Author Archives: zbwagman

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — J.K. Rowling

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There has been a lot to process over the last few week.

Here at (H)our Stories, we’d been submerged to our necks in the American political climate. On the eve of the election, we took a break from the 24-hour news cycle & sat down to write. We were hopeful, ready to continue the work of the past eight years, building towards a nation of multiculturalism; an America, truly, for all of us. With the naiveté of those in the middle of a political campaign, the stories we wrote are filled with an assurance of victory and with false hope for the days to come.

ZB’s The Last Day grasps at political satire only to be undermined by the consequence of reality. Originally meant to be comic, in light of the outcome it reads more like a tragedy. The prompts used were:

  1. Political Satire (either as a genre, or utilizing it in some degree).
  2. Book Store
  3. Pumpkin

In Jacob’s The New Suffragette, a passive woman begins to take control, through activism, of her own life. It is a story that gives hope for the future: That no matter how life (or country) turns out, there is always opportunity to take action and work towards a future to believe in. Tomorrow is malleable, nothing is set in stone.

Always remember: we are stronger together.

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“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist.” ― Jane Smiley

(H)our Stories was created as a means to get two writers writing again. It was supposed to be a way for them to step out of their busy heads and busy lives and just put words on the page. And it has been extremely successful in this aspect. So successful that both writers sometimes forget that the point of this blog was not to have finished products at the end of one hour.

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Lately it seems like every week has had a least one story that was in its final form (or at least draft seven). The stories have been so good and so inspirational to the writers that they forgot the whole purpose of these exercises was to push themselves. This week was different. Both writers found struggle in their respective prompts. These two pieces are less refined than what normally denotes an hour’s work. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t push our writers, in fact it means the opposite–these prompts made our authors work harder. What you see here are two stories that the writers sweated over. They might not be as clear as past weeks stories but these were more interesting to write.

In independence, Jacob wrote a story of one man struggling for survival while looking for the meaning behind  his country’s independence in the modern world. The prompts used were:

  1. Mexico
  2. Collective Unconscious
  3. Rap Music

 

In the video game themed Mario Bros, ZB explores the line between fact and fiction in a child’s imagination. The prompts used were:

  1. A Model
  2. War Zone
  3. 8-Bit Music

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“…[I]s a story worth anything at all if I have no one to tell it to?” — Charlotte Eriksson

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Photograph by Gjon Mili

Chemistry can be a hard concept to define. We speak not of the mixing of chemicals, but of the relationships built between any two bodies. Be they writer & audience or writer & writer.

The express purpose of (H)our Stories has long been to provide a ground for which we, as writers, can explore our craft, techniques, and ourselves in regards to fiction writing — but at a certain point, we must ask ourselves this question: Are these stories worth writing if nobody sees them?

What is art without an audience? We like to joke, “Art without an audience is masturbation.”

But this is only said in jest because, if we are being honest with ourselves, we don’t write for an audience. No writer does. We write only out of our own selfish need to put words on paper. Our need to craft stories and lives out of thin air. Our need to be immortalized in our stories. This is why writers write and this is why all stories are worth writing.

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Painting by Marie Fox

In The Room Swap, Jacob explores fantasy–an atypical genre for him. In the portal fantasy a young man races through a shifting world to find a lost friend. Jacob utilized the following prompts to create this captivating tale:

  1. Mostly Empty Bottle of Wine
  2. Graphic Novel
  3. Much Room Hunting*

ZB crafted a piece of horror in Le Jongleur, another genre most unlike his repertoire. This horror sets the status quo in a fairly normal setting, a student film festival, then slowly begins to take a turn for the worse. His prompts were:

  1. Film Festival
  2. A Rake
  3. A Juggler

*Due to an unfortunate auto-correct Jacob’s original prompt of Mushroom Hunting became something…special. Whoever said clarity was necessary for artistic success?

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“A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Sometimes all you need is a little change.

Change is a funny thing. Though it can be both bad and good, we humans often fear it. Whether you are about to go to college or take a gigantic trip, you fear the unknown ahead. If you lose someone close to you, you fear the uncertainty that their absence brings.

This week (H)our Stories experienced a whole lot of change. For the first time we welcomed a stranger into our midst (okay, not so much a stranger as a good friend). Mathew Roscoe is an LA-based film Editor, Animator, and VFX-Artist who writes and directs whenever he can. This all around awesome dude was more than up to the challenge of writing an (H)our Story.

As there were suddenly three writers, we embraced the change in front of us — in this exercise, each writer provided one prompt to be shared by everyone. That’s right! We all used the same prompts. They were:

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U-Haul by TOMMERVIK

  1. Siblings (provided by Roscoe)
  2. U-haul (provided by Jacob)
  3. Edward Albee (provided by ZB)

A testament to the power of imagination, the outcomes were totally different. Even when basic circumstances of the stories were similar, such as the case with ZB and Roscoe, the stories would be a chore to confuse.

In Roscoe’s H Street Era, a grandfather ejects his grandson & granddaughter from his childhood home. The physical texture of the piece calls back to Roscoe’s filmmaker roots while the struggles of the two grandchildren allows it to stand as a story on its own.

In ZB’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a brother and sister try to confront the realities of their past as they clean out their parent’s home. The eponymous play works as an emotional swivel, allowing them to venture beyond their childhood nostalgia.

Jacob differed from the norm, allowing his characters to have previously packed up the Uhaul. In Ninety Miles Out, two brothers experience road trouble due to their own staggering stupidity. The subtlety of the piece allows the audience to groan along with the brothers, knowing that their mistakes are common amongst us all.

To see more of Roscoe’s work check out his film reels here. He’s a pretty impressive man.

As always, check out our archives for more (H)our Stories or reach out to us in the comments if you have a story inspired by our prompts! We would love to feature more from our friends.

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“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Isaac Asimov

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Security Camera 27 by  Gerard Boersma

This week’s writing was all about assumptions. Assumptions drive our world; first impressions that unconsciously drive every single encounter we make. These assumptions can be on point or they can miss their mark by miles but either way we still make them. As a writer it is important to know your own inherent assumptions as well as know which biases you writing will bring out in others.

Jacob’s The Fat Man Reads plays on our preconceived expectations. It is a tale where reality and paranoia mix and by the end you can’t quite tell what which is which.

ZB wrote the fun story of Earthrise. It’s an extremely solid bit of writing with a few exceptional moments. Its major flaw is the choice of narrator, it drains the tension away from what should be a thrilling story.

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Earthrise. Image Credit: NASA

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It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. – C. J. Cherryh

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Morning Brew, by Andrew Saur

There are times in writing where it seems the words work wonders by themselves, where the authors just need to sit down and hold on to their pens and a story is born out of thin air. And then there are times when it seems the authors need to fish for every word. Every sentence is reeled up from the depths like a kraken (though more times than not it’s a boot). This week both authors found themselves lost and distracted, a mixture of the two extremes.

In The Consulate Girl, Jacob sets up an unexpected and quite pleasant meet cute. It’s a simple enough setup with fun characters that you can’t help but want to see more of.

  1. Coffee
  2. Fairytale
  3. The French consulate

At first ZB’s A Dance Across the Heavens seems like a random collection of settings shoved together, more like a dream than an actual story. It isn’t until the end that sense can actually be made of what is happening.

  1. A Visitor
  2. Graffiti
  3. LSD
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Acid Graffiti Candy Colored by EvilAmishWerewolf

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“At night we are all strangers, even to ourselves.” – Alexander McCall Smith

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Hookah Etiquettes 01 by Laxman Kymar

Another late-night writing session left the authors with two more interesting and unusual pieces. It seems that a little bit of exhaustion goes a long way into getting the authors to write outside of their comfort zones.

In The Tale of Squid Vicious, Jacob layers a tinge of absurdity on top of a murder mystery. The board is set from the very first sentence and it’s fascinating to see how the pieces move. It’s fun to predict the next moment but everyone is wondering how it ends.

  1. Squid
  2. Romance (as a genre)
  3. Yoga Mat

ZB  struggled at first with the prompts, unable to see where they interconnected. After five minutes of staring at a blank screen, Passing the Torch fell directly into his brain and onto the page. Each beat is exactly as he meant it to be in this real-world story about the tragedy of how history is beginning to repeat itself.

  1. “Ace in the hole.”
  2. Computer Coding
  3. Elderly Tattooed Man
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Squid Gold by Oliver Gal

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“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.” —Leslie Gordon Barnard

Gun Painting by Roy Lichtenstein; Gun Art Print for sale

Gun by Roy Lichtenstein

Two weeks have passed since the writers together composed their stories. This week saw each writer facing troubles in getting their stories to flow. Unlike past weeks, these troubles were demonstrably unpleasant.

For Jacob, trouble brewed during conception. Murphy’s Law of Writing* concedes that if writer’s block can happen, it will happen — even with exercises as short as these. Luckily, like most writers, Jacob had many an unfinished project to fall back on. Digging through his outline pile he found one that fit the prompts provided. Valentine’s Roulette shows that preplanning pays off. He tells a story where six characters come to life with just the smallest description. Poetry and plot collide to leaves the reader teetering on edge, wondering what comes next.

Most of the prompts Jacob was given have been used before. Check the links for the related (H)our Stories.

  1. 3+ Main Characters 
  2. Personification of Death
  3. Social Media

ZB’s problem of the week developed not during conception, but execution. The prompts stroked ZB’s imagination & immediately the story fell into place. However, somewhere along the way the telling began to fracture. With each word harder to put on the page than the one before it, the results were Stinky Pete — a genuine surprise to both him & Jacob. With all the difficulty in writing, ZB expected something that did not equal the sum of its parts; instead a sincerely sad story was born. ZB avoided all the typical pratfalls the prompts suggested while setting up two characters with an intimate yet complicated relationship. Like Valentine’s Roulette, Stinky Pete leaves the reader wondering what happens next.

  1. Mirage
  2. Character with PTSD
  3. Punk Rock Music

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Female Soldier by Da Zhong Zhang

*Murphy’s Law of Writing is a fictional rule not to be confused with Murphy’s Law, though if you’re going to use it in a scholarly essay, the least you could do is credit us appropriately. Jeez.

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“Once Upon a Midnight Dreary, While I Pondered, Weak and Weary…” – Edgar Allan Poe

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The Hunter’s Shimmering Forest, by Gill Bustamante

The clock struck one a.m. when the writers exchanged prompts. After an exhausting hour of scribbling away they looked up from their computers. “How’d it go?”

“Pretty well considering…”

Both authors walked away pleasantly surprised with their work this week. Given their general disappointment with the stories they’ve previously written late at night, the expectation to disappoint again weighed on their minds. The lateness of the hour not withstanding, each of them felt as if their stories succeeded in being both entertaining and representative of their individual genres.

In Song of the Solstice, Jacob wrote a character-centric suspense story about a father and son hunting in the woods. The deceiving nature of the forest makes you wonder what, among its eerie tranquility, is real.

  1. Time Inconsistencies
  2. A Father
  3. The Solstice

The late hour provided ZB with a barrier of separation between author and story that allowed him to venture outside of his comfort zone to create engaging science fiction. He captures the fear of the unknown in the sprawling galactic drama, Elphas Immunodeficiency Virus.

  1. Infected Tattoo
  2. Doctor’s Without Borders
  3. Science Fiction
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Cometa Aducatoare de Viata, by Corina Chirila

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“You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.” – Larry Niven

“In a perfect world, this is exactly how the process of writing would go. I don’t need to be totally in love with the words I’m putting on the page, but if it comes with this level of casualness about it, dear god, I’d never stop doing it.”

This is how Jacob described the week’s writing and it applies pretty well for both writers.

A first draft is rarely the masterpiece we intend to author, these stories are no exception, but they were fun to write and the words came easy. The stories flowed from their fingertips with ease and even a little bit of grace.

In Buy Something or Leave, Jacob presented both the personal and political sides to the end of the world. At its heart this is a slice-of-life story set just before the end of the world. His prompts were:

  1. Supernova
  2. A wild dog
  3. An ultimatum

In What is the Plural of Penis? ZB paired his character with an uncomfortable setting to create an excellent natural conflict. It is a story where the protagonist constantly draws himself back into an unwanted, awkward situation. His prompts:

  1. Beekeeper
  2. A lie
  3. An art gallery
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Supernova Over Avalon, by Frith Johnson

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