Tag Archives: creative

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.


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.  😀

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”

Extreme Writing Challenge #31: “Fired Up”

I’m impressed with myself that I managed to write another story already this week.  Not only have I been trying to keep up with my Goodreads pledge to read 75 books this year, and train for my 5k this weekend, but I’ve been unreasonably busy with trying to break my cats’ bad habits.  For instance, one of them has discovered how to reach my out-of-reach stash of scarves and constantly drags them all over the house and leaves them in random places for me to find.  As soon as I’ve gathered them all up, I turn around to find another one lying in the middle of the floor.  Sigh…

Anyway, here’s a new story, hot off the press.  You’ll find out at the bottom what today’s challenge was!


Sitting on the purple leather couch, I don’t know what I ought to be doing.  I can remember what we ate for breakfast, how many red cars we passed on the way here, and the cheap, leaden sound of the doorbell.  But sitting here now, I can’t recall the reason Mom drove us here in the first place.

Katie turns the dial on Dad’s old TV, hoping for the glint of a cartoon character as she sails past soap operas and paper towel commercials.  I creep down off the couch and sneak over to the doorway.   Cupping my ear, I strain to sift Mom’s whispers out of the sampling of sounds on the television.  Mom told us to wait in here while she talks to Dad.

Katie hesitates at channel 42, intrigued by a baby in a dinosaur costume.  When she turns the dial there is only static, and another turn takes her back to the first channel.  “You’re back at the beginning, just pick something,” I tell Katie, who surfs again through all of the channels with preserved enthusiasm.   When she finally settles on a program about elephants, I let myself relax.  It’s not hard to separate the sound of my mom and dad from the gentle narrator on the TV.

Part of me immediately wishes Katie would change the channel to the loudest, most chaotic show she can find.  Either a walrus is dying or Mom is sobbing.  Worried that Katie might hear, I ask her, “Can you turn it up a little?”  Katie stares at me with a finger in her mouth and says, “Why don’t you just sit closer?”  Before I can answer, footsteps thump down the hallway like conga drums.  I throw myself back onto the couch, but the footsteps pass our room.  I return to my post at the door.

From the kitchen comes the musical sound of a glass shattering against the wall.  “Jesus H. Christ, Veronica, how many times do we have to do this?” Dad shouts.  Katie turns the volume up from 8 to 12.  In Dad’s bedroom, where the footsteps had stopped, drawers open and slam shut.  Mom is back there, cursing like they do on the DVDs we’re not allowed to watch.

Dad bursts into our room.  He’s quiet and only stares at us, eyes darting from me to Katie to me again.  Katie wants to cry, I can see it in her eyes.  Finally she asks, quietly, “Daddy, did you know Asian elephants can tear down trees with their trunks?”

Behind Dad, Mom appears suddenly in the doorway.  She’s out of breath.  “Riley, Katie, we need to go.  Now!”  Grabbing Katie’s hand, we follow Mom down the hallway and out the front door.  “What about Daddy?” Katie asks.  “How come we didn’t get to say goodbye?”

As Mom ushers us out onto the front step, the smoke detector begins to screech.  Katie stops briefly and says, “Is Daddy’s house on fire?”  Mom doesn’t answer, she just opens the back door and hurries us into our seats.  Dad runs out of the house with the phone to his ear, but by the time he sees us we’re backing into the street.

“Mommy?” Katie asks, turning so she can watch Dad as he fades into the background, “when do we get to see Daddy again?”

“Never,” Mom says.   “Now, buckle your seatbelt.  Mommy’s about to give this car a whole lot of gas.”


Today’s challenge was:  The first letter of each sentence does not appear anywhere else in that sentence, beginning with the second word.  So if the first word of the sentence is “Sitting,” the letter S can appear only in that first word and not again in that same sentence.

Now let’s see if I can walk through the kitchen to my bedroom without finding a scarf or two in a heap on the floor…

Extreme Writing Challenge #24: “Alone”

Dear, dear readers, did you all happen to look at the final list of words submitted over the weekend for my next challenge?  Not to mention that there were some submitted on Facebook as well.  And they made this story one HELL of a doozy to write.  But I did it!  😀

First, I’ll list off the loony collection of words you submitted to me–that way, you know ahead of time how hard I was banging my head against the wall by the time I finished this story!  But on a more serious note, thanks to all who submitted your favorite words, and I hope you enjoy what they helped create.



Roger Padwell celebrated his 25th year of teaching biology by purchasing a chocolate cake from the upscale bakery that had opened next to the university.  When he arrived home, he retrieved a fork from the kitchen and sat in front of the television with the entire cake in his lap, still in the box.

The first moist bite of cake melted in Roger’s mouth like the slow spread of warmth by a fire on a cold day.  Though Roger’s more social, ostentatious colleagues preferred large dinners and expensive wine to celebrate their teaching milestones, Roger preferred an evening alone with a scrumptious dessert.  It was here, alone, that he daydreamed about a day when he might storm the university and defenestrate the rest of his department.  They were threatened by his broad range of knowledge.  That he could talk for hours about anything from the classification of a paramecium to the habitats of succulents was what made him feared, when he should have been admired.

As he ate, Roger began to cogitate about the state of social oblivion his career had left him in.  Once a charming, extroverted young man, Roger now palmed the smooth spot on his head delivered by alopecia.  He wondered when he had transitioned from being his own puppet master to a puppet himself, controlled by the knowledge that nobody liked him.

“Yikes,” he said aloud, as if such a word would subtract years from his life, replace some of the hair on his head.

Roger set down his fork and peeked through the curtains.  In the front window of the house across the street, which was wrapped in icicle Christmas lights, a joyful family danced to carols by the light of candelabra.

It was a concoction for wholeness Roger would never know.  He closed up the cake box, turned on his favorite Billie Holiday record, and began to write the next day’s lesson plan.



Extreme Writing Challenge #23: “Silhouette”

It’s strange to have gone over a week without a post, but home renovations threw a wrench in the writing plans this past week!  I’m back on track now with a new story–can you identify the challenge?  It’s probably easier to notice than the past few have been.  I’ll reveal it at the end!


Every morning for one week, Deanne stared down the apple fritter on her kitchen counter with contempt.  Then she proceeded to the bedroom, where she pinched her bare buttocks in front of the mirror as she wondered which shirts in her closet hung low enough to cover such a rear end.

Out of the nine women in the office, Deanne considered herself the least attractive.  She fretted over her weight even though she was, she guessed, the third skinniest woman in the building.  For one week, Deanne committed herself to one of those strange fad diets.  She was forced to boycott pasta, bagels, cheese, pretzels, frozen yogurt.  Smitten as she was with food, Deanne would rather have plucked off all ten of her fingers had it meant she would drop a dress size.

At the end of the week, Deanne shared an unforgettable moment with a pair of boot-cut jeans.  Her heart fluttered as she pulled up on the zipper and was still able to breathe, able to move from side to side without the button popping open.

Flattered by her reflection, Deanne filled a trash bag with the contents of her pantry.  She stuffed the bag with all of her favorite foods until all that was left in her kitchen was a loaf of wheat bread, a carton of egg whites, and half a head of lettuce.

Deanne became bitter toward food.  She bought herself a pair of stilettos and pranced proudly around the office as her waistline shrunk.  The first time the handsome accountant said, “Deanne, you look pretty today,” Deanne celebrated by throwing up the baby carrots she’d eaten for lunch.

Several Mondays came and went until one Monday, Deanne woke up and discovered she’d been admitted to the hospital.  She had been dreaming about a plate of fettuccine that was covered in spiders.  Now awake, Deanne attempted to escape the prison of IVs and beeping machines, but was stopped by her mother, who sat unnoticed by the door.

“In case you’ve forgotten,” whispered Deanne’s mother, “you’re my only child.”  Though she was relieved to finally confront her daughter, a bittersweet taste lingered in her mouth.  “Look how gaunt you’ve gotten.”

Deanne, locked in her mother’s grasp, scoffed, “Mom, it’s just a little diet.”  She collapsed on to the bed, regretting nothing.  Her mother saw a ghost—a silhouette of a skeleton.  But Deanne stared into the mirror across from her and rejoiced in finally attaining beauty.


If you noticed an extra dose of T’s in this story, you’re on the right track.  The challenge was:  Every sentence contains at least one unique word containing a double-T.


Extreme Writing Challenge #19: Up All Night

If you noticed my slightly-longer-than-usual absence, a recent business trip is to blame.  However, during my trip I made an impromptu visit to Hollywood (my first time), and I have never had such prime seating for people-watching.  Holy inspiration, Batman!

Anywhooo……here is a new story.  This challenge might be easy for some of you to identify.  Happy reading, and I’ll reveal the challenge at the end!


Drained of motivation after a rough night, Edith tried to smooth the flyaway hairs of her frizzy mane.  The old Russian stylist who lived down the hall would tell Edith it was time for a new look.  Though Edith never gave it serious thought, she always promised that nosy Elena she’d consider some highlights.

Even with an early start, Edith arrived late to brunch.  Her mother, father, and sister were seated at a table against the wall and, as if they knew she had been up crying half the night, they had already ordered coffee for Edith.  Her mother pulled out the empty chair so Edith could sit, and her big, baby-like eyes were so full of zeal that Edith dreaded delivering the news.

As Edith removed her coat, her sister said, “Well don’t take all day, Edith, give us the good news!”

Edith swallowed a hard lump of shame as she realized this wouldn’t be as easy as she had hoped.  They stared at her together, their expectant expressions identical, and Edith’s confidence began to fall apart.  She said, “We were wrong; right after I arrived, he broke up with me.”

None of them spoke, but they all began to stir their coffee as if extra creamer had magically materialized inside of their cups.  Edith carried on and browsed the menu, hoping to ward off an awkward interrogation.

At last, her father set down his spoon and stared at Edith until she looked up and locked eyes with him.  “I know you loved him,” he told his daughter, “but I don’t have to hide it any longer:  I hated that man.”

Edith and her father were close, but they’d always kept the topic of love distant from their conversations.  When the subject did sneak its way in during their discussions, they tossed them right back out.

“I was the first to say it wouldn’t last,” he continued.

Edith thought it best not to tell him that she had actually been the first to say it—after all, the end of her relationship wasn’t the worst thing her father was going to hear that morning.


Didja get it?  Didja?  If you didn’t (or if you did and you just want to confirm your awesomeness), the challenge was:  Every sentence contains a pair of opposites.  For example:  rough/smooth, close/distant, best/worst.  For some extra fun, read it again and see if you can pick out all the pairs.  😀

Extreme Writing Challenge #18: “Bad Dad Alliance”

I’ll tell you right now:  this is the most excruciating story I’ve written to date.  I’m sure some of you will catch on to the challenge, but if you don’t, you’ll see it at the end.  Meanwhile, I’m exhaling a HUGE sigh of relief now that this challenge is complete.


I hadn’t wanted to join the Bad Dad Alliance, but when my wife died, it felt like the right thing to do.  My daughter Ellen and I didn’t get along well, and I dreaded the time ahead of me:  eating alone, going to the gym alone, gardening alone, lying in bed alone.  Lou had been begging me to join the Alliance, and once Madeline gave in to the call of Death, the thought of guaranteed company comforted me.

After my initiation, there were 18 men in the Bad Dad Alliance.  We got together once a week at a crumbly brick building downtown with an old, broken traffic light affixed to the door.  Before I joined, I had thought the Alliance met to drink beer and play poker.  But that old brick building turned out to be a wonderland filled with everything I’d dreamt of while growing up.  I found Lou and David on a giant trampoline in the center of the room while Eric worked on a model train made with a full mile of track.   I gawked in wonder at the Theatre of Magic pinball machine, the RC car collection, the pool table, the 84-inch TV, and the bar filled with high-priced liquor.

I laughed excitedly, frozen in awe in the doorway.  From the trampoline, Lou cried, “Get on up here!”

“What the hell?” I crowed.  “I’ve got to admit, Lou, I’m a little taken aback.”

Lou jumped down and grabbed a beer for me.  “Why do you think I kept hounding you to join the Alliance?”

Tony walked in behind me with pizza and added, “And why do you think we call it the Bad Dad Alliance?”

We dug into the pizza and plopped down on the leather couch in front of the TV.  Lou chugged a beer and explained, “I tell my wife we play poker when we meet up.  I’d never tell her the truth about our manly utopia.”

Eric, who continued to work on the model train while he ate, admitted, “We all pretend we’re broke when we’re really not.  We pool our money and have a little covert fun.”

That night, a month after Madeline died, the Bad Dad Alliance proved to me that I could, indeed, dodge the real world if only for one night a week.  Retreat from reality.  That part felt good.

But I couldn’t help wondering:  had I known all along what really went on when the Bad Dad Alliance convened, would I have done it?  Would I have traded in time with my Madeline for fraudulent fun with men who take what they have for granted?

I wanted to think I would not have.  But in front of the 84-inch TV on the leather couch with a beer in hand, I knew that I probably would have. That part hurt like hell.


Now for the reveal:  the challenge was that this story does not contain the letter sI never thought I would be so desperate to use the letter s, but now that I can again:  sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!!!