Saturday, May 14, 2016


John M. Daniel’s Blog
May 14, 2016

<photo: John teaching photo>

Greetings, story writers, story readers, story tellers, and story listeners. Today and this week I’m happy to showcase the talents of ten writers who sent me their 99-word stories for this month. The prompt I provided was:

Think of something you feel strongly about, an opinion that defines who you are—or who you are not—politically, spiritually, economically, professionally, or any other important way. Why is it important? When did this self-knowledge come to you, and how did it change your life? Show (don't tell) this in the context of a story.”

I hoped this exercise would yield stories packed with conflict, choice, change, and consequence. Something happened, causing the narrator to make a choice; and the consequence of the choice was a change. The point I’m making here is that stories often depend on turning points, because when you think about it, life itself is made up of turning points large and small. Those turning points often if not usually result in an attitude change, making the narrator a slightly or radically different person. I believe we all have such stories to tell about why we are the way we are.

The results were mixed. Some of the stories submitted illustrated the points I’ve just made. Some did not. That doesn’t mean the stories in Group A were better than those in Group B. I think what it means is I wasn’t clear enough about what I wanted. And the heck with that; what I wanted is not the point. What it really means is people write what they’re inspired to write, and I can learn something from all the different responses to my prompt.

And, on second examination, I find that in each of the stories I received, including those stories inspired by the alternate prompt about the cherished gravy boat, the plot hinges on a turning point of some sort. Turning points. They are the essence of story and the essence of life.


A Collection of 99-word Stories

by Cathy Mayrides

I was a precocious and noisy baby. But I blossomed into a self-conscious, timid child and then a shy young adult.
I worked as a waitress in a bustling Greek diner. On my first day, I was cursed at, spilled on, stiffed, and insulted. By the second week, I considered quitting.
Then, I had a fight with the misogynist cook, who threw spaghetti at me. Furious, I told him to “fuck off!”
There was applause.
I came out of my shell that very day. This job made me strong and resilient. I learned how to stick up for myself.


by Carol Murphy

I spent every day of my seventeenth summer at the club. At first I stayed by the pool, working on my tan. That’s how I met Louie, the tennis pro.
Louie courted me and won my girlhood—game, set, and match. He was my first affair. Then I found out he was also serving aces to three other members.
In the game of tennis, “love” means nothing.
I quit tennis.
Stewie, the golf pro, invited me to play a round with him, and then he signed me up for lessons.
Phooey on Louie. Stewie had a better stroke anyway.


by Pat Shevlin

Anticipation had been building since the press release. Homeless families filed into sports arenas across the country, many quizzically wondering: “What is going to happen? Who is coming?”
She finally appeared on the big screen, silencing the boisterous crowds: “Today your lives are changed forever; a gift from America’s wealthiest citizens and Habitat for Humanity. Today you’re going to get a house.” She pointed jubilantly. “And you’re going to get a house.… Kids, you’re all going to get a house!”
Men and women cried and screams of joy erupted, waking me from another dream in which I was Oprah.


by Carol Dray

The breakfront was off limits to me. Women with wrinkled hands and spiny fingers adorned with platinum rings spiraling loosely behind walnut sized knuckles held guard. In royal procession, they drained it—hand painted, gold embossed china shipped from a land I couldn’t pronounce, to set out like the Holy Eucharist and be returned to the felt-lined shelves in reverence.
Plates and bowls were passed around, the docents clucking at careless hands.
An Uncle drained his wine, then held the gravy boat belonging to my great-grandmother over his full plate, letting it slip and shatter.
Ceremoniously, he belched: “Amen!”


by Jerry Giammatteo

Luis was different. He wasn’t from America, spoke accented English and was not into sports or horseplay. Luis was a serious boy, a science nerd.
The kids at school shunned him. I didn’t purposefully like many others, but did nothing to welcome him either.
One day, I saw him looking particularly sad. “What’s wrong, Luis?” I asked.
“My dad is very sick,” he replied haltingly.
“Sorry to hear that,” I responded, feeling bad.
At lunch that day, Luis was sitting alone, as usual. I saw him and approached.
“May I sit here?” I asked.
“Sure,” Luis said, smiling widely.


by Christine Viscuso

 “I’ve spent sleepless nights deciding whether to vote for Hillary or Bernie.” I shoved my wine goblet, for a refill, in front of my husband.
 “I know, dear. You’ve kept me up with your tossing and turning.”
 “Bernie believes in a better life for the poor and middle class, health insurance for all, breaking up big banks, free college. And he mentioned us seniors. I agree with him. But Hillary is realistic as to how to pay for all that. Well, I finally decided.”
 “I went to vote for Bernie and was turned away. It’s a closed election!”


By John Hellen

My first memory of anyone thinking I had any writing talent was when I was in the USN. I played baseball, but hardly anyone from our base came to watch us play. I even put a notice on our board that the Knights of the Round Table were jousting and competing, but no one was coming to see them.
Finally I pleaded for them to support our team. It worked. Officers and their families came to watch us play.

I’m 78 and retired. I received a notice offering a Creative Writing course. I took it, and you’re reading it.


by Diane Hallett

My great-grandmother died last month. The will was read yesterday. Mary got the quilts, Uncle Ralph her bike, and the farm went to Monks in Poughkeepsie. I got the gravy boat. I guess she took my praise for her gravy last Thanksgiving to heart.
Perhaps it could be a vase for flowers, or a container for my shell collection, or a goldfish bowl? Ungrateful me.
It’s a bird bath! I ran outside, but tripped over the dog. It shattered, but amazingly it had a secret in the lining; diamonds and gold are everywhere.
Thanks Grandma. Your gravy is delicious!


By Diane S. Morelli

Marcy owned the tiny flower shop by the subway station. People frequented her store to buy spirited floral arrangements. Marcy’s bold opinions were included for free with each purchase.
Lana worked at the neighboring beauty salon. Each payday, she treated herself to flowers. Lana once said to Marcy, “I want you make a breathtaking bridal bouquet for me.”
“With pleasure. Now you stop wasting time on men who are wrong for you.”
“But, Marcy. Love takes time to blossom.”
“Fifteen minutes. Give or take a few.”
Lana balked. Then she met Alexander.
Marcy asked, “Where?”
“Speed-dating. Thanks to you.”


by Madelyn Lorber

Somewhere around the age of forty- two, I came to a decision.
I was going to make changes in my thought process. I determined: my appearance was okay, and that was good enough; I was reasonably intelligent, and that was terrific; I was more fortunate than most, so I embraced that fact; and if I needed to be submissive, on occasion, or vigorous, it would merely be an act that served me well.
From that time forward to today, for the most part, my life as a mate, parent, child, sibling, relative, friend, and citizen has rewarded that change.


Calling all published authors—
I feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for June’s 99-word story submissions is June first. The stories will appear on my blog post for June 11 and remain there for one week.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a story containing or inspired by this sentence: “I came home to a place I’d never been before.”


And now a word from our sponsor:

Generous Helpings
Six Stories of California, Calamity, and Love
Shoreline Press
ISBN 1-885375-5
Paperback, $12.00. Send check to 
John M. Daniel, PO Box 2790, McKinleyville, CA 95519
For an autographed copy, call (800) 662-8351
and place your order by phone

The characters in John M. Daniel's collection of fiction walk in and out of each other's stories, giving the book a friendly continuity. The book is also held together by the author's obvious enjoyment of old-fashioned popular song; most of the stories are named after American standards, and one of the recurring characters is a piano player named Casey, who views the world as his own piano bar.

Also common to the stories in Generous Helpings is the theme of California disasters. These stories, as different as they are from one another, contain such memorable events as the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Painted Cave fire, the Rodney King riots, and the devastating El Niño storms of 1983.

But the most important unifying theme of this book is suggested by the title: that people everywhere survive their problems and make progress only by helping one another. Generous Helpings is a slender volume of long short stories, and a big-hearted book.
Review Quotes

“Mr. Daniel’s writing is soft and accomplished with wry understatements and overstatements tossed in when you don’t expect them.…This is fun and easy reading, generous in ways you should come to appreciate.”
—Lin Rolens, Santa Barbara News-Press

“Daniel is an extraordinarily readable writer.”
—D. J. Paladino, Santa Barbara Independent

“Great reading!”
—Midwest Book Review


Thank you, friends, for stopping by. It's always a pleasure to chat about stories, and to share the joy that story gives us. I look forward to seeing you next week, I hope. Till then, so long.



  1. These are great snippets. John, you come up with some of the most interesting topics.

  2. These are great snippets. John, you come up with some of the most interesting topics.

    1. Glad you enjoy them, Augie. I'm looking forward to your post on this blog next week!

    2. John, I appreciate you allowing me the space. Once again thank you

  3. As usual, your guest's 99-word stories are fascinating. Wordy me.. I couldn't do it. I think in pages, not in three paragraphs!

  4. Elaine, I dare you to give it a try--you're likely to get hooked and crank them out as if they were pages!

  5. So great to read your blog each week, John. And the talent of the writers -- I'm delighted that they appear each month. As for Generous Helpings, it's here on my shelf, partly-read. I've got to read more!

    1. Many thanks, Eileen, as always!

    2. The House Style sheet is wonderful, John. I'll share your blog site with SBWC participants in my workshop. It all applies to poetry also (though they are famous for breaking rules). Wish you were still at the conference. We miss you.