, you would at least try to hide it better than a frog. ;)