Albert and the Brain - Part 4

Once the brain started talking it was hard to get her to shut up. She was in constant conversation with Albert, and, though Albert loved the company, he found it hard to get much else done. Sometimes he would prop a book in front of her to read, but he would have to return every few minutes to turn the page, which wasn’t much of a break if he really thought about it. Sometimes he would play a record on the old phonograph for Helen and he’d come back moments later to her crying, wishing she could dance again. Then Albert would pick her up tenderly and waltz her around the room just like they used to after the kids went to sleep and their song came on the radio. 

It was during this act of tenderness that Annie burst through the front door without knocking. It was early evening, likely not a Sunday, although Albert couldn’t keep track of the days anymore, and Annie was neither expected nor particularly welcome. Albert clutched the brain to his chest and stared at her.

“Dad, thank God you’re okay!” Albert furrowed his brow and tried to calm the pounding in his chest.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been trying to call you for days!”

“No she has not,” Helen’s voice was muffled. Albert pulled her away from his chest and propped her up on the back of the couch.

“The phone never rang.” 

“Well I’ve been calling.” Annie tossed her purse on the console table in the front hallway and made her way through the house mumbling “Where is it… where is it?”

Albert looked at Helen. “We should have never given her a key.”

“She’s our daughter Albie.”

“Funny how children start to turn into your parents.”

“Don’t I know it.” Helen said, but instead of taking comfort in her words, Albert suddenly ached to see her smile.

 

“Dad?!” Albert followed her voice into the family room. 

“What?” He asked from the doorway.

“First of all, your place is a mess.” Albert entered the room and placed the brain on a stack of magazines that covered the coffee table. 

“I’ll clean it up.”

“Second, your phone was unplugged.”

“It was?” Annie pointed at the cable dislodged from the jack in the wall by a fallen book. “Huh, fancy that.”

“Didn’t you notice something was wrong when you hadn’t talked to me in a week? Or… or anyone for that matter?”

“No.”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

“No, he has me!” Helen interjected

“Honey, you’re fine company but it’s not really all that satisfying.”

“Well that’s not very nice…” Annie began, flummoxed at her Father’s brazenness. Then she looked at him. Albert was staring intently at the brain.

“Not Satisfying?” the brain scoffed, “Aren’t you happy I’m back?” Albert rolled his eyes.

“Of course I’m happy, It was just different when I could hug you, when we were a team. Now it’s like we’re on a constant phone call.”

“Dad, who are you talking to?”

Albert glanced back to his daughter. She was looking at him with a look no parent ever wants to see on their child’s face. It was a confounded look, a mix of concern and annoyance, worry and exasperation. 

“Dad? Did you hear me?”

“Yes.” He hesitated filing through all the possible answers. “Your mother.” He said finally, definitively. 

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your mother, Helen.” Albert looked at Annie sternly. Was she losing it? He couldn’t handle another family member losing their minds.

“Are you talking about the brain? Dad?”

“Yes, I’m talking about the brain. Your mother.” He was starting to get agitated now. Annie comes barging into his life just to judge and annoy?

“What is she going on about?” Helen piped in from the coffee table, “Annie I’m right here.”

“Did you hear that? Annie you have to listen.”

Albert wrapped an arm around Annie’s shoulder’s, pulled her toward the brain and pressed a finger to his lips.

“Annie I’m right here.” Helen shouted. “Annie listen to me, can’t you hear me?”

Albert raised his eyebrows at Annie as if to say see? See what I told you. But Annie just looked dumbfounded. Struck in a way all children are struck when they discover their parents are fallible, squishy human beings who may or may not be going insane.


More next week on Albert and the Braaaaiiiin!!!

How to write a story (Five simple, no brainer tips)

As I go to author talks, seminars and tutor writing at my local high school, I am amassing a wealth of very simple, boiled down tips for story writing that I wish someone had taught me when I first started. Whether you're considering writing a memoir at the end of your life, or you're starting your storied journey at the beginning, I hope these tips help you as they have informed my own process.

Exploring Emotional Honesty

Think about the most emotional experiences in your life: children are born, people die, you get mugged, robbed, raped, your house burns down. Now I don't blame you if you don't want to write about those experiences, but you would be missing out if you didn't use them.

People love reality shows for a reason. They love loooking into other people's lives and imagining how they live. Have you ever been sucked into someone's facebook feed you barely know, or become fascinated with the comings and goings of your mysterious neighbor? Humans are intensely curious about other humans, and your life experience is unique from any one else's. That is what you're selling. These are the meaty emotions you have to farm. The more honest you can be about your own emotional life, the more engaging your story will be. Period.

Just Write it

Write your story as fast as you can. No one said you have to write it in order (though I wrote a novel out of order once and it was a huge pain to piece together later.)  Write about your emotional moments, write about a specific moment and twist it slightly to make it more interesting. Maybe in your emotional birth story your baby comes out as an alien instead. How would that change that emotional story? Whether you're writing westerns or scifi, romance or upmarket fic, honesty sells. Remember, honesty does not necessarily mean accuracy. You can be honest without being truthful.

Be the Reader

As you write, pretend you're reading the story instead of writing it. What do you the reader expect to happen? What do you want to happen? Let that inform you as you go. Chances are, you've been subconciously dropping hints along the way, and you don't want to disappoint the reader once you have them flipping pages to see what happens next. Remember the cardinal rule of story telling: Don't show the gun in the first act if you don't plan to use it in the third.

When (not if) you get stuck, ask yourself two questions: What does my character want? And how is this going to end? Both questions can help drive the story forward, and help you make better decisions.

Plot is Just a Game

There's this game I used to play on long road trips called Fortunately/Unfortunately. One player starts a story with a plot item - once upon a time there was a polar bear. The next person starts the next sentence with the word unfortunately. (Unfortunately he was very fat.) The next person starts with the word fortunately. (Fortunately all the ladies loved a fat polar bear.) And on and on until you reach a conclusion. Usually you'll want to determine the number of sentences you'll write before you come to a conclusion so your story doesn't trail on forever.

If you play this game with yourself and your own storyline, you'll have a pretty good plot outline to start with. Your character will struggle through adversity, get little wins, and come out a hero.

Talent = Practice/Time

Your first story won't be amazing, nor will your second, and nor will your third. If you're at all concious, you'll realize this. This will disappoint you. Good. Be disappointed. It will push you forward.

Keep writing, and keep editing your work (more on editing soon). One day (with practice) you'll be a better writer, and that version of you can go through all your unpublished work and edit (or rewrite) the concepts you love into something new. 

Writing is learning and growth, and above all it's a journey. Having a finished book is not as satisfying as the work that goes into writing every single day. There is always another book to write, and the next one, we always promise ourselves, will be better.

 

P.S. It usually is.