Extreme Writing Challenge #50: “Traffic Jam”

Guess what?  (And despite what my husband says, the answer is NOT “chicken butt.”)  But really, GUESS WHAT.  It’s my:


When I started this blog, I wouldn’t have imagined I could possibly keep this up for 50 stories.  But here I am, and I’m loving every minute of it!

Tonight’s story strays a little from my “usual” challenges, but it was just as tough!  Give it a read and I’ll reveal the challenge at the end!


Not again. The thought hiccuped like a broken record. The traffic gods were against Harvey. Horns cried out from every direction.

Harvey tried not to check the time. It only fueled his frustration. He looked anyway. His interview would start in seven minutes.

Oh, the strings Harvey had to pull to secure this interview. It was his second and, he knew, last chance. Traffic began to move.

Harvey missed his first interview thanks to a six car pileup. He’d practically had to beg Mr. Lin to reschedule. Harvey had six minutes and no more chances. He grew unbearably fidgety.

This job was Harvey’s lifeline. He’d finally hit rock bottom. It wasn’t all his fault, really. He blamed himself for some things, like the theater investment. He could’ve come back from that, though. Yes, that was one thing he controlled.

Five minutes left. Harvey was ten blocks away. Approaching the green light, he squirmed.

Joey, Jasmine, and Juniper. These were Harvey’s children—his triplets. He’d known for only two weeks that they existed. The phone call from Maria left him trembling terribly. Suddenly he was a worthless, unemployed daddy.

The triplets were six weeks old, Maria said. All comically chunky. Harvey gave Maria the silent treatment for days. She shouldn’t have kept it from him. Wrongdoings aside, an instant, overwhelming love for his children seized Harvey.

Brakes screeched and movement ceased. The traffic light showed no mercy for Harvey. Harvey’s death grip on the steering wheel loosened. He blew out a sigh of surrender—to failure, change, lost chances. When his phone rang, Harvey almost didn’t answer it.

“Hello?” he muttered, massaging his temple.

“Harvey Barnum, this is Angela Coolidge. I am Eric Yin’s executive assistant.”

Harvey swallowed, enduring the tang of bad news. With four minutes left, he had cut it too close.

“Mr. Yin encountered an emergency,” Angela told Harvey. “He’s asked to reschedule your interview this morning.”

Harvey’s cloak of stress unraveled. “Absolutely,” he mumbled in a daze.

Angela quickly scheduled a new interview. Harvey sobbed after he hung up. Grateful tears. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—let his babies down. The light turned green. Harvey laughed. He wouldn’t be late. He’d be two hours early.


The challenge in this post was:  The number of words in each sentence was determined by the roll of two six-sided dice.

Extreme Writing Challenge #49: “Imperfection”

My life is all about countdowns right now.  Things I’m counting down to:

1.  The Dirty Dash next month.  Time to get muddy!
2.  My two-week vacation to Maryland-New York-Massachusetts right after the Dirty Dash.  I’ve never been farther east than South Dakota.  I need to get out more.
3.  My best friend’s wedding.  I’ve known her for 20 years and I’m only 29 years old.  I’m so proud.
4.  My 50th story on the IW blog!  I’m surprised I’m not an alcoholic by now!  (Kidding.  Sort of.)

(Source: studentblogs.le.ac.uk)

So yes, I have lots to look forward to in the next couple of months.  But for right now, I’ve got a story for you all, and I hope that some of you were looking forward to it.  Read on and see what the challenge was at the end!


There were blemishes on the floor she’d never seen. Stains, cracks, and nicks, bumps and rot. All along, they’d been as undetectable to Kat as her own slow decay. Kat cringed as she knelt and examined the flawed cherry slats. This was her life, a collection of overlooked imperfections.

The doorbell tinkled, followed by muffled voices. “Kat, it’s Laura and Tom. Are you home?”

Kat lifted herself up and willed a smile. At the door were two familiar faces, soft and drooping in their old age. They both held out bowls, filled with fresh-picked berries. “Hi Kat,” Laura said dotingly. Tom and Laura came by every day to check on Kat—a request of her mother’s. There were days Kat liked seeing them and days she didn’t. Today was a day she didn’t.

“These look delicious,” she muttered, licking her lips while she took the bowls from her visitors. “I’d ask you to stay, but I was just about to run a bath.”

“Dear, have you talked to your mother lately?” Laura asked as Kat walked away from the open door.

“Yes,” Kat lied. She sat at the bar in the kitchen and dipped her hands into the berries. Some of them burst open, filling the room with their cool, energetic scent. It was as calming as a hit of marijuana.

Tom and Laura watched Kat wordlessly from the doorway. Finally, Laura stepped inside and whispered Kat’s name. Kat allowed her eyelids to fall, immersing herself in her private moment. She didn’t need to be monitored by these people. Just go away, Kat thought.

“Kat, your mom…” Laura began as she crept closer to the desperate woman. Kat’s mental escape ceased and she pleaded with Laura with her eyes. “Kat, she’s in the hospital.”

Now they were everywhere. Stains, cracks, and nicks. All over the walls, the counters, and the doors. Kat pushed her fingers further under the amassed berries. She was digging for relief. “Why?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” Laura told Kat. “But she wants you to come and see her.”

The last time Kat saw her was at her father’s funeral. It was months ago—Kat was still dating and almost done with her sociology degree. She’d hoped to work with children somehow. It was May. She’d asked her mother once more to tell her the truth about her father’s death. Her reply had been, “I just can’t.”

Tom’s voice broke into her memory and said, “Kat, please come to the hospital.” He lightly rubbed her shoulders, soliciting her promise.

It was a hard thing to do, but all Kat could say was, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”


The challenge was:  The first sentence does not contain the letter A.  Each sentence that follows is absent of the next consecutive vowel in the familiar “A,E,I,O,U” string.  More simply put:

Sentence #1 = no A
Sentence #2 = no E
Sentence #3 = no I
Sentence #4 = no O
Sentence #5 = no U
Sentence #6 = no A

and so on…….  :)

Writing with Siri

A few months ago, I got my first iPhone.  So far I’m rather pleased with it and I’ve found it’s a lot more reliable than my old pee-oh-ess Samsung.

What I haven’t found a use for yet is Siri.

Siri bothers me for a number of reasons.  One, I don’t like her/his voice.  If Siri sounded like Marvin the Martian or had a Boston accent, I’d be more inclined to use her/him.  Two, Siri tried to sabotage my marriage.  My husband was trying to program Siri to know “Hope” is his wife so she would dial my number when he said the words, “Call my wife.” Driving home one night, he tried to demonstrate in the hopes of impressing me.  The conversation went like this:

Husband:  “Siri, call my wife.”
Siri:  “Which wife?”

Turns out he’d manually entered my info into his phone after syncing it from his previous contacts, so Siri didn’t know which “Hope” to call.  Still, I blame her.

Now that I have a Siri of my very own, I figured I’d give her a second chance.  A shot at redemption, if you will.  So I enlisted her help with my writing.

The result?  I still have no use for Siri.  And the only writing I got out of it all was this damn blog post.

Conversations with Siri About Writing

Me:  Siri, give me a writing prompt.
Siri:  That may be beyond my abilities at the moment.

Me:  Tell me what my story should be about.
Siri:  I’m certain you’ve heard it before.

Me:  (Again)  Tell…me…what…my…story…should…be…about.
Siri:  (See below)

Note:  Not the full story.  It went on for a few screen shots.

Note: Not the full story. It went on for a few screen shots.












Me:  Siri, tell me a writing tip.
Siri:  Why don’t you tell me something instead?

Me:  Siri, do you like to read books?
Siri:  Oh, that would be cheating.

Me:  Siri, do you like stories?
Siri:  I really have no opinion.

Me:  Siri, what is your favorite word?
Siri:  I’d rather not say.

Me:  Siri, what is your favorite story?
Siri:  I don’t really like talking about myself.

Me:  Siri, do you have a favorite author?
Siri:  My name is Siri, and I was designed by Apple in California. That’s all I’m prepared to say.

Me:  Siri, can I be your favorite author?
Siri:  I don’t really like these arbitrary categories.

Me:  Siri, do you think I’m a good writer?
Siri:  I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t answer that.

Me:  Siri, did you know you’re not a good writing coach?
Siri:  This is about you, not me.

Me:  Siri, can we write a story together?
Siri:  Interesting question.

Me:  I’ll start.  Once upon a time…
Siri:  I don’t know what that means.

If Siri can’t help me with my writing, she’s no good to me at all.  Just to be sure, I also asked her where in the vicinity I could purchase a real fruit smoothie, and she suggested McDonald’s.  The nerve.

Extreme Writing Challenge #48: “Amnesia”

It’s official.  I’ve lost count of how many days in a row it’s been over 100 degrees where I live.  Walking outside is comparable to stuffing myself inside my oven, only it doesn’t smell like delicious food.  On the bright side, I’ve never been more motivated to lounge around in my air-conditioned house and get some serious writing done.  Considering the five-day forecast, I should be able to write a novel by the end of the weekend.


If you are also inside escaping the wretched heat, you have my deepest sympathies.  Here’s a new story to keep you entertained.  (Tip: summer reading is best accompanied by an ice cream cone or a fudgesicle).  I’ll tell you at the end what the challenge is!


This guy is grinning at me. He stinks like dried milk and he has holes in his shoes. I look out the window, hoping he’ll get bored with me and creep on someone else. He doesn’t.

The bus crawls along the city streets more slowly than the people walking beside it. Traffic is harsh this time of day, so the bus stops every 50 feet. It’s a tight squeeze and I’m sandwiched between the milk man and a plump old woman who’s elbowing me as she knits a pair of socks.

Having amnesia is an odd thing. I remember my name and that I’m deathly afraid of spiders, and I’m almost certain I work at a museum. I’m only guessing that because I found a name badge on my kitchen counter. The last thing I can recall is standing on the edge of the roof and trying to reach a dead tree branch. It feels like I just dreamed that, but I woke up in a heap on the patio, so it all adds up.

I’m going to the hospital and I’m on the bus because I couldn’t find the keys to the Cadillac that was in my garage. I don’t know if people with amnesia should be driving, anyway.

I try not to think about my life too much. Like about my mom and dad, or whether I’m married or have kids, or what kind of a person I am. I’m scared I might turn out to be a piece of shit who shoots up five times a day. Or maybe I’m part of a gang and I’ve killed people and stolen from them. I start to stress and then I notice that another guy is staring at me, smiling.

“Excuse me?” I ask him, and sort of ask the milk guy, too. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“So sorry,” the man says. “It’s just that, wow, I didn’t think I’d ever run into you on a city bus like this.”

I follow his eyes as they dart around like they’re doing a connect-the-dots with the other passengers’ faces. If I thought only these two guys had a weird fascination with me, I was wrong. Almost everyone on the bus is watching me.

“Ma’am?” I ask, turning to the woman knitting the socks. She seems to be the only one not paying me any attention. “Ma’am, do you have any idea why all of these people are looking at me like I’ve got snakes coming out of my ears?”

Her response is delayed as she studies my face. She squints as she looks closely at my eyes, nose, and chin like a doctor might during a physical. Finally she says, “I have no idea,” and returns to her knitting.

At my stop, I sprint toward the hospital at full speed. I’ve never wanted so badly to know exactly who I am.


The challenge for this story is:  A story less than 500 words in length contains at least 30 unique words that start and end with the same letter.

Extreme Writing Challenge #47: “Thread of Belief”

One of my friends recently posted this meme on Facebook.  Although I have yet to experience the thrill of putting young children to bed every night, I could only assume this is an accurate representation of the feeling.  (Give me a second to repress some awful decade-old babysitting nightmares.)

After writing the story for today’s challenge, this image is exactly what came to mind.  While parents might be ready to collapse after the kids finally go to sleep, this is how I feel after finishing a particularly challenging story.

So what was this challenge that left me so frazzled?  Keep reading and I’ll let ya know at the end.


The snow in the forest was softer than what was piled up around Molly’s house. Though they’d walked eight miles and her nose tingled from the sting of the cold air, Molly wore a persistent smile. In the most silent moments, she daydreamed of glistening garland and tinsel and slow-blinking lights. She followed her father and uncle under spiked green evergreen arches in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

They entered a 30-mile spread of forest swallowed by a summer wildfire, which had spared not a single evergreen. The black skeletons singed by the flames were covered in a lacelike design of snow and ice. Molly’s father stopped and said, “There were some gorgeous firs about three miles back. We ought to head back that way, or it’ll be a tough walk out if it starts snowing again.” He scratched his beard, loosening bits of bread crumbs that had clung to his hair after their big breakfast. They’d left early in the morning when the previous night’s layer of snow was still undisturbed.

Molly slid a gloved finger along a fringe of white powder dusting a low branch. Snowflakes fluttered down past her elbow and settled into her footprint below. Her father cupped her shoulder to steer her back on the path that led to the living trees. He muttered to his brother, “It would warm her mother’s heart to see how she connects so well with the earth.”

They fell quiet, all three lamenting the Christmases that would never be quite the same since Molly’s mother had passed. It had taken almost a year for Molly to display cheeks chubby with laughter instead of cheeks stained by tears. For a brief moment, every fiber of Molly’s body numbed at the mention of her mother. She could only agree with her father’s observation, which made her more eager to select a tree her mother would have loved.

Molly hated death, whether it was a person or a tree in the forest. But in her hatred was the thread of belief that times of sorrow can magnify the beauty of the world. Beauty would rescue her, and in its immortality she was secure.


The challenge in this story was:  Every sentence contains a pair of one-word anagrams at least five letters in length.  (For example, the first sentence contains “forest” and “softer.”)

Extreme Writing Challenge #46: “Homecoming”

Earlier this week, I was working on a writing challenge when I was struck by this horrific realization:

I stared blankly at the last sentence I’d written, my thoughts bouncing back and forth between How the hell did I get here? and Where on earth did I expect this was headed?  I was about halfway finished with the story, but it was clear the second half was just not going to happen.  Sadly, this happens all the time with my writing challenges.  Just when I think it’s all going well, I discover the story makes about as much sense as combining the Declaration of Independence with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

Luckily, I started a new story and it makes a LOT more sense.  Enjoy!  Don’t forget, the challenge is revealed at the end.


I placed one last X on the calendar the day Ben returned home from Tokyo. George tried to convince me to give him a night to rest and recover from his jet lag, but it would have been silly not to celebrate. I baked pies in the morning and decorated the house with streamers and balloons, and I fidgeted restlessly on the sofa all afternoon. For two years, the only thing I’d looked forward to was Ben’s homecoming.

Ben was my only child, and I never told him about my depression. I’m sure he knew, as often as he found me on the couch eating ice cream from a gallon tub while curled up in the fetal position. It only grew worse when he moved to Japan for an advertising internship. I had been falling for a long time, and losing Ben meant I had lost my parachute.

At the airport, I sat on my hands to tame my edginess. George rubbed my thigh while I became immersed in the hollow growl of rolling luggage and the muffled echo of a voice on the intercom. The first glimpse of Ben’s face offered me instant protection. My son had returned, and with him came relief and harmony.

Ben’s hug erased my anxiety, like a silent lullaby. It wasn’t until we separated that I noticed the woman behind him, lingering.

“Mom, dad,” Ben said, “I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Alyssa.”

I’d been high on my own bliss and Ben’s announcement was sobering. My son and I were being robbed of our time together! Alyssa smiled and shook our hands, her soft touch emanating practiced innocence.

I was silent as we rode home in George’s new Cadillac. His cars gave him his happiness. Ben had given me mine, a happiness that was now infected.

In the evening, I sat on the back porch and burned through a pack of cigarettes. The sky was dark by six o’clock, giving me another reason to detest this awful first day of December. Eventually Ben joined me, offering me a handful of blueberries. He would never forget they were my favorite.

Ben said, “You’re not thrilled about Alyssa, I imagine?”

He pulled up a chair beside me as I said, “I’m terrified.”

“That you’ll be forgotten?”

I nodded as I stared out at the horizon. Ben reached out and massaged my shoulder, offering a secret assurance. Alyssa appeared in the doorway—a distraction.

“Mrs. Tolman?” she asked warily. “I was wondering if you would allow me to read some of your poetry. Ben says you’re very talented.”

I’d written poetry for years and Ben was the only person to ever show any interest. I told Alyssa, “Well, sure, I suppose I could show you some of my collections.”

Ben smiled at me as Alyssa and I retreated inside, leaving him alone on the patio. He knew as well as I did that my life was a constant process of acceptance.


The challenge for this story was:  Every sentence ends with a unique three-syllable word.

Haikus of a Frustrated Writer

After several lonnnnng months, I have finally (did I put enough emphasis on that FINALLY?!) finished the book I’ve been writing for my dad.  Now that I have one less project on my plate, at least until I start working on my next book, I decided to do a bit of mindless writing that pretty much sums up what the past several months of book-writing have been like.  If you write, you’ll probably relate, and if you don’t write, you’ll hopefully get an idea of what fun you are/aren’t missing out on.  :D

Haikus of a Frustrated Writer

I wrote ninety-nine
stories, but I don’t like one.
Writing, Jay-Z style.

Write about a dog
with knives where his legs should be.
Some prompts are so lame.

Three hours of writing
Final word count has decreased.
Think I need a beer.

A scribble, a scratch.
This story’s a piece of crap.
Now it’s in the trash.

Only a writer
would give up a night of sleep
searching for one word.

I can be normal
or I can be a writer.
But I can’t be both.

With my pencil, I
can change the world; but mostly,
I just change my mind.

One of my favorites.  BUT, an alternate title could be: “A Haiku About Editing Once I Finish Writing My Story”