Assignment 10- Part 1

Professor Joseph Nordberg stood on the small stepstool and removed the framed print of “The Kissing Sailor”.

For nearly forty years, the iconic World War II print hung in his den. The Professor slipped the print into the bottom drawer of his desk and returned the stool to the kitchen.

Nina, his wife, was dicing carrots and onions for tuna salad. “What will you replace that picture with, Joseph?” she asked. “Maybe you should ask Marge.”

“So now that she’s in college, I have to receive our granddaughter’s approval before I hang a new picture, Nina?” Joseph Nordberg chuckled. “In my own den?”

The wall in his den without Alfred Eisenstadt’s iconic print looked bare. Surely, he had a suitable replacement packed away.

Professor Nordberg spent the next half-hour riffling through boxes crammed with framed photos, newspaper clippings, post cards, and old letters—-memorabilia from years he spent overseas.

“Wash up, Joseph. Lunch is ready.” Nina called and stuck her head in the door. “Have you found something suitable?”

“No, nothing yet, Nina.” Professor Nordberg shoved a small photograph in the pocket of his jacket.

The photograph was grisly; Professor Nordberg, finding the photo in the box, experienced the same horror and revulsion as when, in 1963, he stood behind the silent group of Buddhists blockading the Saigon intersection and watched the old monk’s self-immolation.

Quang Duc sat on a tan cushion in the middle of the street fingering wooden beads. A fellow monk doused him with gasoline from a five-gallon container. Quang Duc lit the match.

 Professor Nordberg had occasional flash-backs: of the gasoline-fueled blaze engulfing the body of the Buddhist monk; of the blackened body toppling over backwards into the street.

“I think I’ll replace Eisenstadt’s print with that award I received last year from the Kiwanis,” the Professor said and followed his wife into the dining room.

                 #

The picture of Quang Duc’s self-immolation flashed on the screen in the college lecture hall.

“That is so disgusting.” The girl seated near Gerry Linton clamored over his feet and rushed up the aisle.

Gerry laughed. Another Poly Sci student bit the dust.

“Mr. Linton, is something the matter?” Professor Nordberg took off his eyeglasses and looked at his best student.

“Sorry, Professor Nordberg.”

“Someone, please check on that young lady. Viewing a picture of self-immolation can be extremely disturbing. Now, Mr. Linton, what did you write as your first reaction? To the picture?”

Gerry peered at his spiral notebook. “Jesus Christ!” he said.

A few titterers rippled in the lecture hall.

“Students, those exact words were spoken by President John F. Kennedy the next morning. When he saw that picture in the newspaper.”

“So, the monk was protesting the Vietnam War?” asked a girl in the third row.

“No,” Gerry said. “The Buddhist were championing religious equality.”

“Exactly, said Professor Nordberg. “The Buddhists had been banned by the pro-Catholic Diem regime from flying the Buddhist flag on the birthday of Gautama Buddha.”

Gerry looked around the lecture hall. “The Buddhist five-point manifesto was signed by the regime the next day,” he said.

A hand from the back row waved. “But didn’t his death also have a political impact, Professor?”

“Political as well as religious ramifications,” said Professor Nordberg.

“Kennedy said ‘America would no longer be associated with the Diem regime,’” Gerry said.

Professor Nordberg nodded. “Very good, Gerry. Now, Miss Carlyle, what was your initial response to the self-immolation of the monk?”

“Well. . .” Miss Carlyle bit her lip. “He was just sitting there. Engulfed in flames. Back straight. Head erect. As if he was, um, watching TV. No emotion registered on his face.”

“But he must have been in great pain,” Gerry said.

“Of course.” Professor Nordberg switched off the computer. The screen went blank. “Ladies, and gentlemen, time for our break. Remember, ten minutes only.”

                 #

Gerry lit a cigarette and inhaled.

“Nice lighter,” said one of the students gathered in the commons area.

“Gold. My grandfather’s.” Garry flicked the lighter repeatedly. Little tongues of flame danced in the darkness.

“You were brilliant in there, Gerry.”

“I agree.” Gerry winked. “You expressed yourself well, Miss Carlyle. Excuse me, I don’t know your first name.”

“It’s Lillian. How do you think the monk endured such pain?”

“I think we are all capable of enduring intense physical suffering.” Gerry flicked the lighter again. “Well, time for class to reconvene.” Professor Nordberg frowned on stragglers.

Gary tossed his cigarette, put the lighter in his pocket, and walked into the building.

                 #

Professor Nordberg turned over the last typewritten sheet containing his lecture notes. “Your assignment for next week, class, is to read chapter 10 and prepare a two-page critical essay responding to the theme.”

The students gathered their belongings and filed out.

Gerry put the spiral notebook and pen in his briefcase. His foot tapped and waited.

Professor Nordberg spoke briefly with the girl who had bolted from the class before gathering his papers from the lectern.

“Good night, Professor,” Gerry said.

“Oh, are you still here? Well, turn the light off when you leave.”

Gerry walked to the deserted parking lot. He took a blanket and a red, plastic can of gasoline he always kept in the trunk of his car and hurried back to the commons.

Methodically, he folded the blanket into a square and laid it on the damp grass. Next to the blanket, he placed the can of gasoline. Gerry flicked the gold cigarette lighter and held his hand to the flame for a moment. He smiled.

 Crickets chirped. Stars twinkled overhead. Laugher filtered from the Student Union. A far-off owl hooted.

Gerry sat cross-legged in the lotus position. The lighter rested in his lap. He unscrewed the lid on the red can of gasoline.

How much pain can I endure? he wondered.

 

 

Assignment 10 Part 2

Accustomed to the waterfall’s constant murmurings and the tumultuous plashing of cascading waters, the silence woke Shawna.

Why is it so cold in here? Shawna shivered. She draped the worn bedspread over her shoulders and ran tippy-toed across the icy floor. No heat came from the vent in the middle of the floor. The fuel tank was empty.

Five days of below freezing temperatures would do it, she thought. Don neglected refilling the propane tank before he left to deliver a load of scrap metal to New Jersey. He never was one to plan ahead.

She flicked on the overhead light. “Damn, electricity’s out, too.”

Shawna pushed her swollen feet into fuzzy slippers and padded to the bedroom window dragging the bedspread behind her. Pulling back the curtain, she saw the snowy landscape and, in the distance, the frozen waterfall.

Thick slabs of ice glistening in the cold morning sun hung over the rocky rim of Banning Falls like long locks of hair cascading down a woman’s back.

The baby inside her kicked. Shawna let the curtain drop. Oh, no.” Her daughter wasn’t due for another six weeks. Shawna placed an icy hand on her extended belly and felt a series of little flutters. “Stay put, Honey”

 “Honey? You’re going to name your girl Honey?” At the baby shower, Shawna’s guests shook their heads and exchanged meaningful glances. There weren’t many secrets among Shawna’s friends.

Honey. Don’s pet name for Shawna. “Mmm, you taste just like clover-blossom honey, Shawna,” he moaned the first time they had love. His tongue licked her shoulders, tickled her neck, his fingers rubbed the space between her breast, his teeth nicked her thighs and buttocks.

A steady diet of sweetness cloyed–Don’s lovemaking became rougher, more demanding.

“You call getting beat on lovemaking?” Viewing the bruises, Shawna’s mother had shouted at her youngest daughter.”Your father never justified beating me for pleasure. Booze was his excuse. I lost a set of twin babies ‘cause of him hitting on me. Don’t put up with Don’s foolishness, you hear?

 The warning came too late. Shawna sat on the bed. She was six months pregnant, a high school drop-out lacking marketable skills, and a spitfire temper. Besides, she loved Don.

Shawna reached for the cellphone on the nightstand.“Figure I’d better phone emergency services,” she said. Freezing to death wasn’t an option.

“No heat, lady? And you’re pregnant?” The 911 dispatcher yelled to someone in the background, then said, “OK, hang tight. Pile on the blankets. We’re contacting air rescue. Only a jackass would be on these treacherous roads.”

Shawna laughed.

“Sorry lady. Wasn’t professional of me. I’ve been working the phones for thirty-six hours straight. Stay warm.”

Shawna turned off the mobile device to save the battery. She drank the remains of the cold coffee in the pot. “Yeah, right. Stay warm.”

A favorite refrain played in her head, and Shawna went to bed humming, “I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”

                  #

The pounding on the door woke Shawna. She sat up in bed.  I didn’t hear the sounds of the rescue helicopter’s rotors, she thought.

The door slammed opened. Cold drafts of air and snow blew into the room. A man stood in the doorway.

Shawna screamed.

“Honey. Honey,” Don said. He put his arms around Shawna and hugged her. “When I heard the weather report, I remembered about the propane.” He kissed Shawn, rocked her back and forth, and said, “I thought I had lost you. And the baby.” His mittened hand patted Shawna’s stomach. “How’s my Honey,” he crooned.

“How, how–?”

“I drove all night to get here.”

“Only a jackass would attempt driving in such traitorous conditions,” Shawna said. She kissed Don’s cold cheek. “My jackass.”

 

Instructor Response

Cathryn,

Excellent work. A few comments and a suggestion.

Dialogue is very good, well-paced, readable, and related to story and characterization.

I want to praise you for the rhythmic flow of the prose. I would suspect you’ve had musical training. Arrhythmic prose can be ubiquitous for beginners, but all great writers have a rhythmic sense that establishes style and moves the story. Keep doing what you’re doing, and just stay aware, especially in revision, of when something seems jerky and could be improved. Some examples. Depending on the story, you’ll probably want to practice different rhythmic syntax.

 

The dress for guests was beach casual but her mother would always be a tier above the others in a designer-original light-green cotton high-waisted plus-size party dress with pleats for sensuous motion in the wind.

 

Her mother had bought a green cotton dress, designed by a professional, plus-size, that had fabric that would quiver when the wind blew and she had carefully calculated to be a tier above the invited guests advised to wear beach-casual.

 

Her mother tried on a green cotton dress. The invited guests to her annual party were advised to wear beach casual, but, with her usual conceit, she’d outdo them again this year. Last year she wore a beige shift that I didn’t like and I didn’t like this green dress either.

There are different rhythms to the stressed beat. And there is a difference in rhythmic effect of the ideation, the first being the tightest in thematic consistency (mother’s hubris in dressing for her party). My preference for the content is the first, but there is nothing wrong with the others. Just note the effect of each on writing style. 

Assignment 10- Part 1

Professor Joseph Nordberg stood on the small stepstool and removed the framed print of “The Kissing Sailor”.

For nearly forty years, the iconic World War II print hung in his den. The Professor slipped the print into the bottom drawer of his desk and returned the stool to the kitchen.

Nina, his wife, was dicing carrots and onions for tuna salad. “What will you replace that picture with, Joseph?” she asked. “Maybe you should ask Marge.”

“So now that she’s in college, I have to receive our granddaughter’s approval before I hang a new picture, Nina?” Joseph Nordberg chuckled. “In my own den?”

The wall in his den without Alfred Eisenstadt’s iconic print looked bare. Surely, he had a suitable replacement packed away.

Professor Nordberg spent the next half-hour riffling through boxes crammed with framed photos, newspaper clippings, post cards, and old letters—-memorabilia from years he spent overseas.

“Wash up, Joseph. Lunch is ready.” Nina called and stuck her head in the door. “Have you found something suitable?”

“No, nothing yet, Nina.” Professor Nordberg shoved a small photograph in the pocket of his jacket.

This may be an opportunity to capture the reader in the scene. I’ll edit some and then I’ll write to demonstrate one way to increase the in-scene writing for this brief scene section. It’s not a correction; I just want to demonstrate distance from the action. You’ve distanced the reader in time by placing scene in a photograph. And then, in describing the scene in backstory, the description. I’ll give an example of shrinking the distance of reader from scene, although the distance in time would remain the same.  

The photograph was grisly; Professor Nordberg, finding the photo in the box, experienced the same horror and revulsion as when, in 1963, he stood behind the silent group of Buddhists blockading the Saigon intersection and he watched the old monk’s self-immolation.

Quang Duc sat on a tan cushion in the middle of the street fingering wooden beads. A fellow monk doused him with gasoline from a five-gallon container. Quang Duc lit the match. [This is effective, describing the photo, I think, keeping the reader distant rather than close. But I’ll use this to talk about distance below.]

 Professor Nordberg had occasional flash-backs: of the gasoline-fueled blaze engulfing the body of the Buddhist monk; of the blackened body toppling over backwards into the street. [Backstory.] Just to note. Your story is moving in the Professor’s home, and with shifting to present tense you shifted the scene. You could, with a little work, keep the reader in the den, so to speak. Here’s an example for the distance. [It’s not quite right to use as an example in your story, though.]  

Professor held the photograph, hand shaking, his memory searingly sharp.

 

I stood a few yards away from a monk sitting alone cross-legged on a cushion in the Saigon street before a crowd of Buddhists. Another monk with a red five-gallon can stepped forward from the crowd; the pernicious smell of gasoline wafted into the crowd as man doused the motionless monk. A tormented scream broke the silence of the mesmerized crowd when the monk lit a match and burst into flame. Within seconds the stench of burning flesh turned my stomach to vomit and I cried out in anguish. The upper part of the diminished blackened corpse descended backward onto the street.

This is awkward in placement and with the shift in POV, as is, but it is a way to bring the reader into the scene.

“I think I’ll replace Eisenstadt’s print with that award I received last year from the Kiwanis,” the Professor said and followed his wife into the dining room.

                      #

 The picture of Quang Duc’s self-immolation flashed on the screen in the college lecture hall.

“That is so disgusting.” The girl seated near Gerry Linton clamored over his feet and rushed up the aisle.

Gerry laughed. Another Poly Sci student bit the dust.

“Mr. Linton, is something the matter?” Professor Nordberg took off his eyeglasses and looked at his best student.

“Sorry, Professor Nordberg.”

“Someone, please check on that young lady. Viewing a picture of self-immolation can be extremely disturbing. Now, Mr. Linton, what did you write as your first reaction? To the picture?”

Gerry peered at his spiral notebook. “Jesus Christ!” he said.

A few titterers rippled in the lecture hall.

“Students, those exact words were spoken by President John F. Kennedy the next morning. When he saw that picture in the newspaper.”

“So, the monk was protesting the Vietnam War?” asked a girl in the third row.

“No,” Gerry said. “The Buddhist were championing religious equality.”

“Exactly, said Professor Nordberg. “The Buddhists had been banned by the pro-Catholic Diem regime from flying the Buddhist flag on the birthday of Gautama Buddha.”

Gerry looked around the lecture hall. “The Buddhist five-point manifesto was signed by the regime the next day,” he said.

A hand from the back row waved. “But didn’t his death also have a political impact, Professor?”

“Political as well as religious ramifications,” said Professor Nordberg.

“Kennedy said ‘America would no longer be associated with the Diem regime,’” Gerry said.

Professor Nordberg nodded. “Very good, Gerry. Now, Miss Carlyle, what was your initial response to the self-immolation of the monk?”

“Well. . .” Miss Carlyle bit her lip. “He was just sitting there. Engulfed in flames. Back straight. Head erect. As if he was, um, watching TV. No emotion registered on his face.”

“But he must have been in great pain,” Gerry said.

“Of course.” Professor Nordberg switched off the computer. The screen went blank. “Ladies, and gentlemen, time for our break. Remember, ten minutes only.” Good!

                    #

Gerry lit a cigarette and inhaled.

“Nice lighter,” said one of the students gathered in the commons area.

“Gold. My grandfather’s.” Garry flicked the lighter repeatedly. Little tongues of flame danced in the darkness.

“You were brilliant in there, Gerry.”

“I agree.” Gerry winked. “You expressed yourself well, Miss Carlyle. Excuse me, I don’t know your first name.”

“It’s Lillian. How do you think the monk endured such pain?”

“I think we are all capable of enduring intense physical suffering.” Gerry flicked the lighter again. “Well, time for class to reconvene.” Professor Nordberg frowned on stragglers.

Gary tossed his cigarette, put the lighter in his pocket, and walked into the building.

                   #

Professor Nordberg turned over the last typewritten sheet containing his lecture notes. “Your assignment for next week, class, is to read chapter 10 and prepare a two-page critical essay responding to the theme.”

The students gathered their belongings and filed out.

Gerry put the spiral notebook and pen in his briefcase. His foot tapped and waited.

Professor Nordberg spoke briefly with the girl who had bolted from the class before gathering his papers from the lectern.

“Good night, Professor,” Gerry said.

“Oh, are you still here? Well, turn the light off when you leave.”

Gerry walked to the deserted parking lot. He took a blanket and a red, plastic can of gasoline he always kept in the trunk of his car and hurried back to the commons.

Methodically, he folded the blanket into a square and laid it on the damp grass. Next to the blanket, he placed the can of gasoline. Gerry flicked the gold cigarette lighter and held his hand to the flame for a moment. He smiled.

 Crickets chirped. Stars twinkled overhead. Laugher filtered from the Student Union. A far-off owl hooted.

Gerry sat cross-legged in the lotus position. The lighter rested in his lap. He unscrewed the lid on the red can of gasoline.

How much pain can I endure? he wondered. Yes. Great.

______________________________________________________________

Assignment 10 Part 2

Accustomed to the waterfall’s constant murmurings and the tumultuous plashing of cascading waters, the silence woke Shawna.

Why is it so cold in here? Shawna shivered. She draped the worn bedspread over her shoulders and ran tippy-toed across the icy floor. No heat came from the vent in the middle of the floor. The fuel tank was empty.

Five days of below freezing temperatures would do it, she thought. Don neglected refilling the propane tank before he left to deliver a load of scrap metal to New Jersey. He never was one to plan ahead.

She flicked on the overhead light. “Damn, electricity’s out, too.”

Shawna pushed her swollen feet into fuzzy slippers and padded to the bedroom window dragging the bedspread behind her. Pulling back the curtain, she saw the snowy landscape and, in the distance, the frozen waterfall. thick slabs of ice glistening in the cold morning sun hung over the rocky rim of Banning Falls like long locks of hair cascading down a woman’s back.

The baby inside her kicked. Shawna let the curtain drop. Oh, no.” Her daughter wasn’t due for another six weeks. Shawna placed an icy hand on her extended belly and felt a series of little flutters. “Stay put, Honey”

 “Honey? You’re going to name your girl Honey?” At the baby shower, Shawna’s guests shook their heads and exchanged meaningful glances. There weren’t many secrets among Shawna’s friends.

Honey. Don’s pet name for Shawna. “Mmm, you taste just like clover-blossom honey, Shawna,” he moaned the first time they had love. His tongue licked her shoulders, tickled her neck, his fingers rubbed the space between her breast, his teeth nicked her thighs and buttocks.

A steady diet of sweetness cloyed–Don’s lovemaking became rougher, more demanding.

“You call getting beat on lovemaking?” Viewing the bruises, Shawna’s mother had shouted at her youngest daughter.”Your father never justified beating me for pleasure. Booze was his excuse. I lost a set of twin babies ‘cause of him hitting on me. Don’t put up with Don’s foolishness, you hear?

 The warning came too late. Shawna sat on the bed. She was six months pregnant, a high school drop-out lacking marketable skills, and a spitfire temper. Besides, she loved Don.

Shawna reached for the cellphone on the nightstand.  “Figure I’d better phone emergency services,” she said. Freezing to death wasn’t an option.

“No heat, lady? And you’re pregnant?” The 911 dispatcher yelled to someone in the background, then said, “OK, hang tight. Pile on the blankets. We’re contacting air rescue. Only a jackass would be on these treacherous roads.”

Shawna laughed.

“Sorry lady. Wasn’t professional of me.  I’ve been working the phones for thirty-six hours straight. Stay warm.”

Shawna turned off the mobile device to save the battery. She drank the remains of the cold coffee in the pot. “Yeah, right. Stay warm.”

A favorite refrain played in her head, and Shawna went to bed humming, “I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”

                     #

The pounding on the door woke Shawna. She sat up in bed.  I didn’t hear the sounds of the rescue helicopter’s rotors, she thought.

The door slammed opened. Cold drafts of air and snow blew into the room. A man stood in the doorway.

Shawna screamed.

“Honey. Honey,” Don said. He put his arms around Shawna and hugged her. “When I heard the weather report, I remembered about the propane.” He kissed Shawn, rocked her back and forth, and said, “I thought I had lost you. And the baby.” His mittened hand patted Shawna’s stomach. “How’s my Honey,” he crooned.

“How, how–?”

“I drove all night to get here.”

“Only a jackass would attempt driving in such traitorous conditions,” Shawna said. She kissed Don’s cold cheek. “My jackass.” Good!

Very nicely done and thanks for the submission!  Best, WHC

  1. Dear Dr. Coles,

    Yes ,I studied the violin, and write while listening to Mozart and Beethoven–and my 3 year old granddaughter!

    I almost skipped this lesson: the picture of the burning Buddist was shocking. Maybe I distanced the reader because I distanced myself from the scene.

    After reading your essay, Creating Quality Characters, I am rewriting the second submission to add, as my friend from Kenya remarked, “meat to the bones of the character”.

    In appreciation,
    Cathryn

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