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The Dream Quest One Second Writing Prize Winner





Craig Rondinone

of Lakewood, New Jersey

for the following short story:

Today's Writer 



I am a writer. No, delete that. I am today’s writer. That means I am a writer who does not read. Do not get me wrong or misunderstand. I am literate. I read the heating instructions on frozen TV dinners. I read Sports Illustrated when I’m on the toilet. I read Maxim for the tips, toys and tits. I read political blogs on the internet. I read boxscores on ESPN.com. I read the business ticker on CNBC. I read the owner’s manual for my brand-new car. I read a page per day of Grammar For Dummies so I do not dangle participles. But I fail to read what I should, what a writer should, what a real writer should. I do not read the classics. I do not read Wolfe. I do not try Melville. I do not decipher Shakespeare. I do not navigate through Joyce. I used to leaf through Stephen King serials, but I never even lift the covers of his books anymore because I can just watch the adaptations on television a couple years down the pike. I am a writer who does not read, and sadly I am not alone.

Are there bartenders who do not drink? Are there athletes who never attend live sporting events? Are there stage actors who never buy Broadway tickets? Are there politicians who refuse to watch political debates? The questions sound inane. So why don’t writers read anymore? That question is not as easily answered. Like I stated, I am not an isolated case. This is a growing plague in the writing community, one akin to a potato famine, especially among authors born after 1970. Writers barely have time to write, let alone read. If writers could spend the allotted hours to sit down and thoroughly swallow a novel that was dense with metaphors, similes, imagery, scenery, vocabulary, dialogue, characterization, foreshadowing, conflict, pace, themes and symbols, who knows if they even would. There are other worldly distractions that borrow a writer’s attention these days.

You think you’re a writer? Answer these questions, Albom. If you had your choice, would you read a children’s story to your kids or sit them in front of the high-def flat screen to watch a purple dinosaur talk about his feelings? Do you jot down remembrances in a notebook or snap pictures with your digital camera when you are on a vacation? If you have a free half-hour to yourself and you are sitting alone at your computer, do you spend it writing a poetic stream of consciousness in Microsoft Word or babbling to an internet ally on the instant messenger?

I am today’s writer. I am a writer without any influences. I cannot recall a single book I read cover to cover in high school, college or lately. I can only remember bits and pieces of stories like a drunk whose memory has gray areas thanks to a lifetime of gin and tonics. I sometimes recollect more about the cliff notes than the novel itself. I look back now and con



myself into believing that I didn’t read much in my formative years because I didn’t want to unconsciously plagiarize anybody when I wrote my own stories. The truth is I was just plain lazy. Still am. What’s the only thing more embarrassing than being a coach potato? Being a couch potato who doesn’t read.

I am today’s writer. I do not manufacture as much time to write as I should, and could. People who are not truly writers often complain they do not have the free moments required to write, that their hours are divided by work, family, friends, commitments, religion, reality shows, gossip, bake sales, sleep, golf, etc. But if you love to write, honestly lust for it, wouldn’t you create space for it in your overflowing schedule? We all make time for the things we need and/or want to do. No matter how busy we are we always find a way to fit in five minutes for sex, 10 minutes to talk about the sex, 15 minutes to download songs to our iPod, 20 minutes to walk the dog around the block, 25 minutes to make tacos, 30 minutes to watch a sitcom, 35 minutes to do laundry, 40 minutes to pay bills, 50 minutes to chat on the cell, an hour to sweat at the gym, two hours to go to the DMV, a day to tan at the beach, a week to take a cruise and a month to spend in rehab. We can’t find time to write? If we took the last hour of every evening, the 60-minute span right before bedtime, and spent it wisely on writing, our world would become such a more literary place. Instead we surf ‘nets, place bets and watch Letterman and Leno comedy sets.

I am today’s writer. I write a weekly column about fantasy football, basketball, hockey and baseball that can be read online. I dabble in poetry, drumming up a free verse here or a rhyming verse there around once a month when something in my world pisses me off. And I write fiction — novellas, short stories and flash fiction. I cannot write a novel because my MTV-attention span forbids it. I get bored halfway through the process because I already know what the ending is and don’t want to waste months getting to it. So I scrap lengthy projects or shorten them to sizes I can contend with. I have a way with word counts.

In other words, I’m really not contributing anything to society with my writing other than some tidbits interesting to sports geeks and people who cannot read for more than 15 minutes at a time. Sound like a writer to you? Maybe not in past yesteryears, but today it is as common as a pencil point breaking.

I am today’s writer. I am comfortable with any sect. I can converse with the jocks about clothes, music, beers and babes. I can fuel passionate discussions about global warming with the environmentalists by bringing up the freezing winter temperatures in Buffalo. I can talk hip-hop with the urban beatboxers, country-western with the hillbillies and rock and roll with the burnouts. I can comment on current events with the ladies, stocks and bonds with the men and fashion with the crossdressers. And my writing is exactly the same way. I am a worldly wordsmith. I can be literary or incendiary. I can be comedy, drama or comedy-drama. I can break your heart or bust your gut. I can hit 20-foot jumpers or drive the lane and dunk. And I can do it all but I never do because 90 times out of 100, I choose something else over doing something involving writing.

I am today’s writer. My vocabulary does not come from a well-trained, well-schooled mind, although I possess one. No, it comes from a thesaurus and a dictionary. Why learn words when you can just find them in a book? I am not even sure I can spell definition, antonym or synonym without the aid of a grammatical tool. Sometimes my verb tenses don’t match up.



Sometimes I go with “Joe and Me” when it should be “Joe and I.” Sometimes I even use the wrong “there,” “their” or “they’re.” Thankfully I have capitalization, commas and periods down, although the run-on sentence is a vice I will never give up.

I am today’s writer. I am killing the careers of my compadres. I do not buy their works. I do not show up to their book signings. I do not give them good word-of-mouth. I do not listen to their lectures, read their interviews or applaud their critical successes. I do not cheer for them but rather root against them or whine about how their sales are higher than mine, even though I believe I am far more brilliant and deserving. I abhor the authors Oprah says she likes. I do not belong to a book club nor am I a member of a working circle of writers. I prefer to remain anonymous for fear of rejection, fear of critique and fear of someone having a better way to twist my words than I do.

I am today’s writer. I never know when creativity will strike me like a sudden back pain. I do not tote around a pad when poetic phrases concuss me while I’m jogging through a park. I do not carry a tape recorder to save a salty line of dialogue. When I awaken in the middle of the night after a glorious dream where my mind invented the most surreal setting for a story, I do not bother to keep it fresh in my brain. No, I slip back to sleep, assuming that I will remember the picturesque place when the alarm rings in the morning. That never happens. It is like tossing art into the toilet — but instead of flushing and starting over with clean water I allow the drains to get clogged up.

I am today’s writer. I submit short stories and poems to numerous anthologies, magazines and websites. Most have the same request. “Send your best work!” My best? You want my best? Why should I send my best when all you will reward me with is two contributor copies? Why should I give you a masterpiece when in return I’ll receive $10? Why should I sign the exclusive one-time rights over to you for a story that could be picked up by a more prestigious publication that is actually willing to write me a check with two zeroes in it? Two zeroes on the left side of the decimal point, that is. No, sorry all you bargain basement literary journals. You are getting my good, but not my best. The New Yorker or Harper’s might want my best someday, and they certainly will not want it if it has already been published elsewhere.

I am today’s writer. I do not need a stinkin’ agent, man. It is all about self-publishing these days. You know, where you can actually pay to get yourself published if you’re not gifted enough to have the literary world do all the work for you. You see, I can only take so much rejection because my self-esteem is smaller than the pit of a watermelon. Three or four editors send me back notices that say, “This doesn’t fit our needs,” and I crumble like a sand castle after a brisk breeze swoops in from the sea. So I pack my ball up and go home, then open up my wallet, take out my credit card and buy the opportunity to become a published author. Somehow it feels rewarding, like I have accomplished something.

I am today’s writer. What a sad commentary, though a very honest one. There are likely more of me than less, and our armada is growing like a terrorist faction. With sloth, short attention spans, a lack of a knowledge of history and several other flaws on our side, this is a war today’s writers will probably win. Will my allies and I turn coat, turn tail and turn into the writers of decades ago, the ones who spent an hour on a sentence or a month on a paragraph to get it Pulitzer-perfect? Sure. Right after we run out of things to watch on our surround-sound, 500-channel plasma televisions. These are the days we could have never envisioned, a time when more people than ever want to writer and fewer people than ever want to read. Count me among the majority.

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About the writer/author: I am from the Jersey Shore and have had two books published, "Ten Tales to Make Your Head Explode", a short story collection, and "Jeepers," a children's book. ~Craig Rondinone