Category Archives: Stories

"It Likes Italian": A Short Screenplay

“… a little silly, a little strange, and a little WTF thrown in”

“It Likes Italian” is a short screenplay I’ve had kicking around in my head for awhile. If you want to get to the action, got ahead and skip down to the header below, but I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the process of writing this screenplay because I’ve never actually done one before.

Of course, this won’t be a surprise to the screenwriters in the house as I’ve totally botched the formatting. 🙂

In any case, blasting out reams of dialogue is one of my oldest methods for starting a new story. I just sit down and let a group of characters start talking. Eventually, they tell me what’s going on.

My work with Kip Frazier is a lot like this: he talks, I listen, when I interrupt he usually says something like, “Well, Mister Writer, you stick to the scribbling and I’ll stick to the story spinning, cause I’m sure ain’t nobody wants to hear it the other way around.”

And, as usual, Kip is right. My job is to write. The characters are supposed to tell the story.

Another thing worth mentioning about “It Likes Italian” is that it has a liberal dose of colorful language. This is a little different from things I’ve posted of late, but I’m also trying to get back to writing from the gut… And as the son of a man who was a sailor and then a cop, my gut often coughs up some rough edges.

Of course, this story is really me, through and through (a little silly, a little strange, and a little WTF thrown in), and that’s one thing I like about it.


“It Likes Italian”: A Short Screenplay

[Setting; Space] [Open with a small research craft orbiting a gas giant planet. Close by is an enormous black sphere, metallic and smooth.] [Interior of craft: One man is asleep at his terminal, while another pokes at the keyboard in a bored way.] [Terminal Screen close-up: Saying hello in different languages, math questions. A delay… nothing comes back in response. Bored man at the terminal (Roy), stops the script. Types in something and chuckles.]

Roy: “Apparently, it likes Italian…”

[Clay wakes up]

Clay: “Huh? What do you mean, ‘It likes Italian?'”
Roy: “The protocols weren’t working so I tried flirting with it in Italian.”
Clay: “What the fuck do you know about Italian?”
Roy: “I spent a summer in Rome.”
Clay: “We’re supposed to be following protocol.”
Roy: “I know. I was just screwing around.”
Clay: “Keep running the scans…”
Roy: [sigh] [Roy goes back to running the scans, but there’s no response. He looks to see if Clay is watching. He’s back to sleep.] [Terminal: Roy taps in a few Italian phrases. The entity answers back.]

Clay: “Are you doing the Italian thing again?”
Roy: “Yeah…”
Clay: [Frustrated resignation] [Clay leaves his terminal and watches Italian streaming across Roy’s screen.]

Clay: “Fuck. What are we going to do?”
Roy: “I guess we report in and say it likes Italian.”
Clay: “Brilliant, Jackass… That’ll look great on the report.”

[Terminal: More Italian flowing across the screen]

Clay: “What’s it saying?”
Roy: “I don’t know. All I learned to do is flirt. I can ask directions too.”
Clay: “Directions? Somewhere you need to go?”
Roy: “Hey, man, I’m just telling you what I know.”

[Terminal: Italian insult]

Roy: “Oh shit.”
Clay: “What’s wrong?”
Roy: “I think it’s pissed off.”
Clay: “How do you know?”
Roy: “It just told me to fuck my mother. I think it’s angry because I haven’t responded.”

[Terminal: More insults come across the screen.] [Exterior shot: Entity begins moving toward the craft.] [Interior: Clay and Roy see entity moving on the monitor.]

Clay: “Jesus! Well, if it wants a response – respond!”
Roy: “What should I say?”
Clay: “I don’t know! Ask for directions or something!”

[Roy types quickly.] [Terminal: A single word answer comes back in response “sì” ]

Roy: “Shit.”
Clay: “Now what? What did you say?”
Roy: “Well, I asked it if it wanted to sleep with me and it said yes.”
Clay: “Christ! Stop flirting with it!”
Roy: “What else do you want me to do? That’s all the fucking Italian I know. It’s all I ever needed to know.”
Clay: “I took some Spanish back in high school. Maybe we could try that.”
Roy: “I don’t know. I think it might not like that.”
Clay: “What the hell do you know? Now you’re the shrink?”
Roy: “That never worked in Rome. The girls there got pissed if you tried to switch to Spanish.”
Clay: “So now it’s a girl?”
Roy: “It wants to sleep with me, doesn’t it?”
Clay: “You don’t know that. Shit. We need to call this in.”

[Chiming sounds, warning bells]

Roy: “It’s still closing.”
Clay: “Is it going to crash into us?”
Roy: “No, it’s on an intercept vector, maneuvering to come along side.”
Clay: “I’m calling in.”
Roy: “The communications array is dead. It’s jamming us.”

[Clay takes a seat at his terminal and starts pounding the keys]

Roy: “It says it wants to be alone with us.”
Clay: “We’re getting the fuck out of here!”

[Exterior: The entity closes on the ship. Grapplers extend and clamp onto the ship.]

Roy: “Too late…”

[Clay checks exterior monitors.] [Exterior: Something else extending from the entity.]

Clay: “Are those arms?”
Roy: “No, they look more like…”

[Terminal: Sweet nothings murmurred in Italian]

Clay: “Oh hell no. This thing is not going to fuck our ship is it?”

[Crash into the hull, grinding of metal.]

Clay: “We’re getting spaced raped!”
Roy: “Technically, the ship is getting space raped.”
Clay: “We’re in the ship, Roy. So, I think that means we’re getting space raped by default!”

[Awkward moment for crew. Eventually, the grinding stops. A few moments pass. Terminal beeps.] [Terminal: Murmuring in Italian]

Clay: “Now what is it saying?”
Roy: “It’s giving directions. I think. I’m not sure.”
Clay: “It’s not letting go.”
Roy: “No, I think… I think it wants to show us something.”

[Terminal: Repeating on the screen in Italian]

Clay: “What is it?”
Roy: “It wants to show us the stars.”

[Roaring sound shakes the craft.] [Exterior: Entity’s engines igniting]

Roy: “Detecting a warp field.”
Clay: “Fuck, fuck! Drop the log beacon! Now!”

[Log beacon shoots out of the ship as the entity blasts into warp, taking the research vessel with it] —
[Some time later… A military rescue ship arrives. Picks up the beacon.]

Captain: “No sign of the ship?”
Ensign: “No, Captain. Just her log beacon, but the data is truncated. They must have jettisoned early.”
Captain: “What does it say?”

[Ensign works at his terminal.]

Ensign: “‘Apparently, it likes Italian…'”


Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it!

Introducing Kip Frazier – My Steampunk Huck Finn

“Hey, there, Mister Writer, you want to quit your dreaming about flowers and posey and get back to work?” ~ Kip Frazier

Those of you who followed me in November know that Kip Frazier is the book I wrote for NaNoWriMo. In a nutshell, Kip Frazier is my take on Huck Finn meets Steampunk (plus some magic thrown in). It begins with the line…

“In all my life, ain’t nobody ever caught me when I was running on top of the air.”

Below is Chapter 2 of the tale.

Chapter 1 is a super hot action thing where Kip is introduced in media res. I’m sharing Chapter 2 first because I am in desperate need of another cup of coffee (you’ll figure that out when you read it). Oh, and maybe I wanted to show that I maybe I can’t write stories but I can write more than first chapters. 😉

Note Bene – ’cause I’m getting all writerly now…

If you don’t read SciFi or Fantasy, references to “the Fey” mean fairy folk. Fey is a medieval term. It wasn’t my decision to use it either. Kip Frazier insisted. In fact, I have an entire author-character discourse in my notes were he berated me for trying to doll it up, “Writers! Always fiddling with the way things is! Stop it!”

Also, when I talk about clankers, I mean robots. This takes place in a time and place similar to Huck Finn, so I try to use words that fit into 19th century. Fantastic or romantic technology based on what was available to makers in the 19th century is an effect known as Steampunk.

READ Kip Frazier – Chapter 2: In the Biddy’s Kitchen (PDF). Just six pages. Won’t take long.

This’ll probably get another polish or seven as I’m the worst proof reader in the world. Of course, when you write in a colloquial style, it gets even more difficult to proof because you’re working off sound as well. It takes a long time to get this kind of thing right.

A big thanks to everyone who voted in my poll. It was a lot of fun to get back to this story, which of course is not a story but a novel…

“Aw, skip it already, Mister Writer!”

Sorry, Kip. 🙂

[Editor’s note: Sorry folks, I already found a typo and changed the name of the chapter. Big surprise, right? The link above is right now. LOL. 20+ years and I still do this every time.]

What To Do When Old Stories Refuse To Go Away


Back in October, I mentioned the story “Deepest Shade” while discussing the Terror of Titles:

Deepest Shade is a story I’ve struggled with for close to 10 years. It’s been many things during that time but one thing is absolutely certain: Deepest Shade has always been the title. Or, at least I think it is. I’m still not entirely happy with Deepest Shade as a story. I think I really have two different tales going on not to mention the fact that I completely over edited the thing and now it feels sort of lifeless. Yet, I wonder if I haven’t hobbled the story by forcing myself to stick with a phrase that keeps clinging to my brain.

Of course I couldn’t just let the story go, or rather it simply refused to go away.

I don’t know what it is about this story that I like so much. Perhaps it’s the artistic struggle or maybe the interplay between Ali and Barbara. Maybe I just like the idea of blurring the possibilities of super high-end technology with the spiritual world, a bit of unexplained strangeness in an otherwise logical (and depressing world). Maybe I just like typing the word shikkoku.

Whatever it is, it’s probably a good idea if I stop talking about the story. I can think of no better way to ruin the pleasure of reading fiction than by talking the story out of it. So maybe the thing I should say here is nothing at all. Just share the story and by that example show that when old stories “return” they’re just stories that are not yet done and as a writer you should welcome that… though your readers may tire of messing with the same fluff again and again. 🙂

Click here to download the “latest” version of Deepest Shade.

Note: I’m sure that even though I try and try, there are still typos. I know what all the books say, but sometimes you have to face facts – I’m just a horrible proofreader.

Being Critical

When Sean “Writer Dad” Platt started a story newsletter, I was one of the first to sign up and I’m glad I did. Sean began with an excellent January tale. The story is touching and sweet, but as I read it I found myself thinking less like a reader and more like an editor.

I was thinking as an editor because there were certain aspects of Sean’s story that reminded me of one I’d written three years ago. As I wrote my comments to Sean, I kept going back to that old story. What follows is a combination of my general thoughts on criticism mixed with an analysis of my own story.

Before I get rolling, I encourage you to subscribe to Sean’s newsletter. He’s a great writer. Certainly better than me. 🙂

The Best Criticism: Remorseless, Specific, Honest

I believe the best criticism has three main characteristics:

1. Honest – If the writing is crap, tell them so. Think about the flow of the story. Did it keep you engaged? Did you think about it afterwards? If not, why and how could it be better?

Were there any places where you just stopped reading? If so, why? Did the author surprise you by changing gears or flipping expectations upside down? Did the story end up giving you a start-stop-start sensation not unlike riding in a car with someone who has an unnatural love of riding the brake pedal. If so, explain it and show specifically where the pavement ended [or where the metaphors wore thin].

2. Specific – Most readers stop at number #1. They deliver line edits line edits, questions about word choice, and of course the ubiquitous AWKWARD scribbled in the margins. Let me say something here…

Nothing is more AWKWARD than seeing the word AWKWARD scrawled across the page. Be specific.

Show them where the bodies are buried [especially when they use cliché]. Point out the places where the beautiful poetry they’ve constructed kills the story. Seriously, cut and paste sentences or paragraphs and tell the writer why they do not work for you. The more specific you can be the better.

3. Remorseless – Don’t be soft and try to pad your opinion with phrases like, “You show a lot of promise.” If you’re going to qualify a compliment with the word “but” or “however” strip that compliment off because you probably don’t mean it. Just deliver the news directly.

Too many adjectives or adverbs (or not enough). Poor dialogue. Shoddy craftsmanship…

Don’t worry about hurting feelings. You’ve been asked to give feedback, so give it. An editor won’t be kind and neither should you.

Analyzing One Of My Own

Above I mentioned that when I read Sean’s story, I found myself making mental comparisons to one of my own pieces. When began sketching out this article, I went back and read my old story and found that it was even more flawed than I remembered. I’ll provide a small sample of my feedback below. The real McCoy would be way too long to put into a single post, but this should give you a flavor.

A Quiet Dinner [pdf] is a story that came together very quickly. I took the initial idea, blasted through the details, and executed the story in less than a week. Once I was done, I went on to edit it three or four times, beating it into a fine paste.

I think the result is a story that is too heavy on poesy and too light on story. This is pretty typical of my work. Just reading the first paragraph makes my stomach turn.

Brian walked through the dark house on the balls of his feet. He thought himself stealthy, but there was no one to disturb, except his wife and she was already awake. Rachel didn’t sleep so well anymore.

Even now, three years later, I remember struggling with that whole “balls of his feet” thing. How do I describe that? Oh, and that whole “Rachel didn’t sleep so well anymore” could there be a more pregnant pause? Do we cue the dramatic music now?

If this were a detailed critique, I’d go through the entire text and point out places where things are just completed screwed. But, to save you the pain, let me share just a few choice bits that are way over the top:

The boys flew to Rachel.

Is this Peter Pan? A bit of sarcasm to be sure, but it’s to the point.

Brian ran the disposal. He wagged the sprayer to keep down the foam. He rinsed off the dishes, and put the glasses he didn’t wash into their slick dishwasher.

Maybe I should write down each and every time he takes a breath too and how that works. Just adding some fancy verbs won’t make this any less boring and non-essential.

The moment was ripe for a grand statement about Art, but Brian remained still. How he used to go on! He could fill hours with talk that ranged across themes and entire schools of thought. For the few artists he admired, Brian displayed a grudging sort of reverence but for the rest he had nothing, only foul contempt. Such rage! How he used to go on! He left Rachel exhausted.

Ok, seriously. If I didn’t need to type the number ‘1’ every once in awhile, I’d honestly consider ripping the key off so as to avoid writing paragraphs like this. Nothing says, ‘bla bla bla’ like using exclamation points to emphasize how witty, verbose, exhausting, exasperating, etc a character might be.

Here’s a long bit of crappy dialogue that totally screws up what could be an interesting bit of conflict between the main characters. I’m including the whole thing so that you can see just how bad it is:

The waitress arrived. She was young, but she tried to compensate with detachment and formality. She stood close to Brian and asked about the wine.
“Well, you see, this is where we have a problem,” Brian said. “She prefers white, while for me there is only red.”
“I know what you mean,” the girl said. “I like dry reds, but my boyfriend, he’ll only drink red if it’s really sweet. But there is a solution.”
She stepped closer. Her open palm drifted over the wine menu, and Brian’s eyes followed her gesture to the bottom of the list.
“Half bottles.”
Brian looked at Rachel.
“Could you drink a half bottle?” he asked.
“We can have red.”
“It’s fine.”
Brian preferred Cabernet, but asked the waitress about the Merlot and the Pinot Noir.
“I’m a Pinot girl myself, but people like the Merlot.”
Brian ordered the Pinot, and after the waitress left, he faced Rachel.
“I really like this place,” he said.
“I can tell.”
“It reminds of a place in Zürich I think you would like.”
“Which one?”
“Bodega Espania.”
Rachel nodded, and a smile began to take root at the corner of her mouth.
“I haven’t told you about that place before?”

Who even wrote this?

“She prefers white, while for me there this only red.”

I think it’s a shame I screwed this part up. The waitress flirting with Brian could have created a nice bit of tension but instead I’m rolling my eyes at the language… Please step away from the melodrama.

Aside from the crappy writing, the characters in this story lack depth. The author of the story (that’s me) seems more in love with words than they are with the characters. This isn’t surprising as their is nothing interesting about them. They are the same at the beginning as they are at the end and all through the story they show only a single, stereotypical face.

If I were writing a real critique, I’d take this opportunity to pose a long series of questions meant to jar the author, make them think about how these characters could be improved and the drama deepened. I’d also tell them which parts are really screwing up the flow of the story.

Finishing Up

I’ve gone on about tearing a piece of work to shreds and generally being an ogre, but I’d like to wrap up with a word about kindness.

Delivering bad news about a bad story is part of providing good feedback. Some people may see this as demeaning or insulting, but I assure you that if you are very specific in your criticisms even a cutting tone such as the one I used with my own work will be helpful to the author. However, don’t take this as a license to shred someone’s person. Be nice.

Once you’re done writing your critique, take a moment to breathe. Read through what you’ve written and make sure that it is actionable. If it isn’t, strike it. Being nasty for nasty’s sake is no better than writing dialogue that does the he-said-she-said bit without advancing the story. The reader of such a critique will be as bored with your thoughts as you were with theirs.

Hope this was helpful! Don’t forget to sign up for Writer Dad’s newsletter!

A Halloween Story: Jeremy Shade and Spatula Inn

One must always begin at the Beginning,
For that is where one finds the End.
Betwixt the two comes the Middle,
And therein lies the story.

Image credit: wsmith (Flickr) with a bit of touchup by me.

— 1

There is a dark, forbidden valley where travelers should never go, though sometimes, a careless soul manages to wander in and still make it back. Their hair gone white where once it was black. Their eyes never rest, and they look hard into the shadows. What they see we do not know, but they never, never sleep again.

“The wind may blow fierce, but it is not the cold that makes the trees shiver. Those poor, woody prisoners would burn their own branches, if only for the light.”

— 2

Jeremy Shade was a boy who treasured such tales. He collected them in fat notebooks with a fine and measured hand. He was careful to note each word as it was said, not wanting to miss the slightest detail or moment of dread.

His parents felt awful about this habit of his, wallowing in horror and fear. But try as they might, they could not convince him to give it up. He only laughed when something should have scared him, only giggled when terror should have gripped him, and rolled on the floor holding his sides when he should have been petrified.

UPDATE: This story is now available on Kindle!