Veil and bouquet
Lars Plougmann via Creative Commons

Michael held Veronica’s only hand, trying to convince himself the beads of sweat were normal wedding day jitters. He looked down at his fianceé; in a matter of minutes, his wife. Ronnie often marveled that people assumed her physical defects indicated mental deficiencies as well. The wedding dress hid her lack of legs, but could not hide her missing left arm, nor the wheelchair she required for mobility. He peered through the largely transparent veil at her face. She was pretty, even by normal societal standards: blonde, blue-eyed, enviable bone structure. The malformation of her neck muscles forced her head to loll at an awkward angle, though, and made holding her jaw closed difficult. He appreciated that she was putting in the effort to keep her mouth shut, fixed in her magic smile. The cynical thought that she might be mostly trying to keep drool off her dress could not be suppressed.

His friends called him brave. Her family thought him a hero. But he kept thinking of the stripper last night, the greasy expanse of her thighs. The priest asked him to say “I do,” which he did. His mind added the silent addendum, “…wish Ronnie had thighs.”

Rachel K via Creative Commons

Willow scraped her slippers along the carpet, reaching up to stretch and rub her eyes but stopping short with a little squeak of surprise when she saw the book on the floor. Her office was spotless, a sanctuary from the chaos of a careless boyfriend through the rest of the house. The walls were lined with floor-to-ceiling white bookshelves, excepting the wide corner desk, where she ran her customized balloon distribution company from her laptop. A book on the floor in this office was an affront to Willow’s unflinching rule: no one in the office without explicit permission.

She picked up the hardcover and turned it over. Agatha Christie’s After The Funeral. Willow carried the book into the kitchen, staring at the cover. “Hey Long,” she said, suppressing a sour look at the sight of her boyfriend hunched over a cereal bowl, slurping and chewing loudly with an open mouth, “were you looking for a book in my office?”

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An effervescent Callie Hunter is my guest today for Aspiring Voices. I chatted with Callie over breakfast about living inside your fictional characters, letting your characters live their own lives inside your head, the differences between writing screenplays and novels, and why going to nursing school may be just the thing her writing career needs.

Journal BW
Walt Stoneburner via Creative Commons

Paul: Tell me a little about what made you start writing with the intention of sharing with other people.

Callie: Even as a kid I liked to write stories, but it only became an intention to share when I wanted to build on the foundations of my characters. Sure, I have a character, but how would they interact with others? How would they grow and adapt to new challenges? I really learned that sharing my writing was a good idea when I discovered roleplaying. But that didn’t teach me the correct way to write, and taught me very bad habits. But with that practice, I learned to build a good character and give them elements of realism.

It wasn’t until I turned that character into a novel that I desperately wanted to share with writing workshops, mostly online, as there aren’t many close to where I live, sadly. If I share my writing and other people enjoyed it? That’s what drove me to keep trying, learning from mistakes and producing higher quality work.

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Back Pocket
Eryne via Creative Commons

Oliver Grady, Jr., age six and three-quarters, wears the same pair of pants every day. They are not his favorite pants nor his only pants, they are simply, as he puts it, the pants. Being a boy growing at the rate boys do, these trousers he has worn for nearly a whole year do not fit as well as they once did. His mother is faced with the onerous task of either washing them daily or sending him to school in filthy britches; the fight if she suggests he wear anything else is disastrous.

There is nothing to like about the too-small pants—off-color, falling apart, uncomfortable—except the back left pocket. That pocket is endless, and Oliver has filled it with interesting rocks, frogs, bits of string, toys, a ruler, hats, bugs, bouncy balls, firecrackers, comic books, crayons, scraps of paper, candy bars, two bent forks and one tarnished spoon, six pen-knives, an assortment of sticks, headphones, plastic bandages, two of his sister’s dolls and one kitten, among others. These things never get lost in the wash. They can easily be retrieved.

Oliver can never give up the pants, or he’d lose the pocket.

The familiar pile
Sarah Rifaat via Creative Commons

Dirty penny sky at the moment between dawn and morning. Kebber drives to work and forgets the trip a mile at a time. These endless, overlapping cities pass beneath a vas deferens highway ejaculating single occupant vehicles into the womb of the valley. He likes to arrive early and undress in his cubicle, just to feel the exhilaration of staged exposure.

A recurring daydream: Kebber is an actor and he disrobes in a room full of technicians and directors and contractors. His co-star hides plastic surgery scars beneath a crust of makeup. The love-making will be simulated, as is all love. This is not a sexual fantasy, despite its overtones. A camera watches.

The day fills with people as disinterested as the clothing that wraps him in a tourniquet. Pocket computers vibrate; numb, stupid fingers diddle prenominal products without substance. A chin rests on Kebber’s palm. It has been there so long he’s not sure it’s his. Constricting digital clocks like hyenas.

He arrives early and stays late. Chrome and stars drown in the streetlamps while a garage door built for two opens itself. There is no release in homes, and life draws tighter and tighter and tighter.

Get Out
Annadriel via Creative Commons

May, 1946


Arata Ui could tell the difference between the rumble of ocean against sea wall and the buzz of an approaching aircraft when he was awake and alert. Four hours into his second shift, when cursing Ryo for contracting the flu had lost its distracting fire, it became a uniform hum of white noise. His fingers stiffened on the searchlight. Across the dugout, the battery team shared a cigarette, black outlines of huddled bulk nagged by an orange ember.

“Tetsuya! Shin!” Arata hissed, hoping the Gocho wasn’t making his round. “Someone cover me while I go to the latrine.”

The debate was held in susurrus even Arata’s trained ear couldn’t make out. “Fine,” they said at last. After a moment, Shin tapped him on the shoulder.

“Make it fast. I’m only doing this because you’re pulling a double.”

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This week’s edition of Aspiring Voices finds us talking to the fascinating George Wells. George’s work has been featured in Spark: A Creative Anthology. We collided minds to talk about using personal experience as fuel for writing, using family and friends as blueprints for characters, how to establish a setting so that readers will accept implausible events and what inspired him to move south of the border.

Pared - Guadalajara México 2007
Lucy Nieto via Creative Commons

Paul: I saw from your website that you were told by teachers growing up that you were a writer, but it took until you were around forty years old to sort of own that label. What do you think made being a writer a thing that you feared and what allowed you to overcome it?

George: I’ve suffered from self-esteem problems and social anxiety disorder for most of my life, something that I still struggle with. I was a terrible student, but when I did do my assignments, my teachers praised the potential of my work. My reaction to that, given those problems, was a fear of the attention I was receiving. Instead of focusing on the positive attention, my mind went straight to “attention”, and I backed away quickly. 

When I went to college, I was doing a little better, and signed up for a creative writing class. I dropped out after a month. Again, I was getting a lot of positive feedback on the few opening scenes and character sketches, but I felt so under the microscope that my old anxieties were plaguing me again. I started to get sick just thinking about the class. I wouldn’t write another word of fiction for 20 years.

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Coffee Mug
Bram via Creative Commons

This is the cliché: a man comes home to find his wife in bed with his best friend.

This is the reality: I come home to find my best friend in my living room, pretending to drink coffee from a clean, dry mug. My wife’s voice is chirpy and insincere.

This is the cliché: a man drags his friend out of the bed, screaming, threatening, hitting.

This is the reality: I make awkward small talk and ask if there is any more coffee left.

This is the cliché: the wife screams and begs mercy for her lover, forgiveness for herself.

This is the reality: My wife says with a quaking voice, “Oh I think we just ran out. Should I make another pot?”

This is the cliché: the man throws his friend onto the lawn and intimidates his wife into penance and a renewed fidelity.

This is the reality: I say, “Nah, thanks.” I think about my dog and try to pretend I don’t smell sex in the air. I slap my palms on my knees and stand up. “Well, I didn’t want to interrupt,” I say, “I guess I’ll just go watch the game at the bar. Good night.”

Pacifica OceanFriday night in the suburbs, a small family puts their lone daughter to bed and sits down to watch some recorded television and pay the bills. My wife and I exchange silent looks. Remember when Fridays used to be fun? the look says. Out loud, she sighs, “I could really use a beach getaway.” Practicality being what it is, we can’t afford a long trip or the time off. The bills stare at me, gluey tongues mocking from windowed envelopes, tangible reminders of the cruel taskmaster named responsibility.

“Let me see what I can do,” I say. Life, it’s said, is for living.

We get going later on Saturday than I expect. There’s a stop for lunch, a stop at a department store for some beach towels and sunscreen, traffic on the highways. But the hotel is pleasant, overlooking the waves, even if the highway in between drowns the noise of the surf. We don’t get to the shore until almost five, but it’s summer and time is on our side.

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Daniela Martinez via Creative Commons

Chris was moping again. Sherri shook her mop of purple hair and plucked the pen from his hand, replaced the legal pad in his lap with her person. She tasted his lips and waited for him to abandon his sour mood and begin to chase her mouth when she pulled back. Standing up, she grabbed his wrist and pulled him to the front door.

“You need to go outside,” she said brightly.

He glowered. “I need to finish this poem.”

“It can wait. What about adventure? What have you always wanted to do?”

“I dunno,” he said.

“C’mon! Think. Anything. What’s on your bucket list?”

He shrugged, an angry gesture. “I don’t have one; they’re cliché.”

“I’m sure there’s something you want to do before you die.” Sherri maneuvered him onto the porch.

“I guess I’ve always wanted to…”

“Go on.”

“I guess I want to see the redwoods out in California.”

“There you go! A road trip to California! Time to get started!” She began to close the door.

“Wait!” Chris said, “Aren’t you coming?”

Her expression turned stoic. “No. Live your own adventure. I’m not here to save you. I have work in the morning.” The door slammed.