Read It And Write # 1: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Welcome to Read It and Write, where yours truly reviews a short story and transforms it into a writing prompt, because good writing tends to inspire more.aarons july naturewalk (1)

Read It

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Kicking off this series is Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, winner of the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The version I enjoyed was republished by Escape Pod and performed by Dave Thompson. This story was recommended to me years ago and it’s been on my to-read list. I never got around to reading it until recently when Escape Pod podcast this story. Honestly, I waited too long.

Charlie, a simple-minded young man intent on learning as much as he can despite his troubles, attends night classes after working all day at a factory. His opportunity arrives when his teachers invite him to participate in an experiment to increase his intelligence. Charlie would be the first human for this experiment, and whose predecessor is a mouse named Algernon. Man and mouse develop a special relationship, as does Charlie with each of his doctors. As his intelligence increases, so does his understanding that these doctors don’t know everything. His friends at work are tested; most aren’t truly friends, and eventually he leaves the job. The real trouble is when the experiment fails Algernon, and Charlie understands what’s in store for him. We experience his fears and frustrations, his anger at what he’s finally achieved being taken from him. In the end, he rejects everything.

Dave Thompson’s narration of Daniel Keyes’ story is amazing. If you haven’t tried audio fiction, this would be a rewarding first try. The emotional pauses, the tension in Thompson’s voice, the pacing of his words all carry the intensity of what Charlie endured. This story moved me for so many reasons, but it also inspired me.

One of the inspiring elements was Charlie’s strength, after knowing his fate. Facing old tormentors knowing it’s going to happen again, and eventually having the dignity to say no despite his failing intelligence.

And Write

It’s time to turn this reading experience into a writing prompt. Keep in mind, the intent is to spin an element of this story into something completely new. Start by asking basic questions. Make a list or a bubble chart, whichever appeals to your writing process.

  • What moved you the most about the story arc?
  • What fascinated you?
  • What pulled at you, even if you can’t specify why?

Using your answers to these questions, consider angles for your story. Here’s an example list I brainstormed. (If something below appeals to you, go write it; I’m happy to share prompts.)

  • An intelligence experiment that worked; intelligence wasn’t enough – the subject wants more.
  • A relationship between a person and animal that foretold of the person’s fate.
  • A story of a simple-minded person who struggled to improve himself and succeeded.
  • Tell the story from the doctor or teacher’s viewpoint.
  • Write the fantasy version of this story: no science.
  • Write a story of someone marching toward death.
  • How would you turn this into a story prompt?

My experience with Flowers for Algernon as my story prompt was to write a fantasy version in which there is a happier ending. I found that it gave my character a stronger voice, and a challenge to make sure he sounded different enough from Charlie that no one would know where the inspiration came from until I revealed it myself.

I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did, and that if you’re writing from a prompt, that the words you seek are flowing. Please let me know if you’re trying this method and if it’s working for you. Or if you’ve written a story and want to share your challenges in writing.

Happy Writing!


Daniel Keyes:

Escape Pod:

Escape Pod 409 – Flowers for Algernon:

photo credit: Dawn Bonanno

Review: Superposition by David Walton

Have you ever regretted a decision you’ve made, or traced a string of unfortunate events back to one innocent choice? Superposition by David Walton is a science fiction mystery that hinges on exactly that.

Jacob Kelly is a family man, having given up the high tech world to teach science to college students. That all changes when he makes the singular decision to have pity on an old friend Brian Vanderhall, whom he invites into his home. This one moment begins a series of events that lands Jacob into a heart wrenching mystery of his murder trial while who knows what has happened to his family.

In a blend of science fiction and mystery, we follow Jacob on a wild ride of physics that has the potential to baffle the normal Joe but Walton builds his characters to present the science in a clear manner that doesn’t make the reader feel uneducated but rather take joy in learning something new, unlike Brian Vanderhall, who is agitated and nervous to the edge of panic when he begs Jacob for help. Brian is the mad scientist of the story, bringing disaster to his own life as well as Jacob’s.

Others are drawn into the chase and legal battle. Front line on Jacob’s team is Terry Sheppard, a defense attorney who wears leather boots in a Philadelphia courtroom. What’s not to like? He’s on Jacob’s side and keeps our hero cool when he gets fired up. Jacob’s brother-in-law, Marek Svoboda, accompanies Jacob on his adventures inside the New Jersey Super Collider where science turns nightmare. A former co-worker, Jean Massey, volunteers to be a subject matter expert despite the person effects on her marriage. Jacob’s daughter Alex shows us a side of our hero that the parented among us can sympathize with. Alex is smart, spunky, and endearing. She’s also coping with her own failings in this story.

Both Jacob and Alex have to deal with reality distorting effects of Brian’s work. They question their worth while worrying about the ends of their own existence, while trying to solve the mystery. Alex is the silent hero of the story for me, noticing the things she does, fighting for something bigger than herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book on so many levels. First, the combination of science fiction and mystery. This isn’t merely a mystery taking place in a science fiction book. It’s a mystery that builds on and is deepened by the science fiction. The book takes place in our near future, near enough that the transition is easy to believe, but that the story couldn’t exist without the new technology, or without the madness Brian wrought. I love that Jacob, who is as smart as Brian, is struggling with parenting issues alongside his own grief. He’s not perfect, but his heart is in the right place. It makes him real, and it makes me root for him despite wondering at times if he might be guilty after all. I love the ending, I loved that I had questions about a particular involved person, but didn’t quite put it together until just before the big reveal.

There are scenes I wanted to cite, exchanges between Jacob and Alex, but those would spoil far too much. One of the points I enjoyed, is that the children in the story weren’t perfect; Jacob’s son Sean had a physical disability (which wasn’t treated as a disability in their lives), and that Jean’s child was a special needs child. Details that come up and form the strength and resolve of these characters, parent and child alike, it opens windows into their existences.

I’ll be honest with you: when I get moving on a story, I give up sleep and stay up late to read. I was so riveted in this book, I sent the kids to play in their rooms. We had take-out for dinner. And who needs clean laundry on a Saturday?

Superposition was my first David Walton read. It won’t be the last. As far as this novel goes, if you like science fiction in our own world, if you like a good mystery, then I expect you’ll enjoy it. I do recommend you send the kids to play, and cancel your plans for a day or two. Once you start reading, this book is damned hard to put down.

A New Feature: “Read It & Write” Blog Series

How many times have you read a novel and been inspired to work on your own stories? If so, it could be you’re either a writer or someone who wants to write. (Stop wanting, and go write! But read this post first, you may find it helpful.)  J

Let’s talk about short stories. Reading them, writing them, they make me and a lot of other people happy. The best part is that one story can be started and finished in a sitting. Whether you’re tied up in your own projects or between books, a short story can fill a gap between these things like a palette cleanser, or create an experience that’s intense or vastly different from your novel interests. You can read it without investing too much of yourself but still fall under its spell.

My intention with this blog series is to share stories I’ve read, whether I love or hate them, we’ll deal with later. (Yes, I’ve found inspiration in stories I didn’t like.) You may find new authors you’d like to read from this. And, my favorite part, I can turn them into writing prompts.

In each post, I’m going to review the story, what worked or what didn’t, and what drew me in regardless of how I liked the story. I’m going to create a writing prompt from that story that I’ll share with you. Seriously, how many times have you read a story and been inspired to write one yourself on that topic, but you just need to spin it differently?

I’ve wanted to do this for a while and it’s time to dive in. You’ll see Read It & Write posts monthly for now.  Please let me know if you find either the review or prompt helpful, and if you’ve had any writing success with it.

Happy Reading & Writing,


Adjusted Motivations for Healthy Eating and Weight Loss

Motivation Image for post

Once upon a time, a writer gave birth to one child, then another, and woe to the weight she had gained. Nine months later, the weight was gone, lost through lots of hard work but the details of which were lost to the new-baby-haze memory issues. That’s not entirely true. There is one strand of memory in which the young mother desperately wanted to be attractive to her husband again. Shopping ensued, and the horrors of a lingerie shop mirror send the mother – who was quite lovely and had nothing to hide – running. And the weight returned, unchecked.

Baring my soul here, there’s a reason for this. I had a revelation yesterday, on Facebook of all places. A woman posted about her own weight loss issues, and she learned what motivated her, and how once she lost the weight, she was lost on what to do. She’d always been trying to lose weight. She was there, as I was once. Both our motivations were wrong. She made me see this.

So I had to rework my process, figure out why I’m trying so hard. Sure, everyone wants to be attractive to their spouse, right? I need more than that. I want to be a role model for my children, to teach my son to respect women no matter what they looked like, to teach my daughter that strength not fear of obesity was important. I’m strong. I often tell my mother than when I’m helping her with stuff around the house or taking her arm as she steps down a steep curb. And I am. Karate taught me that. My strength is a good direction.

One of the areas I’m exceptional at is making goals for my writing and making ways to meet them. I measure my progress by what I’ve completed and each year I strive to improve those. I’m using that approach to improve my health and fitness life.

The weight on the scale is but one measurement which is often screwy. Very technical term here I know, but I’m dead serious. Changing my body from fat to muscle means creating a tighter more compact form that may actually be heavier than a non-muscular body of the same size. So I can’t go by the scale anymore. I need to measure what my body can do.

Since I love Excel, I drew up a bunch of spreadsheets tracking monthly:

  • body measurements (for evidence of fat loss) including BMI;
  • cardio distances covered in 30 minutes in various ways: cycling, walking, running, rowing;
  • plyometric:
    • pushups, sit-ups, burpees done in one minute;
    • chin-ups and pulls ups in one minute (none right now, but give me six months)
    • planks and length of time held.

Monthly measurements and comparisons will help me see first that I’m getting stronger, and second, when the scale doesn’t move, it’s going to remind me that I AM changing, I AM improving, and that scale can go to hell. It’s just one number.

The theory is that by working on my strength, I’m not focused on one end goal. I’m working on different goals that will always be there in one form or another. For example, I can currently do 8 pushups in one minute. My goal is to hit 25. I’m better with sit-ups. I can walk great distances at a decent pace but my running is severely lacking. My goal is to run a 5k eventually and get my time under 50 minutes. At the moment, my goal is to be able to run for 30 minutes without a significant break. Eventually no break. These are all measurable and the kinds of things that motivate me. Be a better me than I was yesterday or last week, or last month.

If you or someone you know is struggling with weight issues, I encourage a rethinking of philosophy and approach. My way may not be anyone else’s way, but don’t be afraid to turn things upside down. There should be something there to get anyone where they want to be.

I’m strong. I want to be stronger. I can do this. We can all do this. Or maybe you’ve got something else that’s working. Tell us about in comments. It’s not easy being healthy, and it can be a lonely road sometimes.

Live Strong,



Photo Credit: Joshua Santino via


Times of pain in writing are often followed by periods of growth. I’ve been experiencing writing pain in that I know something is wrong, but I don’t get what that is or how to fix it. Critiquing a lot can help, having my own stories critiqued as well, but that last is based on the attention of the person providing feedback.

I had the pleasure of participating in a special critique in which critiquers read about 20 thousand words of my writing across 9 stories: a spectrum from which to make observations about my writing.

Waiting for the feedback was terrifying. With that much ammunition, someone would surely cut me to pieces, except that I trust my writing group. No one would do that. It was more a question of was I ready to hear what they had to say? Hell yes.

I’m bursting with happiness that they provided me problems that were within my ability to learn to fix. My writing is flawed but not hopeless. (We all fear we’re hopeless, don’t we?) So deep was this feedback on so many levels, I’m rereading my previously written stories and cringing. Why? Not because I’ve sent these out to countless editors – it’s their job to read writer’s crap and send rejections, sometimes guiding us along the way – but it’s that I have so much work to do. I see what needs to be done and I don’t have enough time. How am I supposed to handle this? I’m going to have to prioritize.

I’m itching to work on longer pieces, a novella, maybe a novel, but I have so many short stories I want to share that need revising before I submit them. This is one of the hardest things: which project is next? I’ll work through this issue on my own, no worries. 😉 I’ll get to the short stories and the novella and the novel. It’ll just take a while.

In the meantime, what about you? Have you learned anything new about your work/hobby/passion? Did someone help you or did you push through to this new level on your own?

Pushing Through

The critiquing helped and the reading never happened, but two new flash fictions have been written,  and I’ve got a story in revision for the F&SF deadline next week (this week? geez!). I’m also working on the Writing Excuses prompts, one which really really wants to be a story RIGHT NOW.

Yep, things are looking up. Writing is one hell of a roller coaster sometimes.

Writing Excuses 2015

Hi there.  Have you heard of Writing Excuses? It’s a really neat writing podcast hosted by some fun writers (Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells) that always seem to know the right questions to answer, and when to prod me with another perspective on a writing technique.

They’ve got a new format for their weekly podcast: they’re presenting it like a writing class. Previously they always created a writing prompt at the end of the episode and it didn’t matter if you used ir or not, but now they’re giving homework that you need to do and take with you to the next podcast.

Here’s the link, take 15 minutes and go listen:

Now that you’ve listened, what do you think? The first assignment is easy enough. (The hard part is actually waiting to go along with the assignment and NOT writing it RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT, because you know, I pounce on those short story ideas and bang ’em out fast.)

I’m always eager to try a new approach, to add new tools to my writer’s toolbox.  Kudos to the Writing Excuses crew for coming up with yet another fantastic idea.