Mrs. Bell’s Cat: A Short Tale for Halloween

GrayCat

Mrs. Bell’s Cat

One fall day, Mrs. Bell opened the bay windows in her sitting room as she was dusting. She didn’t notice the lithe little shadow that slipped in, slid through the doorway into the dining room and up the stairs to her guest bedroom on the second floor, where it found a nice dark closet to rest.

Mrs. Bell bustled about her Saturday cleaning, a kerchief over her soft white curls to keep them neat.  As always, the house was in perfect order, each item replaced where it belonged as soon as she was done with it.  Her husband, Harold, God rest his soul, had been a fastidious man but even he had felt Mrs. Bell’s wrath when he had carelessly left a newspaper on a chair.

No, now that she had the house to herself, Mrs. Bell kept everything just so. Therefore, Saturday cleaning did not take more than half the day. In the morning, she pulled out the glass cleaner, scouring powder, vacuum and mop to make sure the house positively sparkled.

She started by emptying all the waste baskets and then cleaning them before relining them with white plastic bags. Then she scoured the sinks and scrubbed the commodes. She replaced the cat litter and vacuumed the house from top to bottom before mopping all the floors that were not covered in carpeting.

Twice a year she took down the curtains and washed them while she cleaned the windows, washed the woodwork with oil soap and the wallpaper with a special cleaner.

After a modest lunch of soup and half a sandwich, she went out to the garage to get her car. As she stepped out the door in the breezeway and turned to pull it shut, her neighbor, who happened to be out walking her little Jack Russell Terrier, hailed her.

Mrs. Bell put on a reserved smile and walked down the little sidewalk, refusing to yell across the yard as her neighbor did, though she didn’t get too close to the yappy little dust mop her neighbor called a dog. “Good morning, Edith.”

“I see you finally got yourself some company?” her neighbor said, nodding toward the front window.

Mrs. Bell turned toward the house and followed her neighbor’s gaze to see the gray cat that she had brought home from the humane society, sunning itself in the window. She glared at the cat but smiled sweetly before turning back to her neighbor. “Yes, it’s so much company, I almost can’t stand it.”

Once she’d managed to extricate herself from the conversation with Edith, Mrs. Bell pulled her car out and drove down to the market to pick up a few provisions, then visited the library and, finally, drove her little gray Honda home again. Once everything was put away, she relaxed in the sitting room with a book until time to make dinner, some nice poached fish and peas. After dinner, she watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

That night, she was cleaned up and dressed in her long white nightgown, tucked up in bed, thinking of the lovely sermon to come in the morning, then the social hour after, where she would serve coffee and cookies with the other ladies of St. James Church.

Mrs. Bell’s houseguest, though, was just beginning to stir. It slipped out from under the door and puddled there for a moment. It slunk along the wall of the room, as if testing the confines. At the door into the hallway it hesitated then the whole shadow seemed to vibrate.

It flowed more surely now as it slid back down the stairs and under the door into the kitchen. It stopped and vibrated again.

The gray cat turned from its water bowl and hissed, standing on tip toe. The cat’s fur stood up in a ridge as it curled its back end around, trying to protect its flank.

It didn’t matter, it was over in a minute. The shadow flowed over the cat, thinning to slide in through the nostrils. The cat shook its head side to side and staggered a few steps. It shook its head then dropped to the floor. At last, the flanks did not rise. The cat’s green eyes stared blindly.

After a few minutes, the cat clumsily stood and shook itself. It put one paw in front of the other and staggered, as if it were drunk. With each movement across the room, though, it became more graceful and natural. Finally, it reached up and batted with one paw until it managed to turn the lock on the doorknob and shouldered the door open to escape the kitchen.

It was moving easily now and took a lap around the downstairs, looking and sniffing.

At last, it came to the stairs and climbed them, going directly to Mrs. Bell’s bedroom, where the door stood open. The cat padded silently into the room and leapt easily onto the bed.

Mrs. Bell woke with a start. She switched on the lamp to find the cat sitting serenely next to her.

She stared for a moment. “Howard? Is that you?”

The cat blinked slowly and then began to purr.  With a cry, she gathered him into her arms.  “Oh, Howard! I knew as soon as I heard about the cats turning up suffocated around town that you’d be back soon so I went right out and got this one from the humane society.”

She kissed the cat as it purred then wiped the fur from her mouth and wondered how long she’d be able to put up with that.

 

*I hope you enjoyed the story! ~ M.

Advertisements

And the refrigerator too – a Father’s Day memorial

DadAndMe

My father died last October. On the last day I saw him, in the hospital, I said good-bye and told him I loved him. I said, “see you later.” It seemed to me like he wanted to say something but couldn’t get it out. Instead he said, “later, later.” But later never really came.

My mother called at 12:45 in the morning to say that she had heard from the hospital that he had passed. We were grateful that Hospice had been able to send a gentleman in to sit with him over night but it seemed that my father had waited for everyone to leave, then left himself.

I went to work the next day, to wrap things up so I could be away for several. As I walked back to the break room at lunch time, I passed a cart of books waiting to be shelved. The last book on the cart had fallen over to lay face up and the cover was a beautiful watercolor of a rainbow trout, the title said “Trout Reflections.” I grabbed it. My father was an avid fly-fisherman and had taught me to fly fish as a teen. It was probably the time when we had connected the best, and was undoubtedly the most harmonious time in our relationship.

That night, I got home from work and was in the next room when my refrigerator started making an odd growling noise. It would growl on an up note and then stop, growl and stop, growl and stop. It continued for several minutes. I walked into the kitchen and listened. It made me think of how my father, dressed in the tiger print bathrobe my mother had made him, would tease me as a child saying, “grumble, grumble, growl.”

Feeling slightly foolish, I said out loud, “Dad, if that’s you, please stop messing with my refrigerator. I need it to keep working for a while longer. It’s okay, I know you loved me, I love you too.” It made the noise two more times and then stopped. It never made that noise again. Unfortunately, the next day it died too. My Dad always did like a good laugh.

Shhh . . . I’m writing.

Yes, I’m still out here. Still writing and submitting, which is why I haven’t been posting. There are times when you realize that if you want to actually accomplish your goals of being published, you have to shut up and write.

I recently heard about a wonderful web site called coursera.org where you can take courses for free from professors at top universities around the world. I signed up for the Science Fiction and Fantasy course, hoping it would help me look at the literature a little more deeply. It required reading a full length book every five days, doing a short assignment and then responding to assignments from four other people. I quickly realized that the timing was really not right. I can either write or do a course, along with work and family. Both is just too much.

Right now I have about a dozen short stories that I’ve started and a couple novels to edit. I’m sending things out and hope to have some good news soon. I’ll post when I think of something useful or interesting to say.

2014 NaNoWriMo Calendar (National Novel Writing Month)

Thought I’d offer this here for anyone who would like one for this year. I tried to find quotes for inspiration that I haven’t seen a million times before but I kept a few of my favorites from last year. Just click on the image to get the full size. I created it as an 8 1/2 by 14 Microsoft Publisher file then saved it as a .jpeg.2014NaNoWriMoCalendar

The Butler (movie) and Biography vs. Historical Fiction

My husband and I went to see The Butler, starring Forrest Whittaker, yesterday.

It was riveting.  I admit I cried several times.  Never once in the two hours did I wonder how much longer we had to go just… what is going to happen next?

It was a fascinating journey that spanned nearly eighty years.

I left the theater wondering if this was an actual person’s life or an amalgamation of people and events?  It seemed like too much to have happened to one person.

It was.

I found this article from The Slate, “How True is The Butler?” that discusses the differences between the life of  Eugene Allen and the movie.  It’s a lot.

It makes me wonder – should they have done that?  It’s one thing to make up a minor character or an event, but this was pure fiction inspired by the fact that there was an African-American butler who worked in the White House through many administrations.   It was good, but it was fiction.

On the one hand, I admit I felt a little bit hoodwinked by learning that he was a real person but then learning that they made up nearly every dramatic point in the movie.

On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t personally go through all that, but somebody certainly did, many people in fact.

It’s exactly what I thought it, an amalgamation of events and lives.  It was a good movie, well acted, and I enjoyed it very much.  I just wish they’d left it at that and said it was fiction instead of making the connection to the real person as if it were about his life.

It feels disrespectful to this man whose life it was based on.  It’s like they said, your life isn’t good enough.  I think if they had focused on the drama of what he experienced in the White House, that would have been enough for a good movie, but they had to sensationalize it to make a “BOX OFFICE SMASH!”

As a writer, I know and expect that memoirs are subject to the vagaries of memory and perspective.  I also appreciate that the best historical fiction and science fiction are born out of fact.  When it comes to fiction, I staunchly defend the author’s right to write the story they have to tell.

This is different.  This was someone’s life that was subverted into a drama for the screen and sold to viewers with the idea that it was based on his life.

What do you think?  Is it too soon?  Was it disrespectful to change his life so much?  They aren’t claiming all the events really happened to him, so why does it feel so… disrespectful?

The Words (movie) and Plagiarism

Ghostwriter

My husband and I watched a movie last night, The Words, on the recommendation of two people who I work with at my library.

WARNING: If you’ve never seen the movie, this blog containers spoilers.

The premise is that a writer has written a book he is told is very good but it isn’t garnering him representation or a contract.  He has to get a regular job to support himself.  On their honeymoon in Paris, his wife buys him an old bag which he later finds has a manuscript in it.  It’s a masterpiece.  He retypes it and passes it off as his own.  Then the old man shows up and tells him he knows what the young man did because it’s his story, but he doesn’t want anything.

This movie didn’t really work for me, for two reasons.

First, I’ve been in a writer’s group for a few years now.  All of us would love to make a living at our writing.  Hell, we’d love to be bestselling and rich!  But, we would continue to write whether we ever sell it or not, because that’s what we do.  We write.  We’re writers.  We want to write and share through our writing.  What is the point of selling a piece of writing if it isn’t yours?  You’re not a writer, if you do that, you’re a publisher or an agent.  We writers live to create.  Did he think that if he just published the book he’d suddenly begin writing to that caliber?  We all know that’s not going to happen.  Good writing takes time and work.  The point is not to sell, the point is to create.

Maybe it’s just me, but in his place I think a lot of writers would have rather had the adventure of trying to find the person who actually wrote it.

Second, he says that he’s not where he’s supposed to be in life.  That’s not possible.  Wherever you are is where you’re supposed to be.  Life is a journey.  You have to let go of what you thought your life would be in order to find the life that’s waiting for you.  Maybe that just sounds like a platitude but it’s what I’ve found to be true and I guess I expect other writers to have that perspective but probably many don’t.

Okay, then you’ve got the whole Dennis Quaid storyline area that just doesn’t work.  Supposedly he’s written the book that tells this whole story of the young man’s plagiarism and old man, and he’s reading part of it at an award ceremony.  A young woman shows up who seems to know what is going on.  Now, if he’d published a novel before to critical acclaim like the one described in this new book, wouldn’t people recognize it instead of just this one girl suspecting that the new book was really what was going on in his own life?  Plus, she comes in with this all knowing attitude.  How?  I don’t think so.

Some of the cinematography was beautiful.  There was one shot that I had to go back and look at again, about a third of the way into the movie, with the Fall trees, the street and the sky line fogged in the background.  I would love to have that as a picture on my wall.  The soundtrack was beautiful too.

In the end,  The idea was interesting but the plot was not well executed.  I enjoyed it for the acting and the cinematography.  3 stars from me.  I am guessing that someone wrote this as a screenplay to be a box office smash with Dennis Quaid and Jeremy Irons.  (I went and checked, it was written by the directors.  They could have used a good writer’s group to poke holes in it before they turned it into a movie.)

What do you think?  Did you see the movie?  What about plagiarism?  As a writer, what’s the point?

A Writing Parent – or how in the world did J.K. Rowling do this?

SleepingChild

The munchkin has been up coughing a lot with one cold following shortly after the last this past month and I‘m too tired these days to read a well written and thought-provoking book, let alone write one.  The way I write is to imagine a scene fully then put it down on paper.  Right now?  If I stopped long enough to do that, I’d fall asleep.   Things that would normally inspire me just aren’t.  It takes a major shock, or some serious immersion, to get my brain into gear and make sense of anything.

Here’s the odd thing, a little sleep deprivation can actually help turn off that pesky internal editor.  Yesterday I picked up a simile worksheet and my brain actually started firing some semi-original thoughts.

As dark as midnight in a country room with the shades drawn down.

As dead as the remains of a carcass on the highway that has been run over five hundred times.

As high as a meth addict shooting up with his two year old daughter in the back seat of the car.  (Actually saw that one in the news the other day.)

As tall as the shadow of Abraham Lincoln’s reputation.

As mad as my mother when she found the metal handle of a fly swatter I broke by bending it back and forth, back and forth, even though she’d told me not to do so, and hid under her dresser.  (I should have known she’d clean there.  She cleaned everywhere, relentlessly.)

As blue as the notes of the last jazz song on the closing night of a club.

As nervous as a starving feral cat stealing food from the bowl on the back porch.

Growing like a zucchini when the gardener’s away for the weekend.

Along with the worksheet on simile which, unfortunately, I have no idea where I got, I found a number of other interesting items I saved over the past couple of years.

There were several inspirational pieces.  One was Neil Gaiman’s pep talk from National Novel Writing Month a couple years ago.  He talks about having waded into the writing of a novel and having gone from imagining that “glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read” to seeing what you’re working on as something “you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy.”  He talks about simply moving forward, putting one word after another.

Which leads right into a wonderful interview with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, in the July/August 2013 Writer’s Digest where he gives the most useful metaphor for revision that I’ve ever heard.  He likens it to moving into a new house, dragging all the furniture in.  Once it’s all in, you have to spend the time deciding where everything should go, rearranging it until you find the perfect spot for each item.

Those two things together really create a pretty good framework for the writing process.  You get a great idea and it sounds perfect.  You start writing and the fire burns low, turning into embers that are covered in ash, but you keep writing as your fingers get cold.  Then, you’ve finished a draft and you can put it aside for a bit or start rearranging the bits into something recognizable.  I like it.

There are other wonderful things in the interview – Hosseini talks about how his writing has grown to include more multidimensional characters and he also addresses the crises of confidence and episodes of self-doubt inherent in writing a novel.  It may be one of the most useful things I’ve found in Writer’s Digest recently but I will admit I love memoirs by writers.  I find them often inspirational and instructive.

Another funny item I came across was the editor’s note at the beginning of the Winter 2013 issue of ForeWard Reviews.  Julie Eakin shares a book of historical writer criticisms, Rotten Reviews Redux: A Literary Companion in which Rudyard Kipling is lambasted for not knowing “how to use the English language” by the San Francisco Chronicle and The New Yorker calls Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, “the final blowup of what was once a remarkable, if minor, talent.”  I’m sure there are people today who feel that way about Kipling and Faulkner but the vast majority of readers consider them major talents of the past.  It really helps to drive home the point for a writer that not everyone is going to like your writing, no matter how good you are.  It’s reassuring, in a backward way.

So, where does all that leave me?  I’ve been reading a lot of light stories the past couple weeks to refill the creative well, mainly Jennifer Crusie and Dorothea Benton Frank.  I’m still working on story one of my four short stories.  I’ve gotten little bits on it this past week but it’s been slow going.  I’ve been thinking more and more of how I’m going to attack the research and re-write on the novelization of Biomalware.  It’s still out there but I swear it’s getting closer.  It will be re-written this year.  (Heck, it hasn’t even been a year since I wrote the first draft.)

I just need to maintain my focus and write a little every day.  I’m getting there.  I don’t care how long it takes, and I really can’t foresee how I’ll get there, other than plugging away.  I never imagined a tornado would kick start the renovations on the family farm house that I always wanted to do.  (Seriously, I’ve been planning them since I was about 12 years old.)  Who knows what wild and wonderful, though potentially painful, ways the Universe will move me forward if I just do my part?  Only time will tell.

Stalled Writing Mind Needs a Jump Start

carabandoned

Writer’s write.  Right?

Except, sometimes we don’t.

My mind has stalled.  That doesn’t mean it’s ready for the junkyard.

I had the bright idea to take a vacation day today.  I was going to go hide somewhere and finish editing those next fifty pages of Biomalware and write one of the short stories I have started.

Then I remembered that I have an appointment with a budding author today to talk about how to publish an ebook and the desk shifts at work got rearranged so I am scheduled on the desk today after all.

*sigh*

The truth is that I just can’t clear my schedule of life to write.  Writing is going to have to happen around my schedule.

And I’m not like those authors who are capable of staying up late writing into the wee hours of the morning and going to work on coffee and a couple hours sleep, or getting up a couple hours early to write before work after going to bed at midnight, once the munchkin is taken care of.  I need more sleep than I get now.

I’m going to have to grab my time to write and edit when I can, whenever I see a few minutes to do so, on a daily basis.

There may be times when I have a chunk of time to devote to it, but that isn’t my daily life.

Sometimes exhaustion or sadness over events of the world keeps me from feeling creative, my body gets overwhelmed or, like last night, I worry about the coming weather and find myself restlessly flipping back and forth between weather.com and Facebook.

These things serve to distract me.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m trying to turn a car that’s lost its power steering back on course.  You can do it but it takes some real muscle.

So, I’m curious, my question is – how do you fit writing into your life?  Is it daily, weekly or just whenever you can?  And what do you do when you feel like you’ve gotten off track to get yourself back on?

(Please join me on my Facebook page, where I will be posting a daily note on something interesting or inspiring about writing or life in general. Just click here -> Melora Johnson’s Facebook page.)

Creativity, Deadlines and NYFA Source for Artists

450px-Old_Faithful_Geyser,_Calistoga,_California

I was at home yesterday with my daughter and managed to write… one whole sentence.  So much for the font of creativity.

It was a really good sentence though.  Actually, it was even dialogue.  It seemed to fit in with one of the five stories I am working on so I opened the document and typed it in.

That’s how it’s been going lately, drips and drabs.  I think my font may have frozen over.  One of these days something will capture my imagination and I’ll get something done.  I think I may need a deadline though.  Deadlines just help me focus and accomplish.  That brings me to what I wanted to share today, NYFA Source, because it’s a place to look for fellowships, scholarships, grants and other competitions which can provide the needed deadline.

Now, this is through the New York Foundation for the Arts BUT it does cover resources across the country.

The New York Foundation for the Arts (nyfa.org)

“The New York Foundation for the Arts’ mission is to empower artists at critical stages in their creative lives.”

NYFA Source is the nation’s most extensive database of awards, services and publications for artists of all disciplines including dance, folk, traditional, media, performance, interdisciplinary, visual, music, literature, theater, and arts management.

What do they mean by “awards, services and publications?”  Awards include the usual – grants, fellowships, scholarships, emergency funds, and even space to work in.  Services may include legal, education, financial, insurance and more.  Publications are geared towards your specific discipline, including newsletters, online publications, magazines and even books.

Go to www.nyfa.org then hover your mouse cursor over “for artists” and select the third item down, “NYFA Source the resource for artists.”

Now you have 8 different tabs and you can fill out criteria in one or more of them to search.

  1. Awards
  2. Discipline
  3. Location
  4. Deadline
  5. Services
  6. Organization
  7. Keyword
  8. Other Criteria

Give it a look sometime.  Oh, and don’t forget to stop by Facebook and like my page for a daily message of inspiration or information, depending on how I’m feeling.

Happy writing!

The Power of “Could” Over “Should” For a Writer

Monkey-typing

This past week I’ve been on vacation, at home, but I’ve got diddley squat to show for it in terms of writing and editing. 

My plan was to edit the first fifty pages of Biomalware then go back and start a total re-write.

Then I got an idea for a new short story. 

Then the short story turned into a novel idea.

Then I made a list of all the short stories that I’ve started on my computer and never finished.

Then I made peanut butter chocolate chip muffins with my daughter.  (She did the stirring.  Well, some of it.  She’s only 2 1/2.)

And did a few Soduko puzzles.

There were other things in there but you get the idea.  Not much writing or editing.  Part of the problem is that I think about what I “should” do and my brain balks like a mule.

So, I’m going back to an old idea I learned years ago, turning “should” into “could.”  Instead of telling myself I should be editing Biomalware or working on a short story, I tell myself I could edit or pick a story to work on.  For some reason my brain just hears it differently and I don’t get the malaise that I get when I tell myself I “should” do something.  Hopefully that will help me getting some writing or editing done over the next three days, before I go back to work.

I did manage to post a new short story to Yahoo!, Memories and Choices.  I originally submitted it to the Writer’s Digest short short story contest but it didn’t win so I’ve put it out there for the reading.  It’s a bit of science fiction, magical realism and fan fic.

I understand there’s a Camp NaNoWriMo running this month.  They can be great for motivation but I won’t be participating this month.  I’m trying to focus on quality over quantity right now.

Happy Writing!

« Older entries