I wasn’t actually planning to take part this month, because I’m up to my neck in translation work (specifications specifying the bleeding obvious in great and extensive detail) and the theme “politically incorrect” didn’t appeal to me at all, because I interpreted it as “write something horribly offensive” and I don’t want to do that.
However, then inspiration struck in the form of this TV commercial for Heinz Ketchup. Now I like Heinz Ketchup, I really do. Heinz is my brand of choice for ketchup and for baked beans. Nonetheless, the commercial infuriated me, particularly the scene near the end where a man distracts his girlfriend with a kiss, so he can sneak some ketchup into her pasta sauce. First of all, because ketchup does not belong in pasta sauce, unless you’re having Japanese style Spaghetti Napolitan. Secondly, I hated the boyfriend’s patronizing behaviour. He doesn’t ask her if they can add ketchup to the sauce nor does he add ketchup to his own serving after the fact, no he distracts her and just dumps it in. The fact that the song playing over the commercial is “One way or another”, originally by Blondie, which must be one of the most irritating tunes known to mankind, doesn’t help either. I even managed to sneak the song into the story BTW.
As I watched the commercial, I jokingly said, “If that was my boyfriend, I’d brain him with the ketchup bottle.” And then I thought, what if she really did brain him with the ketchup bottle? What if she actually killed him? What else would have to go wrong in a relationship that an argument over pasta sauce would escalate to murder?
So I began writing and wrote all 3600 words of Seeing Red straight through with a break for dinner. Again, I did very little research, because research-intensive stories don’t really work for the very limited timeframe of an eight hour challenge. I did look up the NFL playoffs of the 2013/14 season to coincide with the publication of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, the book Maggie is reading. Now I don’t care about American football at all and initially I just picked the names of two teams I’d heard of. But it occurred to me that other people would care and so I picked a real match, the playoff match between the New Orleans Saints (who are one of the very few teams I’ve heard of and the only one I ever saw in action more than 30 years ago) and the Seattle Seahawks. And while I was at it, I also had to look up the average length of a match of American football.
An unexpected difficulty was posed by Dan’s preference for inauthentic overly sweet pasta sauce. Initially I wanted to have Dan say that he liked Mirácoli, which is dry spaghetti sold in a all-in-one package with some kind of tomato sauce concentrate, a spice sachet and a sachet of faux Parmesan cheese flakes. Here in Germany, Mirácoli is a very well known brand and pretty much synonymous with faux Italian pasta. It’s something that kids like (plus, it’s easy to make for yourself, even if you’re a kid) and adults usually don’t. And yes, the sauce – at least as I remember it, since I haven’t actually eaten it in more than twenty years – tastes more like ketchup than like normal tomato sauce.
So I had Dan proclaim his love for Mirácoli and then decided to do a quick check to confirm that Mirácoli was also available in the US. Since it was a brand of Kraft Foods, I assumed that it was, I just wanted to go sure. And that’s where the trouble started, for it turned out that even though Mirácoli was produced by Kraft Foods, it was only ever sold in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and entirely unknown in the US.
“Okay”, I thought, “They may not have Mirácoli, but they surely have something similar under another name.” So I checked some online groceries, but nothing remotely similar popped up. Next, I read taste test reports for tomato sauce in a jar. Again nothing. Finally, I came across Chef Boyardee, purveyors of canned pasta products. The brand is as ubiquitous in the US as Mirácoli is in Germany and it has a reputation as the sort of thing kids like, but that people usually grow out of once they become adults. And check out that ingredient list.
In the end, the good chef did not make it into the story after all, partly because I didn’t want to slander a real brand by having Maggie call it disgusting. Instead, Dan professes his preference for generic canned spaghetti.
Once I finished Seeing Red, it went through two editing/proofing passes. In the meantime, I found myself ambushed by another idea for a crime short, namely the story of an elderly woman who – when her husband experiences his third heart attack – makes very sure not to call 911 until he has safely expired. So I wrote a nice little 1000 word story named Third Time Lucky. Since 1000 words are too short for a standalone, I packaged the Third Time Lucky together with Seeing Red, a good match, since both stories have a similar theme.
I checked my favourite free stockphoto site, found a suitable photo and created a cover. Again, the upload process took a couple of days, since Apple and the Tolino stores are rather slow.
So what did I learn from taking the eight hour e-book challenge for the third time? Nothing really new. Mostly it just confirmed what I had already learned from the first two go-arounds: Yes, it is possible to write a complete short story (or two in this case) from initial idea to publication ready e-book in approx. eight hours. It’s not for every story, since some of them need more marinating time. It also works best with shorts – and shorts that a fairly straight forward and not research intensive at that – since I doubt I could write and publish a novelette in eight hours.
Nonetheless, if you have some time, it’s a fun thing to do. And now to the result:
It was supposed to be just sex. But then Dan gradually wormed his way into Maggie’s life and into her apartment. And though Dan insists that he loves her, Maggie suspects he is far more interested in her sixty inch plasma screen.
Living together brings out the vast differences between Maggie and Dan. And so Maggie’s patience is stretched to a breaking point to a breaking point, until an argument about pasta sauce and Dan’s addiction to ketchup lead to murder…
Third Time Lucky
Hilda’s abusive husband Walter has already survived two massive heart attacks. But the third time’s a charm… or is it?
For more information, visit the Seeing Red page.
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