The Layover

Comments Off on The Layover

Sylvia toweled off in the truck shop’s washroom. She looked in the metal mirror and despaired about diesel grime that still coated her sunburn. Her cell phone sitting next to the scratched sink chirped at her, carrying the voice of her boyfriend Redmund.

“Sylvie,” he said over the speakerphone. “Watcha doing now? Real quiet in there.”

“Washing up, okay? You try slugging a rig down I-80 for six hours after a thrown fan belt tossed you off schedule. I’m a whole day behind on my miles.” The damn carrier knew, of course. They tracked her through that phone like a pelican after mackerel. GPS, yeah — Giddyup, Push and Steer.

“Okay, okay. Why so touchy, Trucker Gal?”

“Thinking of what my mom said when I stopped in Fort Collins on Monday. Had my laundry and that dog Butch to drop off. Mom said I wouldn’t look white again if I sat in a tub of bleach.”

“The grime, huh? Important to see you clean and girly.”

“You don’t know, fella. Her part of Fort Collins is so upper crust even the maids are European. Trucker Gal troubles her. Like I’m slumming on those 18 wheels. Instead of trying to pay off the old man’s gambling debts.” Banging rattled the metal door of the washroom. “Gotta go. Some rig-monkey wants his turn.”

“Whoa. I don’t like the sound of that.”

“His turn to shower, nimrod. I got this handled.” She thumbed the disconnect and stepped into gray pants and the company orange shirt with the logo and her name on it.

At the bar she perched on a vinyl black stool with a back. The barman eyed her like they all did, first at her chest and then her nametag. “So Syl, what’ll it be?”

“You’re asking me about my drink?”

“What else?”

“I think we both know what else. But I just got cleaned up, so let’s stick to the liquor. Make mine a shot of that low-rent scotch.”

He left a glass of Peat Brothers on the formica bar-top and started pulling beers. The laughter from the sports trivia game that was mounted on the corner of the bar made the back of her neck tingle. Mom wouldn’t even be thinking of her daughter’s color, or being clean, here in Cheyenne. Sylvia sipped at the scotch and shivered.

“None too smooth, huh?” This was a different voice, low and slow behind her. She turned to see a black man, something that stood out in Wyoming like an elk with bells on his antlers.

“Not smooth, no.” There wasn’t a tub of bleach that would ever turn him white, either. They had that much in common already, at least for a night of her layover on I-80.

Lifting stories off a floor plan

Comments Off on Lifting stories off a floor plan

Here’s an exercise designed to get a writer thinking about history, daring prose and point of view. Draw out the floor plan for a house in your life. Simple, not complex drawing, but include every room you can recall.

Now that you have your floor plan, take 20 minutes to write a story about an event that took place in that house. Positive, negative, scary, surprising. Something significant that happened in that floor plan.

Write the story from the point of view of the house. Let the house speak as if it knows what’s happening only from what it can hear the occupants say, or see what they do.

If this is a house from your childhood, so much the better. The writing has a chance to be more daring, truthful. Don’t worry about what your parents or your siblings will say about your writing. Everything that has happened in your life is your story to tell. Your version is just as truthful as anyone else’s.

In the safe environment we create in The Writer’s Workshop, following the AWA methods, you can push down into the deepest part of your memories, the writing that is not therapy, but theraputic. It can begin with a sketch of a building, one that has stories to tell over many years. The exercise is a way of making the old adage come alive: If these walls could talk…

Found objects, remembered city

Comments Off on Found objects, remembered city

Over the weekend at The Writer’s Workshop we held the second Saturday Sampler, a meeting long enough to provide time for many more exercises than the average weekly group meeting. A Sampler doesn’t have a manuscript response session, so it’s more than five hours of writing and reading.

Oh, and there’s brunch and lunch, too.

On Saturday we had time to dip into our basket of found objects, items like ancient measurement rulers, Dr. Pepper original bottles and chalkboard erasers. A single matchbox from a New Orleans hotel, the St. Ann, unlocked a little scene for me of two newlywed characters from Viral Times. The scene was post-Katrina, in a New New Orleans trying to make it back to destination status.

Objects led all of us to good, surprising writing. It’s like having a focal point to study while you practice a balance pose in yoga. Your conscious mind is given an object to build writing around, and you roll up your windowshades to let the imagination spill out of you.

Listen to a Verb with Verve

Comments Off on Listen to a Verb with Verve

Deep at the heart of our Writer’s Workshop practices lies reading. Out loud, so you can hear your writing voice and feel what you meant while putting those words on paper. Readings are a significant part of being a writer. The ability to perform a work can make it stand out. Bringing it to the level you want involves reading it, at least for yourself.

If you enjoy reading of written work, I can recommend Selected Shorts, the public radio icon that puts stories from the likes of Kate Chopin, James Thurber and Raymond Carver in the mouths of seasoned actors. But for a more genuine experience, have a listen at Verb, voted by the Library Journal as one of the best magazines of 2005. is also a very different kind of magazine. It arrives on a CD, since it’s an aural take on stories. Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer winner, reads from one of his novels in Verb’s first issue. You can have a listen to that and other excerpts for free at the Verb podcast Web page,