Creative Writing

Creative Writing Exercise – Not Sarah

I’ve written four exercises now but this one, number three, is my favorite so far. It’s quite dark, although by nature I suppose it has to be. Still, when looking back at my other assignments, I do seem to gravitate toward darker subject matter. Could this be a sign?

Prompt #3 – Write the passage that would lead up to the discovery of a body. 

Not Sarah

“Sir, please come with me,” the police officer said.

I stood and followed him through a set of swinging doors and down a long, narrow corridor, taking deep breaths in a futile attempt to calm myself. The hallway was bathed in fluorescent lights so bright that I had to squint as we passed beneath them. The only sound was our footsteps as they echoed off the stark white walls.

I broke into a cold sweat as we made our way down the corridor. It’s not Sarah, I told myself. Not Sarah. Not Sarah. Not Sarah. I repeated the words over and over in my mind, trying to will them to be true. It was somebody else’s wife we were going to see, not mine. Not my beautiful Sarah with her blue, blue eyes and long blonde hair that always made me think of spun gold when it caught the sun. I didn’t know where my wife was, or where she had been for the past twenty-six days, but I refused to believe that she was here, in this awful place that smelled strongly of antiseptic cleaning products and faintly of decaying flesh.

The officer — Jeremiah, I think his name was — stopped in front of a door labelled B08. How strange, I thought. I’d been half-expecting to see a sign with the words THE MORGUE printed in ghastly Gothic lettering, not one marked with a room number like so many others we had passed. Jeremiah pushed the door open and held it for me. After a moment’s hesitation, I stepped into the room.

It was colder inside than the hallway had been. One of the walls was lined with stainless steel drawers. The rest of the room was filled with cupboards, sinks and countertops. In the middle was a morgue attendant in a white lab coat. He stood beside a table, also stainless steel, upon which lay a body covered in a white sheet. I felt my heart rate quicken.

Not Sarah. Not Sarah.

I swallowed hard and lagged behind Jeremiah until we were standing across the table from the attendant.

Jeremiah turned to me. “She’s got some bruising around the face,” he said. “And there’s swelling.”

I clenched my jaw and stared hard at the floor.

“Are you ready?” he asked mildly.

Was he serious? How could I ever be ready to find out if my wife was dead? Still, I wanted this over with, so I took another deep breath and gave him a curt nod.

Slowly, the morgue attendant pulled back the sheet to reveal the face of the dead woman.

Creative Writing Exercise – A River Runs Through It

Today I’m posting my second Creative Writing exercise. You can find the first exercise here.

The Prompt – This story looks at setting, and how we use it in fiction. I want you to write a scene/story from the point of view of one of the “persons” – lst, 2nd,or 3rd. I’ll give you the setting. The character is standing by a river. He/she has just come from a meeting with someone from his/her past. I want you to use the landscape to help us understand the character’s state of mind (tranquil, stormy, whatever.) In short stories nothing is there that is not necessary to the story. Therefore the description of a river, or the mentioning of a river, is significant. See what you can come up with.

A River Runs Through It

Christine ambled down the gentle slope toward the river. She stopped just before reaching the bank, then sat cross-legged on the grass, her hands folded in her lap, and watched as the river flowed lazily downstream before finally meandering around a bend and disappearing. It was a dreary day, the kind of day best spent indoors watching television or reading a book. The sky was heavy with clouds that threatened rain, and the pale light that still managed to filter through seemed to strip the world of all colour, leaving behind muted greys and browns where before there were vibrant greens and blues. Everything was quiet and still; no birds sang from the trees, no breeze ruffled her hair. The river itself appeared sluggish and lethargic, as though resisting the unseen force that pushed it ever onward to places unknown. Christine watched as a small eddy near the bank drew in a stray twig, swirling it around in slow circles before finally spitting it out and allowing it to resume its ceaseless journey.

She felt as though she too had been dislodged from her place of safety and set adrift, each day flowing endlessly into the next, forever moving in the same direction toward an uncertain future, with only the occasional obstacle to drag her off-course. She’d come from a chance encounter with Jason, a man to whom she’d once been engaged. He was newly married now, with a baby on the way. Although she’d been pleased to see him and catch up on the past five years, it left her feeling lonely and more than a little sorry for herself.

Things hadn’t ended well between them. Christine had called off the engagement after only a few months, had fumbled her way through an explanation about not believing they were right for each other; that he wanted kids, she didn’t; that they’d just end up resenting each other down the road. That was probably all true, but she didn’t want to tell him the real reason, because the real reason was that she’d felt as though she were…settling.

Jason had been a planner. He’d always kept a mental timeline of where they’d needed to be and when they’d needed to be there by. It was simultaneously comforting and infuriating. On the one hand, it was a relief not to have to worry about the minutiae of everyday life, to never again be shamefully late for a social event with friends. On the other hand, it lent a contrived feeling to everything they did, almost as though if something didn’t exist within the carefully regimented schedule inside Jason’s head, then it didn’t exist at all. So it came as no surprise that when she’d pictured their future together, it had been filled with polite conversation over weekly dinners out, and Sunday brunch at his parent’s house eating quiche lorraine and discussing the political events of the past week. It was all perfectly lovely, perfectly safe, perfectly mundane.

She wasn’t sure why she’d accepted Jason’s proposal in the first place, why she’d knowingly made such a selfish decision that had put them both through unnecessary heartache. Young and stupid, she told herself, even though she hadn’t been that young, not really, not at thirty, and she certainly didn’t consider herself to be stupid. No, she’d gone into the whole thing with her eyes wide open, had known what she was getting herself into, but at that point in her life, she’d been so disenchanted by the entire dating scene that she couldn’t help but crave some stability.

Now, five years on, Christine refused to ever settle again. She’d come too far and sacrificed too much. She wouldn’t give up until she found the one person that she was meant to be with.

She sighed heavily and fought a sudden, crazy urge to wade into the river and lie back, letting the current carry her away and deposit her in a far-off place where her married friends didn’t look at her with pity, where finding true love wasn’t a constant struggle. She wondered if such a place even existed at all.

Christine sat and stared out over the river for a long time, then got up, brushed herself off, and made her way back down the footpath to her car, to her responsibilities, to her lonely, lonely life.

Creative Writing Exercise – Satan’s Servant

I thought I’d try something a little different with this blog post. I recently started a Creative Writing course and just submitted my first Creative Writing exercise. I thought that I would share it here since, hey, it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want to! 

It’s a brief description to the prompt “the devil recruiting a new servant”. Cheers!

Satan’s Servant

Satan pointed at a minion with a long, blackened finger, his forked tongue flicking across his leathery lips. “Bring me another,” he hissed.

Almost every pitiful soul who came before Satan dropped to their knees and begged for his mercy, realizing too late – much too late – that the acts they had committed in their former lives did not come without everlasting consequences. Satan loathed them, despised them all. He took great pleasure in listening to their agonized screams as they slowly roasted over the scorching hellfires of eternal damnation.

The man who came forth now, however, was not like those others. He did not bend under Satan’s withering stare, nor did he whimper in fear and cowardice. This man stood tall, meeting Satan’s fiery gaze with a burning intensity of his own. It had been far too long since Satan had seen that look in a man’s eye.

It was a look of defiance.

Yes, Satan thought to himself. This one shall do nicely.

When Satan spoke to the man, his voice had a slithery, snakelike quality to it, as though it was a physical thing that could reach out, wrap itself around you, and squeeze tightly. “At last, one who does not cower in fear before me! Others would call that foolish, but I welcome it. Indeed, I reward it.”

Satan stepped closer to the man, towering over him, reeking of festering flesh. “Over the millennia, I have kept a watchful eye for those who are not afraid to show pride in the actions of their past life. They do not come to me often, but when they do, I reward them greatly. You are one of those fortunate few.” A slow smile crept across the man’s face as Satan spoke. “You have been chosen to return to the earth, where you shall rise up as a great man, bringing much death and destruction to the world’s people. They shall suffer greatly by your hand.”

Satan’s eyes bored into the man’s so intently that they, too, began to burn with a reddish glow. Satan continued in a menacing tone, “Fail me, and you shall suffer like no other before you; succeed, and you shall have a place at my side for all eternity.”

He placed a gnarled, scathing hand upon the man’s shoulder, a vicious, nasty gleam in his eye. His lips peeled back, revealing several rows of razor-sharp, rotting teeth. This time when he spoke, it was in a low, sinister whisper. “They shall call you…Hitler.”

The Trouble with Goodreads

I was visiting the Goodreads page for the recently announced A Beautiful Wedding novella, the follow-up to Walking Disaster by Jamie McGuire, when I saw this in the Community Reviews section:

Well, this ticked me off enough to want to write my first rant!

Why have two different people given a one-star rating to various editions of the same book? Well, actually, the why is obvious – they want to drag the overall rating of the book down. The real question is, given all of the recent controversy surrounding Goodreads and their deletion of reviews that are more a critique of an author than of the book, how is it that Goodreads is policing that so “well”, but ignoring this much more obvious tactic? Because, to me, this seems like another, much nastier way of slamming an author.

Based on the shelves that Alisa has put this book on (never and puppies-and-kittens), it leads me to believe that she has not, and will never, read this book. So why then should she have the right to rate it? Not just rate it, but rate it THREE TIMES!

And as for Shelley (Goodreads is All About the $$$), I think she’s living in a fairyland of flowers and butterflies. Was she born yesterday? Of course Goodreads is all about the money. Why else would they spend their time building and maintaining such an awesome social network for us to enjoy? For the good of their health? For puppies and kittens? Does she think it’s free for them to operate those servers and maintain that web site? Does she think authors don’t want to sell books?

So yes, even though Goodreads “the company” may be all about the money, Goodreads “the user base” is all about the books. So why don’t you do your part to write insightful reviews, Shelley, instead of helping to undermine the Goodreads rating system as a whole?

How to Make Goodreads Better

Here are a couple of improvements that Goodreads could make to prevent this type of abuse:

  • Disallow reviewers from rating multiple editions of the same book. (Honestly, I’m not sure how these “reviewers” were able to do this in the first place. I wasn’t able to when I tried. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.)
  • A rating by itself, without any sort of explanation as to why someone rated it that way, is utterly useless. The What did you think? field should be mandatory when writing a review.

Even with the above improvements in place, it still wouldn’t have prevented Shelley and Alisa from rating a book that they had never read in the first place. I really can’t see any solution to that particular problem, but I think that implementing the above suggestions would be a step in the right direction.

As for Shelley and Alisa, they’ve pissed me off enough that I am going to report them and wait to see what, if anything, Goodreads does about them.

Goodreads, are you listening?

What do you think? Did these people abuse the Goodreads system? And what, if anything, should be done about it?

UPDATE: Someone on Google+ pointed out to me that some readers use the rating system to influence the book recommendations that Goodreads makes for them. If that’s the case, then it sounds like perhaps both the ratings and recommendations systems may need to be overhauled.

Becoming a Book Depository Affiliate – Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge

If you’re not already an affiliate with one or more online book retailers like The Book Depository or Amazon, you really should be. As an affiliate, you can earn a commission if someone visits one of these online retailers via a link from your blog, and subsequently makes a purchase. You’ll never get rich by doing this, but why say no to free money that you can use to help you offset the costs of maintaining your blog?

Unfortunately, signing up to become an affiliate isn’t as easy as you might think. There are a number of steps you’ll need to follow and hoops you’ll have to jump through in order to be accepted. For this challenge, I’m going to cover how to become a Book Depository affiliate.

Joining the Book Depository Affiliate Program

To become an affiliate for The Book Depository, start by visiting their affiliate page. After reading over the information on that page to better familiarize yourself with their program, click on the big purple Click here to join button at the top:

Next, fill out the form on the following page. Most of the fields are self-explanatory. For Referral ID, you might want to set this to be the name of your blog. After submitting the form, you should then receive an email similar to the following:

You’ll need to reply to this email and provide a brief explanation of what your blog is about and why you would like to be an affiliate.

Once that is done, you’ll have to play the waiting game. Happily, The Book Depository was fairly responsive and I was approved after about a day:

Congratulations! You are now a Book Depository affiliate and can login to their affiliate site using the username and password specified in the email.

Building the URL

At this point, you have a custom URL that you can use to send people to The Book Depository when they click on a link on your blog. That URL has the following format:

http://www.bookdepository.com/book/ISBN13/?a_aid=affiliateID

where ISBN13 is the ISBN13 number of the particular book, and affiliateID is the Affiliate ID specified in your approval email.

As an example, let’s suppose we want to build an affiliate link for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (an excellent book BTW). We would start by visiting The Book Depository site, searching for Hunger Games, and then making note of the ISBN13 number. In this case, that number is 9780439023528:

Let’s suppose my Affiliate ID is abc123. The URL I would use to link to The Hunger Games on The Book Depository’s web site would look like this:

http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9780439023528/?a_aid=abc123

The abc123 is the part of the URL that identifies your blog as the source of the visit to The Book Depository.

Setting Up DirectLink

You can stop right now and read no further if you are OK with using the above URL, or you can make things marginally easier on yourself by setting up a DirectLink. A DirectLink means that instead of using a URL such as this:

http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9780439023528/?a_aid=abc123

you can use a URL that looks like this:

http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9780439023528

That is, you can leave off the Affiliate ID.

The instructions to set up a DirectLink are in the email above, but let’s walk through them anyway. Start by visiting this web page and logging in using the credentials from your approval email. Next, click on Promotion and then DirectLink URLs in the sidebar (if the image below is too small, just click on it for a larger version):

Now, click on the Add url button at the bottom. To figure out what to enter in the URL field of the pop-up that appears, you need to know what the domain name of your blog is. Using Book Wookie as an example, my domain name is bookwookie.ca (i.e. in your browser’s address bar, it is everything after the http:// but before the first slash). Once you know that, just add * in front and at the end of the domain name. So my DirectLink is:

*bookwookie.ca*

You can leave all of the other settings at their defaults. In the screen capture above, you can see that I’ve tested that I’ve used the correct DirectLink by filling out the Test URL matching section.

Now, once again, you need to wait for your DirectLink to be approved. You should receive an email once that has been done, and you are then free to use Book Depository URLs that don’t contain your Affiliate ID.

The Bloggiesta Mini-Challenge

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to start the ball rolling by joining The Book Depository affiliate program. You will likely not be able to complete this task by the end of the weekend, since you are at the mercy of being approved by The Book Depository, but at least you can fill out the initial form and get things started. Your reward? Money! Depending on the amount of traffic you get to your blog, this could be a little or a lot.

And in case you’re not sure exactly what Bloggiesta is, be sure to visit their web site to learn more.

I hope that you’ve found this article helpful and if you have any questions, be sure to throw them up in the comments and I will respond. Best of luck in your quest to become a Book Depository affiliate!