What Writers Do for Fun




Just this week, I took part in a fabulous tradition known as a mash-up. Are you folks familiar with these? It’s when a group of writing friends provide a teaser of 250-400 words to a coordinator – in this case, the lovely Gretchen McNeil – and she sends them off to an anonymous recipient. Then it’s the receiver’s task to continue the mash-up for another page or so, trying to keep the voice and plot congruent with the original writing.

Once the pieces are all in, the coordinator posts them, along with the entrants’ names. Then the games begin in earnest.

I say “games”, because although I learn a ton, mash-ups are extraordinarily fun. It’s neat to see the different twists another can put on your own work. It’s challenging to try and mimic someone else’s style, particularly if they write in a different genre. It’s thrilling to see that you’re hanging out with some über-talented people.

More than a few of us wrote our original pieces using different voices, different pacing, and different material from that which we normally write. Half the fun is stretching your wings. The other half is confusing the others.

Because while I suck at forensic linguistics, it turns out most of my peer group do too. 🙂 It took a lot of guessing, and a spreadsheet, before they finally figured out which was mine.

But I’m not going to put you through that torture. Instead, with the kind permission of the talented Jen Hayley, author of the piece that I mashed, I’ll provide you with a mash-up demonstration. In the piece that follows, her work lies above the hashtag. Mine rests below.


The incessant moaning suddenly ceased. Abby’s head jerked up from where she’d been studying her carefully drawn map. Her light eyes focused on the now soundless walls on either side of the iron-bound door up the stairs to her left.

“This is new,” she muttered to herself. She’d taken to grumbling phrases at the empty basement in the seemingly endless days of solitude.

Slowly, she rose from her curled up spot on the cushy, purple couch. She set down the map, and her hand immediately trailed over to the coffee table to grab the loaded shotgun. Her eyes remained on the door.

She knew she shouldn’t dare hope they’d finally gone away. Nothing in this world was that easy anymore. No, either they were up to something or they’d found another living human to focus their endless attack upon. Abby sighed. If that were the case, she doubted she could get to the victim in time.

Her hands barely trembled as she crept toward the bottom stair. As soon as she placed one foot up, she knew the stairs’ dilapidated wood would alert the intruders upstairs with a resounding creak. It had always been an annoyance before, and she’d tried to get her dad to fix it for months.
At the thought of her father, she swallowed hard and gripped the shotgun tighter. Now wasn’t the time to go strolling down memory lane.


No, now was for mounting a possible rescue mission, or failing that, replenishing her food supply.

When a half-minute passed without any evidence she’d been overheard, she eased up the next stair, and then another, until at last she stood in front of the door. Then she held the rifle in her right hand while with her left she worked at the bolts. They moved silently this time, courtesy of the lubricating oil she’d located in her dad’s workshop yesterday. Good. A small victory, but she’d take every one she could get.

Now came the hard part. No matter how much she prepared, she never felt ready for this.

She reminded herself to breathe through her mouth, firmed her grip on the rifle, and used its muzzle to push the door outward a few feet.

That was enough to see the rust-coloured handprints on the wall opposite. And to agitate the flies, so that when she slipped into the hallway, her first view of the kitchen was obscured by a buzzing snowstorm of black. They whirled around the room, crawled over the three sets of human remains that still rested on the linoleum, and whizzed past her ears.

One landed on her lips and at the thought of where it might have just been, she spat it away – a mistake. The movement triggered her gag reflex, and for a long treacherous moment, she fought against bile that stung the back of her throat. But she shuddered, closed her eyes, willed the nausea away. The idea of being pounced on by the werewolves, helpless as a baby as she puked her guts out, got her through.

Once under control, she headed down the hallway, keeping her back tight to the wall. Up ahead was the doorway to the living room. If there were any survivors, that’s where she’d find them. Hopefully without a furry guard standing watch.

And now that she was finally moving, she never wanted to stop. Her veins hummed with nervous energy. She thought a quick prayer, then whirled into the doorway as soon as she reached it, ducking low to make herself less of a target. Her eyes made a sweep of the room. Her hands aimed the rifle to follow her gaze. Her ears strained for any sound beyond the buzzing of the flies. And she found nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Until the low growl rumbled behind her.

So that’s it. Except for the part where you comment below – if not about the writing, about the exercise itself. Have you participated in a mash-up, and if so, how did you find it?

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9 thoughts on “What Writers Do for Fun

  1. Aw, Jen, I’m glad that you approve. Sometime I’d love to see how you continued the piece. I’m curious about both the story and how much I got right.

    Donna, it is neat, isn’t it?

  2. Great original and continuation, ladies!

    The mash-ups are one of my favorite things about Purgatory. 🙂 I feel bad, because I kept getting swept away from this last one by work. I love getting to see everyone write out of their comfort zone, and what they choose to latch onto out of another writer’s excerpt. It’s fascinating.

    1. My head was reeling after those last 5 came all at once too, Sunna. It is a lot of fun, but also intense. I loved your mash-up too. You should post yours on your blog.

    1. Amanda, you’d be welcome to join us sometime. All you have to do is go to the Absolute Write forum, to the Purgatory thread under Rejection and Dejection. Then you hang out with some angsty writers for a month or two, until the fourth Purgy mash-up comes around. Voila! You’re in.

  3. I used to try to coordinate the writing of ‘Communal Stories’ (as we called them) while avoiding studying as I sat in the Uni library. They were fun… but always seemed to end with the protagonist falling into another dimension or crushed by an anvil dropped from a passing airplane! In retrospect, maybe the plot shifts were linked to the field that was being studied by the author at the time. Was the dimension portal opened by a theoretical physicist? The anvil dropped by someone working on a dynamics problem? I guess this is the forensics you are talking about!

    ANYWAY! It is awesome that you have a group that is roughly on the same page. (And hopefully it will stay that way – ‘cuz now when one of these comes to me I *really* have to try not to have some supernatural event occur.)

    Oh! Remember the ‘pick your own path’ adventures? You could have a blast with those, too. They end up being a little more modular.

    If the reader enjoyed this response, turn to entry 17.
    If not, turn to entry 83.

    83. Oly went home and cried himself to sleep.

  4. Hey, you, I absolutely love the “pick your path” adventure idea! I’ll have to suggest it to the Purgy crowd.

    But your #83 requires a rewrite: Oly went home and got laid by a blonde with big knockers.

    Aaaaand, for those of you who now have your chins on the floor, let me reassure you I will not become randomly inappropriate should you summon enough courage to post. “Oly” is my brother, and the heckling, therefore, obligatory. 🙂

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