Yesterday I had the great pleasure of talking with Rutgers students via Inside the Writers House. The event was conducted via Skype, which was great because not only did I not have to drive down there, but folks could also lay eyes on one of my cats. We talked about my books and literature in general, an hour of stimulating conversation. My hearty thanks to Alex Dawson who invited me and put the whole thing together.
One thing that Alex asked was if I could provide the students a writing prompt. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, it’s basically just a little something to get the writing juices flowing; Writer’s Digest has an ongoing repository of them. For mine, I read them this little short-short story:
I didn’t know your grandma would show. How could I? You said your grandma was out shopping, but boom, “Hi David, how’s your family? How’s your job?” so I had to sock away all six balloons, and fast.
And your grandma is quick. Darts around, up and down, old lady’s got top-notch vision. Saw through my brown box that has two disco balls and says, “What is that?”
What could I do, Mary? I had to show it. And it wasn’t my fault. It was your fault! If you had rang just half an hour ago, our party would still…
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t shout, but I know I’m disappointing you. I know how much you want this to go smoothly. You know that, right? You my girl, baby. Good days, bad days, always.
Anyway, so I say to your grandma, “Happy birthday, Mrs. Mills. You got us.” So your grandma looks around and says, “How many chairs in total?” Wants fifty chairs. So I gotta run out and bring back thirty additional chairs. And now your grandma is looking at my music, what I was gonna play tonight, and says, “No, this won’t do, David. It’s simply not a party without Lady Gaga.”
Mary, my darling, haul your ass, pronto. Your grandma is nuts. And I’m going crazy.
Do you notice anything odd about this story? Perhaps the title will give you a clue: “A Surpris(e) Birthday Party.”
The e is in parenthesis because that’s the only occurrence of that letter. Yes, this story does not feature a single use of the letter e. This type of writing is called Oulipo, and I must thank J. Robert Lennon for introducing it to me.