Tag Archives: writing challenge

(Re)Writing Challenge #1: Green Eggs and Ham

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Tired of your own voice?  Try writing as someone else!  When one is blocked, feeling intimidated by the overwhelming talent of others or otherwise discouraged about the state of one’s literary pursuits, one potential solution is to come at things from a different angle.  If your ego is tripping you up, just set it aside.  Become a different person.  Shapeshift (or as my malaprop-prone son sometimes says, ship-shafe’t).  It’s incredibly liberating.  You feel so much less pressure to live up to the standards that you’ve placed upon yourself, because what you’re producing isn’t really you.  It’s pastiche, it’s fun, and I’ve done it before, here and here.  So you can probably guess where I’m heading with this.  I’ve decided to take one of the simplest, most enduring stories, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, and speculate what it might have sounded like had Aaron Sorkin banged it out.  Enjoy it.  Or don’t, it’s entirely up to you.

FADE IN:

INT. LEO’S OFFICE – DAY

LEO MCGARRY is at his desk.  On the phone.

LEO:  Yeah.  Okay.  Thanks.

He hangs up.

LEO:  Margaret!!!

MARGARET pokes her head in, notepad and pen at the ready.

MARGARET:  You really don’t need to yell.

LEO:  Yeah, this time I do.  Send in Josh and Toby.  Tell the Secretary of Agriculture he needs to be up on the Hill smooth-talking the committee chair on 404.  And I need the next five minutes the President’s got.

MARGARET steps out.  JOSH LYMAN and TOBY ZIEGLER enter.

JOSH:  Leo, settle something for us.  You’re on a desert island and you have a choice between Iolanthe and the Mikado.

LEO:  Yeah, I don’t really care.  Listen…

JOSH:  This is about the Ag Bill, isn’t it.

TOBY:  It’s not the Ag Bill.

JOSH:  I bet it’s the Ag Bill.

TOBY:  It’s not gonna be the Ag Bill, the one that we just spent seven weeks negotiating, to the detriment of our physical and psychological health, not to mention every social relationship we ever pretended to care about.

LEO:  It’s the Ag Bill.

TOBY (resigned):  This is why I continue to hate the world.

JOSH:  What happened?

LEO:  I just got off a call with the Minority Whip.  Republican leadership is attaching an amendment.

TOBY:  To the Ag Bill.

LEO:  Yeah.

TOBY:  To the bill that cost us the support of the entire progressive wing of the Democratic caucus.

JOSH:  I’m telling you, we coulda used those three votes.

TOBY:  To the bill that is basically a laundry list of every Republican priority on agriculture in this country.  A bill that could not be more Republican-friendly if we called it the “Ronald Reagan Second Amendment Let’s Blow Up an Abortion Clinic and Drill in Yellowstone Bill.”

LEO:  Yeah.

TOBY (smirks, looks down):  Why?

LEO:  They’re not happy with the subsidies for organic hen farming and pork production.  They want them taken out or they won’t move the bill out of Committee.

JOSH:  The Republicans are threatening to block the bill because they don’t like green eggs and ham?

LEO:  They do not like green eggs and ham.

TOBY:  I do not like them.

LEO:  Sam!

SAM SEABORN is walking by the open door.  He stops and pokes his head in.

SAM:  I am!

LEO:  Siddown.  Republicans are attaching an amendment to 404.  We need to see if we can unlock some Democratic votes for it.

SAM:  If they didn’t like the bill before, they’re not going to go for it with another Republican amendment.  What is it this time?

TOBY:  Green eggs and ham.

SAM:  The organic farming section?

LEO:  Who do we have on our side that’s movable if that part’s gone?

SAM:  You might get Jankowitz, Stephens… Geller’ll vote for it just to stick it to Martindale and his three.

JOSH:  I can probably wrangle three more from the Blue Dogs.

TOBY:  Nothing like fighting for a watered-down joke of a bill we never wanted in the first place.

LEO:  Okay.  Time to make some calls.  We need this win, I don’t gotta tell you twice.  The latest Gallup says our poll numbers are softening and the country is crying out for a solid agricultural policy.

TOBY:  Which we’ll get by getting rid of green eggs and ham.

JOSH:  It’s okay, nobody likes green eggs and ham.

PRESIDENT BARTLET enters from the side door.

BARTLET:  What’s this about green eggs and ham?

LEO:  Republican amendment to 404.  Deleting the organic farming section.

BARTLET:  Well, if there’s one thing we can count on Republicans for, it’s screwing Mother Earth with her pants on.

LEO:  Sir…

BARTLET:  Did you know that organic farm subsidies account for a tenth of one percent of all federal spending on agriculture?  We’re happy to fork out the cash, so long as you’re spraying your fields with toxic sludge you wouldn’t dare use to wax your own car.  You know what the problem is?  No one’s ever been forced to try green eggs and ham.  We’ve become a country so accustomed to the comfort of familiarity that the thought of change has become a terrifying prospect.  Even if that change is for the better.  The problem with that is, it’s not what the Framers had in mind.  America was meant to be an experiment in constant change.  Forming a more perfect union is about forever trying new things with the understanding that some of them will be scary, and some of them won’t work.  Some will be spectacular failures.  But we have to try them anyway, because we’ll never know if we don’t.  It’s like Voltaire said:  we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the necessary.  Who knows – in the midst of all the noise, all the partisan bickering, maybe we’ll find out in the end that we do like green eggs and ham.

Determination settles upon the faces of his staff.

LEO:  About 404, sir?

BARTLET:  Let’s have a debate.  A real debate.  We the People can decide if they like green eggs and ham.

SAM:  Not for nothing, but I’ve always liked them.

LEO:  Sam…

SAM:  I am.

FADE OUT.

What’d ya think?  Anyone else want to give it a go?  Pick a different writer – novelist, screenwriter, whoever, and retell your version of Green Eggs and Ham in their voice.  Put the link to your story in the comments.  Anxious to see what you come up with!

Twitter Story Challenge #1: Ruby Red

So I had this idea today, that you take someone’s random tweet and use it as the first line of a short story.  I haven’t written fiction in a while and have not written short fiction in particular in even longer (I’m thinking maybe since early in the last decade, horror of horrors) so this might turn out to be a complete hot mess.  But practice makes perfect, and here goes.  The tweet I chose was from Brian Ray, who’s a member of Paul McCartney’s band as well as an accomplished musician in his own right.  And a very nice guy whom I’ve had the fortune to meet in real life.  I don’t know why, then, the story turned out to be so dark.  I’m actually having a really nice day.  Anyway, first the tweet, and then the story.

BrianRayTweet

I dreamt we were in a hallway and everything turned red.  Not blood red, my dreams aren’t that morbid.  But I looked at Ruby standing next to me and watched shades of persimmon, crimson and coral slither across the walls like oily tentacles, infecting the drab greens and browns of the drywall and the peeling old paintjob.  Spilling out onto the floor, the rush of red seeped into the pile and coiled itself around the ashtray at the far end, in front of the window.  I couldn’t be sure why this was happening now, or why this peculiar maroon plague had chosen to intrude upon my mind at that particular moment.  Was there some unknown, buried, Freudian reason for it, or was it just my unconscious mind’s way of redecorating an otherwise boring scene?  I mean, red is hardly my favorite color.  Give me a deep royal blue or a fresh, citrus yellow.

Ruby didn’t seem to mind, or even notice.  Long, toned legs strolled down the hallway on thin leather heels, oblivious to the changing colors swirling around her.  “Room 444,” she whispered, her eyes flitting across the brass digits nailed to the doors that were mutating into burgundy as we passed them.  She stopped at the last door on the left, swiped a keycard through the lock, and stepped through.  I followed, my steps languid and halting as if someone had turned up the gravity a touch too high.  Red continued churning in front of me.  I wanted to be out of this hallway, somewhere safer, less vivid.  I longed for the placid tones of builder’s beige.

Room 444 had no red in it.  It was an executive suite with a raised queen bed done in blacks and browns.  A wooden desk, or at least a plastic-that-looks-like-wooden desk, was shoved into one corner.  There were no windows.  Ruby was sitting on the bed, legs crossed, hands folded on her knee, facing me with the sense of calm that usually only comes at the behest of a large injection of horse tranquilizer.  It could easily be mistaken for boredom, but that couldn’t be the case.  We’d been looking forward to this for a long time.  She’d planned every last detail.  She’d told me through instant messages for weeks and weeks how excited she was.  I had to disable all the sound and vibration alerts on my phone to keep my wife from finding out.

I wanted to say something suave and masculine, but I felt confidence drain out of my body like an accidental stream of urine down a pantleg.  “Uh…” dribbled out from between my lips with the vitality of the world’s most timid prairie dog, any pretense at me taking charge of the situation vanishing as quickly as the sound of that single syllable in stale hotel room air.

“Well then,” Ruby said, and she leaned back on her palms, uncrossing her legs and tilting her head back, allowing her tantalizing ginger mane to tumble backwards.  She was bored, I could tell now, and I wondered where the playful, seductive minx who’d lured me away from a loving wife of fifteen years had gone.  In a way, it seemed just as well.  I wasn’t in any condition to do anything.  I couldn’t understand why I was so tired, why lifting a foot for a single step was like trying to wrench a fifteen hundred pound anvil from the floor.  I lurched towards her and crumpled to my knees.

That’s when the red invaded again.  Encroaching onto the safe blacks, browns and beiges of the executive suite in a gentle tide, lapping and retreating, moving further inwards with each wave.  I felt a warmth slide up my insides as the red moved closer, parts of me turning fuzzy, feeling like one of those TV channels in the upper 800’s with no signal.  My breathing sounded louder, harder.  Air in my lungs was soup I had to push out with the muscles in my chest.  Ruby did not react.  Her eyes watched the popcorn ceiling above us as its hue too darkened from driven snow to Mouton Rothschild, the kind we’d shared together the night we met at that conference in Frisco.

My hand went to my side as the TV static spread over me, fuzzing the loudest at a spot just below my ribs.  Gravity pulled on me now with the force of a thousand suns, and as I struggled to force a plea of help up through my throat, Ruby stood and let me see the white flash of the stainless steel blade hitherto concealed in her left hand.  “Take that, you cheating son of a bitch,” she spat, and she placed a heel on my shoulder and shoved.

I was too numb to sense the tile floor meeting the edge of my spine.  Too numb to notice the click of Ruby’s shoes as she made her exit and let the door close quietly behind her.  And too numb to be truly aware of the warm pool that now spread out from beneath my body to meet the narrowing sea of vermilion that mixed with it, using swirls and splashes of what was left of my life to scrawl an eerie abstract design around what the police would undoubtedly find a few hours later, once the guy in the next room noticed the smell.  They say red is the color of passion.  Yet even passion has many different tones, and can drive different people to different ends.

I laid my head back down in the sticky warmth and watched all the reds come together.  Shades I’d never seen and would never see again.  Cerise, blush, dahlia, russet, titian, garnet.

But not blood red.  My dreams aren’t that morbid.