Song-Inspired #15

Song: “Lemon Boy” by Cavetown

Mom didn’t like a backyard of decay.

It made them seem like trailer trash, she said. It gave the neighbors yet another reason to talk, and they had plenty already.

Your father made sure of that, she said.

Worst of all, it made their small dirt lot reek like clearance candles at the end of the season—not-quite tropical oases that were still on the shelves when the apple pie and pumpkin spice nonsense rolled in. Between monsoons, when the air became concrete, the stench wrapped around the white trunks and seemed to permeate the paint so much that Mom wanted to burn it all down and start again.

They had $37.58 in their checking account, though, so instead, she gave Noah a rinsed-out ice cream tub and assigned each rotten lemon a value of one nickel.

The arrangement worked for them as well as it could. Mom got to keep her slippered feet on the ottoman, and Noah got to buy a soda at the gas station if the sun wasn’t beating down too hard.

Whenever he went out to collect, Noah first turned over the ice cream tub and tried to reach the fresh lemons above his head. He couldn’t—not yet—even if he jumped and hopped and strained, but he dreamed of the lemonade stand he’d have someday. It’d have a bright red sign, and he’d have regulars who came from several streets down just for his recipe, and he’d buy a bike so he could go farther than his feet could carry him.

In the end, though, he always settled for the nickel lemons, and it was easy money until it wasn’t.

The yelp caught him by surprise.

He dropped the nickel he’d just picked up, and it rolled away, weaving through the other lemons until it smacked into the nearest tree trunk with another yelp.

Noah knelt in the dirt and tilted his head to get a better look. It certainly looked like a lemon, but he’d never seen one zig, and he’d definitely never seen one zag.

So he poked the rind with a stick, expecting a cockroach or mouse or chipmunk to scurry out. Instead, he heard a growl and watched as the lemon popped up and stood on its pointed end.

It pivoted, and Noah squinted, rubbing his eyes and leaning even closer. The rind had three brown spots that appeared, at first, to be bruises or rotten patches, but at this angle, the arrangement of them looked eerily like a face of perpetual surprise.

“What a rude little flesh scarecrow! Do you always—stop screaming—grab at strangers?”

Noah gulped.

“Answer me, runt! Who do you think you are?”

“Noah Anderson.”

That was not the right response, apparently, because the lemon flopped onto its side and barreled into the crawl space under the house.

Click here to learn more, or read previous song-inspired stories here.


Penned #3

This is the third in a series. If you haven’t already, make sure to read Penned #1 and Penned #2 first!


Jesus. Dead? You’re sure? He faked his death once so you’d better be real sure. I’m not about to let him sit on his ass sipping my ties mai tais on some beach somewhere while I rot in here, okay? You’ve gotta be sure.

If it is true, damn. What a shit way to go. He never even got to go on the damn water slide. I’d be so pissed if I’d been waiting in line all day and then just keeled over.


Well, okay, so he’s not here for me to get some, uh, closure. But he was definitely alive when they put me away. I don’t see how this clears him at all.

Get me something I can use, for Christ’s sake. Or I’ll get someone who can. You have one week.

You’re supposed to be the best.


Saving the Body

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of rewriting.

I don’t mean rewriting in the sense of basic editing and revision. Reordering prepositional phrases, adding a comma, deleting an adjective—this is not the stuff of great pondering no matter what Strunk and White say. I mean major overhaul: adding an intertwined storyline, removing entire chapters, deciding on a character’s death.

Back when I watched USA’s Suits, main character Harvey Specter said something that has stuck with me: “…he’ll be willing to chop off an arm to save the body.” I’ve thought about that statement every so often over the years and considered what it might mean when applied to writing.

Overall, this mentality has been helpful to me as a writer; I have experienced a number of situations in which I have had to sacrifice a beloved aspect of a WIP in order for it to live to fight another day. Whether the decision comes from an editor’s recommendation or your own realization, it’s never easy to drastically alter something you’ve toiled over, but sometimes, you have to save the body.

Whenever I’ve had a seemingly hopeless bout of writer’s block, it is because something in the WIP is not working—and a spark of inspiration only comes from significant change.

That said, I’m starting to take a closer look at why given aspects of my primary WIP seemed to stop working. Is it because I’ve grown as a writer and now realize that the offending character/scene/theme/plotline is cliche, ineffectual, contrived, nonsensical, etc.? Maybe. I know that many of my rewrites—especially the earliest ones—stemmed from this type of growth.

But, lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that other rewrites may have been prompted by a different type of growth: personal. I am not the same person that I was when I started this novel.

It has changed with me. 

At this point, it is completely unrecognizable as the manuscript I started years ago one November night—and that’s okay.

Still, I’m left with the question: How do I keep from rewriting myself into oblivion when I will never—should never—stop evolving as a person?

Song-Inspired #14

Song: “Time to Run” by Lord Huron

Palmer tugged on the rope once, twice, three times. Satisfied, he stepped onto the dock and glanced back over his shoulder at the retreating sun.

The boaters had deserted the harbor in favor of grilled chicken and preparation for the week ahead. Palmer hopscotched from abandoned cooler to abandoned cooler and came away with a modest haul: an unopened pack of hot dogs, three half-eaten veggie trays, a container of macaroni salad.

He and Jackie would need more provisions for the weeks, months, years ahead, and he hoped she’d bring the canned goods he requested. He didn’t know the statute of limitations exactly, but they wouldn’t be able to return to land for some time. Staying away as long as possible was paramount.

After grabbing unattended fishing tackle, he tipped his loot over the side of his boat and looked toward land. A glance at his watch eased his mind. She still had four minutes.

Three minutes later, Jackie’s lithe figure appeared at the other end of the dock, and Palmer waved with the animation of one separated from his party at a crowded mall. She raised a hand in response and beckoned him.

“Let’s go,” he shouted back. “We shouldn’t stay in one place too long.”

“I need your help. These cans are too heavy.”

His chest inflated, and he sauntered toward her, swinging his arms as he went. A dozen yards from her, though, he paused. She had no bags at her feet, no cans.

Clicks behind him followed his realization—and then a voice: “Hands on your head.”

He turned to see four officers clad in bulletproof vests.

“But—” He began to reach for the burner phone in his pocket, but the officers’ raised guns made his hand fall limply at his side. “Your text.” He angled his head, and his eyes found Jackie’s.

Her lip curled, and not even the twilight could soften her eyes. “You destroyed my lab! Why would I go anywhere with you?”

“I did it for you.” He swallowed and inhaled sharply. “I did it for you! I couldn’t just stand by while they devalued you!”

“What do you care, Parker? It’s not your career!”

“Palmer,” he whispered as he swiveled back toward the police and placed his hands on his head. “My name is Palmer.”

Yes! Song-inspired stories are back!

Click here to learn more, or read previous song-inspired stories here.

Penned #2

This is the second in a series. If you haven’t already, make sure to read Penned #1 first!

DP —

No, I’m not gonna kill him. That’s not my style, so don’t get your panties in a bunch.

Yes, I can pay you, I’m working in the kitchen so I got a little something saved up. But don’t get ahead of yourself. You haven’t done anything yet.

You get paid when I get results.

Yes, I can give you last names. Jasper Olsen, Eric Desmond, Josh Booker, and Dean McCann. Addresses are trickier though. We all bounced around so much. Can’t you just look that up online? I mean, Jesus, how hard can it even be with the internet and all that shit nowadays? I’d do it myself, but obviously I can’t.

Yes, I can watch my language if it really matters so much to you. But don’t go talking about disrespect. Ya gotta understand, I write how I talk, and sometimes regular words just aren’t enough. Need something with a little punch, ya know? I’m not writing a goddamn essay here.

Start with Jasper. I had an on and off thing with his sister and things ended badly. He’s not exactly my biggest fan. Write me again when you find him.


Penned #1

This is a new series I’m launching. Check it out below, and stay tuned for more updates!


I turned 13 and then it all went to shit. Do I deserve some of the blame for that? Sure. But that doesn’t make me any less imprisoned.

It’s true what they say: Weed really is the gateway drug. You smoke one joint and then suddenly you’re huffing cold air through the chainlink fence of the prisonyard just trying to feel something.

My experience isn’t universal? Tough shit, cupcake. This isn’t about you.

It’s about him. Whoever he is.

Look, I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot here, I’m paying three packs to get this to you, so lemme start again.

I need your help. I need you to find out who he is and then tell me. You don’t have to do anything past that. I’ll take it from there. I just need you to find out who he is.

He was the man behind the art heists of ’98 and ’99. You know the ones. You’ve got to. All the newshounds sunk their teeth into it and barely left a second of airtime for weather or the goddamn traffic report. That’s the guy I’m talking about. Stole some pottery. A few statues. Some Monay’s or Picasso’s or Pollick’s or whatever. I don’t know.

Truth is, I wasn’t paying much attention at my trial. I don’t know the details, and it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m giving you plenty to go on, here. And I’ll even do better. Names. I’ve got four names for you, and he’s got to be one of them. They’re the only ones I bragged to about the heists, and he must’ve saw his chance to get away with it by framing me.

But listen, you can’t tell anyone. It’s gotta be our secret. I’ve got a reputation to protect.

You seem like someone who’d understand that.

Don’t get the wrong idea or anything, I’m not asking you to clear my name. I’m here and the water pressure’s better than that other dump I was living in. And at least I don’t have to pretend to snort cocaine every five seconds anymore.

Point is, I just need you to identify him. I’ll take care of the rest. Do we have a deal?


Oh yeah! I almost forgot. The names. Jasper, Eric, Josh, and Dean. Find them.

Next Post: Penned #2

83 Nights

From the moment I picked up a pencil and declared myself a writer, friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors’ cousins started giving me notebooks as gifts.

I ended up with dozens of notebooks—many with inspirational sayings on the covers that rendered them unusable as far as I was concerned—and they piled up, year after year. Every now and then, I’d pull one out of the mound and try to keep a book of notes for a WIP or a diary. Without fail, the notebook would be abandoned before I filled it—sometimes even with only one page of writing.

This past week, that changed. For the first time in my life, I filled every page in a notebook. That’s right: I finished a notebook!

This accomplishment came about from my new habit to write at least one line of fiction every night. I kept this notebook by my bed and dutifully filled it 83 of the 84 nights since I started it.

In honor of this milestone, here are some out-of-context highlights from the notebook. All are from different WIPs.


A paper sailed to the floor, followed by another and then another.

I was out of practice commanding trembling fingers, and their mutiny drew the gazes of all customers—except her; she’d been staring at me already.


Days blended into decades, and time revealed itself for what it was: a constraint.

Gray hair, wrinkles—these were tangible side effects, sure, but did it really matter whether something happened a day ago or 7,000 days ago?

Maybe a lifetime was the only unit of time that mattered at all.


Alone wasn’t so bad. Alone meant that if he had one cookie, he had one cookie. A friend meant he had half a cookie, and two friends—the horror—meant he had a third of a cookie.

How’s that for fractions, Mrs. Fender Bender?


The old patterns felt like shoes worn all the way through. Pebbles crept in, and with each step, they dug deeper into the soles of her feet.

She’d discard the shoes altogether, but then the pavement would tear her feet to shreds entirely.


Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a new notebook to fill.