The Impostor (Fiction Improvisation)

July 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Follow me on...

Photo credit: Brigitte Thom | | License: CCO

Photo credit: Brigitte Thom | | License: CCO

Fiction Improvisation by James Pence
Title: The Impostor
Keywords: Anthony, Kelly, governor, arthritic, pander, salubrious, begonia, ancestry,
Situation: Man mistakenly wins a Newbery award.

NOTE: This improvisation was fun. I did make some changes to the situation, however. Instead of the man winning a Newbery Medal, I created a fictional award. Don’t want the Newbery people getting mad at me. I hope you enjoy it.

    *      *     *

It was a mistake. It had to be.

But the check Anthony S. Newell held in his hands looked plenty real.

Granted, he’d never heard of the Society for Quality Young Adult Literature (SQYAL), but they’d evidently heard of him.

Anthony’s hands trembled as he examined the check for what seemed like the fiftieth time. Maybe it was a scam or some kind of sales pitch. He’d gotten them before. They send you what looks like a real check, but when you read the fine print you realize the check is about as real as a dollar bill with Donald Duck’s picture on it. It’s just a hook to get you to read their sales copy.

But there was no fine print with this check.

And no sales copy.

Just a letter.

On very expensive stationary.

Dear Mr. Newell,

Congratulations! The SQYAL Board of Governors is pleased to inform you that your self-published novel Teenage Werewolves from Jupiter has won first prize in our Best New Science Fiction category. Enclosed is your award check in the amount of $5,000. We hope you will be able to attend our awards ceremony in New York City on August 5th and personally receive your SQYAL Award. You may RSVP to the following e-mail address:

Anthony looked at the check one more time, turning it over in his hands.

“Do you want me to get you a microscope so you can look closer?”

Anthony turned and frowned at his wife. “Not necessary. It’s real.”

“You aren’t planning on keeping that, are you?” asked Kelly Newell.

“And why shouldn’t I?”

“Well, for starters, they probably thought they were giving it to the real Anthony S. Newell.”

Anthony’s face flushed. “I am the real Anthony S. Newell.”

Kelly shook her head and walked into the kitchenette. “Whatever.”

Anthony stormed behind her. “Don’t question my ancestry. My legal name is Anthony Seymour Newell.”

Kelly poured a cup of coffee from a carafe that looked as if it hadn’t been washed in years. She shooed flies away from a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich on the countertop. “And you just happen to share that name with a bestselling author, except that his middle name is Samuel.”


Kelly waved away more flies and took a bite of the peanut butter sandwich. “And you deliberately design your book covers to look exactly like his. You even use the same font for your name.”

“There’s no law against that.”

“And you write the same genre he does. You even copy his subject matter.”

Anthony went back into the living room. He grabbed the check and waved it at her. “None of that matters. This is real.”

Kelly replied, taking a sip of coffee. “You’re impersonating one of the biggest, richest authors of our time, and it’s all just a big coincidence.”

“I didn’t say that. But I know that this check is real and I’m going to New York to pick up my award in person.”

Kelly shrugged. “Just sayin’. If that check is real, you’d better plunk it into savings. One of these days you’re going to get a cease and desist letter from the real Anthony Newell. And that letter could cost you a lot of money.”

*   *   *

Anthony contacted SQYAL by e-mail to let them know he was planning to attend the August 5th awards ceremony. They were delighted and even offered to make his travel arrangements. First class, roundtrip airfare to New York City. Two nights in the Ritz-Carlton. Limo service from the airport. Gourmet dining.

And his room! He had a deluxe park view suite, with a fully stocked bar. King-sized bed. Jacuzzi. 60-inch curved screen ultra HD TV. And even a vase filled with begonias, his favorite flower.

They were thorough. Must have checked out my website bio.

This was the life.

The only strange thing was that in almost two days, he hadn’t seen any other award winners around the hotel. And no advertising for the award ceremony, either.

No matter. He’d gotten an email, inviting him to Suite 2102 at 7 p.m. that evening.

When the time came, he dressed in a tux he’d bought specially for the occasion and headed up to Suite 2102.

As he stood before the door, he straightened his tie and brushed dandruff from his shoulders. This was his big moment.

Anthony took a deep breath and knocked.

The huge man who opened the door looked more like a bouncer than a literary executive.

Anthony stepped inside and heard the door close behind him. Then he heard the click of the deadbolt.

There were no other award winners there. Just one man, looking out the window toward Central Park, his hands clasped behind his back.

Anthony felt the bouncer behind him. Gentle but firm pressure on his back moved him forward. His mouth went dry.

When the man turned around, Anthony felt like throwing up. He knew the man’s face. He was standing before the real Anthony S. Newell.

“Anthony Seymour Newell,” said the man, not smiling. He motioned toward a table. “Sit down. We have a lot to talk about.”

Share this post on...


Follow me on...


Fiction Improv 4.0 – Fern & Gideon

August 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Follow me on...


All righty, here’s what you gave me for Fiction Improv. 4.0:

2 Names: Gideon and Fern
Occupation: Soldier
Situation: Stuck in a Louisiana swamp
Five Random Words (I’ll use at least 3): Brilliant, sizzle, poop, telekinesis, and splash.

Min word count 500, max 1,000.

*    *    *    *    *

 Fern & Gideon

Brilliant! I remembered everything I needed for a quiet day of fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin. Boat. Rods. Bait. Food. Water. Sunscreen.

Only forgot one thing.


Fern listened to the water slapping gently against the bottom of her little fishing boat. Aside from the cicadas’ chirping and an occasional splash from a fish, the swamp was quiet. Even though she hadn’t caught anything, she had actually enjoyed the day, although the July sun made the aluminum boat sizzling hot at times.

When the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, Fern decided it was time to get back home to Gideon. He’d be missing her.

She tugged on the starter and the little motor burped.

She pulled again, and again the engine belched.

Strange. It’s always started with one pull.

She grabbed the handle and jerked the starting cord a third time. And a fourth. And a fifth.

The outboard motor blew raspberries back at her.

It was only after her arm and shoulder began to ache that she decided to check the gas tank. It was dry.

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Just a little gas in the tank and I’ll be on my way.

But when she reached for the gas can, she felt a sinking sensation in her stomach. There was no gas can. How could she have forgotten it?

Now as twilight settled over the swamp Fern faced the prospect of spending a night out there. Fears multiplied like evil rabbits. Would she survive? Would one of the alligators she’d seen earlier attack her boat and devour her? Would they gang up on her and divide her among them? Fern moved to the middle of the boat, hopefully out of reach of any hungry gators.

It wasn’t long before she heard the buzzing in her ears. She looked above her and saw the dark cloud swirling and hovering. It was then she understood that she would not be devoured by gators. Mosquitoes would get her long before that. They would suck every drop of blood from her and when they found her—if anybody ever did find her—all they would find would be a dried, bloodless husk of a woman.

But Fern wasn’t worried about herself. It was Gideon she felt sorry for.

How would he live without her?

She hadn’t even said goodbye. She was mad at him when she left that morning. The worst part was that it was all so trivial.

Now I’ll never have the chance to apologize.

As she looked into the darkening sky, a smattering of stars now visible, she wondered what Gideon was doing. Was he worried?

She swatted at the mosquitoes, trying to drive them away. That was one more thing she’d forgotten. Bug repellant.

As darkness overtook the swamp, Fern resigned herself to her fate. She lay down in the boat and waited for sleep, and then death, to take her.

A single tear rolled down her cheek.

I’m sorry, Gideon.

And all went black.

*   *   *

“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you all right?” The voice of a young man broke through her mental fog.

Fern blinked her eyes and squinted in the bright morning light. She shielded her eyes from the glare coming off the water?

A strong-looking, handsome young man had pulled his boat alongside hers.

I must look atrocious. Her hand went to her hair. A matted mess, of course. And she was covered in red welts from the mosquito bites. At least she wasn’t sunburned. And the gators hadn’t gotten her.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Now that you’re here,” she added with a coquettish smile. Then she blushed and pointed to the outboard motor. “I ran out of gas.”

“Not a problem,” the muscular young man replied. “I have extra.” He handed her a red, plastic gas container.

Trying to sound casual as she filled her tank, Fern asked, “So, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a soldier, Ma’am. I’m stationed at Fort Polk.”

A chill went through her. She’d always wanted to date a soldier.

Fern handed the gas can back to him and blinked her eyes. “My name is Fern.” When he didn’t respond with more than a nod, she added, “And you are?”

“Johnson, Ma’am. Private Timothy Johnson.”

As he took the can, she noticed the wedding ring on his finger.

Why are the handsome ones always taken?

It was at that moment, she remembered Gideon.

“I’ve got to get home!” she said.

After a few pulls, the motor started and Fern was on her way.

She loaded her boat onto her trailer and as she drove home she kept mumbling the words, “I’m sorry, Gideon,” as if they were a mantra. Forty minutes later she pulled into her driveway.

Fern didn’t even bother unpacking.

She rushed to her front door, key in hand. “I’m sorry, Gideon. I’m sorry, Gideon. I’m sorry, Gideon.”

She threw the door open, and called out, “Gideon, I’m home!”

A scruffy, little Yorkie tore across the room and leapt into her arms. Fern stood there, hugging the little dog as it licked her face. Finally she put the dog down and closed the front door behind her.

Then she sniffed. The aroma was unmistakable. Fern frowned at the little dog and walked into the dining room.

Fern put her hands on her hips. “Gideon, you pooped on the floor. Again!”

Gideon looked up and wagged his tail as if to say, “What’s a dog to do when his owner stays out all night partying?”







Share this post on...


Follow me on...


Fiction Improvisation 3.0

July 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Follow me on...


Fiction Improv 3.0

Okay, Peeps, Here’s what you gave me:

2 Names: Beulah and Harvey

Occupation: Environmentalist

5 Words (I’ll use at least 3): Verbose, superfluous, ambiguous, fun, and onomatopoeia.

Situation (I put out an extra call for this item and two people responded at almost exactly the same time. Since I don’t know which one was first, I’ll accept both.): (1)Getting wisdom teeth out and (2)Waiting in a crowd for a bus

All righty, this one is definitely going to be interesting. Time to let the elements cook a bit. I’ll post a short-short story or a scene by Sunday night. Max word count is 1,000. Minimum 500. 

The story turned out to be 787 words.


photo credit: Hipster via photopin (license)

photo credit: Hipster via photopin (license)

The Green Battery?

So this is what it feels like to have your jaws crushed under a steamroller.

Even though the city bus was only going about ten miles per hour, every time it hit a bump or rolled over a pothole, Harvey felt a fresh surge of pain. And it wasn’t just coming from the four empty sockets that once held his wisdom teeth. His whole body ached in sympathy.

What he wanted—needed—was quiet. But that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

First, the bus, for which he had waited nearly an hour, was stuck in rush-hour traffic.

Second, the woman behind him was apparently trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest unbroken stream-of-consciousness cell phone conversation.

Of course, it could hardly qualify as a conversation. The verbose woman never paused long enough for the person on the other end to get a word in. All Harvey knew was that the other person was named Beulah, and the only reason he knew that was that the woman apparently felt a pressing need to insert her friend’s name in every other sentence.

“Well, Beulah, you know I think what she was wearing yesterday was just atrocious, don’t you, I mean, really, how could she possibly wear black to a wedding rehearsal dinner doesn’t she know she has practically cursed the poor couple before they ever start on the road of life together, of course, Beulah, she might as well have cursed them because I don’t give that marriage six months, if they make it seven then, Beulah, you can say I told you so and by the way, did you see what the preacher’s wife was wearing…”

Harvey looked at his watch. It had been going on for two solid hours.

photo credit: Brno via photopin (license)

photo credit: Brno via photopin (license)

At the bus stop, she stood behind him—talking.

He’d have moved but the crowd was pressed so tight, he couldn’t get away.

On the bus, he hoped to place some distance between them.

She sat on the seat behind him—still talking.

And the longer she talked, the more his head throbbed.

He had to do something, but what?

Move? Not possible. No empty seats.

He could turn around and give her a dirty look.

That wouldn’t work. Besides, he’d already done that several times. The woman was clueless.

Grab her phone and stomp on it?

He’d get arrested.

But maybe, just maybe…

It hurt to even move, but Harvey stood up and reached inside his coat. As he stepped into the aisle, he put on his most stern expression, pulled out his I.D. and flashed it at her.

“Ma’am, pleashh hang upff. I neeth thoo thalk thoo shyou.”

She gazed at him, a blank look on her face.

At least she stopped talking.

“What did you say?”

Harvey realized that with a mouth packed full of cotton, he probably made Brando’s Godfather sound eloquent. He had to keep this brief. Every superfluous word he spoke only added to his pain.

He pointed at his I.D. badge and struggled to make each word clear. “I…needth…thoo…thalk…thoo…yoo.”

“Beulah, I’ll call you right back.” The woman broke the connection and then said, “Now what is it? You interrupted a very important conversation.”

Harvey pointed at his I.D.

The woman squinted. “Environmental Protection Agency?”

Harvey nodded.

“What do you want with me?”

Harvey pointed at her phone. “Ish…thath…phone’s…bathry…green?”

“Green? What in the world are you talking about.”

Harvey shook his head and pointed at his I.D. again.


photo credit: DSCN3642.JPG via photopin (license)

photo credit: DSCN3642.JPG via photopin (license)

The woman’s face flushed. “I—I don’t know.”

“I…thoughth…ash…mush.” He held out his hand. “I’ll…haff…thoo…sheck…ith.”

“But, but you can’t do that!”

Harvey pointed at his I.D. and held out his hand.

The woman looked around at the other passengers. “Do you see what he’s trying to do? Somebody tell him he can’t do this.”

Most of the other passengers ignored her. A few shrugged and gave her a “What can we do?” look.

“You can’t do this!”

Harvey held out his hand. “Doo…yoo…wanth…me…thoo…arresth…yoo?”

The woman’s face was so red, she looked like she might explode. “Oh, all right.”  She slapped the phone into his hand.

Harvey popped the back of the phone off and took out the battery. He turned it this way and that, scrutinizing it and shaking his head.

“Shorry. Goth…too…confishgathe…ith. ”

“My phone?”

Harvey shook his head. “No. Jush…the…batthry. E.P.A. regulashion…35491…dansherous…bathries.” He handed her phone back to her. “Go…buy…a…green…one.”

He stepped back to his seat and sat down.

An instant later, the rest of the passengers erupted in applause.

Harvey smiled. That was fun.

Of course, there was no E.P.A. regulation 35491. He’d have to give the lady back her battery.

And he would.

Just as soon as she got off the bus.

Share this post on...


Follow me on...


Fiction Improv 2: Golden Anniversary

July 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Follow me on...


FICTION IMPROV 2.0: Golden Anniversary

Note: After I receive random words, names, occupations, and situation from my Facebook Peeps for a fiction improv, I let the mix stew for a few days. The words often will suggest the mood or tone for the piece. In this case, the piece took on a decidedly dark tone. (I am a suspense/thriller writer, after all.) Because of the darkness of the piece, and for personal reasons, I changed one of the names.

The last piece was a short-short story. This one unfolded more like a scene that would open a longer story or even a novel. Who knows? Maybe Max and Betty’s story will wind up part of a larger tale someday.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.


2 Names: Max and Betty
1 Occupation: Nurse practitioner
1 Situation: Golden wedding anniversary
5 Random Words (I have to use at least 3): kangaroo, post-apocalyptic, shoelace, flying, and vibrio. (I had to look up vibrio. It’s a type of bacteria associated with foodborne infection, usually from eating undercooked seafood).

*     *     *

“Hard to believe it’s been fifty years, Betty.” Max set the champagne bottle into his makeshift ice bucket. Just an old Styrofoam cooler, really. “Gotta make do with what we’ve got now.”

He pulled a handkerchief from his overalls and wiped his face; then he eased down into a nearby folding chair.

August in Texas never seemed hotter.

“Crazy time for a picnic, huh?” he said.

Hot wind blew through the tall dry Johnson grass. Max could tell from the rustling sound that a single match could start a fire that would wipe out everything for twenty miles.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Max leaned over and tied his shoelace. “Good thing I saw that,” he said. “Sure enough that thing would have tripped me and sent me flying.”

He smiled at Betty. “That wouldn’t do, would it?”

Max carefully opened the picnic basket—a laundry basket with a towel thrown over the top—and pulled out two plastic tumblers. “Ain’t exactly wine goblets, but it’s the best I could find.”

He took the champagne bottle and winced in pain as his arthritic fingers worked the cork loose. When it finally popped off, a warm spray washed over his face. Max filled both tumblers.

He reached into the basket again and brought out a bouquet of withered roses, wrapped in plastic WalMart bags. “Not very pretty, but they’re the best I could find. Not much grows around here anymore.”

Max put the roses in Betty’s arms, and smiled.

“Fifty years,” he said. “Not many couples make it that long, Old Girl. What is it they call it? Our golden wedding anniversary.”

He drained the tumbler of champagne and blinked back tears.

It had all happened so fast.

Vibrio, they called it. But there was another name, too. A new name they’d given it. He couldn’t remember that one. News people said it mutated, became a plague. He didn’t rightly understand it. All he knew was that it started down at the Gulf coast. You were only supposed to catch it by eating undercooked seafood, but something changed.

Whatever it was started spreading and people started dying.

And they never stopped.

The nurse practitioner hadn’t been by to check on Betty in a couple of months. She was probably gone like the rest of them.

“What is it the young people call it? Post-apocalyptic? I guess that’s where we are now, my love. In a post-apocalyptic world.”

Max drained the second tumbler, and winced. He hated warm Champagne.

“Guess I’d better get back to work.”

Max looked down into the shallow grave.

“Fifty years. We almost made it fifty years.”

Power grid went down a week ago. He had enough gas to keep the generator running a couple more days. Didn’t know what he’d do after that.

Max gently tossed the first shovelful of dirt into Betty’s grave.

A burning August breeze blew once more through tinder-dry Johnson grass.

Max’s chin quivered. “Happy anniversary, my love.”



Share this post on...


Follow me on...


Fiction Improvisation: Mrs Sweeny

July 12, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Follow me on...


Greetings, readers!

A few weeks back I asked my followers to help me with a fiction improvisation exercise. I asked for two names, an occupation, a situation, and three random words. I promised to improvise a short fiction piece based on as many of these elements as possible.

The following short, short (1,000 word) story is what I came up with.

Just FYI, I did this in one sitting, and did no revisions or edits. If I were planning to market the story, of course, I would take it through multiple edits and rewrites. But my purpose here was just to see what I could come up with quickly.


Fiction Improv 1: MRS SWEENY

NAMES: Emily and Tyler
OCCUPATION: Chimney sweep
SITUATION: Forgetting to pick up someone at the airport
3 WORDS (ACTUALLY I ACCEPTED 5): Cat, zipline, catastasis, overcome, drumbeat. (Note: I didn’t use catastasis or drumbeat.)

Emily’s cell phone chirped for the third time. She knew she couldn’t ignore Tyler’s calls forever. The only way to do that would be to turn off the phone—or throw it in the river.

She glanced at the digital clock on her dashboard.

12:15 p.m.

Maybe he’ll give up.

She kept driving. She was still a fair distance from the airport.

The phone chirped again, and she knew it was no use. She had to answer it.

“What is it, Tyler?”

“I need your help. Now.”

“Mother’s flight gets in at two,” Emily said. “You know what she’s like when she has to wait.”

“I really, really need your help.”

Emily could hear the strain in his reply.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m over at Mrs. Sweeny’s. Fluffy got out and she’s up a tree.”

Emily sighed. “Again?”

“Can you come?”

“Is it the tree with the zip line?”


“Can’t you get her down?”

“You know I can’t.” His voice was thin, embarrassed.

“Why?” Emily knew the answer, but this was her price, her pound of flesh.

“I’m afraid of heights.”


“I’m afraid of the cat.”

Emily looked at the clock again. It would be tight, but the house was on the way. She should be able to corral Fluffy and still pick up Mother.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she said.

*     *     *

Tyler gazed up into the tree as if he were trying to will Fluffy back down. He knew it was no use. That was the most stubborn cat on the planet. She was also the fastest.

And he was scared to death of her. The cat was huge, and he was sure she had it in for him.

He’d just finished cleaning Mrs. Sweeny’s chimney, had gathered his brushes and was heading out the door when Fluffy shot out ahead of him. She was in the back yard and up the tallest tree before he knew it.

Now all he saw ahead of him was the unemployment line.


If Mrs. Sweeny gets home and finds her $15,000 Savannah up a tree, I’m toast.

He hated bothering Emily with this, but he had no choice. But, if you can’t count on your wife, who can you count on? Besides, it was either that or 911. And he didn’t even want to think about what would happen if Mrs. Sweeny came home and found the fire department at her house.

If the truth be told, he was more afraid of Mrs. Sweeny than a thousand cats. Tall and forbidding in appearance, she reminded him of his seventh grade teacher, a woman who could be described in one word: imperious.

A horn beeped twice—that horn always reminded him of Road Runner cartoons—and he saw Emily’s little white Prius turn into the long driveway.

The cavalry had arrived.

Emily climbed out of the car and came into the back yard. Even from a hundred feet away, Tyler could tell she was not happy.

“Where is she?” Emily asked.

Tyler pointed to the forty-foot live oak near the back of the spacious back yard.

Fluffy, a twenty-pound Savannah that was anything but fluffy—she looked more like a leopard than a cat—was contentedly lounging on a large branch about fifteen feet from the ground.

Emily flashed her husband an exasperated look. Then her expression softened and she walked over to Tyler and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, but this is the last time I’m doing this.”

Without another word, she climbed the ladder attached to the tree and coaxed the big cat down. After Fluffy was safely on the ground, she was tempted climb back up and ride down the zip line Mrs. Sweeny had installed for her grandchildren.

Instead, she strolled over to Tyler, took him by the hand, and led him over to a large garden swing. “We need to talk,” she said.

“Tyler, this isn’t working.”

Tyler felt his face flush. “I’ve got to do something. I’ll never make a living as a freelance writer.”

“But a chimney sweep can’t be afraid of heights.”

“I’ll overcome it. You’ll see.”

“You don’t need to,” said Emily. “I make enough to support us both. I want you to quit this crazy job and do what you love—write.”

She leaned over and kissed him.

He put his arm around her and they sat together, enjoying the blooming crepe myrtles that surrounded the garden.

And time stood still.

*   *   *

A taxi horn’s blaring startled both of them awake.

Tyler’s face blanched.

“Mrs. Sweeny!” he said, jumping to his feet.

“Mother!” said Emily. “I forgot to pick her up.”

They both rushed through the yard, toward the driveway.

Tyler stopped dead in his tracks.

Mrs. Sweeny—the imperious Mrs. Sweeny—stood beside the Yellow Cab. Her steel gray hair was piled up on top her head and her face cast in a frown that could wither fresh flowers. She motioned to the cabbie to carry her luggage to the house, then strode over to Tyler and Emily.

“Is the job done?” she said, looking directly at Tyler.

“Yes, Mrs. Sweeney,” he replied.

“Anything go wrong?” she asked.

“No ma’am,” he said with a sidelong glance at Emily.

She nodded curtly. “Good.”

“I’ll just pack my equipment and be on my way,” Tyler said, glad for the chance to escape.

Emily and Mrs. Sweeny watched him as he walked away from them toward the house.

Mrs. Sweeny turned to Emily. “And where were you? My plane got in an hour ago.”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Emily said. “Tyler needed my help and time got away from us.”

“Hmph,” said Mrs. Sweeny looking down at Emily. Then she cracked a tiny grin and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t let it happen again.”

Arm in arm, Emily and her mother followed Tyler into the mansion. Mrs. Sweeny nudged her and said, “Do you think he’ll ever call me Mother?”


 So, how did I do? Add your thoughts in the comments below. 












Share this post on...


Follow me on...


Recent Photos From Fiction Improvisation