Random Newsletter No. 4
A little late, a little weird.
Hello and happy holidays! Welcome to the fourth edition of my newsletter. Last time I mentioned that scheduling is hard. It still is. Part of the delay with this issue is due to time spent pondering what to put in this thing.
Upon pondering, I realized that while I am both easily entertained and amused, other people—such as yourself—may be more discerning. What can I do that will entertain and amuse us both?
I'm not really sure!
But I am going to try a few new things and see how it goes. Feedback is always welcome, cherished, and given a special place in both my heart and home. If I had a fireplace, I would totally make a Cherished Mantle of Feedback for it.
Let's get started!
Pocket Best of 2021. Something for everyone. Want to be inspired? Like pretty pictures? Maybe you just can't get enough about COVID-19 and its many interesting variants? Pocket has you covered.
A field guide to productivity apps (courtesy Austin Kleon). As someone who has had similar experiences in testing apps (I love testing apps) I can relate to more than a few of the outcomes described herein.
A Creative Journey with Felix Hernandez (Affinity). I love this kind of stuff. I once started making a scale model balsa wood roller coaster when I was about 14 years old. It mostly ended with glue on everything and only enough track to result in the death of everyone on board, had it been an actual roller coaster. Felix is more successful with his wood cabin.
I'm going to include some sort of drawing or comic thing I've done with each newsletter. It may be something old I came across or something I made in an atomic explosion of inspiration five minutes before hitting the big Publish button. For this edition, I present a modified version of an Inktober prompt I did, all spruced up for the holidays, featuring an ever-smiling Gum Gum Person. You may be seeing more of them in the future.
Random writing, Prompt 1 0f 5,000
In 2016, I tried restarting my fiction writing by challenging myself to do every prompt in a book containing 1,000 writing prompts. Ambitious!
I made it through the first ten prompts.
I realized the problem was twofold:
I was primarily looking for fiction prompts, and this book was not particularly aimed at fiction writing.
Writing is hard.
Three years later, I got another book of writing prompts, this time with 5,000 of them. Go big, I thought! But I ended up doing little with them, because procrastination is way easier than writing, which is hard.
But now I want to revisit that. The writing, not the procrastination. Here's my plan:
In every newsletter I will write a super-short story--sometimes only a few sentences long--based on the prompts in this book of prompts, which is called 5,000 Writing Prompts. I know, the title is a model of efficiency. It's written by Bryn Donovan and you can find it listed on Goodreads here:
I intend to start with the first prompt and go through them in order until I finish all 5,000, go insane, win the lottery or something else. Probably something else. Although I did win $5 in the lottery this week.
The first section of the book is Fiction Prompts. Perfect!
Prompt 1: The arrival of a letter, email, or package
(NOTE: I actually used this prompt when I first got the book. My story was about writer's block. I never finished it. The irony. The story below is new for this newsletter. See what I did there? Writing!)
Story based on Prompt 1:
Charles Smith-Jones was a boring man. But he aspired to be more. He wanted to be a famous writer. And rich. Rich and famous, as he cleverly thought. Fame alone would be insufficient.
Charles had a problem, though. His mind was an empty vessel, and when the great god Inspiration did deign to fill it, it was with clichés, stereotypes, ideas that, when transformed into words, were terrible, but not terrible enough to provide entertainment value through their sheer awfulness. They were just terrible.
He thought of praying for guidance, for wisdom, for dumb luck, but he was not a religious man and his prayers, mumbled half-heartedly while he made toast in the morning, were like partly-inflated hot air balloons, rising, drifting, crashing.
On this particular day, which was a Saturday and thus a writing day, the doorbell rang. Charles could not remember the last time it had done so. He never had visitors and door-to-door salespeople had long given up on that sort of thing, at least in his neighborhood.
He opened the door to find not a person, but a package. It was wrapped in plain brown paper and bore no return address. It was just big enough to be awkward to carry. He picked it up, anyway, and crabwalked it into the kitchen.
He carefully sliced the paper away with a razor knife, revealing an entirely unremarkable cardboard box. He carefully sliced the tape holding the top of the box together and pulled back the flaps, revealing wads of packing paper inside. He removed them, carefully putting them aside on the kitchen table, thinking he might be able to re-use them later.
With the packing paper removed, Charles found himself looking at a large, smooth piece of wood. He investigated further. It seemed to be a large wooden cube.
He used the knife to cut away the rest of the box, as he did not like the idea of doing more lifting than absolutely necessary. He had some paranoia about putting out his back and being unable to pursue his dream of being a rich and famous writer.
He hoisted the cube onto the kitchen table and tried to puzzle out who would send him such a thing, and why. The effort fizzled after a few minutes, but it made him hungry, so he made more toast, sitting down at the table and eating it while staring at the cube. He turned it to look at all four sides, and it was when he turned to the fourth and final side that he saw written on it the words WRITER'S BLOCK.
Cute. So it had to be a joke. But from whom? Again, no names came to mind.
He held up the knife, still partly smeared with peanut butter, and gently poked at the cube. He steadied the cube with his other hand and pressed harder. The knife dug in. He twisted it and a curl of wood peeled off. He couldn't remember what the word was for a piece of curled wood.
He finished his toast, then got a larger knife and began working away at the cube, shaving away--that was it! The word was shaving!--more and more, unsure if he would end up with a huge pile of wood shavings on his table, which he would have to then dispose of, or if there might be something inside the block, like a Kinder surprise, which he loved as a kid.
It turned out the latter was the case.
After working away long enough for lunch to draw near, Charles at last came upon the hollowed-out center of the cube, like some kind of hidden treasure vault. What treasure would he find?
It was a typewriter. He could not remember the last time he had seen a typewriter. Maybe on a TV show set in the 1940s.
He pulled it out and took it into the dining room, setting it on the table there. It was blue and might have been a portable unit, as it was smaller than he imagined a typewriter to be. The name identified it as a Smith-Corona.
He cocked his head at it. Maybe it was a joke after all. He held out his right index finger and stabbed it down on the X key, secretly hoping to make the key stick. That was always fun to do as a kid. It did not stick. But doing this made him realize a sheet of paper was tucked into the roller. He cranked the knob to roll it up and read what had been typed on it:
Hello. Follow your dreams! Use this typewriter and you will become famous--I guarantee it!
Charles laughed, though he wasn't sure this was actually funny.
He pulled up a chair and sat at the typewriter. He snapped the guide back onto the roller and began to type. Before he had finished his first sentence--another facile bit of dross--the typewriter erupted in a huge explosion. The windows of the dining room were blasted out. The fake crystal chandelier that hung above the table and which Charles rather liked, was blown up into the ceiling and shattered. Little was left of the typewriter.
Little was left of Charles. He was quite dead.
He did earn fame of a sort, though, his unremarkable life exposed briefly by the media, who dubbed him a victim of The Typewriter Killer, a moniker so bland and unoriginal that Charles himself might have come up with it.
Notes on Prompt 1
That “super-short story” above is around 870 words, which is not super-short at all. I apologize for the length. Also, it got dark at the end in a way I hadn’t really planned, but I had to wrap it up somehow, and nothing ends a story like killing off its only character.
I’ll try to be super-short and maybe not as lethal to the characters in the next prompt.
That's it for this week. I'm saying week because I will totally, absolutely have another edition of the newsletter out next week. Really! (I knew I should have banked a year's worth of these before starting.)
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Thanks for reading,