Seven Deadly Dialogue Sins

The Snark Zone
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz & Amanda “The Bellman” Marlowe


Baker & The Bellman demonstrate how not to write dialogue.

Happily, she smiled, “Ooo la la, Ereeek, zee zewers of gay Paree, weeth zee sewage and zee high breek walls, smeell mahvelous in zee zummer heat just zo long as tu, mon chere, are weeth me!”

Miserably, he grumbled, “Easy for you to say, Christine Daae, my secret soprano pupil. You’re not holed up under the Paris Opera, season after season, listening to the same Wagnerian German arias while the damp water drips down the stony masonry walls. I have to take a gondola boat ride just to get to the loo. And it’s a labryinthal maze down here in the basement, under the building, where I live.”

Jealously, she seethed, “Ereek! Can it be that you love zee opera house, wheech is older zan my grandmere, more than you love me?”

He worried anxiously, “I think I’m dying of some fatal disease. I’ll wake up some early morning and all at once I’ll die. Your dead grandmother died all at once, didn’t she? Oh, I know I have that disease. You know, the lung disease miners get where their lungs turn sooty, ashy, coal, raven, ebony. Cough, cough. Almost blackish. What’s that called?”

Lustfully, she recalled, “As you know, Ereek, zat is de dreadful black lung deseeze. My pauvre grandmere, at zee old age of eighty three, died of zee black lung dezeeze all of a once just az zee doctor arrived. Zee doctor… zo young, zo handsome… Zee eyes, zee arms, so strong… How zey consoled me in my sorrow… Zee kisses…”

Hopelessly, he sighed, “The babes don’t dig organ players anymore. They all lust after pulminologists and lung doctors. Of course organs, lungs… oh never mind. No one will ever love me. Ever since work began here on the Opera house in the summer of 1861, I have known that I shall be unloved and forlorn all my miserable days.”

Irritated, she burned, “Ereek! Pleeze, mon chere, I did not come down here to zee zewers to hear you whine. I can hear you whine all zee time upstairs. Through the four black and gold leather-covered walls while we are waiting in zee dressing room. I came here because you promised me you would help wit zee zinging voice. I do not want to be zee chorus girl forever. Degas, he wanted to do zee sketch of me, but I stay for you.”

Uncertainly, he wondered, “I whine? I don’t think I whine. Do I? Who’s this Degas fellow? Is he that viscount who’s always running about after you? Maybe I’ll have to deal with him. Or maybe I should invite him down for Sunday brunch this Sunday around 11 a.m. I’ll make mimosas. As you know, Christine, mimosas are champagne and orange juice beverages what are traditionally served to drink at brunch. What if he doesn’t like mimosas?”

Courageously, she declared, “Ereek, I do not think zee famous painter Degas will come to zee brunch on zee Sunday at 11 a.m. But enough of zee chitchat. I want to view zee face of mon chere. I am zee strong woman, zee corahgeous one to follow into zee zewers. Zee zewers, as you know my chere Ereek, are damp and stinkee. It is great courahge to stay with zee smell of zee refuse from zee city. Reward my courahge and remove from you zee masque.”

Sarcastically, he gibed, “You’re no bed of roses either, you Parisian floozy.”

Pettily, she trivialized, “If you do not remove zee masque, I shall emit zee scream and bring zee polize to find you.”

Regretfully, he lamented, “I could have been a celestial star. I could have been somebody. But I told my voice teacher I would hang him from the grand chandelier if the mood struck me. And it struck me. If only I hadn’t lost my temper, if only I hadn’t gone off track, if only I hadn’t gone above, to the surface, without my sunblock. Ah, the streets of Paris. So much to see, so much to do. That’s where I got this kicky beret. I had “Erik” stitched on it by a streetwalking prostitute. Ah! Paris. I saw the Bois de Boulogne, the Tuilleries, the Champ de Mars. Of course I visited Notre Dame, on the Île de la Cité. As you know Christine, it was begun in 1163 and is the main tourist attraction here in Paris. I also visited The Arc de Triomphe, the Place de l’Étoile, the Rue de Rivoli, Rue de la Paix, Rue de Faubourg-Saint Honoré, Avenue de l’Opéra, Boulevard des Italiens, Boulevard du Montparnasse, and the Champs Élysées. Then it was back to the Place de l’Opera and home sweet sewer.”

With wonder, she mused, “Oh Ereek, you bring back zee memories of when I first came to zee gay Paree from zee native shores of my homeland. Zee Cathedral of Notre Dame, zee hideeous gargoyles so beootiful in zee moonlight, and my heart, she sing to zee heavens.”

Curiously, he queried, “You’re not Parisian? You had me fooled. And I thought you were such a big Jerry Lewis fan. What is that accent supposed to be then? You sound like Pepe LePew, the famous Warner Brothers character French skunk with the overdone fake French accent.”

She sneered smugly, “LePew, LeShmue, what care I for zee famous French Skunks? I am zee soprano, zee diamond in zee rough. I am to have zee vibratto, zee agitatto, zee allegro non tropo…”

He raged angrily, “Diamond in the rough? Hey, you little French Fry you, I made you what you are. You might be able to lead a gift horse to water, but you can’t look it in the mouth! You ingrate! How dare you call yourself a diamond! You’re a cubic zirconia if I ever saw one. Why don’t you get that Degas guy to give you singing lessons, huh? If I don’t hang him from the lead crystal grand chandelier first!”

She whispered passionately, “Ereek, Ereek, mon chere, zee whole world I owe you, zee voice, zee job. I forget not zee tender moments down here in zee romantic black shadowed zewers, where Jean Valjean once rescued zee young Marius. I live for zee tender moments in zee flickering of zee flaming torchlight with you, mon chere. I keess your shadow…”

Lovingly, he revealed, “Oh Christine, I dream at night about your flaxen hair, your flashing azure eyes, your heaving bosom, your peaches and cream complexion. My heart skips a beat when I hear your angelic voice. Like the caged pet canary bird who sings only for me and me alone. Alas, I am too hideous for you to ever love me. But I love you so, I must be willing to let you go.”

She wailed longingly, “Ereeek, Ereeek, I weesh I must not return me to zee sunlight and zee fresh air, and zee tedious Raoul, Viscomte de Chagny, who holds the titles to the ancestral family lands of Provence, France, and who weeshes to marry me. But alas, mon chere, I must. I scream for ze polize now. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!”

He sighed despondently, “Oh well. With my luck, someone will make a highly successful musical about our star-crossed love. After all, look what happened to Jean Valjean.”

pencil

Baker, our fountain of useless knowledge, hosts Maxim Tremendous, Antediluvian Tone and Ink in Unfailing Supply, and can be reached at baker[at]toasted-cheese.com. The Bellman, our tech support whiz, hosts Damage from Hail and Boojum Tales, and can be reached at bellman[at]toasted-cheese.com.

Mustafa’s Manifesto

Best of the Boards
Lori Dehn


The trees whispered secrets in the wind. It was hard to hear them over God’s voice, an echoing sound always just at the edge of Mustafa’s awareness, but still, the whispering was audible, and he knew that the trees were talking about him. He ignored them, just as he ignored the pain of the gravel digging into his knees. He ignored the smell that came in waves from the latrine not fifty feet from where he knelt. He ignored the hardened black blood that caked his sweatshirt.

God wanted him to ignore it all, and so he did.

“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet. There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet. There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet. And I am Allah’s Beast. I am Allah’s Beast. I am Allah’s Beast.” He muttered the words with the solemnity of a saint and the devotion of a dervish. It was a litany that rang in his mind with every breath he took.

A car whipped past along the highway behind him, the doppler whine disappearing in the whispering of the trees.

His hands raised before him, Mustafa keened and rocked back and forth, muttering the words over and over like an incantation. His eyes were closed, and God began to show him things on the movie screen of his mind. At first it was flashing lights, but after a moment, those lights began to take shape. They were pictures. They were instructions. They were Allah’s commandments.

Mustafa whimpered. Not again. His hand still ached from the crushing blow he had dealt the woman in Georgia. It was bruised, he knew, and even the pressure of the steering wheel made it hurt so that tears sometimes squeezed from the corners of his eyes. And the look of fear in the eyes of the other woman, the one in the pretty store, it hurt him inside like a gunshot, a spreading, burning hole that he couldn’t explain. No, not another one. The blood was still sticky on his hands from the last one.

But the pictures flashed faster, the lights becoming more insistent, and in his mind, the voice of God boomed in Dolby Surround sound. Yes, it would happen again. He had no choice. If God wanted it, he would do it. Mustafa bowed his head, hot rivers of suffering streaming down his dark cheeks.

“Yes, Lord,” he whispered. Maybe she would know the answer, he thought. Maybe she wouldn’t have to die. Maybe he wouldn’t have to hurt her. But if God asked it, then he would.

How do you say no to God?

pencil

Lori, aka Bookbinder, is a regular at several Toasted Cheese boards. This 15 minute “speed story” was written in response to Boots’s challenge to “Write a quick manifesto for your antagonist.” and was originally posted at Maxim Tremendous. Lori can be reached at progressdownriver[at]hotmail.com.

Passion

Poetry
Kim Foyle


Losing myself…
Drifting…
Standing at the core of my life,
watching my past, my present converge in unity.

Steeped in exquisite reverie
Memories cascade from the depths of my being.
The air tinged with joy, remembrance, love
underlaid with raw thirst, naked hunger,
searching…

Change—new, faraway
remembered feelings.
Furnished in bareness.

I face an opening.
Walking in quiet conviction
he enters, his eyes vigilant.
Whirlwinds of emotion swirl about
a finished eternity—Wait.

watchful
Featherlight kiss of palm to face.
One tear falls, gently, hesitantly
—caught
Caressing temples to lips
hush. stay.

Chills of calm envelope me.
I surrender to his warm embrace
smiling consent—admittance to my soul.
My heart has found its purpose… Finally Believing.

pencil

Kim is a poet and writer from South Africa. She can be reached at last_lines[at]hotmail.com.

Memories of My Grandparents

Creative Nonfiction
By Linda Easley


My paternal grandparents were farmers who raised twelve children on leased farms in Oklahoma. My granddad died when I was six, but I remember him well. We stayed with them for two months the summer before my fifth birthday because my mother was ill.

He was a tall man, with black eyes and sculpted cheekbones that spoke of his Cherokee ancestry. The graying, sandy hair was pure English. I remember the slight squint to those Cherokee eyes, as though he’d spent a lifetime following the sun across the fields.

Even after they retired and moved to town he kept a big garden. That summer I helped him plant the black-eyed peas. He poked the hole; I dropped the peas in. By the time we’d done half a row, I was parched and ready for a drink from the stove-pipe well by the back porch.

Grandma would toss the remains of the water bucket on her hollyhocks and hand me the bucket to carry to the edge of the porch.

“Are you ready?” Grandpa asked, as he turned the wheel that cranked the long “stove pipe” from the well. Then, swinging it over the bucket, he would pull the trigger that released a lid at the bottom of the pipe. I danced with delight as the cold well water filled the bucket and slopped over my bare feet.

After he poured a little into the wash pan by the back door, we’d wash our hands. At last, he would plunge the dipper into the bucket and offer me the first drink. No water ever slaked my thirst like that cold Oklahoma well water.

My grandma was a small woman, with gray hair and soft wrinkled cheeks, who always seemed to have an apron tied around her middle. She had dentures which she never wore. They sat in a glass of water, in the kitchen cabinet, where their porcelain grin never failed to unnerve me as I reached for a glass or plate. And she dipped snuff, hiding her spit can behind the sofa in the living room. I was the one who knocked it over, playing hide and seek with my sister and my cousins.

Her favorite expression seemed to be, “Oh, Lord, child. What’ve you got into now?” Yet I never remember her being mad. I suppose after raising twelve kids, she’d about run out of mad.

Aunt Sis—Marie was her given name—lived with them. She had been crippled and twisted by polio as a toddler. I can still picture her coming across the room in a slow, crab like gait, her face a strained mask from the effort. I remember the soft, black leather shoes she had specially made to fit her twisted feet. And the salt and pepper shakers she collected and kept in a glass front curio cabinet against the kitchen wall.

“Yore Uncle Jim give me this set. It’s from Germany,” she would say with pride. “And yore daddy sent me these from the Philippines when he was stationed there between the wars.”

Uncle Jim, whose eyes always danced with laughter, was going bald in his mid twenties.

“You been wearing’ your hat too tight,” Uncle Wilson would tease. He had a full head of thick brown hair.

Uncle Armenia was the oldest. His lungs had been damaged by mustard gas in World War I. I remember him for the grunts he gave us kids when we irritated him as he sat on the back porch, chain-smoking. “You kids go on now,” he would say, waving us away. He was a wanderer, who appeared once in a while at the only place he called home. He never seemed to find pleasure in his short stays.

My favorite times were the family get-togethers. Hearing that we were there, aunts, uncles, their spouses and children, gathered at the white frame house—each bearing a dish of vegetables, a beef roast or ham, pies too numerous to count.

With the table and cabinet buried in food, Grandma would look around, and say,”Mebbe I better put out a couple more vegetables.”

Uncle Jim would laugh. “Lord, Mamma. We got enough here to feed a small army.”

Peering over her glasses at the crowd, Grandma would say, “Seems to me we got a small army.” And a platter of fresh tomatoes or a bowl of cucumber and onions, soaked in vinegar, would miraculously appear from the old refrigerator.

We ate until we were too stuffed to move from the tables, immersed in swirls of conversation and laughter. The conversations continued, though considerably diminished, on couch, chairs, and porch, through the long afternoon.

Toward evening, one of the uncles would say, “Reckon we better go find some watermelons.” As they left, Grandma would drag out the ice cream maker while an aunt or two mixed the sugar, vanilla, cream, and eggs. Someone made a run to the little store, a few blocks away, for ice.

By the time the men returned, we cousins had ground the tasty concoction to its sweet conclusion.

I remember many things about that two months. The hot, hard feel—against my bare feet—of Oklahoma red dirt baked in the July sun. The delightful squish of that same red dirt, turned mud in a quick, loud July thunderstorm. I can still conjure up the odor of horse manure and cut hay, the velvet feel of hollyhock petals and crepe myrtle. I remember the bittersweet taste of Grandpa’s strong coffee, cooled in and sipped from the saucer; and the fresh baked biscuit scent of my grandma’s hair as she bent to kiss us goodnight.

My family life fell apart after that summer. My mother’s illness, my father’s guilt, the unkindness of strangers at the children’s home where we spent the next three years, a stepmother whose love turned to vitriol, all took their toll.

I was bitter and angry for too long. But, over the years, I’ve learned two lessons from the months I spent with my grandparents. Bitterness causes the heart to wander, unable to find its true home. And love—freely given—is big enough, stretchy enough, strong enough, to encompass a small army.

pencil

Linda’s essay, “Memories of My Grandparents,” is about two months spent with her grandparents and the family when she was four, and the lessons she learned from them. She has been writing for four years and her stories have been published in the ezines No Noun-Sense and Pencil Stubs. Linda can be reached at elsie40[at]earthlink.net.