Monday, November 1, 2010

An Exerpt/100th post

Apparently this is Wood's Stock post number 100. I feel very accomplished, especially since my side project Wood Vs. Willis fizzled out at 27.

In a perfect world I would have planned something epic for number 100 but since I haven't posted in a while I'm anxious to get something up. So, here's the opening scene of a short fiction story I'm working on for an English class.

As you may notice, there's a little bit of "Art imitating life" here, but in my opinion all fiction is auto-biographical. Burroway wrote that you love some of your characters because they remind you of yourself, and you hate other characters for the same reason.


Brent sat facing an empty desk. He tapped his foot on the floor and thought about the phone calls he needed to make. Outside, the sun was rising and the rays hit the blinds at just the right angle to enter the otherwise dimly lit room and produce a soft orange glow. Behind him the door shut, and he heard Mike walking back towards him.

“You know why I called you in here?” Mike asked slipping into his leather chair.

“I do.” He did.

“And you are aware that you screwed the pooch on that Bernstrum article?” Mike said, leaning forward and placing his hands on his desk, his fingers interlocking into one giant fist.

“I am.” He was.

Bernstrum, a local businessman, ran a rather successful appliance store that had just recently expanded into the tri-county area. He was a family man, a tithe-payer, and a lousy driver after a night out. Two weeks before, Bernstrum had wrapped his Hyundai around a particularly large tree. His passenger was a 17-year-old gem of a girl who at the time was wearing little more than the apron Bernstrum Appliance employees wore behind the register. The airbag, along with the bourbon bubbling its way to his liver, had knocked him out, meaning he didn’t have time to pull up his pants before the authorities and, more importantly, Brent arrived -- camera in hand.

Sure, it was a decent enough story as it was; the kind of front page juice that made people look up from their pancakes and show their wives. Brent knew, however, that no misstep comes to the prom alone so he began to dig. Turns out Bernstrum funded his nights out with Tanya – the gem – with the help of some petty cash from the company and what was a nice little tale of “when good men go bad” was suddenly a good-old-fashioned scandal. His sources wouldn’t go on the record but Bernstrum was guilty as hell and no small-town broom-pusher was going to go through the hassle of a libel trial, so Brent slapped together a bundle of allegations and anonymous sources and sent the puppy off to print.

Ethical? Not even slightly. Brent knew the black, white and grey of journalism but in today’s market, where everyday another paper went under, the only ethics that he cared about was what got readers to the page. His editor, Mike, thought the exact same thing but had to play his part, which is why he was sitting, just then, in Mike’s office getting his slap on the wrist.

“If this guy sues us–”

“You can’t sue unless your rich or you’re innocent,” Brent said, “and Walter Bernstrum is neither. The guy is already waist deep in statutory quicksand and he knows that if he starts to squawk libel then the authorities will look into his finances and find the same things I did – the legal way – and then we’re home free.”

Mike was silent for a moment. He closed his eyes against a mental strain and let out a slow purposeful breath.

“All right, we’re safe. But that doesn’t change the fact that you broke every rule in the book, no listen to me, you built a story on unsubstantiated claims and published defamatory information without a single source.”

“It’s true, who cares who said it,” Brent said.

“The readers expect—”

“The readers don’t expect shit and you know it,” Brent said. “You think they asked themselves ‘gee, I’m not sure if this information in credible’? No, they laughed at that a stupid man was dumb enough to get caught and then turned to the funnies at the back.”

Another moment passed and Mike leaned back in his chair.

“You’re off the news desk.”

“Wait just one—”

“No, you know that I’m being soft. If you were anyone else you’d be sitting on your hands for month. Cameron has a story for you, we’ll talk again in a couple of weeks.”

“Mike, come on—”

“No,” Mike said, grabbing a pen and working at a paper on his desk. “You’d better get going on her story if you want to get paid this month.”

Brent sat staring at the top of Mike’s bald head. In truth, he had expected this. It wasn’t the first time he had been exiled to the features section for bad behavior. Most of the writers would kill for the bump to features but not Brent, he was a news man through and through. He knew there was no use arguing, mostly because it was less an argument than a mere formality, so with a sigh he got up and headed out to the newsroom.

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