Category Archives: First Drafts – prompted fiction

Suspended Sentence

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” Don’t tell me what to do” by Josh Cunningham.  To be fair, though, that’s pretty much all he ever tells me.)

Being sent to my room was never a punishment, because it was where the magic happened. Everyplace else in my life as an unruly third grader tried to place walls around my imagination.

My parents did not like it when I thought about disturbing things. At the playground it was easy to get laughed at if you stepped out of line. School had an incredible number of things they never wanted me to express – they were failing to teach me to read and write, but they had made it very clear what they didn’t want me to think.

My room had no such walls. Restricting my body freed my mind. Like Lucifer in Hell, I could only create a world all my own when I had been banished from the world I was created in. Continue reading Suspended Sentence


(This story was written in response to the prompts:  ” Socialism with Chinese characteristics” and “Commodity fetish” by Ian Rowan)

Qiang held the pen over the parchment.

There was a fruit flavor in his tea – was it mango? – and so he was having trouble concentrating. He’d gone to his villa in Xiamen specifically to avoid unhealthy environments, only to discover that peace and quiet were intolerable to him right now.

Write something he told himself. Write anything.

Beijing was so much more stimulating, but the air was so awful right now …

He stared at the page. His calligraphy was terrible, but he grabbed the first snippet of a phrase that came to his mind: “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.”

He stared at his handiwork, amused. So it’s come to this? he thought. But that was fine. Who was he to judge? It just needed a little editing, that’s all.

He reworked the phrase on the next line “Love for a community is greater than love for one.” Then tried again. “Love for one withers on the vine, love for community blossoms on the tree.”

No, too purple. “Question the love felt for one, honor the love felt for community.”

Perfect. He signed it “Confucius” – to indicate that this was the form in which it would be included – and tried the tea again. No, not mango, something else. The global economy made it impossible to know what you were tasting, anymore. Too many flavors. Continue reading Errata

Nine Lives

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” DRM cat food” by Nicolas Weidinger)

The phrase “Zuckerberg’s Cat” refers to a thought experiment first devised in 2012, after a Long Beach TED conference where Electronic Frontier Foundation fellow Cory Doctorow gave a talk discussing the ways social media has “changed everything.”

One of the conference attendees, a User Interface designer named Adam Cook, returned to his hotel room and was reading Thomas Nagel when it occurred to him to ask: how anthropocentric was Doctorow’s contention? Writing on Twitter, Cook asked: “Has Social Media changed anything for Mark Zuckerber’s cat?”

Most responses were tongue in cheek, viewing the original post as a kind of joke. @NeuroWheel replied “his picture’s everywhere,” while @DataPizza tweeted “Eats user data for lunch,” and @HoloHawk replied simply: “Has stock options.”

But a deeper response to the question began to emerge, and references to Zuckerberg’s Cat began to appear on blogs studying tech, philosophy, and psychology. Following Nagel’s analysis of “the hard problem,” positing that there is an experience of being a bat that is both fundamental and irreducible, these writers began asking: has the irreducible experience of being a cat been in any way changed by the new communication’s technology.

A follow-up question began to emerge: while the way human beings do business and communicate social has clearly changed as a result of “social media,” has the human equivalent to “being-a-bat” – the fundamental experience of what it is to be a person – in fact changed as a result of social media?

This more earnest discussion threatened to return to the well worn argument of “social media good/social media bad” until technologist Jaron Lanier returned Zuckerberg’s Cat to the equation. Lanier suggested that if social media had, in fact, changed some essential quality of the experience of Zuckerberg’s Cat, then the new experiences of cat-ness might be subject to Digital Rights Management efforts – much in the same way that biotech companies are attempting to patent stretches of genetic code. Continue reading Nine Lives

Private Label

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” Why hasn’t someone created a red wine label called The Erection. A nice table wine I’m sure” by Erin Sherbert)

He opened a bar because he’d never been very good at bars – because he’d always wanted to be that guy who can leave with a stranger, but couldn’t figure out how. Owning his own place was, he’d thought at the time, a way to get a leg up on the competition: to win through cheating, but still to win.

Six months in, Hal realized he’d had it all wrong. He still wasn’t bringing anyone home, but he now had regulars who’d say “I know the owner” and get action.

Bars drip with sex. But somehow being at the center of the universe put him no closer to it. Eight months ago he’d been sitting on a stool nursing a whiskey through last call; tonight he was cleaning the taps after announcing it. The view – watching other people live the life he’d wanted – was almost identical.

This was just harder work. Opening his own place wasn’t a winning principle, it was a variant on “those who can’t, teach.”

He watched his best customer, Lauren, finish her whiskey and head out the door, taking the possibility of a magical night with her once again. “I’m lucky to be open this long,” he reminded himself as he turned off the “open” sign and put the chairs on top of the tables. By “best customer” he meant “favorite,” not the most profitable – which was another bad sign, he supposed. He walked over to the counter and started cleaning it down. By “favorite” he meant “one he most wanted to sleep with,” which was also probably not the right way to think of these things … Continue reading Private Label

The Dark Room

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” Fuck that, a guided meditation video” by Michael Fasman)

At a conference, I once met a Franciscan monk who told me that I would be the blessed child of God if only I could put my fucking phone down.

It’s hard not to laugh when a monk says “fuck.” I don’t know if he knew that or not. I’m not sure if I’d rather it was an honest mistake, or I’d prefer it if he was deliberately fucking with me.

“But Brother,” I said to him, very politely, “I thought we were all the blessed children of God, no matter what our sins?”

He sighed and asked what I thought it meant to be made in God’s image, and then we were pulled away by the conference organizers – he was giving a lecture and I had been asked to live Tweet a dialogue between a group of Japanese and American Zen practitioners. Continue reading The Dark Room

The Conservatory

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” A fan letter to your favorite piece of architecture in San Francisco,” by Jen Schnell)

The docent at the Conservator of Flowers found the man just before closing time, unconscious among the hothouse orchids, with a letter taped to his chest.

He had no ID.

He was non-responsive, but alive. The public was escorted out of the building as an ambulance was called. The manager on duty, a low-level city parks employee who didn’t know anything about flowers but was related by marriage to the an aid to the mayor’s chief of staff, wanted to leave the letter untouched for the police. But one of the horticulturalists, who actually fed and watered the flowers and knew their names on sight, said that he wanted to read it. He was going to open it. The manager on duty had been told not to get in the way of people who knew what they were doing, and it was a skill that had gotten him everything he had in life.

So he let the horticulturalist open it, even though officially the horticulturalist worked for him. Many of us are only kept where we are by official fictions.

The letter was opened where the man lay, in an artificially hot environment enclosed by glass in a famously temperate and foggy city. It was addressed to “The Conservatory of Flowers” and written – apparently – by the unconscious man’s roommates, who had snuck him in after they found him sleeping off another heroin fix during the middle of a juice cleanse. Continue reading The Conservatory

Summer Song

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” Ice cream in summer,” by Lisa Vallejos)

Every brand of ice cream truck has its own unique musical signature, its siren song. A few simple notes, an easy jingle, to trigger a hunger that is set deep in human nature: a sailors knot bound to our better impulses, tugging on us until we believe that happiness is something we can grab and taste.

Those few notes, heard in the distance, cause children to come running from block to block on a hot day in Daly City, just outside San Francisco. Running until they catch the truck, barricade it still; this is its purpose. The song wants to be caught.

No “Star Pops” are served. This is organic ice cream, the truck belongs to a local entrepreneur, trying to work his way out of dead-end jobs and his family out of poverty. It is working, but he’s making it harder than it has to be: the same children would come running just as fast if he were serving bulk ice cream sandwiches and chaco tacos. The kids don’t know how good they have it. Later in life, they will not know just how much better their memories of ice cream in summer are to those of friends from other neighborhoods in other cities who use the exact same words to describe their recollections.

The children crowding around the truck are products of families whose parents do not trust each other. Masa’s family emigrated from Japan 80 years ago, and Billy’s grandfather was a guard at their internment camp in Arizona. Ed’s family emigrated here from China, and his parents tell stories about what Masa’s distant relatives did when Japan occupied their homeland. Lin’s family were native Taiwanese who were driven out of their island home when China’s army, fleeing the communists after WWII, occupied Taiwan. Masa’s people had occupied Taiwan during the war, but they think Ed’s people were worse. Analyn’s family came here from the Philippines, and have not forgotten what Ruiz’s ancestors did when Spain occupied the island, or what Billy’s people did when America took it over.

In 10 years, the children will all know these things. In 10 years, history will begin splitting them apart. Continue reading Summer Song

From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Extremist Files” brief on Samuel Eckardsly

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ”Sam was a rude and closed minded individual, often times blurting out racist remarks in disgust of all people, though he was quite a filthy fellow himself” by Johnny Munney)

 From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Extremist Files” brief on Samuel Eckardsly


Samuel Eckardsly is an ordained Southern Baptist Minister and Cultural Historian with an M.A. from Columbia, who is well regarded in white supremacist circles for his calls for a “Vigorous Defense of Western Civilization” in academic and scholarly settings. While he denies being racially motivated, his speeches and his books, most particularly “Cultural Decadence and Sublimated Civilization,” are often seen as providing cover for groups that espouse Christian Identity and forums such as Stormfront. While his work acknowledges the value of other cultures in the abstract, it claims that there is a “direct, vital, and tangible” superiority to western values, which are in danger on the world stage, and that these must be “sublimated to in order to be participated in.”


“You can only believe in what you surrender to. Everything else is for show.” – “Cultural Decadence and Sublimated Civilization,” page 21

“Civilization requires a common direction. Without it, you have decadence at best, barbarism at worst, and always some kind of perversion. The goals of a civilization need not be moral, often are not, but mankind does not advance through moral acts (though it is at its best when it does).  It advances through vision: cultural evolution is a spear in flight, and it must be aimed. Decadence is throwing paint at a wall and hoping it turns into art. Barbarism is throwing blood on a wall for reasons of superstition. Now, tell me the truth: which sounds most like the West: in the heyday of the Roman period? The Enlightenment? The Industrial Revolution? And which sounds most like our civilization today? Our existence as a common enemy makes our foes strong, while our refusal to defend what we have done and the values behind it, is a kind of suicide pact made by a society where ‘individualism’ and ‘diversity’ have come to be seen as such virtues that the very act of sublimating oneself to a larger purpose – the first and fundamental act of any culture and civilization – is viewed with scorn by an decadent elite who would rather be clever than right.” – Speech to the H.L. Mencken Club, 2012

“You cannot enforce politeness, decency, or any virtue beyond the martial through force or oppression. You can only do it by presenting a case so charismatic that these graces are surrendered to. That surrender is the essence of civilization, those who will not surrender will always be outsiders, and often enemies” – “Cultural Decadence and Sublimated Civilization,” page 58


Born 1951 Kentucky, Eckardsly came to study the clash of cultures he saw first hand during his childhood: miners against owners, old Appalachian families against newcomers, and in particular the rise of the civil rights movement and its impact on disrupting established order and creating what he later termed a “higher order culture clash.” Continue reading From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Extremist Files” brief on Samuel Eckardsly