In my story, “Footsteps in the Room Upstairs,” a husband who has suffered neurological damage begins to suspect his wife of having an affair. The idea came to me on a frigid December night in 2017, after my own spouse’s worsening neurological condition from Super Palsy, a vicious cousin to Parkinson’s Disease. The story was a kind of free-writing exercise.
Every December for the last few years, I find that my energy depletes at the end of the year—a side effect of being so productive throughout the previous months. So this year, I decided to do an entire month of free-writing.
Twice before, our writers’ group had used fortune cookies as the literary prompts for the all-day Sunday salons we hold in our home. You’d get a cookie, crack it open, and the fortune inside was your prompt for what you’d write and share that day.
On both occasions, I lucked out and had wonderful fortunes.
This past summer, I got it in my head that I would do something bigger with the bowl of fortune cookies in our kitchen left over from Chinese takeouts past. I’d write one entire short story a day in the month of December. Wake up. Brew the coffee. Feed the cats. Crack open a fresh fortune cookie (though, truth be told, quite a few of them have gone stale!). This was both an attempt to circumnavigate the usual December power outage and challenge myself. I love to be challenged, and I think by staying safe a writer can go staler than those aforementioned cookies.
So on December 1, I kicked off THE FORTUNE COOKIE TALES (what I’m calling this book of thirty-one free-writing stories). Thus far, I’ve kept to my commitment of putting down a complete short story a day inspired by the fortune. Some have been as small as 500 words, while others have come close to 3,000. And while the stories are skewing dark—not all fortunes are fortuitous, apparently—the work, thus far, feels complete, exciting, and polished in first draft. Above all, it’s been great fun.
So if your batteries run down or you want to gift yourself with a permission slip for creative freedom, consider free-writing for an afternoon.
Or an entire month!
As for writing prompts, you couldn’t do better than the fortune cookies that come with your favorite peanut butter chicken and those luscious crab rangoons deep fried golden brown and delicious is light, crispy philo dough. I know!
Gregory L. Norris is a full-time professional writer, with work appearing in numerous short story anthologies, national magazines, novels, the occasional TV episode, and, so far, one produced feature film (BrutalColors, which debuted on Amazon Prime January 2016). A former feature writer and columnist at Sci Fi, the official magazine of the Sci Fi Channel (before all those ridiculous Ys invaded), he once worked as a screenwriter on two episodes of Paramount’s modern classic, StarTrek: Voyager. Two of his paranormal novels (written under his rom-de-plume, Jo Atkinson) were published by Home Shopping Network as part of their “Escape With Romance” line — the first time HSN has offered novels to their global customer base. he judged the 2012 Lambda Awards in the SF/F/H category. Three times now, his stories have notched Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Best-of books. In May 2016, he traveled to Hollywood to accept HM in the Roswell Awards in Short SF Writing. His story “Drowning” appears in the Italian anthology THE BEAUTY OF DEATH 2, alongside tales by none other than Peter Straub and Clive Barker, and he recently enjoyed the publication of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW: INTO INFINITY, the novelization he was hired to pen based upon the classic Gerry Anderson made-for-TV movie — which he watched and loved as an eleven-year-old way back in 1976. Earlier this year, he put THE END on a novel sequel, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW: PLANETFALL, which is scheduled to release in September.