Roger's 2270 notebook

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright June 2017


These are the homework and in-class writing assignments for my ENG 2270 Fiction Writing class.


Reflecting on the course -- the metafiction way

Lunch time. I love lunch time. As I'm feeding my face interesting ideas pop up in my brain.

Lunch this time is at the Golden China, a Chinese buffet that offers a nice assortment of meats, vegetables and salads at a nice price. I'm sitting down with a plate of beef, broccoli and carrot salad in front of me. I start on the salad and I'm thinking about the writing I've been doing for my writing course.

"Well... now I know why I was never turned on by The New Yorker articles when I was growing up." My folks used to read it, but I found it boring at the time. Then I didn't know why, now I do.

I'm a "how to" reader. I read to learn things -- they may be useful right away, or some time in the future. But I can tell as I'm reading what's likely to be useful and what's just words on paper. Salad done, I work over the beef and broccoli. History can be useful, so can science. Science explains why things are happening the way they do. History explains what things happened in the past. A New Yorker article explains... how things feel and smell? What use is that?

One of the surprise places this "how to gold" showed up was in Moby Dick. I wasn't much interested in the descriptions of Captain Ahab and his obsessions, but the details on whales and how the whaling business was conducted I found fascinating. One insight I still remember is that whales responded to the human whaling impact by forming vast schools when they moved through choke points such as the Straits of Sumatra.

Plate empty, I head back to the buffet for some hot soup and cold ice cream. When I mix eating these two I dodge brain freeze.

So, yeah, I don't like reading literary because its not adding to my knowledge base. And for the same reason I'm not much into writing it either. I want to write about things that matter, things that change how we live.

That figured out, and the soup and ice cream bowl empty, I head out and head on to shaking up my world with all the neat things I've been learning throughout my lifetime.

Reflecting on the course -- the simple way

The most vivid insight I have obtained from this course is that I now understand why I never got into reading things like The New Yorker magazine and other literary genre publications. For me all the description of details in these article styles leaves me cold, and still does. I'm a "how to" reader. I want to read things that are going to give me information that is going to be useful -- it is going to give me more insight into how the world works. One of the surprise places this "gold" showed up was in Moby Dick. I wasn't much interested in the descriptions of Captain Ahab and his obsessions, but the details on whales and how the whaling business was conducted I found fascinating. One insight I still remember is that whales responded to the human whaling impact by forming vast schools when they moved through choke points such as the Straits of Sumatra.

So most of the numerous reading examples in this course left me feeling "Meh" but I gained lots of insight as to why. Likewise, I understand more about why my writing has such a limited audience. I'm writing about the ramifications of human thinking and new technologies -- how they make a difference in how we live. This means I'm writing about new things, and having my stories evolve in surprising ways. But most readers these days are excited to read about the familiar, not the exotic. I first gained this insight when I figured out why the movie Frozen was so popular -- the story makes no sense, but the characters, the dialog, and the setting are all very familiar.

This is a big difference between entertainment in the 1960's and entertainment in the 2010's. There was a lot more appreciation for the unusual in the 1960's audiences. Think of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey as the archetypical 1960's-exotic example.


Mash-up time (robot house and Portland panhandler)

Knocks at the door of the house.

"Yes?" the house answers.

"Yo! I'm looking for a way to help out. I need some cash fast."

"Are you a guest?"

"Uh... Yeah! I'm a guest of the world."

"Then come in. Would you like some refreshment?"

"Umm... Yeah! Like the eating and drinking sort?"

"Yes. Please come into the kitchen." as he starts in, "Wait! Please leave your boots at the door. The house is clean." after another pause, "Leave your clothes, too, and first visit the shower."


Story about a picture

Ah... this shot. I took this last Sunday at my daughter's house. We were having a family gathering. This is me with my four kids -- all grown up now and with families of their own. This is a bench in my daughter's backyard.

This came about because my middle daughter and family had just come back from a two year tour in Germany. They were back in the USA and would be living in New Mexico.


Abstractions --

o a hot day
o a blue sky
o green grass


o lots of students studying
o those walking are going somewhere
o those on their smart phones are off in the ozone


o the students are all just learning
o the professors are all wise
o a stranger on campus won't have a clue

Specifics --

It was so hot I could fry an egg on the sidewalk… well, I tried, it was that hot. But I could fry it easily in my BBQ. But it was too hot for me to want to stand in the sun and do that.

Lots of people were walking around. Many had looks of grim determination on their faces. They clearly had a destination in mind. Some were walking with a look of happy relief on their faces. They had a destination in mind, too, but a much more pleasant destination in mind -- gaming, beer and good conversation were coming next.

Indoors, it is the echoing that I notice -- places echo very differently. You can tell if you're in a hall or a room. Sometimes you can feel a draft and tell if you're close to a door. If the draft is fresh smelling and warm, it's a door to outside. If it's smelling of cooked beef and vegetables, it's headed for the kitchen.

Outdoors, it is grass walking that is surprising. In long grass you really have to lift your feet, and how lumpy the ground is makes such a difference. The other differences are the shade, the breeze, and what insects and birds are buzzing around. Hopefully, they stay just buzzing around, they don't land on me!

One of the more interesting sensual experiences was walking up Mount Timpanogos by moonlight, without a flashlight. I did this one summer eve and made it halfway up, about a two hour walk, then came back down, another hour. The interesting part was how much this looked like watching a black and white TV show. It was comfortable. I made the walk later in full light and I was surprised at how rugged the trail looked and felt.

It was good that I had been here before. I would not have attempted this otherwise. I drove into the parking lot at 11PM. I turned out the lights and got out of the car. There, on the up hill side of the parking lot, was the beginning of the trail. As I got out of the car it was real dark and hard to see. A minute later the trail stood out as a band of white in a sea of gray "not trail" and black "under trees". Scary looking, but I had hope. I had read that fully adjusting to darkness took an hour. I started on my journey up the trail, and sure enough, as I went things got brighter. The forest areas stayed dark and formless, but the non-trail areas looked more and more like familiar rough terrain -- something easily walkable. I stayed on the trail, but I got more and more confident as I progressed up. I was alone, all alone, as I walked higher and higher in the cooling mountain air.


o You've been asked to create an anthology of flash fiction and short stories that will be used for a creative writing class. Three of the stories from the reading homework will be part of that anthology. Anthologies usually contain short blurbs about the writer's craft (the elements they used to craft the story). First, come up with a title and theme for your anthology. Next, write a 100-word blurb for each of the stories that you chose to read/experience this week. Each blurb should explain how the writer used description/imagery and figurative language in defamiliarizing ways. Draw from the description/image readings to help you with your explanations.

Anthology: The Devil Angel is in the Details

Here are three works that show off how important it is to have lots of details in your writing. In these tales the story is a vessel that is there to hold lots of description.

Lots of details! Here is an example from Wickedness by Ron Hansen

At the end of the nineteenth century a girl from Delaware got on a milk train in Omaha and took a green wool seat in the second-class car. August was outside the window, and sunlight was a yellow glare on the trees.

It turns out this is a story about a memorable blizzard of the northern Great Plains. It has nothing to do with August or green wool seats or Delaware, but author Ron Hansen has included these details anyway. In spite of the fact that they have little to do with the story, they make this memorable writing.


Lots of details! Here is an example from A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka

Kafka isn't usually described as one, but he is a tall-tale teller. Take a look at this *single sentence* from A Hunger Artist.

At one time the whole town took a lively interest in the hunger artist; from day to day of his fast the excitement mounted; everybody wanted to see him at least once a day; there were people who bought season tickets for the last few days and sat from morning till night in front of his small barred cage; even in the nighttime there were visiting hours, when the whole effect was heightened by torch flares; on fine days the cage was set out in the open air, and then it was the children’s special treat to see the hunger artist; for their elders he was often just a joke that happened to be in fashion, but the children stood openmouthed, holding each other’s hands for greater security, marveling at him as he sat there pallid in black tights, with his ribs sticking out so prominently, not even on a seat but down among straw on the ground, sometimes giving a courteous nod, answering questions with a constrained smile, or perhaps stretching an arm through the bars so that one might feel how thin it was, and then again withdrawing deep into himself, paying no attention to anyone or anything, not even to the all-important striking of the clock that was the only piece of furniture in his cage, but merely staring into vacancy with half-shut eyes, now and then taking a sip from a tiny glass of water to moisten his lips.

The story is about how this profession is kept alive by circus operators but interest in it is declining. The story is easy enough to say in a few words, but all of Kafka's details make it more interesting.


Lots of details! Here is an example from The Barbie Birthday by Alison Townsend

This is a story about the author as a young girl getting a Barbie doll for her birthday and how much it helped her come to love her new step mother. The detail is in describing the Barbie doll. Here is an example.

Alone, I turned her over and over in my hand, marveling at her stiff, shiny body -- the torpedo breasts, the wasp waist, the tall-drink-of-water legs that didn't bend, and the feet on perpetual tiptoe, their arches crimped to fit her spike-heeled mules as she strutted across the sunny windowsill.

Lots of details about what she saw and loved in that Barbie doll and just a little about how this affected her relation with her step-mother-to-be.


Part 3: Locating the Sensuous Activity
Become a tourist to/in your neighborhood/place you know well/historical place near you.

When you get home from your tour of your neighborhood/place you know well/historical place near you, write a one-page (300-word) scene that takes place in this location. Includes specific descriptions hitting as many sensory experiences as possible, including the ones we normally don't think about/employ in our stories.

Touring the Valley of the Jolly Jade Giant

Welcome to my little corner of the D&D universe.

I created this scenario way back in the 1970's, when Dungeons and Dragons was still an exotic game played mostly by college-age engineering and computer types. It has changed a lot since those days, in those days it was a lot more about interactive story-telling and a lot less about consulting rule manuals. I bring this up because what I will be describing won't fit well in contemporary settings -- it is too much about the story.

Entering the valley takes a bit of effort. The pass which leads up to the valley on the south side is home to lots of dinosaurs. The air is humid topical-feeling and the landscape is covered with lots of lush primordial vegetation. Mixed with the vegetation are lots of big dinosaurs, including Triceratops, and of course, T-Rex. Some adventurers fight their way through. Ouch!, lots of blood shed and dice rolling when that tactic is used. And lots of dice rolling means lots of time taken to make progress. Others race or sneak through before the dinosaurs can find them, and others scale the cliff-like canyon walls to climb by higher than the dinosaurs can reach.

The first part of the valley is filled with lush vegetation, much like Dinosaur Pass. It looks pleasing, comfortable, relaxing compared to dodging dinosaurs. But watch out, some of these plants are thorn-throwing nasties.

In the middle of the valley is an idyllic farm house surrounded by lush fields of ripe, fine smelling vegetables. The farm doubles as an inn where strangers can rest for the night... When you get to it, that is. Those fine-smelling fields also have some strangle vines mixed in. If you sneak up on the farm house, watch out for those curling up around your limbs and face and steadily tightening down!

At the north end of the valley is the Jolly Jade Giant itself. This is a fifty foot high Sitting Buddha-style statue made of jade. It is located in a white marble niche and it looks out on the valley as if it owns the place. It is also magical, so expect surprises when you approach it. (Hint: It likes reaching out, grabbing adventurers, and swallowing them whole. But that doesn't kill them, there is adventure inside him.)

Survive the Giant's surprises and the fabulous Sword of Shanana becomes your's to take with you on further D&D adventures.


July 6th, in class -- Portray a character

Emily was dressed for summer in a casual, comfortable way, but her face did not match her fashion -- her look was pure exasperation. Her short shorts showed off trim, athletic, eighteen-year old legs. Her biking shoes let her stride be quiet and smooth -- if she had been carrying a teacup there would have been nary a ripple. But her brows were furrowed with determination. She was on a journey, a hero's journey, and this was only Chapter Two.

As she walked through the corridor filled with class-changing students they gave her plenty of room and not many smiles -- not that she noticed.


Emily has a lot to accomplish. The big question is which people are going to help and which are going to distract? The helpful ones are straightforward to deal with. The distractions... well... they are... distracting... but real interesting. "If they weren't, they wouldn't be distracting." she mutters to herself.

more -- 1st person intimate

Man, life is a bitch. I'm trying to get this business started. And man! Some are so helpful, some are so creepy, some I wish would be so helpful because I sure would like to spend a lot more... quality time... with them.


Jul 6th: Write a one-paragraph story that the father in "A Conversation with My Father" would appreciate. Explain why you think the father would like this story. In your explanation, make sure to discuss the POV choices that Paley made for this story, as well as what you learned about POV from having experienced this conversation with a dying father.


Tommy, a tall, skinny, eight-year old boy who was playing in his backyard, decided he wanted to become a paratrooper when he grew up. He looked around for a way to practice jumping from a high place. The branches on maple trees around him were too high, the picnic table in the backyard was too low. Ah-hah! There was the swing. It was a tree swing his father had made. It swung from a branch high, high in one of the maples, and it had a wooden platform beside it so a boy like Tommy could get fifteen feet up before they jumped on the swing. Tommy pulled the swing up the platform. He took a deep breath... and jumped on! The swing swung out... too high on the first swing, but on the second swing Tommy jumped off and landed successfully. He was on his road to becoming a paratrooper.


Here is what is accomplished:

o Tommy is described

o The setting is described

o There is some action and accomplishment


June 22nd: Respond to one story--from the reading homework--of your choice, focusing on plot.

The story is of an accident in a kitchen -- a toddler gets scalded by a pot of boiling water that falls off the stove. Mom is in the kitchen with the toddler and Dad is just outside doing some repair work.

Mom screams while Dad comes in to do the serious rescue work. He puts the toddler in the sink and soothes the burns with cool water. So far, so good. But he doesn't think about the diaper the toddler is wearing and that is holding lots of scalding hot water -- the child gets worse burns around the groin and the parents curse themselves for not handling the situation perfectly. Now the child is going to suffer a lot more.


o Imagine this as a story climax: a person is rushing through a chaotic place--Times Square on New Year's Eve, Pamplona during the bull run, Mecca during the Hajj, downtown Salt Lake before or after a game...Decide where this character is going and why. Remember that this moment is the story's climax. Now start writing a story that is headed toward this climax. Feel free to use a character you've created from a previous notebook prompt. Write as much as you can in the time available. Whatever you write, make sure that it helps the plot approach its climax (300 words).
Prompt modified from Gotham Writer's Workshop: Writing Fiction, pp. 73-74.



The Man in Black rides into town.

This time Pancho, Cisco and the gang are ready and waiting for him. The townsfolk are all inside their various shops, at the windows and doors, watching Main Street. The Sheriff ran off an hour earlier, he ain't comin back while the gang is lettin off steam.

But the Man in Black ain't the sheriff. And he's now riding back into town to settle his score with the gang. Little Jimmy runs into the saloon to let the gang know.

They come out, guns at the ready, all five of them. Pancho motions right and left. Jose and Jesus run to the right and left, into the saloon and General Store, to get to the roofs. There are men's shouts and women's screams as they do, but no shots fired. Pancho, Cisco and Hugo stand in the street and hold their ground as the Man in Black rides into town.

He stops at a shop two blocks away, dismounts, ties his horse there, and continues towards the trio on foot, walking confidently down the center of Main Street. His only weapon is his fancy silver six-shooter strapped to his hip. His only obvious weapon, that is.

Pancho points at him and laughs, Cisco and Hugo join in.

"So, are you a beeg, baad hero now, gringo? Are you going to take all of us on? Are you going to save this town, and the women, from us?"

The Man in Black stops twenty paces away. He reaches up and slips this fingers along the brim of his hat. He says, "I'm not going to have to."

The trio laugh some more. Pancho looks left and right and sees both Jose and Jesus in position with their rifle cocked and aimed.

"Make your move, Black Man." sneers Pancho.

"You boys ever heard of the cavalry?" asks the Man in Black.

Pancho looks confused, "The cava... cava... what?"

"The cavalry." says The Man in Black patiently, "It's a big group of soldiers, all carrying rifles, and it looks a lot like..." he points behind the trio, "those people over there."

Behind the trio are fifty cavalry men who snuck into town from the opposite side the Man in Black came in.

Fifty rifles are now pointing at Pancho and his gang.



In class writing.

Let's Come up with a Plan

"Look. You and I both want to get rich and famous. Let's come up with a plan."

Drew is sitting in a bar with Bill. They are both winding down on a Friday. They've been shooting the bull for two hours and are three boiler-makers into their evening.

The girls this evening are smiling at them, but that's all -- no dancing, no hugging, no coming over for closer conversation. Drew and Bill both want more, and riches and fame are the key to that.

"Tell me something new." snorts Bill, he is watching the girls. A particular sultry blond has his eye this evening.

Drew snorts back, "If you were a millionaire she'd be over here right now."

"Nothing new about that."

"So... let's make something new."

A Good Man is Hard to Catch

"Damn! I can't believe it." Officer Jones mutters to himself as he looks out his window at the pickup parked across the street.

He double checks the license plate in his patrol car computer: Arizona: GODISREAL. Yes, this is Lyle Jeff's car, the polygamist leader who has been on the lamb for a year now. Why is he in South Dakota? Is this him, or just his car?

"I guess having lots of good friends makes a difference." he concludes, and he gets on his police radio.



Write about the following scenario: Alpha Centauri has just gone supernova. The solar system is going to be wiped out in four years when the explosion arrives.

Doom Coming

"We have invented Warp Drive, and just in time!" announces Professor Doppledore to the conference, "Our probe to Alpha Centauri has just returned with pictures of it going super nova."

At first there is silence, then an audience member asks, "Really?"

Doppledore nods grimily, then says, "We have a lot planning and preparing to do."

The news is electric and spreads throughout the solar system at the speed of light. But the response to it proceeds much more slowly -- this is so out of the blue!

The first responders are the weirdo fanatics of all stripes.

"This is God's vengeance!" announce the religious types.

"Our enemies are responsible." announce the patriotic types.

The second responders are more profit-oriented.

"Pay me ransom and I can stop this." announce the scammer types.

What follows over the next few months are the more reasoned responses. Some are planning how to "duck and cover" and some are planning how to cut bait on the solar system and set up shop elsewhere -- with this newly invented Warp Drive that is now a feasible alternative.


Write about a scary character from your past from their POV.

God these kids can be slow! They take an infinity to get it!

I love those kids who get it right away. We can relate. Those others are just sheep.

Still, their parents are putting up the big bucks that are keeping me here. So I have patience... lots and lots and lots of patience.

Well, at least I think I do.


Folk tale list

3 pigs and wolf, King Arthur, Chuck Norris jokes, Davy Crockett, Goldilocks, Gunsmoke, Frankenstein, Superman, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White

Assignment 15 June

Three characters in A&P

Protagonist -- We meet him by listening to his story telling. We know what's going on inside his head because he's telling us.

Old lady at the checkout stand -- She gets into this because she is giving the protagonist grief when he makes a mistake checking out her stuff. He does this because he gets entranced with the three young beauties who have walked in the store wearing just bathing suits. In his eyes she is an old witch.

Three beauties from the beach -- We get a lot of physical and activity description of these three. Protagonist is admiring them intensely. And, as is classic, he is getting distracted and reckless because of all this admiring. This instinct for men to get distracted and reckless while admiring women is why old sailing ship captains declared women on their ships to be bad luck, and I've seen some amusing examples of this happening in person.



--The End--