Category Archives: Short story contests

I’ll Have Avocado Toast, Iced Coffee and a Lobotomy!

Coffee Milkshake Drink Food Cream Sweet Be

Fiction by Sara Jacobelli © Copyright 2018

NYC Midnight  Short Story Challenge 2018 Heat 71

Genre: Comedy     Topic: Persistence     Character: a Stenographer

 

Synopsis:

A scatterbrained court stenographer moves from Boston to New Orleans and encounters unusual difficulties at her new job. She insists on getting “talk therapy” from a curmudgeonly psychiatrist who prefers writing prescriptions to conducting psychoanalysis.

“I’m afraid that talk therapy isn’t in fashion anymore, Ms. Schadenfreude.  I know you’ve seen it on television and in the movies. Nowadays we mostly prescribe pills. There are some lovely medicines available. Oh yes, Modern Science is wonderful.  So innovative. They can cure practically anything these days with a little pill. What’s that? A session on the couch? I don’t even have a couch, but I suppose. I suppose you could sit in a chair and we could talk. You do have insurance?”

Ms. Ursula Schadenfreude, a court stenographer with the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, started coming for sessions once a week.  She was very insistent about receiving an hour of “talk therapy.” She was thirty-four but looked and acted younger, bouncing around the room like a nosy sparrow.  Each week she dyed her hair a different fluorescent color: blue or hot pink or green or yellow, which contrasted with her court-lady type skirt suits. Dr. Bloom found her nose ring distracting. Sometimes she took off her blazer and unbuttoned the top two or three buttons of her blouse, exposing a tiny tattoo of either a unicorn or a mermaid. This made him nervous.

He was desperate for new younger patients since many of his old regulars had died or moved away. Ms. Schadenfreude was a government employee and came adequately insured. He lost a considerable sum in the stock market crash of 2008 and couldn’t afford not to take a new patient. He perfected a series of concerned looks, which he practiced in the mirror.

Dr. Theodore Bloom, who preferred to just write prescriptions, daydreamed through the sessions. He wished Ms. Schadenfreude had a more exciting life or more compelling difficulties. Her speech patterns irritated him.  She had a habit of ending each sentence on a high pitched note as if it were a question.  I don’t like my job? But one of the ADAs is kind of sexy? He’s married and has three bratty kids? He recalled a discussion on NPR on the proclivities of modern speech. This self-deprecating habit was called “uptalk.” According to the commentator many contemporary young women speak this way, which could lead to less success in the workplace. He felt it best not to mention this to Ms. Schadenfreude, who did not appear to take criticism lightly.

His dream was to have a practice composed entirely of wealthy disturbed patients with exotic mental disorders, like that Sybil woman with multiple personalities.  He would cure her. She would marry an orthopedist or plastic surgeon from Tulane and produce two blonde children with good teeth who would be sent to the best private schools. He would write a book, which would become a Hollywood movie, promote it on the Dr. Phil show. He pictured himself sitting on a couch onstage, pouring a glass of water and laughing with Phil and Oprah and Dr. Oz, more famous than Freud or Jung. Professors would assign his book to earnest psychiatric students, who would devour his dazzling and insightful prose. He would retire, travel to the Riviera. Mrs. Bloom always said she wanted to travel.

“Are you listening, Dr. B?” Ms. Schadenfreude took off her shoes, rested her stockinged feet on a little stool. She was improvising a couch. Dr. Bloom found this rude. He fantasized sending her off for shock therapy.

He frowned, concentrating on the Furrowed Eyebrow look. His eyebrows resembled two friendly, furry caterpillars. He recently came up with the idea to take photos of each of his “wise psychiatrist” expressions, putting them together in a handbook. Maybe he could sell it at psychiatric conventions.

He feigned interest while checking his Facebook account. He typed at a glacial pace, using only his index fingers.  An old college girlfriend, Eloise, had contacted him. She was getting divorced.  He remembered her as a pleasant, buxom, not-very-bright girl who smelled like lilacs. A lovely kisser. Dr. Bloom was intrigued.

“Ms. Schadenfreude, you mentioned you have a coworker who talks too much and aggravates you. Sometimes, when there are qualities about another person that we find offensive, those qualities—traits, as it were, are to be found deep within ourselves. Therefore, a conflict with a coworker, may very well be a conflict within yourself. Now, what is this person’s first name?”

“Mabel. Well, I call her Mabel.”

“Of course, for privacy’s sake, you may give her a pseudonym. Certainly. Now, this Mabel,”

“I call her Mabel, but I don’t know her real name. She has Stenograph Model 6600 stamped on her side.”

“Many young ladies have tattoos these days. Mrs. Bloom certainly doesn’t, but I noticed that you have a tattoo of a well, something, on your left, well, breast, as it were. Not that I was staring or anything, but when you unbuttoned the top of your blouse, it was there and I noticed. Ahem.”

“Mabel is not a person. She’s my stenotype machine.”

“Your what?”

“My stenotype machine. The God-Damned machine I’m chained to all day in the courtroom. Then I have to drag the damn thing home with me at night.”

“Your stenotype machine talks to you.” Dr. Bloom tried out his Mildly Shocked expression.

“Yes, she talks to me.” Ms. Schadenfreude wiggled her toes. Dr. Bloom looked at the stocking-trapped toes, toenails painted purple. It seemed almost intimate, seeing this young woman’s feet.

“Well, of course. Ahem. In our modern, disconnected society, it’s not unusual to feel we have a connection with our computers, our cell phones, our cars. Our TVs. Even our microwaves and blenders. This is a symptom of-”

“No, no, that’s not what I’m talking about. The fucking stenotype machine actually talks to me.” Ms. Schadenfreude sat up, put her shoes on, smoothed her hair. “Where’re my glasses?”

Dr. Bloom pointed at her glasses with his pencil. They were on his desk, perched precariously on his nameplate.

Ms. Schadenfreude stood up, straightened her skirt. “My stenotype machine talks to me? Every morning, in my office when I have coffee and avocado toast?  Before the judges and lawyers show up? Well, I say office-but it’s nothing like this.” She swept her arms around the room. “This is sweet. Do you really have all these degrees?” She moved to the window and watched a Poydras Street traffic jam ten floors below. She considered whether or not to tell him she was afraid to drive, that she preferred anyone in the driver’s seat but her.

Dr. Bloom looked around the room at his framed diplomas, the book-lined wooden shelves, the plants and the paintings. “Mrs. Bloom decorated my office. She calls the theme Understated and Tasteful.”

“Listen, Bloom. My so-called office. It used to be a closet.  So I sit in there every morning, drink my God-Damned coffee with Mabel.  Sometimes she’s in a good mood and sometimes she’s in a downright shitty mood. So-”

“And who is Mabel? Your coworker?” Dr. Bloom tried on his Alert and Interested expression. He peeked at Facebook. Eloise posted a photo. Not bad. He wondered how many years ago it had been taken. If she had put on any weight since then. Mrs. Bloom was a little on the heavy side.

“Quit playing Solitaire on that damned computer and look at me, Bloom!”

He fingered his gray beard, which he grew years ago, in imitation of Freud.

“You’re not, like, listening. MABEL is my stenotype machine. I don’t mind that she talks to me. I don’t know anyone here, I moved down from Boston in September. She was pleasant at first. Good morning. You forgot to take me home with you on Friday. I missed you over the week-end. That skirt looks cute on you. I like your new haircut. The purple highlights are very flattering. We bonded because we have a lot in common. We both married and divorced young. We both have over-bearing parents. We both have dead-end jobs. We both have a little trouble holding our liquor. We both have that thing where we’re afraid of holes, that phobia?”

“Trypophobia. Yes, that’s fascinating. It’s most likely a primal fear, stemming from-”

“But now she’s getting snippy and sarcastic. Saying shit like You’re getting some lines under your eyes and You’re showing too much cleavage and I don’t blame Jake for dumping you. If I wanted to hear shit like that I’d hang out in the lunchroom with the court clerks and bailiffs. It’s a middle school cafeteria in there. Yesterday-you know what that bitch said? She said I heard you got 86’d from the Jupiter Lounge for banging the manager’s boyfriend. You should have more respect for yourself than to screw some guy you just met in a bar. And you didn’t even get a free dinner out of him.

Dr. Bloom tried out a new facial expression. This one he dubbed, I’m Fascinated.

“I said, ‘Listen Mabel. Why don’t you just shut up?’” Ms. Schadenfreude moved her chair closer to Dr. Bloom’s desk. He inhaled a strong whiff of tobacco mixed with perfume. She was an attractive woman, but the type who would have been labeled Hysterical in the 1950s. They would have given her a lobotomy and been done with her. Dr. Bloom had an epiphany: he was practicing psychiatry in the wrong era. The fifties was the golden age of the profession; strait jackets, mausoleum-sized asylums, mysterious operations.

He wished she had three distinct personalities. What was that movie with Joanne Woodward? It was better than the Sybil movie. Seems the woman had one personality that was all nice and housewifey, sort of like Mrs. Bloom. One personality was what they used to call a “loose woman” although nowadays they don’t use such terms. She certainly seemed more fun than the housewife one. Then what was the third personality? A child? A murderess? He couldn’t remember. Perhaps Mrs. Bloom could borrow the movie from the library and they could watch it.

“So I told Mabel that I couldn’t like, throw her in the Mississippi River, because I need this God-Damned job. But if she keeps it up. I’ll kill her. I will. I’m talking murder, Bloomie. I’ll take a hammer and smash the shit out of her. I’ll get a job waiting tables. Fuck my student loans. Give her remains to one of those scrappers with a shopping cart. The bitch deserves it. She’s giving me carpel tunnel.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. Our session time is over, but I can write you a prescription.”

“Just gimme some Xanax.” Ms. Schadenfreude stood up and grabbed her Hello Kitty purse. She took out her pink cellphone and checked her text messages. Dr. Bloom found today’s young women very confusing. They still liked stuffed animals and played with toys, but drank with abandon and swore like sailors. They acted flirty but could be dangerous. In Dr. Bloom’s day, if a lady went to a hotel room with a gentleman, they both knew what they wanted. Nowadays everything was sexual harassment. He sneaked another peek at Eloise’s photo. Very classy.

Dr. Bloom gave her the prescription and shook her tiny, sweaty hand. Her fingernails were decorated with elaborate press-on blue-green peacocks. “Don’t mix these with alcohol. It’s not safe.” He employed his Concerned Parent expression. He felt an unexpected moment of loss. What would his life be like if he and Mrs. Bloom had a daughter this age?

“These things go down great with Vodka and Red Bull.” Ms. Schadenfreude slipped into her blazer. “Same time, next week, right?”

“Are you sure you want to continue with talk therapy?”

“Every week, as long as my insurance pays for it. I’ve got all sorts of sordid secrets you’d love to hear. I like you. I feel we have a connection.  I think.” She touched Dr. Bloom on the arm. She lowered her voice. “I think Mabel is in cahoots with the copy machine. The two of them are plotting against me.  I know that sounds a little paranoid-”

Dr. Bloom tried out his newest expression, the Caring Country Doctor. “It does sound a bit, exaggerated, perhaps?”

Ms. Schadenfreude shook her head. “That copy machine never liked me. His name is Ralph. First day I worked there, Ralph accused me of being anti-Semitic, because I called a lawyer a shyster. Me? I’ve never been prejudiced against anyone in my life, my parents sent me to Montessori school. My best friend in pre-K was half Mexican. I think. Or maybe half Japanese.”

He opened the door and gently escorted Ms. Schadenfreude to the lobby. “Then perhaps a few more sessions, my dear. And we’ll get it all sorted out, between you and Mabel and ah, Ralph.”

“Oh, no Doc, not just a few more sessions. I’m planning on coming here every week. Forever.” She raised her voice. “Do me a favor. Buy a fucking couch.”

Dr. Bloom patted her on the shoulder, winked at the capable Mrs. Periwinkle, his receptionist. She rolled her eyes. “I’ll see what I can do, Miss Schadenfreude.” He returned to his office, settled into his comfy chair, leaned back, closed his eyes and thought about Eloise. She mentioned coming to New Orleans for her daughter’s wedding. Perhaps they could meet at Café du Monde for café au lait and beignets.

On her way out, Ms. Schadenfreude said to Mrs. Periwinkle, “His wife’s got her hands full with that old coot.”

“Oh?” Mrs. Periwinkle shuffled through a stack of mail on her desk. “I don’t believe Dr. Bloom ever married.”

“But he said-” Ms. Schadenfreude shook her head. “Never mind. I need an iced coffee.” She headed towards the elevator.

**

“You’re a quack.” His computer Charlie snapped at him. “All you do is take people’s money and nod your head. A total phony. You drive a Lexus you can’t afford just to impress your neighbors. You’ve got no idea what it’s like to really work, like carpenters and dishwashers and garbage men and factory workers. Get a real job.”

Reginald the printer chimed in. “She’d be better off going to happy hour and boring her bartender with her troubles. She’d have a lot more fun for a lot less money.”

Dr. Bloom sighed. He knew they were right.

*****

 

Author’s Note:

This was my Round One entry in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2018. This was the first time I entered the contest.

For each round , you are divided into heats (groups) Each heat is assigned a genre, a topic and a character. 

For Round One, you have eight days to write a 2500 word (maximum) story. The top five in each heat are chosen to proceed to Round Two. If you make it to Round Two, you are assigned to a new heat and receive a new genre, topic and character, and have three days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) story. The top five are chosen to go into Round Three, where you are assigned your final heat and genre, topic and character, and must write a 1,500 word (maximum) story. Each heat has about 35 entrants and each contest gets over 4,000 entrants The competition is tough!

I didn’t make it to Round Two. Each story will receive feedback. I suspect my problem was that my story didn’t really fit into the comedy genre. There’s a few funny lines, but it’s not really a comedy. I found it to be very challenging: to write in the Genre of Comedy, the Topic of Persistence, and the Character of a Stenographer.  I’ll see what the judges say when I get my written feedback.  If you’re up to the challenge, check out their website. You might want to enter one of their contests. They also have a Screenwriting Challenge and a Flash Fiction Challenge.

http://www.nycmidnight.com/Competitions/SSC/Challenge.htm

*****

UPDATE 3/29/2018: Here is the feedback from the judges. (Each judge is identified by a 4 digit number). 

Dear Sara Jacobelli:

The feedback from the judges on your Short Story Challenge 2018 submission from the first round is below.  We hope you find the feedback helpful and congratulations again on rising to the challenge!

 

”I’ll Have Avocado Toast, Iced Coffee and a Lobotomy!”

 

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1794}  I love that the woman in this piece talks to her typewriter and that they have the same issues. That is a really funny concept. I also liked the doctor trying on his different facial expressions.  {1842}  I like the small details sprinkled throughout about Ms. Scadendfreude. The dialogue was snappy. It was a fast paced story with a clever twist at the end.  {1807}  Intriguing title, amusing concept, and interesting characters. Dr. Bloom is especially engaging. I love how his internal asides indicate a personality who is disturbed and harbors a deep animosity toward his patients. The series of “looks” he gives throughout the story are clever and spot on. I appreciate the mild irony of the ending…

 

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1794}  While very funny, I felt that each of the characters were lacking goals. It didn’t seem that the woman really wanted anything, other than to be heard and I wasn’t sure what Dr. Bloom wanted- perhaps to not do his job? I think there are ways to make their goals stronger.  {1842}  Psychiatrists are not the same as psychologists, so I didn’t find the aspect of the psychiatrist performing talk therapy instead of medication as very believable. Also, if Ms. Schadenfreude was seeing hallucinations, she would not be prescribed Xanax, which is used to treat panic attacks and anxiety. I also think the story could have worked better if we could have either stayed in Ms. Schadenfreude’s head or the doctor’s head instead of jumping to multiple POVs.  {1807}  …Even if the ending feels a bit easy and obvious. While there are more than a few lively insights into personality, hypocrisy, and lunacy throughout the narrative, the thrust of the story feels oversimplified and slightly glib. Ms. Schadenfreude is, at the conceptual level, a promising character, but the story renders her in two-dimensions. Overall, the comedy is too broad and on-the-nose to spark more than light chuckles. It feels a bit forced and the dialogue is fairly standard.

 

 

*****

I agree with most of this feedback. . . but attention Judge 1794: It’s a stenotype machine, not a typewriter!  She’s a stenographer, remember? Judge 1842 called my dialogue “snappy” but Judge 1807 called it “fairly standard.”  I do agree that I should have gone deeper into the characters’ motivations, but I had an eight day deadline to meet and this is what I came up with.  And here’s a link to an article I found in Psychology Today: Judge 1842 is not entirely correct, psychiatrists do sometimes provide talk therapy:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shrink-rap-today/201103/the-psychiatrist-therapist

Photo Credit: “Morning Bird Photo: Iced Coffee.” Pixabay Copyright-Free Images.

 

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Why Do You Want to Work Here? Writing Micro-Memoir

The Writer online magazine had a Micro-Memoir contest a while back. The idea was to write a 200 word memoir inspired by an object that holds meaning for you. I was too late to enter the contest, but I wrote one anyway. You might want to try this writing exercise. The article was written by Beth Ann Fennelly, who was inspired by a workshop on writing short fiction taught by Leslie Jamison. You can read about it here:

https://www.writermag.com/2017/07/06/micro-memoir-contest/

The object I chose to write about? A job application. The old fashioned paper kind, not the ones you fill out online. And I made mine a combo of fiction/nonfiction, so it’s not exactly a memoir.

Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Copyright ©  2018 by Sara Jacobelli

I filled out my first job application when I was nine. Mom brought home two, in case I messed up the first one.

“Mr. Cappizotto grabbed me in the elevator today.” She lit a Lucky Strike.

“Ole Onion Breath.  You gonna tell Poppy?”

“Jake’ll kill him and go to prison.” She opened the refrigerator and stared at the scant contents. “Grab a can of tuna and the opener. Fill this out. For the dry cleaners.”

The application reminded me of a giant blinking eye. Who are you? Are you good enough to work here? Name, phone number, address. “What job did you have before Levitt’s Store?”

“Waitress. White’s Diner.” She opened the can, slopped tuna in a bowl.

I completed the application, using that Big Imagination everyone said I had. She got the job. A few weeks later Poppy got fired from the restaurant for punching a customer. He brought me a stack of applications and I filled them out, ignoring my homework, listening to the radio. My brother Nicky handed me his application for a cashier’s job at Food Fair. I made them all sound like glowing job prospects.  I learned the power of the written word.

*****

 

 

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Jambalaya Writers’ Conference 2017

I’ll be teaching a workshop on writing flash fiction at the 2017 Jambalaya Writers’ Conference in Houma, LA. The conference is Saturday, March 4th and will be held at the Terrebonne Parish Main Library, 151 Library Drive in Houma. (Close to downtown). Check out their website and also their Facebook page for further information. http://mytpl.org/jwc/

“The Friends of the Terrebonne Parish Public Library are excited to announce the 14th annual Jambalaya Writers’ Conference, set for March 4, 2017. Writers across all genres will guide both new and practiced writers in their craft. Featuring Lisa Unger, Jeff Lindsay, Rachel Caine, steamy romance writers Alexandrea Weis and Farrah Rochon, Roland Paris of Marvel Comics, “My Sunshine Away” author M.O. Walsh, Nicholas Maineri, Ashley Elston, Alys Arden, Kim Vaz-Deville, and more! Aspiring writers from near and far are encouraged to take part in this experience that will promote creativity, enrich local art, and guide both new and practiced writers in their craft. Conference fee is $35 and $40 at the door. Poetry and Fiction contest submissions are due by February 10, 

Next year I’ll try to remember to post about this ahead of time, so that more people have a chance to enter the Poetry and Fiction writing contests.heron

Also, every year they do a publication, featuring the work of the contest winners and of the presenters. My short story, “You Can Gossip When You Own a Bar” is included in the 2016 Jambalaya Anthology. Here’s the link:

******

Photo Credit: “Grey Heron.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_heron

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Did I Mention I got an Honorable Mention???

year-in-pot

My short story, “Nine Dead Dope Dealers” just received an Honorable Mention in the Mystery/Crime Category of the 2016 Writers Digest Popular Fiction Contest! I will post info on how to read the story here,when I find out.  (And I’m thrilled to have won something, but oh the cool prizes I missed: Grand Prize was $2500 in cold hard cash and an all- expenses paid trip to the Writers Digest Conference in NYC, and books, etc. First Prize was $500 in cold hard cash and some books and other stuff.)

Nah, I didn’t win any money or a free conference trip, but I won  a copy of the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2017 and my story will be promoted in the Writers Digest Magazine (both Print and Digital Versions).

So, I can’t complain. It was a fun story to write, and I felt like I was revisiting the old San Francisco crowd.

***********

Photo Credit: “The Year in Pot” NBC News. http://tinyurl.com/zc2vhbc

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8th Annual Bartleby Snopes Dialogue Only Short Story Contest!

winners

 

http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/contests.htm

 

My short story, “We’re Ready When You Are” won fifth place in the 2016 Bartleby Snopes Dialogue Only Short Story Contest. It was tricky, but fun, to write dialogue without using any tag lines, (such as he said/she said) or descriptive passages.

 

You will be able to read all of the stories, from first to fifth place, in the magazine, which comes out in January 2017. It will be available for purchase as both a print magazine and in electronic format.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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