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I just took my GRE and am applying to graduate programs in creative writing. I thought I might as well throw up two things in my portfolio for you guys to read through first.


Feel free to edit as much as you would like and leave comments. Thanks.


#1- Intersections (non-fiction)


There are soliloquy about sunrises, sonnets on sunsets, and the time between the two is covered by authors, poets, playwrights, and the majority of a library. That’s when things happen, when people are awake, and it makes sense that people talk about it. The beauty of the sun peaking over the ocean, or the depressing gloom of a cloudy day are thought of as great writing because everyone’s awake to see them. Everyone over the age of eight has seen a sunset that they remember, a patch of clouds that held their fascination for longer than a glance, or something; be it a tree, building, car, or just the carpet of your bedroom; lit by the sun in just the perfect way that you had to stop and stare.



You need light. It’s medically proven, sunlight makes you happy. I lived near the artic circle, the actual one, not the fast food chain, for a while and the sun is important. The lack of sun doesn’t just make you sad, it gives you SAD (seasonal acute depression). The sun disappears for the winter and only shows up for as long as an episode of your favorite TV drama. It’s a shame if the sun and your favorite TV drama show up at the same time because you’re going to miss one of them. It’s dark at 3:00 in the afternoon like it’s dark at midnight everywhere else, and people get SAD. People feel the urge to jump in front of speeding trains more; the amounts of anti-depressant medication skyrocket; and everyone that can afford it fly south for the winter, like a messed up, pasty white, flock of sad northerners.


The sun is important, it makes you not get SAD but also makes people HAPPI (Heightened Amounts of Perky Personal Instances) if you will allow me to use a second grade spelling of ‘happy’. But the insomniac inside of me, hates the sun and loves the darkness. There are the given implications of me siding for the darkness, and saying that people should get out of the sun more often, but I’m sure I can live with it.


I grew up in Las Vegas, home of everything happening there and staying there, burnt out B, C, or even D-list stars, pimps, prostitutes, Garry Waddell and Paula Francis, Egypt, Paris, Venice, Rome, New York City, and triple digit summers. The summers in Vegas are hot, and it was in Vegas that I learned the joy of seeing the world when the sun was not up.


During the middle of the day, the best hours to get HAPPI and get rid of your SAD, the concrete adult playground of my home gets hot. It’s not an exaggeration, it’s serious. About a dozen people each summer die from the heat. I worked out in the sun as a lifeguard, and we would toast pop tarts by leaving them in the aluminum wrapping and putting them in the sun. After about an hour, or two, depending on if you were cooking on concrete or asphalt, you would have a warm sugary treat.


While growing up I heard people say things like, ‘it is hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk’ or something along those lines. Frying an egg is easy, anyone can do that, but that inspired me to take the pre-made cookie dough from a tube that you find near the eggs and butter at the grocery store, and bake it. Concrete isn’t hot enough to make cookies, but a parked car with the windows rolled up with a cookie sheet on the front dash is good enough to get a dozen baked cookies and a car that smelt like chocolate chip cookies for a few days. Grease monkeys can have the new car smell, I’ll take the chocolate chip cookie car smell.


I know the sun and what it can do to a person, but when growing up in Vegas you learn that there’s a limited amount of things you can do when it’s 120 degrees outside. The sunny hours are fun, but every construction worker, gardener, trash man, or public worker knows that if you do not want to loose gallons of water to sweat and put yourself at risk for skin cancer, you start work at midnight. The coolest minute of the day is the minute before sunrise. You might have a high of 120, but at midnight it’ll drop back down to a bearable, comfortable, and most importantly, workable 80.


Those moments that aren’t covered by poets, those moments that are never seen by a nine to five worker, and those minutes of the day where there the majority of people are in their beds, are the most comfortable moments of the day. It sounds morbid when people call it the graveyard shift, but it’s not that sort of graveyard. It’s not a graveyard full of zombies lurching around wanting to eat brains; it’s a calm, peaceful, quiet, and empty graveyard that has a few visitors walking through it. When you go to a graveyard, there is never a large crowd, it is always peaceful, and even if there is someone else there, the graveyard is large enough that you never have to see them.


Every insomniac or graveyard worker has found the joy of having the world to themselves. There is joy in driving down the a road that during the daylight hours is bumper to bumper and congested, but at post midnight hours you can speed down it without a single car in sight. There is happiness in being able to go shopping and getting that prized parking spot next to the handicapped spot. The best moments are traffic lights with sensors on them. You are alone in the world and are special enough that even the lights (that have sensors on them) are willing to change for you.


For those moments in the post midnight hours, you are the ruler of the universe. Celebrities have to pay a lot of money to get a store all to themselves. Diplomats have to have police escorts to have the lights change for them. Insomniacs get the five star treatment whenever they want.


Next time that you’re annoyed with shopping at a store that is open for 24 hours, be it for the lack of service, how crowded the place is, or anything that would be completely different if you were the only person in the store, get out of the store and go shopping at 2:00 am. You’ll never want to shop during the sunny hours again. It’s almost a regal feeling of being able to walk through the grocery store and the biggest problem that you run into is a fellow insomniac stocking a sold out food that’s on sell, just for you. You know that your fruit is the freshest because you can stop the person stocking your apples, and grab what you need from their crate.


There’s the ego-stroking bonuses of going out late at night, being treated like a king, having the world to yourself, and being able to do just about whatever you want with no one watching; but just like the daylight times, there is beauty in the midnight hours. I didn’t realize just how beautiful night time in a city was, until I managed to get out of the city. It was in a small town that I realized that stars are great, and being able to actually see them was impressive, but there’s something mesmerizing about an empty parking lot lit by twenty foot high light poles. The artificial light of the midnight hours takes things that you are use to and, quite literally, lights them in a way that you never expected. You get glimpses of the beauty that neon brings to things around 10:00, but there are people moving around and messing up the picture.


It might seem silly, that you can’t see art and beauty when there are people around, but anyone who has been to a famous museum like the Louvre knows how annoying people can be. You can see the Mona Lisa, but you have to jump up and down to catch a glimpse of her over the heads of the hundred other people crammed into the room trying to see her faint smile. There’s something missing when you’re crowded, when there are people walking through your line of sight all the time. It is the art critics dream to have ten minutes alone with Lisa. Those ten minutes of being able to sit and stare without any distractions would mean more to a respecter of art than an entire day crammed into the Mona Lisa room, fighting with the crowds, the din of everyone talking, and the heat of that many bodies bumping and jostling for position to make it to the velvet ropes.


The midnight hours are the hours that you can see the beauty of a city. One of my favorite things to look at are intersections. During daylight hours we rush through them, wait at them, and hardly think twice as we see the lights change colors. When no one is around and the world has turned off for the night, intersections are a city’s installation art, brought to you by the very artistic group; the Department of Transportation. Intersections are amazing because the light changes. There is beauty in concrete buildings colored with neon lights, but there is art when that lighting changes and alters the entire image. With one intersection, you get to see the world of a lively emerald green, a shining golden yellow, and a harsh brilliant ruby red. You also get the lights conflicting with each other. When there is that lively green, only 90 degrees away there is a harsh, conflicting red. For those that know your color wheel, green and red are opposites, they are perfect polar opposites and Department of Transportation was artistic enough, and brave enough, to light the same intersection, the same buildings, and the same world, in these strongly conflicting colors.


Unlike other outside instillation art pieces, intersections only get better when weather is added. When it’s windy, and I really mean gusting, the stationary Christmas tree of the intersections lights begin to dance. Shadows begin to do a quick mamba that only they can hear the beat of, and they dip, twirl, and sway to it. Snow is also an added bonus to any midnight art critic. It takes the light of the street and reflects it into the air. It has to be fresh, white, clean snow, but with the change of a light, an entire pile of snow can become a glowing green mass from an alien planet, a dirty joke about yellow snow, or a blood splattered war zone.


The holy grail of insomniatic art is a rainy night. Rain cleans up the world, taking away any of the dirt and grime from the daylight hours, but it also makes everything shine and shimmer. Your favorite intersection is only magnified by rain because the roads and buildings begin to glow. A building that use to be sort of interesting, on a rainy day becomes a concrete chandelier with a rainbow of light shimmering and glistening from the water.


Go to sleep early, set your alarm, or stay awake until 2 or 3, and go out and see the secret that the late night workers and insomniacs have been keeping to themselves. It’s a different world, waiting for you. You’ll have the world to yourself, an entire art gallery to frolic through and make your own. Just make sure you get out of the streets before 5 because nothing ruins a good insomnia driven romp through the streets like having an over anxious high strung business man rushing through your piece of art in his four door sedan while he shaves his morning stubble with an electric razor.


#2- Serious Business (short story- fiction)


Carl poked his head through the opening in David’s cubical while he was walking down the long row of office cubicles. “Do you have the fiscal reports done for the Knight case yet?â€


David spun around in his chair to face his shift supervisor, or at least the person that David had to call his shift supervisor after his promotion earlier that week. “You told me when I came in the morning to get it to you as soon as possible. Trust me when I say that I’ll get it to you as soon as possible.â€


“Just make sure you have it to me by lunch.â€


“I can’t do a case that big in three hours. I’m going to need an extension to at least this afternoon and most likely even then you won’t see the file until I walk out the door because it’s going to take me all day.â€


“Don’t tell me how long it’s going to take. I’ve written hundreds of those reports, I know exactly what is going on. I need it on my desk by lunch.â€


“And if I’m going to do a good job with it, instead of just rushing through it and making it look like I’m working at breakneck speeds like you always did, I’m going to need until the end of the day.â€


“Lunch, my desk.â€


“I’ll get it to your desk by closing time. Don’t get your panties in a bunch.â€


That caught the attention of Crystal and Richard, the next door neighbors of David’s cubicle. Crystal’s head crept over the top of the cubical wall. Carl spun his attention towards the floating head. “What do you want Crystal?â€


Crystal pushed a strand of black hair behind her ear trying to calm down enough to make sense when she finally spoke instead of stammering. “I just think that you two could possibly use what the unity advisor suggested to us last time he came to our floor and held that meeting about work place unity.â€


David’s other next door neighbor Richard followed Crystal’s lead and poked his head above the divider on the other side of the cubical. “I’ve heard that it’s worked really well for the guys up on fourth floor. Two weeks ago I made it to one of the matches, and it’s true, it really does bring the floor together.â€


“No one asked what you thought. It shouldn’t take a fight to resolve something like when a report needs to be finished so that the case file can actually be finished instead of sitting in limbo waiting for Petersen to finally get off of his lazy butt and do some work.â€


David leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms against his chest. “I think that’s just code for you being too scared to fight me.â€


“No, it’s just not worth my time. There are more important things to focus on than kicking your butt back to yesterday so you could start this project and take your sweet time and be able to have it to me on my desk by lunch.â€


Crystal looked across the cubical to the other floating head. “Richard, if I’m not mistaken, this sounds like a fight. I’ll propose it if you’ll second it.â€


“It follows all of the criteria as set by the unity adviser for a sanctioned fight, so I’ll second it.â€


Crystal’s floating head disappeared behind the partition and then came back along with her arm that held a small paper. She squinted just a bit so that she could make out the official text so she wouldn’t propose the fight wrong and get in trouble for it. “I officially propose that David and Carl face off today in a fight to the death. The victor will be declared winner of the argument, where as the looser has to cope with their death. In the case of a simultaneous death of both opponents, there will be no declared winner. The match will be one fall. Tap outs, time outs, or restroom breaks will not be recognized and the fight will in no case be paused. Exact fight preferences including the final location and the permission or denial of the use of weapons will occur directly before the fight begins, but must be agreed upon by both participants and must take no longer than two minutes.â€


Robert quickly responded with, “I second the proposal.â€


“Well then, it’s official. I’ll go to the conference room to check when it will be open for scheduling. I’ll tell you two when your fight will be as soon as I find out.†Crystal disappeared back to her office and left to find out when the fight could happen. She took the stairwell and diverted her trip through the second floor, up through the fourth, finally ending up on the first floor, telling the rest of the building that there was going to be a fight. After a quick visit to Jennifer, the front desk receptionist, 12:00 became the set time for the gladiatorial clash. She took the elevator back to the third floor to tell the combatants when they would have to brawl.


Carl still stood in the doorway to the cubical. “12:00 is soon, David. You better start working on that report now so that once I kill you the report will already be finished.â€


“And you better go bug someone else because you won’t be able to after 12:05. People don’t seem to take bossing around from a know-it-all that well after watching him get slaughtered.â€


“Don’t worry, I’m thinking that a sledge hammer to your head will work just fine.â€


David was comfortable with a bit of talk. It came with the territory. If you threaten to kill someone and you only say a few words about it, that’s just odd. You have to make it known that you’re going to win, that they will be dead, and that no matter what happens you’ll be last one standing. “Hammers? I don’t know what world you’re living in, but hammers are out of the question. Same with guns, and mortars. You might be able to get me to agree to grenades and other small things like that. I’m sure you’d make a great pink mist when they hit you.â€


“I know your type. You’re going to run away and hide behind a punching bag or something like that, aren’t you? Then when I get close you’re going to try to throw some stupid ninja smoke in my way so that I can’t see you. Go ahead, run away like a little girl.â€


“I hate to point this out, Carl, but from what I heard, you fight with a dress on. You don’t really have much room to call me a girl with how I fight when you actually are a girl when you fight. Does your wife know about this? I’m sure she’d love to hear how you fight with a dress on.â€


“It’s not a bad thing. A girl could kick your fluffy jelly butt any day of the week.â€


“If you are nice I’ll kill you with my fluffy pink butt in the first minute and not drag out your death any longer than it needs to be.â€


Steven, the office manager, was walking down the hallway, heard the insults, and stepped behind Carl in the doorway to the cubical. “Good morning, gentlemen. Being productive I see.†Steven put his hand on Carl’s shoulder, making Carl’s heart beat just a little bit faster. “As exciting as a fight is, this is still a work environment, and I would like it to be treated as such. I don’t care what the unity adviser said when he came in. I do not enjoy hearing my employees talking about what happened in the last fight where Jennifer found a very creative way to kill a person with a flower. It’s a waste of company time.â€


“Jennifer? The receptionist?†Carl asked, surprised that she would ever take part in a fight; she didn’t seem the type. Apparently killer instinct was par for the course in booking appointments, signing in packages from UPS, and answering phone calls.


“Yeah, she took out George from janitorial. I wasn’t able to attend to see how it happened because I was doing work, unlike you two. I don’t care if you’re going to fight. With all of this time you’ve wasted you should call up your families and tell them you might be coming home in a body bag because if the fight doesn’t kill you, I will. We still have a corporation to run, and the company can’t afford you two worrying about some insignificant fight.â€


“I was just leaving, sir.†Carl turned and headed out of the cubical.


Steven took a step closer to David, who was in his chair and leaned towards him. “I’ve seen him fight before. Not at work, but there was this underground thing that he showed up to. Don’t under estimate the skirt; it might be weird, but he took out a good friend of mine with it. Just whatever you do, don’t agree to explosives. He’s slow with mortars, so you might want to consider them just to make him slow down. Also, side step around his butt when he tries to hit you with it. Don’t ask how I know, but I do. Just watch out for it.â€


“Thanks for the advice, Steve, but just because I haven’t gotten into a fight here at work doesn’t mean that I’m new to this. We weren’t this hardcore back when I was at college; it wasn’t like we would pull an audience to watch it, but I know what I’m doing.â€


“Just be careful. You might have known the old rules, but things have changed in the past years from what they use to be. It’s not as fast and furious any more; the rules make it so that you have to slow down.â€


David turned around in his desk chair to face Steven in hopes to make sure that he got his point across. “I know. I’ve sparred a bit with the new rules. I like the old ones better, but I do just fine for myself with the new ones.â€


“Just remember there’s no bonus points for killing him with style. Get the job done. Don’t taunt him; just do it. I know that there’s going to be an audience but . . .â€


“Steven, I’ve got it. Thank you for the advice, but, like you said to get Carl out of here; I need to get some work done.â€


The office didn’t get much done within the next hour; everyone was talking about the upcoming fight. There were side bets going through the office, and Chase on the first floor was more busy with keeping track of the money and different bets than he was with his work. Bets were as simple as to who won and as complicated as who would hit first, who would dodge the most, what people’s hit percentages would be, or even who would take the most damage. Just because someone takes the most damage didn’t mean that they’re the one who was going to die first.


The odds didn’t look good for Carl. Most of the office was betting against him. The only thing that Carl was favored for was who was going to grab an item first, assuming they were even allowed.


At 11:45 people started to take their lunch breaks. It was fifteen minutes before the fight, but they gathered up their brown sacked lunches, microwaved their frozen low fat meals, and shoved their dollars and quarters into vending machines. They prepared their food and walked quickly, making sure not to run, to the conference room. The rest of the office started to fill the rows of seats starting at the second row. No one dared to sit in the first row after the mishap of the tech support fight where Cameron in the front row got hit by Bhairav when he wasn’t paying attention. Sure, you could see better, but no one wanted to risk becoming part of the fight when they didn’t have to be.


The room filled up by 11:55, people taking up every chair, every place to sit in the aisles, and even the doorways had people standing in them munching on their apples waiting for David and Carl to arrive. David and Carl both walked in and shuffled around people to make it to the front of the room.


The Unity Advisor was standing at the front waiting to referee the fight. He turned on the video projector mounted to the ceiling to light up the front of the room, and dimmed the rest. “Have you two decided on weapons and items yet, or do we need to take two minutes to solve that problem?â€


David looked over to Carl. “I don’t really want any weapons, but if Carl thinks that he needs to use them as a crutch, I’ll be okay with some of them.â€


“I don’t need a crutch to take you down. I’ll agree to having no items.â€


“Well that was easy. Have you decided on a location yet?â€


David worked on Carl’s ego again. “I don’t need a special place to do this. I don’t want any complaints from Carl when he says that he got cheated by the area and that was the only way I won. I’d like to do this at FD.â€


Carl knew that he couldn’t pick his favorite area because it was not a friendly place to fight, so he agreed to FD.


The Unity Advisor pointed towards the center of the first row. “Now, if the two of you could stand here in the center, we can get started with this. I don’t want this to take up any more time from your lunch breaks than needed.â€


David and Carl both took their spots in front of the room facing the screen. The Unity Advisor reached into a grocery bag and pulled out one white and one black nunchuck, handed the white to David and the black one to Carl. “I don’t need to remind you guys that there are no do-overs. Whoever wins, wins. Carl if you win, the Knight case is due directly after the fight. David if you win, the Knight case isn’t due until the end of your work day.†He hit a few buttons and the overhead projector flashed a screen full of pictures on the overhead screen. “Go ahead and pick your character.â€


David went straight for Kirby, and Carl, although mocked for being a girl, moved his Wii nunchuck to select Princess Peach. The Unity Advisor turned off all of the extra weapons through the item screen and picked Final Destination as the level for the fight to be on. The in-game announcer counted down over the conference room speakers, “Three, two, one, GO!†and the fight to the death between Kirby and Peach began.

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Hmmm... you said "feel free to edit," so be careful what you wish for!


Congrats on kicking the GRE in the face & good luck with your applications!

Initial thoughts & comments:


- SAD is actually Seasonal Affective Disorder; if you were deliberately just working with the acronym to counterpoint the "happi" concept, then you can just go wild with creative license-- but since it's an actual disorder, cross-checking your facts doesn't hurt. In fact, cross-checking facts never hurts if you're trying to use facts. Especially if you're giving definitions.


- Commas are tricky bastards. If you try to use them to break up to flow of a sentence at the same time you're making sequential lists, it's going to turn into one giant confusing bundle of blah:

There are soliloquy about sunrises, sonnets on sunsets, and the time between the two is covered by authors, poets, playwrights, and the majority of a library.

The first two commas in this sentence imply that the third item [sunrises, sonnets, and ____] is going to be one more in the series. However, what you have instead is another clause, which both obscures the meaning of what that clause is trying to convey (I had to reread it to realize you were referring to the time between sunrises and sunsets. and not sunrises and sonnets, or sonnets and sunsets, or...) and the overall structure of the sentence. The first way I can think of making it flow (without changing or adding any meanings) is:

There are soliloquies about sunrises, and sonnets about sunsets; the time between the two has been covered by authors, poets, playwrights, and the majority of a library.

(also, the plural of "soliloquy" is "soliloquies.")

But to lead into the point you're trying to emphasize-- the contrast between how well day is documented, and whether or not night is-- you might want to guide the reader into the contrast, with something like this:

There are countless soliloquies written about sunrises, and sonnets about sunsets; the swath of daytime between the two has been thoroughly covered by authors, poets, playwrights, and the majority of a library.

With "majority of a library," you're already trying to make the point that there's a tangible volume to this writing. But emphasize it further. It sets you up well to make contrasts later on. You can almost hear the "but..." coming afterward.


But the insomniac inside of me, hates the sun and loves the darkness. There are the given implications of me siding for the darkness, and saying that people should get out of the sun more often, but I’m sure I can live with it.

The first two commas in this quote aren't necessary. Also, keep an eye on number agreement-- "implications" follows through into "but I'm sure I can live with them."


- It took me a while to get to the overall point of the first piece. It jumps around a bit without giving me a cohesive sense of what all the parts were trying to show & tell me by the end. Even jumpy stream-of-consciousness writing has a flow to it (although it's one based in inconsistency by its very nature). In creative writing, everything has a purpose, from the smallest sentence to one fragment of a long run-on. Examine what role each part plays in the greater whole.



- Consistency! I mean, you could just foist this off on an editor to deal with, but be consistent. I see "unity advisor," "unity adviser," capitalized and uncapitalized, all at different times throughout your story. Be careful.


- Make sure casual dialogue sounds like something you'd say in real life. Or dramatically enough to be from a movie. (Or a novel.) There's no middle ground. The dialogue here sounds kind of stilted.


They prepared their food and walked quickly, making sure not to run, to the conference room.

Make sure sentence interruptions are worth the message you need to send by breaking up the sentence. Otherwise it's superfluous. Here, you could easily move "making sure not to run" to the end of the sentence, and still both convey a complete thought & add that little note about their walking pace.




aaaand that's a start. hope that's of some help! I no longer do creative writing myself (well, creative fiction, anyway), but I'm still a freelance proofreader & editor. if you'd like a straight-up proofreader, I could fling a Word document with tracked changes all over them, grammar/spelling-wise. ...maybe next week, as things are incredibly hectic right now. more thorough structural criticism would take me a lot longer.

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I love people that actually respond and are willing to put some red ink on paper!


Just to show how annoying my current writing group is, I'll quote what they wrote about Intersections:


"there's a lot of great word images throughout this piece, and that's probably the most enjoyably part of it for me. The piece entire I think also does a lot to reveal you as the author, not only your style in writing but your own personality, history, and attitude. If this had been the monologue of a fictional figure, even broken up by dialogue or a narrator's commentary, it would be a great way to flesh out that character. On the other side, I felt like I was already very far into the piece before I had a sense of your direction, of your purpose."


That was the only comment and you can tell how useful that scrap of text was.


I hate my writing group I'm with right now. *sigh*

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