In today's story, Cheese, a retro '80s photo shoot gets some added flair
Last episode's prompt came from my best friend's son, Lincoln McMullan. Today's came from his older brother, Myles. Thanks, Myles! I'm not sure if this was a serious suggestion or more of a joke, but I ran with it!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 68 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Cheese.
Last episode’s prompt came my best friend’s son, Lincoln McMullan. Today’s is from his older brother Myles. I’m not sure if it a serious suggestion or more of a joke response, but I’m going to run with it. People love cheese… the food and the vibe.
If you have a story prompt, let me know! As always, I’ll use that word or phrase to write whatever story comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing, and then share it in an upcoming episode.
You can get in touch with me through social media or my website, SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes. Also, if you enjoy this podcast, please like and review it wherever you’re listening so others can find it, too.
On to the story:
Evelyn checked the digital proofs from the morning shoot and couldn’t hide his frustration. As he cradled his forehead in his tense hands, he could hear his assistant shifting her feet and clearing her throat. The client would be on set in an hour, and it wasn’t going well.
“More cheese,” Evelyn said, trying to stay calm.
“More cheese?” his assistant asked with a puzzled frown.
Evelyn lifted his head and visibly shook off the tension, which worked for maybe two seconds before his shoulders crept back up toward his ears.
“Yeah, cheese,” he repeated. “The client has a kitschy vision, if we’re going to sell that it needs to be over-the-top. Tell Lorraine we need to amp up the cheese factor.”
“The cheese factor…” His assistant jotted a note on her tablet. “Got it.”
“Cool. I need a break.” Evelyn ran both hands over his face and hair, shot an annoyed glance at the monitor, and walked out of the studio.
The sun was bright against the light brick of the building. Evelyn’s sunglasses were inside but he wasn’t going back in. Not until he’d had a chance to breathe in peace.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He ignored it, walking the length of the building toward the parking lot. Across the blacktop, there was a strip of grass beside a small pond and a wooded lot. A gazebo had been squeezed into that narrow strip, and Evelyn had often used it for outdoor shoots.
It always struck him funny that the gazebo created such a dreamy backdrop when it was stuck beside a parking lot and a crumbling row of graffiti-covered buildings.
When Evelyn took photos at the gazebo, he had to frame them carefully to avoid two large dumpsters, not 15 feet to the left, and a metal electrical box about 10 feet to the right. He also had to time his shots to avoid passing traffic on the road at the other side of the woods.
You’d never know it by looking at the finished photos. Evelyn was a master of illusion. Turning this tiny pocket of nature into a dream paradise trapped in the pages of glossy magazines.
It bothered him sometimes. Creating a fantasy to sell lavish wedding gowns, expensive champagne, designer perfumes, or whatever a client needed to move. But he told himself that was what shoppers were buying. The fantasy. The illusion that buying the best-of-the-best, the high-end status symbols, would make their lives better. Happier. More successful.
He used to think like that, too. Thrilled to show up at upscale parties wearing the trendiest clothes and rarest kicks. It was how he’d known he’d made it. Beyond landing the big budget clients. But at some point, the glitz had lost its shine.
He’d switched to basic jeans and plain t-shirts, no matter what trends came and went. He stuck with his two pairs of shoes that fit the best and sold the rest. Somehow, that made him even cooler with his clients. He was unique. People asked where he went thrifting and laughed when he said, Target. But he wasn’t joking.
Walking back to the building, Evelyn steeled himself for another run at this shoot. It was a retro set, pure ‘80s, set in a fake store with a black-and-white checkered floor and walls in neon orange and hot pink. The two young models wore cropped sweaters and mom jeans, styled with vintage high-tops, plastic jewelry, and beaded friendship pins.
Lorraine met him at the backdoor, wringing her hands and biting her lip.
“I did the best I could,” she told him. “Gathered up everything from craft services, and I can send Ashley to that deli around the corner if it’s not enough.”
Evelyn shook his head, trying to catch up. He’d expected Lorraine to simply bring out more ‘80s kitsch from her storage room. Maybe hang some neon lights or add a hot pink shag rug and pale green plastic cactuses.
He knew she had a large collection of props from various decades, and they’d been pulling from her ‘80s section a lot lately. Trends cycling through the way they did.
They approached the set and Evelyn stopped walking. It still looked like a trendy ‘80s mall store, but now there were mountains of cheese set on every available surface around the small set.
One platter had blocks of pepper Jack and cheddar piled high. Another had a mix of cheese slices fanned in a spiraling design. One bright blue plate held a single block of unwrapped Velveeta. A tiered tray had cubes of various cheeses stuck with the kind of frizzy-topped toothpicks Evelyn hadn’t seen since he was a kid.
On the back wall, Lorraine hung a large, framed picture of a wedge of Swiss cheese against a bright blue background. Beside it, four smaller prints each showed a cartoon block of cheese with faces, arms, and legs.
Evelyn’s mouth dropped and words escaped him. “It’s… uh…”
“Cheese,” Lorraine finished with a nod. “That is what you wanted…?”
Worry crept into her voice. “Ashley said you wanted cheese on the set. Over-the-top cheese. It seemed a little weird to me at first. I tried to call you, but…”
She trailed off, looking from Evelyn’s stunned face to the models who were laughing at the wall art and having an animated debate over which cheese was the best cheese ever.
“It’s perfect,” Evelyn said, shaking his head in disbelief.
He grabbed his camera and started snapping pictures. The models noticed and began to pose, but he waved for them to stop.
“Keep talking,” he told them, “like I’m not here.”
The young women exchanged an awkward laugh, shrugged and went back to their cheese talk, trying to ignore Evelyn as he circled around.
“Okay, look this way,” Evelyn instructed. The models turned to face him, relaxing into the moment with easy smiles.
After a few more clicks, Evelyn lowered his camera and said, “I think we’ve got it, ladies. Thanks so much!”
He checked the monitor and starred multiple shots where the models stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders and wide smiles beaming. Unlike the first round of pictures, they were relaxed and casual. Young women having fun instead of models striking sultry poses.
“Those are brilliant!” Ashley gushed.
“Imagine them with the caption, Say Cheese!”
Ashley hit Evelyn’s arm in excitement. “I love it!”
Evelyn smiled and nodded, hoping the clients loved it, too.
“How did you know?” Ashley asked. Then clarified, “Where did you come up with adding cheese?”
Evelyn grinned and turned back to the monitors with a slight shake of his head. He thought about explaining her happy mistake. Instead, he said, “Sometimes things just come to you, and then you roll with it.”
Thanks for listening to today’s cheesy story. If you liked it, please share it with your friends and check out any of my earlier stories. There are lots styles since I roll with whatever ideas come to mind. You can give that a try yourself! Pick a prompt and freewrite your way to short story.
If you want to my novels and other books, stop by my website: SusanQuilty.com. You can also support me and get some bonus content through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. Again, links are in the show notes.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]