I’ve never been a big believer in using gimmickry to break the writers’ block that  possesses we authors much the time.

There is nothing in this world that is easier than finding a way to avoid writing. All those chores you haven’t done, the calls and visits you’ve failed to make, the research on the next vacation you must undertake, all come alive and rush you the minute you sit down to write.

Some authors say that is why they cannot write at home and must seek the creative impetus of a coffee shop to produce work.

In many of those coffee shop visits, the writer surfs the internet, strikes up conversations, reads the newspapers, and drinks expensive coffees they could have made at home for next to nothing. Most often little if any writing gets done.

I have had mixed successes at  coffee shops. At this point, I work better at home. I have found that having a regular place to write, with everything I might need at my fingertips, increases the odds of productivity. It’s by no means perfect or foolproof, but it is the best option as of now.

No matter what strategy an author takes, there are going to be dry spells. A lot of them.

Recently, I have been attending the regular Tuesday night Writing Prompts Meetup in Bangkok, one of the offerings of the Bangkok Night Owl Writing Society, organized by my friend Sar, a writer and fellow member of Keybangers Bangkok.  Sar is a Chiang Mai native who speaks English with an American accent and knows more about grammar than we native speakers. Each week we show up at the Royal Oak Pub on Soi 33/1, where Sar reveals that week’s prompts for fiction, poetry and non-fiction, taken from a respected literary journal.(One could look them up earlier but I feel that if you have time to think about it it defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.)

The beauty of the writing prompt exercise is two-told: it gets one to write, and to think about writing in ways that are different from how our process usually works.

Generally, writers wait for inspiration or ideas  and then struggle to turn that burst of enthusiasm and creativity into a finished, polished work. There are times when the ideas and the words flow like wine at a Bacchanalian revelry, and other times when you are caught in the literary equivalent of a Northern California draught.

With prompts, everything happens at once. Any dialogue, descriptive passages, plot or characters have to flow right out of you right then and there on the spot. Sometimes we surprise ourselves with rich, textured passages, maybe even a complete story. Other times we must be satisfied with the seed of a story or the birth of a character to be fully developed at a later date. No matter what develops at a session, the act of writing and the though processes it compels make it more than worth the effort.

After some socializing, eating and drinking, we allow ourselves forty five minutes to one hour to write as directed by the week’s prompt. The prompts have included writing about an even that turned out the opposite of what was intended, a world overtaken by vegetation, a story based on soup, another which had to involve elevators. As soon as the prompt is given, we reach for our notebooks (one member writes by pen) and let loose. Then we have the choice of reading what we just wrote or summarizing it. (I always read it exactly as written.)

Bangkok Night Owls Writing Society has some crossover with Keybangers Bangkok, the writers group I have been working with for since 2015, but there are others who are not in Keybangers. We draw a few poets, which adds a special flavor to our mix.

There have been weeks when every fiction writer has produced a complete story, usually no more than fifteen hundred words. They might not be masterpieces or prize-winners, but they are complete stories with all elements of good writing. Many will be polished into gems. Other times no one produces anything beyond the seed of a story or an embryonic character. Usually there’s a little bit of each.

Over the past few months I’ve come up with the outline of a science fiction story I intend to finish in the next few weeks, another week it was a  scene which will fit nicely into a crime story yet to be written. Once I created  a character who will be perfect for a future  novel set in New York City, and at least one  meetup resulted in a completed short story.

Read The Story I Wrote in Forty Five Minutes.

It's only about 850 words.The prompt was to write about something that turned out the opposite of what was intended. I imagined a funeral where people just weren't sad. I incorporated a bizarres tale I'd heard years before involving a hearse on way to a cemetery.

I can post this without fear of losing the ability to have it published in a magazine. It's too short and fits no genre or category.

More people will read it here anyway.


© 2018 by Stephen Shaiken

I knew funerals are supposed to be sad occasions, even morose, but like the others,  I just couldn’t get into the mood. I barely knew the deceased. We belonged to the same racquetball club and had regularly played against each other over the years. At some point he asked me to be his executor, and explained that I would receive a small percentage of his estate as compensation. I filed this away for the distant future. I never anticipated he would contract Lyme Disease and be dead a few short years afterward.

There’s apparently no rule that an executor must attend the funeral service and burial, but when the brother of the deceased called me to explain the situation, it was clear that this executor would have to attend both.

“Wife’s a bag of nuts,” he explained. “Claims she channels a Roman soldier from the second century BC. Son is a lazy bum who plays video games all day and night and hasn’t done an honest days work in his life. Daughter’s an oxycontin addict.”

The brother would not be with us as he was serving a prison term for distribution of child pornography.

When I arrived at the funeral home a small crowd had already gathered. The open casket lie upon a table on the stage and no one was coming within twenty feet of it. The mourners  were mostly crowded around the small table with plates of miniature sandwiches and bowls of M&Ms.  They all wore blank looks on their faces. Even the funeral home director, who would lead the service in lieu of a clergyman, emanated the emotions of a clam. The director was tall and thin, slightly stooped, and looked much like a cadaver himself.

People are supposed to be sad at a funeral, I thought. No one else seems to be in charge here so it’s up to me to make them sad and unhappy. I’ve been told that’s one of my skills.

I approached the funeral director, introduced myself  and asked when the service would begin. He said in five minutes.

“People are supposed to be sad at funerals,” I said. “Everyone here is too laid back. Can you move them to tears or something along those lines?”

“Everyone reacts to grief in their now unique way,” he replied imperiously.

“Fair enough, but let’s hear a few sobs.”

The director did a yeoman’s job I must admit. He had some canned remarks about the bond between spouses, between parents and children, and the certainty that all of them would meet again someday, though he was not specific on where. I realized I hadn’t met the decedent had and was not even introduced to the allegedly crazy wife. I heard several sniffles and at least one bonafide sob.Maybe that was her.

The service was brief and we were soon in our vehicles en route to the nearby cemetery. I found the gravesite and twenty minutes after I arrived nearly all of the mourners had arrived. They still wore  patinas of sadness but they were fast fading. No one seemed overly upset.I needed to come up with something short and sorrowful to restore the proper funeral mood. The funeral home fee did not include a graveside service so as the executor it  fell upon me to make a few brief remarks and oversee the internment. Several cemetery workers stood about, ready to lower the casket at my command and then cover it with the mounds of earth that lie around d the perimeter of the grave.

A half hour later, the casket had still not arrived. I was about to call the home on my cell phone when a uniformed police officer approached.

“Who’s in charge around here?” he asked.

I explained my role.

“Let me explain to you what’s happened,” he said. “You can tell the others.”

It took me a few minutes to absorb what the officer told me.

I walked to the head of the grave, looked down into it, and then up to the blue sky above,

“My friends, I have the saddest of news about our dearly beloved.

“The funeral home driver seems to have snuck a few slugs of the whiskey they keep around to comfort the most deeply bereaved. Most unfortunately, he drove the hearse while under the influence. He must have fallen asleep while driving on the freeway because the hearse came to a sudden stop and an eighteen wheeler right behind plowed into it. The drunk managed to get out of the hearse unscathed but there were some bottles of embalming fluid in the back and the crash caused quite an explosion.

“I don’t know how to put this, but by the time the firemen showed up there wasn’t enough of our friend to scoop into a small Tupperware. So I am afraid there will be no internment and this service is over. “

There was a moment of silence and then a snort emanated from the crowd, followed by a chuckle, and then a cascade of laughter which grew to a loud roar before it slowly died out.

The brother called the next day.

“Sorry to interrupt your dinner but it’s the only phone time I get.”

I had to break the news to him.

“Make sure they refund the money for the grave and the casket,” he said after a pause.



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