Friday, September 28, 2007

Movie Plot: Old Maids

The idea for this exercise was to distill a movie plot down to its essence (you may have seen these in the theaters: "A burn victim tries to reconnect with his two children" as "Star Wars" boiled down), then write a scene from that boiled down plot. It was a fun little two-part exercise, but I'll reverse it here: the writing first, then the plot summary, and last, the movie I used as inspiration.

  Victoria's hearing wasn't so good these days, but Madeleine's was, so it was by Madeleine's liver-spotted hand suddenly lifting from her shoulder that Victoria knew that Jerrold had entered the room. She turned to her left and adjusted her wire-rimmed spectacles until the black-and-white skunk came into focus. “I'm leaving,” he said, looking down his long snout at the two humans, which was impressive for a five-foot creature even though Victoria was seated.
  Madeleine had taken a step back and folded her arms, her creased face now blank of emotion. Victoria carefully closed the photo album, keeping her finger on the page of their Bermuda holiday. “What do you mean, “I'm leaving”?” Madeleine's voice tended to shake, so Victoria did the loud talking when loud talking was to be done.
  “Just that,” the skunk said. “I've collected my things. I've cleaned the upstairs this morning and I've just now finished the kitchen. This room,” he waved a paw at the floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with treatises, tomes, trinkets, and tchotchkes, “you can clean yourselves.”
  “Now, see here,” Victoria said, though she'd heard most of her words, “do you mean to say you're just up and leaving, without even the courtesy of giving notice?” She looked to Madeleine, who nodded.
  “This is my notice, and it's more than you deserve.” He smoothed down the wrinkled tan shirt he was wearing. It took Victoria a moment to recognize it as the one he'd been wearing when they'd hired him.
  “Just a moment, just a moment.” She pushed herself to her feet, still keeping her place in the photo album. “We have treated you as well as you could ask for--”
  “Ha!” The vehemence of Jerrold's sharp interruption was like a slap in the face. She recoiled, blinking. “You think I don't know what's going on? The tomato-juice bath oil? The 'special' cleaning products you insist on me using? Your house rules about my friends and family?”
  “What on earth are you talking about?” Madeleine cut in. Victoria wished she hadn't. She sounded like a frightened old woman.
  “I don't know why you're doing it, but I won't have any more of it. I can barely recognize my own scent anymore, there's more and more fur left behind every time I take one of your baths, and I swear my claws are getting softer.”
  “You're imagining things.” Victoria had no trouble hearing him now, his words shrill in the relative quiet of her world. One of the reasons she didn't wear a hearing aid was that she liked the muted quality of the world. Sounds only intruded when nearby, and she was attuned enough to Madeleine that they never had any trouble communicating.
  “Well, then, all the more reason for me to leave. You wouldn't want a delusional skunk in your house, living in your tiny servant's room. Who knows what I might imagine next.” He snorted and turned to leave.
  “Wait, wait!” Victoria lost her place in the photo album in her haste to move forward.
  Jerrold shook his head. “No, I don't think I shall.” He turned in the doorframe.
  “Where will you go?” Victoria called. “Back to the Kennel?”
  “If they'll have me.” Jerrold lowered his head. “That's what you've wanted, isn't it? To tear me away from my people.”
  “To elevate you above your station!” Victoria took another step forward. She lifted her arms as though raising the skunk's body.
  “My station.” Jerrold laughed. “What do you know or care about my station? What would you have me do once I've been 'elevated,' as you put it?”
  “Everyone should aspire to rise above their circumstances,” Victoria fixed his eyes with hers. He wavered; she pressed her advantage. “Think of that gutter where you live, the squalid houses, the filthy streets. Don't you want something better?”
  He looked back at them for a long moment. “Better? To sit in this ossified museum—yes, I've picked up some of your words, how could I not?--and hide your feelings under layers of dust and varnish, to pretend you two are only old friends? Is that 'better'?”
  Victoria heard Madeleine's sharp hiss behind her. She ignored it. “Jerrold, these personal insults are better than you, we thought. If you want to leave behind all we have to teach you, then by all means, walk out that door.”
  He hesitated, so that for a moment she thought she'd reached him. “I don't want to know any more of what you think is worth teaching,” he said finally. “I'll miss your money. That's all.”
  “Stop!” Madeleine called, but her voice no longer had the power it once had, something she still hadn't grown used to. Victoria couldn't think of anything more to say, and in the space of her indecision, Jerrold left.
  “Well,” she said, turning to Madeleine. “I think we'll agree that that was inconclusive.”
  “Inconclusive?” hooted the taller woman, her palm out. “Victoria, my darling, he was going back to his wretched hole despite all our efforts to make him completely unsuitable. I believe that means I win.”
  “We didn't finish,” Victoria argued. “You could hardly tell he was losing fur.”
  “He could tell.” Madeleine said. “And he was still going back. Come, come, Victoria, you won the wager on dear old Callahan's consumption. Don't be a poor sport now.”
  “You didn't pay that one until we were at the funeral,” Victoria grumbled, but she dug her small wallet out of her purse.
  Madeleine's wrinkled hand closed over the bill. “Callahan was a trickster. It would be just like you and him to fake his death. I wanted to be sure.”
  Victoria watched the bill disappear into Madeleine's purse. “You know,” she said, “the greengrocer said the apples will be in late this year.”
  Madeleine's bright eyes fixed hers. “How late?”
  “Well,” Victoria said, “he thought September 22nd. But I think it might not be until October.”
  Madeleine smiled. “I trust the grocer,” she said. “Would you like to make a small wager?”
  Victoria sat down in front of the photo album again, and smiled. “Of course, darling.”

Recognize the movie yet? Okay, the plot synopsis was:

A stuffy professor and his live-in colleague decide to ruin a woman's life on a bet and are surprised when she objects.

(I switched the genders around for the story.)

The movie, of course, was "My Fair Lady," though I realized while I was doing this that "Trading Places" has essentially the same plot. Both of them also share the distinction of being terrifically entertaining movies that come slightly unhinged at the end, though in different ways. In "My Fair Lady," I think they found they'd written themselves into a corner and needed the two main characters to get together somehow even though the story basically demands that they don't. In "Trading Places" I think they just got a really good batch of, um, inspiration and snuck the scene past the director by saying "we have two brilliant comedians in this movie, we have to let them Be Funny!"

Regardless, both of them have endings that are better than the previous scene.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Two Scenes - The Promotion

This is my take on the homework exercise, though it's a little late. We were supposed to have one character break the same news to two different audiences, with that informing the way he approached the subject. It's a really great assignment, because it forces you to look at relationships (and thus characters) pretty hard.

I wanted to do something basic, so I went with the idea of a guy getting a promotion and telling his ex-wife and new girlfriend about it. There are so many fun directions that could go, and even though the premise is kind of thin with the right kind of characters both scenes could be really charged.

All things told, I'm pleased with the characters, though they're very rough and slippery at the moment. I kept changing my mind about the way the scene should read, and it shows. So it's exceptionally long, and some things might seem a little odd or out of place, but that's just me throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick. So, here it is!

he restaurant was perfect. It was a large, open room that had been partitioned into individual tables not by booths or walls, but light and shadow. The overhead lighting was dimmed enough that the plush carpeting between seats was barely visible, and each set of candles at the center of the tables shone like a star in their votives, refracting in the cut crystal, that light caught by crystal wine glasses and bent and intensified further still. Each place setting was a star in a dark ocean, the people seated planets revolving around their twinkling lights. Around one such star Larry was circling with Anne, his girlfriend of eight months.
She was a rabbit, like him, brown in fur with large lovely brown eyes as big as moons over her short, shapely muzzle, a small nose of the palest pink framed by the cutest supernova of whiskers. Her fur was soft and thick, unfortunately like her mind, but you couldn’t have everything you wanted in life, right? She was young and she was pretty, her figure unmolested by time and children, and Larry figured that was enough; he should quit while he was ahead.
Anne’s lunatic eyes caught the dim line flickering from the votive and exploded them into a million stars scattered across the deep black of her pupils, illuminating the dark browns of her irises. She was clearly enthralled with her surroundings, looking at all the pairs of elegant people around her, sipping wine loosely, delicately, and the chandelier that hung huge in the center of the room, glowing softly from the inside, just bright enough to be quietly dazzling but not much more. It was this look that Larry lived and breathed to see, this childish and dumb wonder that kept Anne from eating her creamed spinach puff in a demure and ladylike fashion.
“Wow,” she said, and then thought to swallow the mash of spinach and pastry sprawled across her petite tongue. “This is so fancy, Larry. You’ve never taken me to any place this nice before.”
Larry gazed at her over the lip of his wine glass and grinned. “That’s because I’ve never had an occasion this special.”
Anne’s ears perked then, and her gaze came back from the heavenly chandelier to the earth-colored rabbit seated across from her. “An occasion? What occasion?”
Larry took a sip of his wine, and let the drink expand across his tongue, releasing its scents and flavors up towards his palate, the vapors creeping back towards his throat so that his nose was bombarded with all manner of fermentation from both sides. He savored the moment, closing his eyes to allow the wine full attention, then opening them again to give it to Anne. He drank in her wide, focused eyes, the bit of spinach dangling from her lip, the delicately-nibbled pastry nestled along one rim of the plate.
“Well,” Larry said, after he had taken a deep breath. “I’ve been working pretty hard at the office.”
Anne nodded fervently, “I know, Lar, and the house sure is lonely at night without you.”
“I know, I know. But you know I’ve been doing it for us, right? Putting in all the hours, taking on all those projects… It’s so I can work my way up, get more money, get some…obligations out of the way. Because we can’t be together until I take care of them.”
“Right, Lar. We can’t be together until your obligations are taken care of.” She parroted the phrase perfectly, with the certainty of a schoolgirl who had it drilled into her from August to June.
“Exactly,” Larry said, and she beamed. The candles seemed to darken for it. “Remember when I told you that Mr. Harris had stepped down two months ago?”
Anne frowned. This was a new question, and she wasn’t sure what the answer should be. “No?”
Larry slid his paw across the table, and Anne took it. She relaxed visibly when he squeezed her fingers. “Sure you do. Remember when I was going to that retirement cruise on the Kilateir, and you pouted for two whole days because I couldn’t take you?”
Anne’s whiskers and ears drooped in exact imitation. “Oh yeah, you wouldn’t take me even when I told you how much I loved kelp salad.”
He flicked an ear away from her. She squeezed his hand tighter. “There wasn’t any kelp salad there, I told you that. Anyway, I made it up to you by taking you out to that dinner on the island. Remember that?”
She nodded and her ears flapped gracelessly. “Oh, yeah! There were all those lobsters!”
Larry smiled. His ear resumed its rightful direction. “That’s right. It was all for Mr. Harris’ retirement. It was my big shot, remember? I was going to have to work hard to get that promotion.”
Anne laughed, a bubbly, girlish sound that tinkled musically across the table. “And you did! All those hours, all those projects…”
Larry nodded. “Exactly, all of them, all for you.”
“So you could take care of your obligations.”
“That’s right.”
“So we could have a life together.”
“Just so, kid.”
Anne beamed again, and Larry felt his ears warm. The wine was hitting him especially hard tonight.
“Well, this is because all of that hard work finally paid off. They announced who would fill the position today, and guess who did?”
There was a long silence, as he looked at her expectantly, and she looked a bit startled that something was expected of her. He sat and let her work it through. She would soon enough.
The candlelight reflected in her eyes flashed as the solution came to her. “Lar... Oh, Lar!” She squealed and jumped up in her seat, and he leapt up with her. The restaurant’s peace was shattered by a display of vigorous public affection the likes of which the pais surrounding the rabbits had likely not seen for many years, much less been a part of.
“Larry, that’s wonderful!” She rasped when they came up for air and lowered themselves back into their seats.
The buck grinned widely, his ears flicking to capture those murmurs of jealous conversation. “Isn’t it though? I start next week, and the raise kicks in on the paycheck after that. And it’s a big one too…none of those piffling 5% yearly hikes or anything.” He couldn’t help but puff his chest out, which made his shirt stretch around his pelt. “I’m an executive now.”
“Oh Larry!” Anne exclaimed, and clapped her paws. “Does this mean we can buy a house?”
He nodded. “One down by the sea, where you can dive for kelp every day.”
Anne squirmed in her seat, her glee bordering on ecstasy. “And we can have kits?”
“As many as you want, kid.” Larry grinned until he thought his face would split. He had never seen her this happy. Hell, he had never been this happy. At least, not since…
“But there are a few things I’ve got to take care of first.” He looked sheepish as he mentioned this, unsure of how she’d react.
“Right,” Anne said. “The obligations.” Her excitement faded, only to perk again. “But then…?”
Larry chuckled and squeezed Anne’s hand. “We’re together forever and always. If the conversation goes smoothly with Gina, I could see us getting married by the end of the year.”

The conversation with Gina was not going smoothly.
Larry held his head in his paws while the doe slammed pots and pans in the kitchen. Every clang of metal on metal or tile or whatever plywood formed the cabinets and shelves sent his ears twitching, and nearly made him leap out of his fur. In the adjacent living room, six kits sat and pretended to be doing homework, but their ears were perked towards the breakfast room constantly.
When they were together, they could spend an entire day like this; Gina would wander from room to room, looking for new things to slam down, with Larry following a respectful distance behind, waiting for her to tire herself out before trying to pick up the thread again. Towards the end, especially, she found deeper, untapped reserves of anger that let her go for much longer than before. Before they finally divorced, Gina had gone on a week-long tantrum binge, slamming her purse on the stand as she arrived from work or errands, and not letting up until she left the next morning. He knew better than to talk to her when she was like that, because almost invariably whatever she had in her paws would become a projectile aimed straight for his head. By the eighth day of quietly boiling rage and silence, he was ready to acquiesce to any of her demands. It’s the reason why the divorce proceedings went so smoothly.
Now, though, was not the time for silence. This was something that had to be worked out, and he couldn’t wait around to be ground down by Gina’s indomitable will. Even after they parted, she got everything she wanted; the house and cars, the children with no visitation rights for him, her maiden name and his previously spotless reputation. He wasn’t going to give up anything else without at least a token fight.
“What do you want?” he finally snapped at her, in a lull between clanging pots. The response, as he expected, was an explosion of bluster.
“What do I want?” She wheeled on him, her hackles raised, a wok brandished in her paw like a club. “I want you to act like a damned father to those kits in there and make sure they’re taken care of, that’s what! You walk in her with a little bit of money in your pocket and think you can treat us any kind of way. Well I’m not having it!”
“But I told you, the raise isn’t that much…”
“Oh please. It’s enough for you to have that new car sitting in our driveway!”
“That’s the company car—“
“And you expect me to believe they just hand out company cars to snot-nosed junior accountants?”
“Listen. I told you. I got a promotion at work. That promotion means more money, but it’s still not enough to give you what you’re asking for. I have to live too, you know.”
“And while you’re living with damned tramp in your fancy condominium, you got six starving kids—“
“She’s not a fucking tramp, and you know God-damned well your pantry’s full! What about the fucking gardens we planted last year, huh? Are you and your poor starving kids doing anything but wasting all the money I dumped into that fucking thing?” He felt light-headed as he stood up, the chair toppling to the floor next to him. His fur bristled inside his suit, and his limbs felt strange and light. It wouldn’t be anything at all for him to lift his arm and swing for her face…
Gina looked stricken by the sight, and her ears folded before she could stop them. For a moment, she looked cowed, and this made Larry feel almost triumphant. Then her face hardened, and her ears stood up, pointing backwards.
“That ain’t the point. The point is we both know you have more money than you’re telling me about, and you’re just being greedy. I don’t need your help, but I thought you would at least want to be a good father to those children in there, and not think about yourself all the time.” Her voice got low and quick, and she gave a furtive glance towards the living room. Larry checked quickly, and the kits were no longer making a show of studying. Half of them were staring openly towards them.
Larry hissed at her, his face drawing in close. “Don’t you try to make this about them. You know why you really want the money. You miss all the nice things I bought you, all the crap that you insisted on buying, all the jewelery and the clothes and the furniture and you can’t wait to have it all back, can you? God, that’s all you do is just take and take and take…”
Gina slapped him then, and his head rocked back. There was a collective gasp from the kits, and everything went deathly silent. Larry looked back at his ex-wife; she was shaking, her lips drawn tight across her muzzle.
“I saw your picture on your company’s website. Right over the title of Chief Financial Officer. Do you want to come into my house and tell me that a promotion like that only comes with a small raise? Do you want to look me in the eye and tell me you still can’t afford to pay child support? Do you really want to stand here in my kitchen and tell me that I’m being greedy?”
“You won’t even let me see the kids, Gina…”
“Get out of my house. Get out and don’t come back. I don’t want to see you again. Keep your God-damned money.” There wasn’t a trace of anger or indignation in the doe’s voice, just a tired finality.
Larry turned slowly and walked stiffly around the table, through the path that six kits made for him as they stared up at him. He always looked towards the door. When he was outside, he stared straight at the car. In the car, he stared at his steering wheel, his satellite radio, the clear suburban street behind him. Anything but them. His jaw didn’t loosen until he was on the freeway, where, stuck in traffic behind an accident, he let the tears flow, thick and fat, down his cheeks.
The rest of the drive home was a blur of red lights and financial figures. There was a lot of refinancing he would need to do, but he figured he and Anne could do without the nicer things for a while. The kits would be tearing through clothes and school supplies, and Gina would never get all of that on her odd jobs alone.

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A Third Introduction

Hello! I am David, and I'm a writer. I'm a part of this New Fables group, though I have to admit I don't write nearly as often or as well as many of the group's members. Hopefully as ever, though, this will change in the near future.

I was most recently published in the Summer 2007 issue of the anthology New Fables, though I've also been published by Sofawolf Press in Historimorphs and Breaking the Ice: Stories from New Tibet. My poetry has appeared in Reed Magazine, Poesia Quarterly and The Avatar of St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Now that the excessively dry list of credentials are out of the way, I'm very interested in telling stories, in a variety of ways. I love the episodic nature of television, which lets you tell self-contained stories fit neatly within the context of a much broader arc, and I also adore the quick and dirty style of short stories and films. The ability to distill so many ideas, emotions and themes into a perfect line of dialogue or description endlessly fascinates me.

With genres, I wander around a lot but I certainly have my favorites. I prefer fantasy (both medieval and modern) to sci-fi, and almost anything apocalyptic and beyond has my number. I blame this on my proper Christian upbringing.

Despite the fact that I've been doing this for a while, I'm still green. With practice, there should be visible improvement. I hope.

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