Creative Nonfiction

This week I’d like to take a look at the craft of creative nonfiction.  Sebastian Junger’s acclaimed book, The Perfect Storm, is an example of creative nonfiction at its best.  It’s journalism with a soul – both heartbreaking and hopeful.  It’s one of my all-time favorite books.

Of course, the scope of creative nonfiction is not limited to literary journalism, as is the case with, The Perfect Storm.  Personal essays would certainly qualify for this category.  So would memoirs.  As long as facts are presented in a personalized way, you’ve got yourself some creative nonfiction.

Admittedly, I don’t write much of it.  There’s a knack to making a completely factual narrative sound interesting to an audience, and I certainly could use a lot of practice.  So, that’s the challenge I’ve issued to myself this week – to write a compelling piece of creative nonfiction.

As always, constructive criticism is encouraged.  I’d love to hear from you.  And, by all means, let me know if you have a piece of creative nonfiction you’d like to share.

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.




bush-cricket-1594641_1280A Sort of Biblical Swarm


Being from Northeast Ohio, I had plenty of experience driving in bad weather.  So, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why my car was hydroplaning on a dry, sunny summer day in Louisiana.  I fought the impulse to stomp on the brake, and I steered into the skid, regaining control.  I realized there was some kind of substance on the road, but I wasn’t sure what it was so I cautiously turned into a gas station.

The parking lot appeared to be wiggling, and I turned the radio off, as if the sound was somehow interfering with my vision.  Nope – the parking lot was still wiggling.  Then my brain finally accepted what my eyes had been seeing the whole time – grasshoppers.  There were grasshoppers everywhere.  Truckloads of them.  I could hear them crunching beneath my tires.

I parked, and tried to tiptoe inside the gas station to minimize the amount of casualties I was inflicting, but there was no helping it.  I could feel them squishing under my shoes, and  they were slippery as hell.  When I got inside I announced to the girl behind the cash register, “There’s grasshoppers all over the place.”

“Crickets,” she said quite matter-of-factly.

“Okay, crickets” I conceded.  “They’re everywhere.”

Another employee chimed in from the snack food isle, “I reckon they’re a might worse than I’ve seen in a while.”  He had a broom, and he was busy trying to corral some rogue crickets into a mop bucket.

“How bad are they, typically?” I asked.

“Sometimes bad.  Sometimes not so bad,” the guy informed me.

“Where ya from?” the girl behind the register asked.  “You sure do have an accent.”

“Ohio,” I said.

“What’s a Yankee boy doin’ way down here in Shreveport, Louisiana?” she said.  The word came out like, Lose-y-anna.  It sounded very exotic to me, and I suddenly realized how attractive she was.  I guessed she was around my age – early twenties, tall and tan with long dark hair and blue eyes like glacial ice.

“I thought I’d brave the biblical swarm of locusts so I could ask you out for a drink,” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.

“It ain’t no biblical swarm neither.  It’s just a might worse than usual. And I done told you it’s crickets.”

“Oh,” I said, dejected.  “Well, I’ll see ya,” I said as I turned to leave.

“My shift’s up in about forty-five minutes,” she said.  “There’s a little bar up the road.  If you want, I’ll meet you there for a drink.  It’s called, Scuddy’s.”

“Yeah, I know where that is.  I’d love to meet you for a drink.”

“It’s just one drink now, and it’s just us talkin’.  Don’t get no ideas.”

“Scout’s honor,” I said, and I raised my right hand to show how virtuous I was.

“And I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts you was never no damned boy scout.”

She was right about that, too.


Genesis of a Poem

I can remember my high school English teacher casually instructing the class to write a poem in the spirit of Autumn.  It was late September, and the leaves were changing.  I’m sure that’s what inspired the assignment in the first place.  The poem was due the following day.

I didn’t know much about writing poetry, but I suspected the likes of Robert Frost and Walt Whitman didn’t just sit down and fill pages with beautiful verse on command.  I supposed there was a process – something introspective and meditative that had to happen organically.  Well, I didn’t really have time to wait for my muse to show up, so I forced myself to get something down on paper.  It was about how the baseball playoffs were shaping up in the Major Leagues, and the magic of playing the game in October when the World Series is on the line.  I thought it was a bad poem, but I got a B on the assignment. I was okay with that.

Looking back, I can say my instincts were sound.  There is a certain mind state I have to achieve before I can write a decent poem.  I’d like to share a few tricks I’ve learned over the years that might be helpful to your creative process.

There is poetry all around you.

Be observant throughout the day.  Appreciate small details, because the small details are the seeds of poetry.  For example, notice how weeds come up through the cracks in sidewalks.  On the surface, it seems like a trivial detail.  In reality, it’s a reminder that nature is a powerful force that wants to reclaim the urban landscapes we have stamped into the earth.  Now you have an entire concept to work with, and all you had to do is look at a few weeds poking up through the sidewalk.  Brilliant!

Your subconscious secretly writes poetry.

Doctors and scientists admit they do not have a very good grasp on how the human mind works.  They do know the subconscious mind is very active, though most of us are never aware of what it’s really up to.  A writing instructor I had in college taught me a good technique to get in touch with my subconscious.  He told me to carry around a dozen or so 3 x 5 index cards.  If I noticed something interesting, jot it down.  Every interesting thought or observation got its own index card.

Here’s an example.  I was crossing a road in July, and there was heat distortion coming up off the blacktop.  I thought the observation was worthy enough to note, so I wrote down: Heat distortion on road on one of the index cards. I waited a few days to go through the cards, and I came to the one about Heat distortion.  Without any effort I immediately jotted down, Shimmering Specter.  I put the cards away, and repeated the process a few days later.  I got to the one that said, Heat distortion on road, Shimmering Specter, and another thought just flowed from my pen to the index card: A halcyon oasis.  I was amazed when I realized I was subconsciously authoring one of the assignments due for my summer writing workshop.  It was a 5-7-5 syllable haiku.  Admittedly, I composed the last line with conscious effort, but it didn’t feel like pulling teeth the way composing poetry usually felt for me.  After ten or fifteen minutes I completed the haiku.  It read:


shimmering specter

a halcyon oasis

what beautiful lies

Okay, it wasn’t brilliant poetry, but it was worthy enough to present at a college level writing workshop.  Just by crossing a hot blacktop road my subconscious thought up a little story about getting lost in a desert and being fooled by a mirage.  Pretty neat.  And it took very little effort, save for having to carry around some 3 x 5 index cards all the time.  Now you can get a note pad app for your smart phone, so there’s really no excuse not to try this out for yourself.


Whatever kills me makes me stronger– Peter Griffin

The great thing about writing a poem is it can free fall from the sky, hit the ground, bounce a few times, and come back stronger.  That is, of course, if you’re willing to take an objective look at your work and make some revisions.  In my opinion, the revision process is the soul of good writing.  It’s where grandiose ideas, raw emotions, and penetrating insight are crafted into the concise literary forms we recognize as poetry.  If you have the luxury of workshopping your poetry, by all means, take advantage of it.  I know how terrifying it can be to put something as personal as a poem out there to be scrutinized and dissected. However, it’s been my experience that the process only leads to more refined versions of the poem, until you are left with the best possible iteration of the original.  After all, you owe it to your poem to take it as far as it can possibly go – to make it as good as it possibly can be.


Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.



























Working on Relaxing

I’ll keep this post relatively short.  After all, Labor Day is coming up and I have to start working on relaxing.  I’m going to leave you with another haibun attempt.  It’s a quick read, and in authentic haibun tradition, it’s a first person account of an actual travel experience.  Questions and comments are always welcome.  Criticism is especially encouraged as long as it’s constructive.  That’s how we get better words down on the page.

Everyone be safe and have fun over the long weekend. As always, keep writing.




Between Detroit and Toledo

Stacey talks expansively about Eastern philosophy and New Age medicine while I worry about tire tread and gasoline.  We’re driving south on I-75 trying to outrun a late winter storm that’s surging out of Canada.  It overtakes us somewhere between Detroit and Toledo – dark and writhing, and dumping snow at an astonishing rate.

I take the next exit – there’s a diner where we can stop until they run the plows.  We sit opposite each other in a booth by a window, and a tired waitress fills our coffee cups. The world outside looks like it’s composed of chaotic pixels, like the static on an old analogue T.V.  A screaming wind hits the glass hard like an animal trying to get inside.  Stacey recoils from it and brings her gaze back down to the menu.

She’s crying a little.  It’s been tough these last few months, and we finally decided to call it quits.  It was very amicable, for what it’s worth.  I agreed to take her as far as Lexington, and her cousin will drive her the rest of the way to Daytona Beach where she has a job lined up.

The waitress takes our order and leaves us in an awkward limbo.  Former lovers waiting for our food, waiting for the storm to pass, waiting for something better.

March tempest

winter’s death rattle

we hope for spring




Introduction to Haibun

I just got into reading haibun.  Like, really into it – the way people got into The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad.  A couple of months ago I didn’t even know what it was. To me, the word sounded like something you would call an exotic fish, e.g. I’m going haibun fishing this weekend.

It turns out it’s actually a literary form that originated in Japan hundreds of years ago.  It’s difficult to sum it up in a few words, but I’ll try.  The form combines prose and haiku.    Typically, the haiku follows a prose narrative, but that’s not always the case.  I’ve seen the haiku sandwiched between two paragraphs, and I’ve seen it appear at the very beginning.  I’ve also seen multiple haikus in a single piece. Of course, my experience is limited to English language haibun because I never got around to learning Japanese (slacker).

The thing that is really interesting about this literary form is the relationship between the two distinct components.  The haiku isn’t simply appended to the narrative as a festive little garnish – it illuminates some aspect of the prose that wasn’t apparent at first.  Sometimes the haiku offers a resolution to the narrative, sometimes it presents an alternative interpretation, or even a refutation.  It can add a dose of irony, or humor, or sorrow – anything at all.  And if the haibun is extremely well written, the prose and the poetry will unite in a literary symbiosis that will explode your mind.

Haibun is such a fascinating form, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.  If you’d like to see what it’s all about, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Haibun Today are two excellent publications.  Their archives are free to view, and they offer some great selections.

Of course, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and try it out.  I’ll tell you what – writing haibun is not like taking candy from a baby.  It’s more like taking a freshly killed wildebeest from a hungry pride of lions.  If you’d like to read one of my early attempts you can find it below. I titled it, Ones and Zeroes.  This one has a decidedly Sci Fi feel to it.

Also, if anyone has a haibun they’d like to share with me, let me know.  I’d love to read it.  And if you like this blog, feel free to let others interested in creative writing know about it.

Take care, and keep writing.



   Ones and Zeroes

It’s not just the usual conspiracy theorists wearing tinfoil hats who are talking about this.  There are professors from elite universities – people with I.Q.s as big as busses – who believe our entire universe is a simulation being run inside some kind of alien super computer.

They say it’s all numbers – binary code whirring beneath the surface.  They say they’ve seen the equations woven into the fabric of our reality.  More precisely, the equations are the fabric of our reality, and the rest is only a clever veneer.  Your memories, hopes, dreams, fears, regrets, all of it . . . ones and zeroes.

there were some cutbacks

simulation 86ed

sorry and goodbye

Archives: Smash Through Writer’s Block

Here’s a post from a few years back. I thought it was appropriate for today. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.



Today I’m going to present a particularly helpful technique for combating writer’s block. I call it, Unreal History.

The premise is fairly straight forward.  Make up some kind of historical untruth and jot it down on a piece of paper.  It shouldn’t be too crazy, but it shouldn’t be too vanilla either.  You’re shooting for semi-crazy.

Here’s an example: An Irishman invented the first Margarita back in 1810.

Okay, we have our semi-crazy premise.  Now write about 250 words on your account of the unreal historical fact.  Have fun with it.  There’s no pressure – it’s just an exercise to get the fingers moving across the keyboard.  I compare it to a basketball player whose shot is way off early in the game.  Sometimes all it takes is a trip to the free throw line  just to see the ball leave your hand and fall through the hoop.  Suddenly the muscle memory kicks in, and the confidence is back.  Next thing you know you’re flirting with a triple double.

I’m telling you, crazy as it sounds, I’ve used this technique to generate some good momentum in my writing.  Of course, I never actually show anyone what I write during these little one page exercises – they get deleted almost as soon as they’re completed.  But, for the sake of demonstration, I’ll go ahead and post an example.  Here’s my account of the first Margarita that was invented by an Irishman in 1810:

In 1810 an Irish monk, Charlie Murphy, from Donegal, was sent to Mexico to investigate the legitimacy of a purported miracle – the image of the Virgin Mary manifesting in a bowl of tortilla soup.  Unfortunately, a mangy goat consumed the soup, bowl and all, before he had a chance to bear witness. Murphy, undeterred, resolved to remain in Mexico in search of a genuine miracle.  He inspected soups, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, any and every dish he happened upon.  Still, he found nothing.

It was a hot day in July when a dejected Murphy staggered into a small restaurant, very much in need of drink.  The water was fine, but there was a deeper thirst that needed quenching.  Rays of sunlight shone through the window, illuminating an array of bottles on a shelf.  Murphy was suddenly compelled to moisten the rim of a rocks glass with a damp towel, then dip it in salt.  He was further compelled to fill the glass with ice, then he gathered the bottles from the shelf and added tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau.  Somehow, he knew the precise proportions, down to the drop.  Murphy stirred it a few times and tasted.  It was delicious and refreshing, and he called out, “Through Divine Providence, I have invented the, McSwizzler!”

Murphy taught the recipe to the proprietor of the establishment, and returned happily to his home in Donegal where he died many years later. Of course, the proprietor changed the name of the drink, and History did not remember Charlie Murphy.  But, in the small coastal towns of Jalisco, Mexico, people still whisper stories about the thirsty, red headed man who mixed the first Margarita.

Mexican Shamrock biggestLOL, I just read what I wrote, and I can’t believe I’m going to show it to other people.  And there are actually a few out there who recently started following this blog.  Thank you so much for your interest. It means a lot.

Take care, and keep writing.









Genre writing


Recently, I was at a party when I was railroaded into a conversation with a pretentious  guy who insisted genre stories could never be seriously regarded as “real” literature.  I’m guessing by “real” he meant substantive.

War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and A Tale of Two Cities.  Now that’s real literature,” the guy declared as he swirled his wine theatrically.

“So Frankenstein, Slaughterhouse-Five, and War of the Worlds don’t qualify as real literature?” I asked.

“Certainly there are a few exceptions,” he conceded reluctantly before making a hasty retreat to the giant cheese tray at the other end of the room.

Later that night I returned home and read almost a hundred pages of Stephen King’s, Pet Sematary.  I just had the urge to delve into a horror story, perhaps to reinforce my own belief that good literature doesn’t necessarily have to be a grandiose production of a deeply philosophical nature.  Sometimes all you need is some basic insight into the human psyche and a reanimated corpse wielding a scalpel.

So, to celebrate genre writing, I’m going to present a horror story of my own.  I genuinely enjoyed writing this; it was nice to change gears and have some fun.  When it was over I felt refreshed, and I was able to resume my other writing projects with a clearer perspective and renewed vigor. I hope you enjoy it.



Daddy Longlegs Goes Dancing

by Hawkelson Rainier


“We’ve got an outrageously extreme show lined up for you right here with Josh and Brandt on one hundred point seven, WYRU!” the radio screamed loud enough to obliterate Todd’s deep R.E.M sleep.  He opened his eyes, and like most mornings, a profound depression swept over him.  The alarm clock continued to broadcast The Josh and Brandt Show as he searched for the will to get up and turn it off.

“Triple X porn star, Bambi Charmaine, is in studio with us right now,” Josh bellowed, “and she has agreed to kick our long time sound engineer, Jeff Klingensmith, square in the nuts.”      Then Brandt chimed in, “And here it comes folks!  This is so extreme!”

“Oh this is gonna suck,” Jeff added.

Todd finally got out of bed and silenced the babbling alarm clock by throwing it against the wall.  He stumbled to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.  A balding, entry level data processor who hadn’t had a date in over six months stared back at him.

“You’re a loser,” he told his own image. “You’re thirty-three years old and you can’t even grow a real mustache.  What is that on your face, Todd?  Huh?  What is that supposed to be?”   Todd had been cultivating his mustache for more than a year, but it was no more than a gaggle of long, wispy hairs.

He dressed quickly, ran down three flights of stairs, hopped on his moped, and merged into the heavy flow of morning suburban rush hour traffic.  As he pulled into the employee parking lot, his 50 cc engine rumbled with all the fury of several senior citizens clearing their throats in an otherwise quiet high school auditorium. Todd found an open spot, jammed on the brakes, and fishtailed before coming to a stop between the yellow lines.  He sighed and began the long walk across the corporate campus to his cubicle.

A white Porsche suddenly pulled up alongside him, and Todd saw it was Wendy Lamar from marketing.  “Todd, I’m glad I ran into you.  I hope you’re coming to Za Za’s for Stacey’s going away party tonight.”

“Um…no, I wasn’t really planning on it,” Todd confessed.  “Stacey from accounting, or Stacey from human resources?”

“Accounting,” Wendy informed him.  “You know, she thinks you’re really cute, and this might be your last chance to…you know…hook up with her.”

“Stacey from accounting is leaving?” Todd asked.

“You didn’t hear?  She got a job offer from Watson and Wyner in San Fransisco.  It’s a big step up.  You know, Todd, Stacey wanted to invite you, but she was afraid you might reject her.”

“Why would she think that?” he asked.  The fact was, Todd always had a thing for Stacey in accounting.  He never missed an opportunity to notice how the trace scent of her perfume lingered after she left a room.  As it turns out, there’s a fine line between noticing the trace scent of somebody’s perfume and pressing your face into the seat of her swivel chair a few seconds after she vacates it.  It’s a subtle difference, but one that almost cost Todd his job.  He was still on probation for that little incident.

“You just seem distant sometimes, Todd.  Probably because you’re involved with so many other women, but it makes the girls around the office feel inferior and trite,” Wendy explained.

“I never meant to be distant, or anything like that,” Todd countered.

“Look, it’s water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned,” and Wendy extended her hand through the open window of her Porsche to show she was being genuine.

Todd shook it, and said, “Water under the bridge.  Right.”

“So you’ll be there tonight?” Wendy asked earnestly.

“Where is it again?”

“It’s at Za Za’s in Oceanside.  Be there at 7:30. We have a private room reserved in the back.”

“Like a V.I.P room?” Todd asked.

“Exactly a V.I.P room,” Wendy said.

“They might not let me into the V.I.P room,” Todd said.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to put your name on the list.”

“Well, okay then.  See you at 7:30,” Todd said.

“Remember, dress to impress,” Wendy yelled as she gunned the engine and the Porsche took off like a white stallion.

Around 11:30 AM a horrifying question erupted in Todd’s mind like a warehouse full of propane.  “Is there going to be any dancing involved?”  He was absolutely terrified of expressing himself through movement.  It seemed vulgar and primitive, and besides, he had no rhythm, balance, or grace.  He consulted Youtube on this most pressing matter, and found a very promising tutorial titled, How To Do The Macarena.  Not wanting to draw the ire of his boss, Todd muted the video and went through the motions a dozen times.  He committed the routine to memory, and got back to his Excel spreadsheet.




-Wendy and Stacey Take a Smoke Break-


“Come on, just a little hit,” Wendy said as she waved a burning joint in front of Stacey’s face.  “It’s your last day.  You need to lighten up a little.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Stacey conceded.  “It’s not like they can fire me.”  She took a healthy drag and doubled over in a coughing fit.

“My pot dealer, Eddy Spaghetti, said it’s from his own personal stash,” Wendy boasted.  “He said his half brother’s brother-in-law grows it in Hawaii, like in some kind of jungle or something.  Then, he sneaks it into San Diego on a tuna boat.”  Wendy took a hearty puff, passed it back to Stacey who hit it again, and the ritual continued like that for a minute or two.

“What tuna boat?” Stacey asked in between coughs.

“What?” Wendy asked back.

“You said tuna boat before,” Stacey observed.

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Who has a tuna boat?”

“Eddy Spaghetti’s half brother’s brother-in-law, I think.  He sneaks it in to San Diego from Hawaii,” Wendy said.

“You shouldn’t eat tuna,” Stacey advised.

“Why not?” Wendy inquired.

“It has mercury in it.  And plus they kill the dolphins.”

“The tuna kill the dolphins?” Wendy asked.

“No, they get stuck in the tuna nets and die.  It’s so sad,” Stacey lamented.

“So sad,” Wendy parroted.  Her head began to fill with a syrupy haze that pushed all of her thoughts out, and then the haze evaporated, and a little particle of laughter materialized in the void.   The particle began to inflate at an exponential rate until it erupted in a supernova of hilarity, and a shock wave permeated outward from Wendy and swept across Stacey’s consciousness, annihilating every last rational thought in her head too.  A fit of laughter seized them, and they fell to the ground and rolled around in their smart business skirts and held their sides and stomachs to prevent anything from rupturing.  Eventually, they were able to compose themselves.

“Jesus, that’s not like any joint I’ve smoked before,” Stacey finally said.

“Yeah, me either,” Wendy concurred.  An uncomfortable silence settled over them, and the two shifted around on their shapely legs and checked their hair and makeup in little pink pocket mirrors.

“Guess who I talked to this morning?” Wendy offered.


“Daddy Longlegs.”

“What?  You mean, Todd?” Stacey asked.

“Yep,” Wendy said.  “I invited him to the party tonight.”

“Wendy, what were you thinking?  You know I caught him smelling my chair once.”

“We had a bet, Stacey.  Now it’s time to pay up.”

“No, no, no,” Stacey protested, “We were at Ashleigh Lund’s bachelorette party and I don’t even remember that night…”

“Let me refresh your memory,” Wendy interrupted.  “You said your interview at Watson and Wyner went horribly, and there was no way you were gonna get the job.  I said that you were exaggerating, and I bet that you would get the job.  We agreed if you won the bet, I’d take you out shopping, and If I won the bet, you had to get the scoop on Todd’s package.”

“No, I was too drunk when I made the bet, so it’s not official,” Stacey said.

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.  I was wasted when we were in Acapulco and you dared me to pretend I was drowning so the life guard would rescue me.”

“You were gonna fuck, Juan, anyway,” Stacey argued.

“Look, I’m not saying you have to sleep with Todd.  I’m just saying you have to get a peek at his package and tell me if it’s really as big as Kevin Levine said it is,” Wendy insisted.

“Why does Kevin Levine have insight into Todd’s package, anyway?” Stacey asked.

“You know Kevin’s out of the closet, right?”

“Yeah,” Stacey said.

“Well, one day he was standing at the urinal next to Daddy Longlegs, and curiosity got the best of him. He snuck a little peek.”

“And Kevin says it’s big?” Stacey asked, her curiosity piqued.

“Big isn’t the word Kevin used.  I think he used the term, Loch Ness Monster,” Wendy raved.

“All right,” Stacey said with a little smirk, “I’ll see what I can do.”


-Dressed to Kill-

That evening, Todd arrived at Za Za’s forty-five minutes early, but hid in a back alley for an hour and fifteen minutes so he could show up fashionably late.  At precisely Eight o’ clock, Todd approached a large man who guarded the entrance to the V.I.P room with the stoic determination of a Roman sentinel.

“Yeah?” the sentinel said as he sized up the balding man with the prepubescent mustache who was clad in white jeans, an aqua sports coat, a slightly darker aqua shirt, and brown penny loafers that smelled vaguely of dog shit.

“I’m expected in the V.I.P room,” Todd explained.

“Sorry, you have to be on the list to get in there,” the sentinel said.

“Wendy said she would put me on the list.  My name is, Todd.”

The sentinel brought his clipboard close to his face and scrolled down a long column of names.  He was surprised to see that a Todd, did in fact, appear on the list.  There was a parenthetical notation scrawled next to Todd’s name.  It looked like a woman’s handwriting, and it read, “Goofy looking guy.”

“Yep, you’re on the list,” the sentinel said as he moved aside so Todd could pass.

Todd stepped into the expansive V.I.P room and bass from the heavy house music shook his bones.

“I was afraid you weren’t coming,” Wendy said as she took him by the arm and pulled him over to the bar.  “You’re late, and you have a lot of catching up to do.”

“What do you need?” the bartender asked over the droning beat of the omnipresent house music.  Todd was about to order a ginger ale when Stacey suddenly appeared in a short, black skirt and a trendy white silk halter top.  She greeted him with a very cordial hug.

“Todd, I’m so glad you could make it,” she said.

“Yeah, thanks.  And congratulations on the big job,” he said.

“Oh, thank you so much.  Be sure to order the good stuff because Wendy is picking up the tab tonight.”

“Okay,” Todd said as he surveyed the assortment of liquor bottles that filled the shelves behind the bar.  “I’ll have a double Jack Daniels, straight up,” he announced.

Todd held the drink at waist level, horrified by the volatile vapors that wafted up from the brown liquid.  Stacey seemed to be watching him, perhaps even studying him, searching for a sign of weakness.  Todd knew that women like Stacey were only interested in the alpha male, and a double shot of Jack Daniels was exactly the kind of thing an alpha male would drink.  The effect, if you can imagine, was something like being kicked in the stomach by a donkey hard enough to explode a nest of hornets that had previously colonized your abdominal cavity.

“All right, Todd!” Stacey howled like a college girl gone wild, “Let’s do it again.”  Before he could protest, he had another helping of liquid mustard gas in his hand, and he clicked his glass against hers, threw it down, and waited for the sensation to hit him the way a condemned man waits for the firing squad to carry out his death sentence.  To his surprise, it seemed that the whiskey had lost much of its sting the second time around.  It occurred to him that drinking was easy.

Todd put his arm around Stacey and said, “Wanna dance,” and he grabbed her by the arm and strutted out toward the dance floor where he immediately encountered some technical difficulties.  The Macarena seemed severely incompatible with the pulsing house music, and the presence of so many other people hindered his efforts even further.

“Hey, jerk, what’s your problem?” a big man in a tank top exclaimed when Todd inadvertently crashed into him during an exceptionally passionate sequence of moves.

“You want some of me?” Todd bellowed, and he assumed a ninja stance.  The man grabbed Todd by the aqua sports coat, lifted him off of the ground, and tossed him down like a bag of dirty laundry.  Stacey screamed, and Todd knew it was critical that he assert himself as the alpha male.  He decided to stay low, so he scuttled toward the big man like a rabid crab and bit down hard on the guy’s ankle bone.  The big man yelped, lost his balance, and an avalanche of pecs, biceps, and ripped abs pinned Todd to the dance floor.  He struggled to breath, and was relieved when somebody lifted him from the carnage.

But Todd’s relief didn’t last as he soon realized it was, in fact, Tank Top Guy who had lifted him up, and continued to lift him until he was raised high over his head.  The big man let out a growl that seemed more grizzly bear than human, and launched Todd into the air.  Dancers scattered in all directions as the incoming Todd rained down upon them, and he hit the deck with as much grace as a duck stung out of the sky with a 12-gauge.

“Stacey,” Todd called out, “Stacey, where are you?”

“I’m right here you imbecile,” she hissed.  During the chaos, a waitress had dumped a tray of wine glasses filled with Merlot all over her trendy, white silk halter top.


Several bouncers swarmed in to investigate the situation.  “What’s going on here?” one of them demanded.  It was the no-necked sentinel who had been guarding the V.I.P entrance.

“That guy right there started all this shit,” Stacey said, and she leveled a trembling index finger at the prostrate Todd.  The bouncer grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him to a maintenance door somewhere in the bowels of the building.  “Stay the hell out!” he yelled as he tossed Todd into the alley.


-Tuna Fish Delight-


Todd sat on a milk crate in the middle of the ally and tried to pin point where things went so wrong.  “What a loser,” he mumbled to himself.  “You’re pathetic.”

“Who you talkin’ to, man?” a shadowy figure said.

Todd jumped up and held his hands high over his head in surrender.  “I don’t have any money,” he whined.

“Dude, relax.  I’m just back here to hit this joint,” the shadowy figure explained.

Todd didn’t say anything.  He sat back down on the milk crate and closed his eyes.

“You don’t look so good,” the man observed.

“I don’t feel so good,” Todd said.

“What’s your name?” the man asked.


“Todd, I’m Eddy.  My friends call me, Eddy Spaghetti.  I don’t know why.  Probably just ‘cause it rhymes.”  He extended his hand, and Todd shook it.  “Are you here for Stacey’s party?” he asked.

“I was, but I got in a fight and the bouncer threw me out,” Todd explained.

“Sorry to hear that, bro.  You wanna hit this joint with me?” Eddy asked.

“I don’t know,” Todd said.

“Come on, bro.  This stuff is killer.  It’s from my own personal stash ― imported from Hawaii.  I call it, Tuna Fish Delight.”  Eddy Spaghetti took a big hit and made muffled choking sounds, and exhaled a billowing cloud like a cooling tower at a nuclear power plant.

“All right,” Todd conceded, “I’ll try it.”  He held the joint to his lips and inhaled.  It was like breathing fiber glass, and he was afraid he might cough up a vital organ.

“Now you’re smokin’,” Eddy said, and he took another hit to celebrate.

“I don’t feel anything,” Todd said.

“Is it your first time?”


“Then you might not feel anything your first time.  It took me three times to feel something.”

“Oh,” Todd said, a bit disappointed.

“Here, hit it a few more times and see if you get anything off it.”

“Okay,” Todd agreed.  He and Eddy Spaghetti repeated the process several more times.

“Do you feel anything?” Eddy asked, “Because I am baked out of my fuckin’ mind.  You know, my half brother’s brother-in-law grows this shit in like a jungle in Hawaii where there was a really gnarly battle with King Kamehameha and all these warriors fuckin’ hackin’ each other up with knives and clubs and shit.”

“Geeze,” Todd remarked.

“Yeah,” Eddy continued, “it was like hundreds of years ago, and he says that fuckin’ place is haunted ‘till this day, man.  He says so much blood spilled in that jungle that it did somethin’ to the soil there, and that’s why this bud is so gnarly, man.  He says if you’re in a bad frame of mind, bro, you shouldn’t even smoke this shit because it’s kind of like smoking the ghosts of all those dead warriors.  I guess one day he was gettin’ shit from his boss, and his old lady, and his kid, and he went out back and sparked up some of this bud to help him relax.  He said some crazy shit happened then.”

“Like what?” Todd said.

“He wouldn’t say.  He just said it was . . .like . . . some crazy shit.  But I think that’s all bullshit, bro. He can’t even handle his own weed, is what I think.”

“Wait, I feel something now,” Todd announced.

“Yeah?  Are you high, dude?  Dude, are you high?”

Todd shook his head yes.

“Man, you have one gnarly mustache, by the way,” Eddy said.  “My friend, Wendy, tells me about this guy she knows from work.  Daddy Longlegs is what everyone calls him because his mustache looks like someone pulled all the legs off a daddy longlegs and glued them to his top lip.  That’s what your mustache looks like, bro.  You should shave that fuckin’ thing off.”

“Daddy Longlegs?” Todd said.  It all became so clear to him then.  Wendy had invited him to the party so everyone could stare at him like some curiosity in a traveling freak show.  Anger surged through him, and he began to quiver as if his bones had turned to jelly.

“Dude, bro, are you alright?” Eddy wanted to know.

Todd fell off of the milk crate and curled into the fetal position.  Eddy Spaghetti rushed to his side and saw that his eyes were rolled back in his head.  “This is bad, dude, this is definitely bad,” Eddy said.  Todd curled his arms and legs in tighter and tighter, until his torso had absorbed all four limbs, and his head began to sink inward, like it was being swallowed by his own neck.

“Oh dude, oh dude, oh dude this is beyond bad, this is so way far beyond bad,” Eddy ranted.  All that was left of Todd was a roughly spherical mass, about four feet in diameter.  The mass was flesh colored, and it was all tangled up in white denim, and aqua colored polyester.  A pair of brown loafers lay off to the side, and Eddy picked one of them up and examined it.  “Dog shit,” he diagnosed, and set the shoe back down.

The thing that used to be Todd began rock back and forth, like a giant egg about to hatch, and Eddy Spaghetti stepped back a good distance.  A spindly leg, about the thickness of a broom stick, poked through the fleshy mass with an audible pop, like when you bite through the tough casing of a bratwurst.  There were seven more pops, and seven more legs sprouted out of the thing.  “Jesus, those legs gotta be twenty feet long,” Eddy estimated.  And then it dawned on him.  “Holy shit, it’s a daddy longlegs,” he whispered, and he began to back down the alley slowly.  “Dude, I swear to God, I’m never smoking pot again,” he vowed.

Daddy Longlegs looked at Eddy Spaghetti with two close set eyes that resembled a couple of large walnuts.  “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit it sees me,” Eddy said.  It seemed like a long time, but Daddy Longlegs turned its gaze from Eddy and began to climb up the alley wall.  Its front legs stretched all three stories to the roof of Club Za Za while its back legs were still on the ground, and it proceeded to march up the brick facade with a mechanical gate.

“Man, this is killer weed,” Eddy declared as he sparked up another joint and took a good toke.  “Killer,” he reiterated.


-In the Lair of the Very Important People-


Daddy Longlegs stayed on the roof and waited until the sun finished setting, then it climbed down the front of the building, deliberately moving through shadows.  A considerable line of people had formed outside of Za Za’s, and everyone was too busy texting their BFFs to notice a monster had descended into their collective world.

Daddy Longlegs cleared a path for itself by batting twenty or thirty people aside with a single swipe of its forward leg.  It advanced into the club, and people in trendy outfits scrambled to get out of its way.  The large sentinel who still dutifully guarded the sacred entrance to the V.I.P room looked up from his clipboard to see what all the commotion was about, and Daddy Longlegs accelerated with the suddenness and power of a Corvette.  The guard only had enough time to cover his face with the all-important clipboard before the thing trampled him into a quivering, unconscious heap.   Daddy Longlegs slowed back down to a walk as it made its way into the lair of the very important people.

The house deejay had the music blaring by now, and party-goers moved in jerky fits and starts in the fractured waves of the strobe light.  The unworldly creature blended in quite nicely with the unworldly environment, picking its way gracefully through the crowd on those long, skinny legs.  It was able to make its way all the way onto the dance floor before a significant number of people acknowledged its presence with wild screams.

Daddy Longlegs scanned the floor with his beady eyes until he found the big guy in the tank top.  He was dancing with Stacey, who had since discarded her wine stained halter top and was sporting a strapless, white brazier.  She must have mistaken the crowd’s “shit your pants” type of screaming for the “spring break, let’s go wild” type of screaming, because she raised her arms over her head and yelled, “Wooooooooooo!  I’m Soooooooooooo Wasted!”

The big man in the tank top was too mesmerized by Stacey’s bouncing boobs to notice that Daddy Longlegs was closing in on him with a pair of spindly, articulated appendages that protruded from its face like little tyrannosaurus arms.  When it was in range, those skinny arms reached out and seized the man in a bear hug, and then stuffed him into its alien looking mouth.

Stacey finally caught on, and her screams turned into the “shit your pants” kind as she watched Daddy Longlegs devour her one night stand with deliberate pulverizing motions, the way people used to grind maize between stones.  The big man in the tank top was conscious for much of process, and he howled as his flesh and bones were crushed into pulp, and then the howling became more of a gurgling, and then he made no sound at all as the last of him disappeared into the creature.

Stacey scrambled toward the exit along with the rest of the very important people, and when she got to the bottleneck, she looked over her shoulder to see if the thing was about to snatch her up too.  But the creature was standing all alone, its body slung low, suspended only about two feet above the dance floor by legs that could have raised it through the ceiling had they taken a notion to unfold, and Daddy Longlegs began to wiggle and gyrate to the beat of the thumping house music.




Word Economy

hanging treeWhen I was in high school my English teacher had us read, Moby Dick.  The next book assigned was, The Great Gatsby.  His plan was simple: Get the class acquainted with two of the great American novelists, and present two significantly different writing styles.  While Melville’s story came to life through densely worded, intensely descriptive passages, Fitzgerald drove his narrative forward at breakneck speed with highly streamlined language.

Moby Dick weighed in just over 206,000 words, while The Great Gatsby was right around 47,000.  Interestingly, I wouldn’t say the former is too wordy, nor would I say the latter is lacking in substance.

It’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison, as Melville was a 19th century author, and Fitzgerald’s work was a product of the early 20th century. Certainly the English language is constantly in flux.  The 1900’s ushered in the Industrial Revolution, and perhaps the faster pace of life contributed to the demand for a faster paced novel.  Whatever the reason, and likely there were many of them, I have always found something very appealing about the concise, direct use of language in storytelling.

You can imagine how amped up I was when I finally found out about Raymond Carver (who was likely influenced by Fitzgerald and Hemingway).  I was a sophomore in college by then, and I was fascinated by his writing.  Talk about word economy.  Carver had an extraordinary ability to convey immense feeling in a few paragraphs. The trick, it turns out, is to omit any detail that is not absolutely necessary to the story – sometimes even omitting much of the story itself. Scholars sometimes refer to this writing technique as, The Tip of the Iceberg.  The reader is presented with only a minimum amount of information above the surface, but he or she understands the vast majority of the substance must exist below the surface.  The reader is then free to inject their own meaning into the sparse framework of the narrative, resulting in a highly personalized experience.

It’s not an easy technique to pull off, and in my opinion, Carver is the undisputed champion of this writing style.  If you’re not familiar with him, check out some of his work: Cathedral, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and A Serious Talk are good stories to start with.  I have read his work dozens of times now, and I take away something new from his stories each and every time.

Some years ago, as an exercise in creative writing, I attempted a short story in the spirit of Raymond Carver.  Since the whole point of this blog is to reach out to others interested in creative writing, I am going to include the story beneath this post.  It contains typical Carver themes: A fractured relationship, drinking/substance abuse, and marginalized people.  I tried my best to omit everything that is not critical to the narrative, while still giving the reader just enough direction to find their way out of the woods.  At least that was the goal I had in mind.  As always, questions and comments are welcome.






The Search For a New Spice Route

by Hawkelson Rainier




“You know what your problem is?” Al asked, stirring his vodka and cranberry.

“What’s my problem?” Phil asked back.

“You need to get laid,” he said as he produced a pen from his coat and jotted down a name and a number on a bar napkin. “Here. This girl’s good. Her name’s Nikki, with two k’s. Tell her I referred you.”

“Jesus, Al, I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“I’ve never had a hooker before,” Phil whispered.

“Good. Hookers are filthy animals – this is a call girl. Very classy. Very hot.”


“You’re welcome. And that reminds me,” Al said, straightening his tie.  “I can’t keep the ladies waiting much longer.”

“All right, see you Monday.”

“Take care of yourself, Phil. Maybe you should request some time off now that things have slowed down in our department.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.”

“And call that number,” he yelled over his shoulder as he turned up his collar and walked into dying autumn afternoon.

Phil knocked back his single malt and made the short walk home.  After almost an hour, he dialed the number.

“Hello,” a woman’s voice said.

“Hi, Nikki?”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“I was wondering if you’re free this evening.”

“I have an opening. Are you alone?”


“Because I only see one guy at a time.”

“I’m alone.”

“What’s your name?”


“How’d you get this number, Phil?”

“My colleague from work. His name’s, Al.”

“Oh, Allen.  He’s a real trip, huh?”

“Yeah.  Sure.”

“All right, where should I meet you?”

Phil gave her directions to his apartment.

“It’s three hundred for the hour,” she said.

“That’s fine.”


“I have cash.”

“Is eight thirty good?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“All right. See you then, honey.”

“See you then.”


At ten to nine Nikki rang the buzzer from the front lobby.

“Come on up,” Phil said.  “It’s apartment 421.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Nikki said as she stepped inside.  “It’s really raining out there, and traffic was a mess.”

“It’s okay. Here’s the money,” Phil said as he fumbled with his wallet.

“Just put it on the table, baby. You haven’t done this before, have you?”


“Just relax. I’m going to freshen up in the bathroom. Can you pour a couple of drinks?”

“Do you like wine?”

“I love wine.”

Nikki kissed Phil on the cheek and took the money into the bathroom with her. She came out with her hair down, and they sat on the couch trying to manufacture conversation while sipping a nice Cabernet Sauvignon. After their glasses were empty, she ran her fingers through his hair.

“How do you want me?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Tell me, baby. This is your fantasy.

“I just want somebody to talk to.”

“You should have called a shrink – it would have been cheaper. So, what’s botherin’ you?”

“My wife.  She left me.  Fourteen years, and she just packed up and left.”

“I’ll never understand people,” Nikki said.

“I thought she was happy.  She said she still loved me, but there was no passion anymore.  I don’t know what she expected.  I worked hard.  I bought her a big house, a nice car, jewelry.”

“How was your love life?” Niki asked.

“It was great, at first.  Like in any marriage.  But you get into a routine, you know?”

“Yeah.  It’s hard to keep the spice,” Nikki concurred.

“Exactly,” Phil said.  “Did she think every night was going to be like our honey moon in Hawaii?”

“A lot of women think it’s a fairy tale.  The white dress, slow dancing, a beautiful cake by the Champagne fountain. They never think about what comes after.”

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said.

“You want me to leave?”

“I don’t mean that.  I just want out.  I want out of everything, but I’m a fucking coward,” Phil said as he stood and shattered his wine glass against the faux fireplace.

“You’re startin’ to scare me. I think I’m gonna get goin’.” Nikki backed away and grabbed her purse off the end table. She kept a snub nose .38 revolver in there. If he came after her she’d empty the entire cylinder into him.

“I don’t blame you.  I know I seem crazy,” he said as he collapsed back onto the couch.

Nikki sat down next to him and rubbed his shoulders. “I don’t think you’re crazy.  You’re just lonely.”

“Thank you.  You’re very kind to listen to all this.”

“I’ve got other appointments tonight,” Nikki whispered in his ear, “so if you want anything else let me know now, okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid. It’s just . . .”

“Just what?” She undid his belt buckle with one hand, effortlessly, like a master pick pocket. The button and the zipper went next. “Now that I have your attention, why don’t we go to the bedroom.”

“I’d like that,” he said.


Afterward, Nikki listened to Phil breath as he slept. He didn’t stir when she got out of bed and dressed in the half dark. She filled her wine glass and dissolved twenty pills into the blood red liquid.  She drank it down as the rain wept against the windows.

Phil didn’t feel the cold muzzle of the .38 as she pressed it gently against his temple. She held it there a long time – maybe a minute.  “I’m sorry,” she finally whispered, “I can’t help you.”

Nikki put the money in the nightstand drawer and left quietly through the front door. She drove until she found the freeway and parked on the shoulder.  The chemicals began to pull her under, like a leviathan dragging a ship into the dark fathoms.


Phil woke late the next morning.  The rain had stopped and the sun was out.  He felt pretty good so he fried up a few eggs.  Then he splashed on some Tabasco for a little extra spice.