A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

MURDER TO EXCELLENCE: Some words on the inspiration for my taking commissions

I had two things I wanted to include in yesterday's post about taking commissions, but I thought they would just get in the way of the matter at hand, so I am posting them now instead.

1) In addition to the "Romantica" series Christine and I did, I was actually inspired by an old book called Mind Fields. It's a collection of stories and art. Harlan Ellison curated a selection of Jacek Yerka's paintings and wrote short short stories to go with them. This book came out in 1994. It's 12" x 10", and on the left-hand page is Harlan's story, on the right the painting that goes with it. Some of the stories are as short as a paragraph, some fill the whole page. None go over a single page. Admirably, Harlan manages to make some of them as personal as others are abstract, despite drawing inspiration from completely outside himself. It's worth seeking out if you can.

2) I've been doing "Daily Doodles" for about a week. These were inspired by Joëlle's warm-up sketches she does and sometimes posts on her blog. She gives herself an hour and does a drawing to get her day going. Some are more detailed and finished than others. I thought about what the equivalent would be as a writer, and last weekend started doing a poem a day. By Tuesday I had upped the game to include prose. I simply begin with something and see how long I can keep it going. Still, here is a process that works for creating content that Joëlle can monetize, so why not find a way to do that myself?

The poems are dreadful, FYI, and won't be shared. But the following is the piece I wrote in a coffee shop on my iPad on Tuesday, using the onscreen keyboard and the Office2 HD app. It was written in considerably less than an hour and has only been corrected for spelling and two things that make the moment unclear.


Alicia walked into the bar with a deep breath and a hard swallow. Jeff had answered her ad within hours of her posting, and though the language he used was a little weird, it was her first response and maybe she just didn't know how they worked. The invite was polite, flirty...but also a little proposition-y? Like, had it been in person, it would as if he was speaking with a smile, but his eyes were leering. There was a little too much saliva pooling between his teeth and lower lip.

But then, the dating profile was set up to attract men. How could she blame them for being men? Or maybe that was backwards too. Maybe she was expecting the wrong things, putting the bad idea out there, and then inviting the bad to come in. It's like when someone begins a conversation with, "Now don't get mad." Nine times out of ten, you will.

Jeff was sitting on the corner of the bar. He didn't see her come in. Alicia took the opportunity to circle around and go to the jukebox that was right behind him. It was a digital jukebox. Listeners could download songs online. Alicia pretended to scroll through the joint's most popular plays while she eyeballed her prospective date.

He looked remarkably like his photo. Not just that it was recent, but the lighting was similar, he wore the same kind of collared shirt, his hair had been messed up just so. It was thin in back, but that wasn't so much hidden on the photo as it was out of sight. Had he maybe had the snapshot taken in another bar on another date? Or out on the town with his bros? For a second, she felt bad, but she was sure he had scrutinized her photo and would run a similar mental checklist when he saw her.

Alicia's photo was a casual shot taken at a party. She had just looked away, as something had made her laugh, and so the camera caught her in half-profile. Her friend Ida said that it was a bad choice because she was not making eye contact. If there was eye contact, guys would think there was a connection even though they had never met. Alicia didn't care about that. For her the photo had a different meaning. For one, she had to crop it to isolate herself, effectively removing herself from a group of people she didn't associate with anymore. More poetic, though, was that one of those people was her ex. He was mugging for the camera when the photo was taken, flaring his nostrils and bugging out his eyes. Maybe it was him that had made her laugh. He used to be able to do that.

Her finger was on the new Nicki Minaj album when Jeff turned his head and saw her standing there. "Alicia? Is that you? It's me. Jeff!"

Busted. She decided to come clean. "Yeah. I was checking you out for a second. Sorry."

"Not a problem. Just as long as you weren't planning on bolting for the door."

Alicia gasped. "No! Sorry. No. Not at all."

He smiled. "I'm just teasing."

"Sorry. I'm nervous." If she was going to start out by being honest, she might as well go all the way.

Alicia moved behind him and sat on the other side. Jeff was motioning to the bartender before she had even sat down. "G and T? That's what it said on your profile, right?"

The bartender was taking this in. She looked from him to her for confirmation.

"That's correct. Good memory."

"A gentleman listens." He paused. "Or in this case reads."

Advantage his. Maybe? She tried to run over his profile in her head. Was there something about Jeff she should remember? She was drawing a blank. All she could think of was that bald spot. Oh, God! How terrible!

"Sooooo...you work in advertising?"

The drink came. Alicia took a quick gulp. "I did. Or, I'm on sabbatical, trying to make up my mind about things. I've got stock options, so skating by for a while on those."

He nodded. "Mmm-hmmmm."

Uh-oh. Had she sent some kind of signal? Could he tell how loaded that was? She had sworn not to bring up her ex but there he was, he was in that statement about work, and Jeff could tell.

"You're in...insurance?" It was coming back to her. She shouldn't have made that sound like a question.

"Yup. Claim assessment. I'm an investigator."

"Oooh. Then you've heard a few lies, seen a few things."

Jeff snorted. "Yeah, you could say that." He got a little twinkle in his eye. His lip curled into enough of a grin to show he had little hounds teeth to the side and the back. "Like today, I was looking into a domestic accident. Wife slipped in the shower. Maybe. There are little duckling stickers on the bottom of the tub. You know, the kind that is supposed to stop you from slipping. The husband, he looks squirrely to me."

"You think it's murder?" Alicia was so caught up in the story, she absent-mindedly used the little stir straws in her drink and sucked about half the gin down in one go.

Jeff licked that dog's tooth of his. "Well, I have to be careful with conclusions and accusations," he said, "but consider the details. That's my job: considering the details. The explanation is that she got her big toe caught in the drain and lost her balance. It's a pretty awkward position to be standing in to have that happen. The toe was still stuck in there when the coroner arrived. It was totally broken. Like snapped. From the fracture, one could argue that it was broken forward so as to be put into the hole, as opposed to the backward snap that would have happened had she caught it and fallen over."


"Plus, where she was alleged to have hit her head versus the nature of the injury. Let's just say I've bought plenty more bananas for a whole lot less."


The next day I actually picked up the conversation from there as Wednesday's free-writing exercise. I may share that, as well.

The real point, though, despite this piece being way too long to fit on a single sheet of paper, it is indicative of the kind of work I can do off the cuff--and in this case totally unprompted and with no real revisions, which isn't the case with the commissions. Extrapolate from that what you might get for your $25.

Most likely I'll be posting my first hired commission tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Current Soundtrack: Friends, Manifest! [streaming from the Guardian]

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All text (c) 2012 Jamie S. Rich

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