Writers of the Future, Day 3: Journey to the Center of the Mind

The second day of the workshop was all about the 24-Hour Story.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but the hamster wheels were spinning merrily in my mind.  So today’s installment will be mostly about what went on in my head.  Brace yourselves.

My object from the previous day had given me an image:  a key to some secret, highly secure place, some kind of paradise.  But that was all I had.  No character, no conflict, no plot.

The next step of the 24-Hour Story process was a trip to the Hollywood Library (yes, there really is such a thing) for a bit of research on . . . well, whatever struck our fancy.

Now as it happens, Grá Linnea, my "twin" for the workshop (i.e., the person I was seated next to, a partner for discussion of the various essays on writing we had to read) is a veritable font of imagination and infectious enthusiasm.  He threw out a few more random elements that he said I had to include in my story.  Not one to back down from that kind of challenge, I went it.  So it was that in addition to my Random Object, I needed a guy who looked like a waiter in an Italian restaurant (from a picture in a dictionary), and my main character had to be named Smilin’ Ed McConnell (a name from a random star on the Walk of Fame).  Fun stuff.  But I still didn’t have the story.

Until we got to the library.  As we approached it, someone (I forget who) pointed out the row of spikes topping the walls around the building.

Srsly?  Spikes?

Yes, srsly.  Apparently, Hollywood can be a bit of rough town.  This, apparently, was the library from hell.

As soon as I saw those spikes, an image came to me–of a post-apocalyptic Hollywood, burned-out shells of buildings, general lawlessness and violence.  (What can I tell you?  That’s how my mind works.  I warned you.)  And just like that, I had my story.  It all fit:  the peacock card, the Italian waiter, Tinseltown after the fall of civilization.  I’ve had some success with Hollywood stories in the past, and this one would be SF, to boot.  Double bonus!

I was delighted.  I didn’t do much actual research at the library; the building itself had already given me what I wanted.

Outside the library from hell:  Gary Kloster, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, yours truly, Heather McDougal, Don Mead, Cheryl Holland, Emery Huang, Jordan Lapp, Grá Linnea, Schon Zwakman

After the library came lunch, which, uh . . . kinda ran late.  Really late.  Like, half an hour late.  Tim Powers and K.D. Wentworth were, shall we say, not amused.  Well, maybe they were a little amused.  Regardless, we heard about it a lot over the next couple of days.

And then it was time for the third and final preparatory step for the 24-Hour Story–interviewing a stranger.  Just go out there on Hollywood Boulevard and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.  No fair telling that this was an assignment, or that you were a writer.  Just get someone talking, and see where it goes.

Those of us in that room were both writers and geeks, folks.  That put most of us into negative numbers on the introvert scale, me included.  Even so, I wasn’t too concerned.  I was already in a good place with my story, so my confidence was high.  And, you know, walking down Hollywood Boulevard in the middle of the day, it would be kinda hard not to speak to one or two strangers.  I went to the Hollywood & Highland shopping center, and after a bit of wandering around and a couple of false starts, finally hit upon a winning strategy:  I would sit on an empty bench near the fountains there, and wait for someone to sit next to me.

Jackpot!  Within minutes, an older gentleman and his wife sat down.  I leaned over to him, pointed to a nearby restaurant, and asked if he’d eaten there yet.  (Oooo . . . smooth one, Rotundo.)  And we were off to the races.  Turns out the gentleman lived in northern California, but had never before visited Hollywood.  He was a pastor at a church.  He’d served in the Navy as a machinist’s mate on a heavy cruiser.  He was originally from Oklahoma.  He knew a fair amount about the multitude of crops grown in northern CA, including–of all things–rice.  A very nice chat, in all.  I ended up meeting his whole family.  We shook hands and went our separate ways.  I headed back to Author Services, mission accomplished.

Five o’clock rolled around, and Tim and K.D. announced that we were officially on the clock.  We had to turn in our stories by 5:00 p.m. the next day.  Off we went.

Of course, I had to get something to eat.  And it turned out that the four first place winners were needed for an interview at Adventures in SciFi Publishing–which, it later turned out, had to be rerecorded due to technical difficulties.  So I didn’t really get started writing until 8:00 or so that evening.  No problem.  I already had a fair idea what I would write.  I didn’t have my ending yet, but why let a little thing like that stop me?  I jumped into the story headfirst, freely appropriating my surroundings, pushing through a wave a drowsiness that hit me around 10:00, and trying to keep this thing from bloating, which it badly wanted to do.  By midnight, I was 2000 words into "The Hills."  I figured that was good enough.  And my wife, bless her heart, had already been asleep for an hour and a half.  I knocked off and went to bed, figuring I’d find my ending in the morning.

Next installment:  The Rest of the Story.  And burgers.  Really big burgers.


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