Happy Wizarding, Harry, um, I mean Writing

MamaAndBaby

I feel like I have nothing to say today. My munchkin got me up at 4:30 this morning. I just want a nap. So, I give you a poem I wrote when she was a new baby that seems rather appropriate and a link to a favorite inspiring LiveJournal post from Jim Butcher on The Most Important Thing An Aspiring Writer Needs to Know. May the weekend find you time to write.

A Mother’s Weary Vigil

Just after midnight

small heels beat a Morse code

of defiance into the mattress.

I am not tired.

I will not sleep.

Even though

mere moments before

or perhaps after

chubby cheeks and hands

folded in repose on mama’s lap

angelically spoke of

sweet dreams.

Oh, but what transpires

between the rocker and the crib?

Eyes and mouth pop open,

screams or laughter,

legs kick.

I am not tired!

I will not sleep!

Mama returns to the rocker

her weary vigil to keep.

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The F in the Blue Box: a very short story

Happy Friday everyone! Here’s a little bit of humor to start the weekend off right.

CoffeeCup

 

Alex,

Your last roommate’s name was Mary, right? I found this note wedged behind the bathroom mirror. (It was a little crooked.) What exactly happened to her?

Alex – They’re here! In the hallway outside the apartment. They say they’re from the department of health and my coffee this morning may have been contaminated but I know who they really are… they’re from Facebook! This is all because I tried to close my Facebook account this afternoon – they’re trying to take over the world!

I have to write quietly or they’ll suspect and look for the note. I don’t think I have much time. I realized what was happening this morning on my way to work. There was this guy on the street corner outside the coffee shop and he was trying to warn people about Facebook. I didn’t believe it at first but when I came out of the coffee shop after I got my latte, he was gone! A limo was pulling away from the corner and, I swear, I think the license plate said Facebook!

Then I started seeing it – everywhere! It was on the coffee shop door, on my coffee cup, on the side of the bus!!! That little f in the blue box. It all means Facebook! When I got to work it was even on Jenna’s sneakers! She said they had a pedometer that sent the info to her Facebook account but I don’t know.

The boss said he thought I was running a fever and sent me home but I know the real reason – I was asking too many questions!

I tried to delete my Facebook account this afternoon – but it wouldn’t let me! So I tried deleting everything but it was taking too long so I had to smash my computer. (I’m sorry. I had to smash your computer too, but I couldn’t risk them watching me through your web cam. And the T.V. too!)

The phone kept ringing all afternoon. I’m sure it was Mark Zuckerberg. He’s the head of it all! You know, they eat lima beans for dinner, don’t you? Everybody knows but nobody says it! They want people’s brains. Maybe they’re zombies!

I’m running out of time. The super is here and he’s going to unlock the door! I’m going to hide this note. I hope you find it. Good luck! Don’t let them get you too!!!

Your friend,

Mary

Alex folded the note in half then tore it into strips. Some things were better left unanswered. He started the car and headed out to his first day on a new job at Facebook.

 

He Came Home Today: Poem

I wrote this a few years ago when a local boy came home, I post it again in memory of all who have served.

800px-US_Army_52445_Military_Funeral_Honors_color_guard

He came home today
but not to a ticker-tape parade.
Instead, a horse drawn wagon
processed to where he will be laid.

An improvised explosive
near his armored car
took the life we held so dear
and left us where we are,

standing at graveside,
with his flag draped coffin
after the twenty-one gun salute
waiting for Taps to begin.

They shared those bright blue eyes.
Now his mothers are closed, too sad.
His will never again look up to the sky.
There’s no comfort to be had.

Tornado Run: A Flash Fiction

I wrote this as a 50 word flash fiction a couple years ago, a couple years after the event it is based on. I’ve written an essay on it and just fleshed this out for Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge.

Seymour_Texas_Tornado

 

Vibration, air pressure, a sound? Mama snatches baby up and runs for the cellar. A roar – the house lurches.

Through the kitchen door – toward the windows and cellar, or drop and cover baby with her own body? A moment’s hesitation then down the stone steps into an old coal bin.

Baby cries.

“Shhh… mama’s gotcha.”

Lightning flashes, water pours in the corner of the foundation, subsides. They venture upstairs and she opens the kitchen door. Smoke? No, plaster dust from falling ceiling. Grab car seat, purse and cell.

“Something’s happened. We can’t stay here.”

“We’re on our way.”

Biomalware: A Short Story

Here’s a very short Science Fiction story for a slow Friday afternoon. This is a story that I wrote several years ago which started me on the novel I am trying to finish now.  The story has gone through quite a bit of changes, but this is still the basis.

Potager_en_plate-bande

“Daddy,” Maddy whispered. Derek looked into the two year old’s dull eyes. “I hurt, owie.”

Derek’s stomach clenched. “I know, honey. The doctor’s going to give us something to make it better.”

“This should do it.” The doctor handed Derek the prescriptions. “One dose of each before a meal will help get her eating again and control the IBS symptoms.”

“Thanks, doc.”

The doctor nodded. “Wait here and Stephie will be in.”

Derek hugged Maddy tighter. This nightmare had to be at an end. Maddy always seemed to be in pain, either from hunger or from trying to digest the food.

The nurse, Stephie, came in. She had taken care of Maddy each time she’d been at the doctor’s since she was born. Despite the fact that she had to give Maddy shots, the little girl liked her. She took Maddy from Derek and bounced Maddy, cooing.

It took Derek a minute to realize that Stephie was waggling a note in the hand under his daughter.

“Wha?”

She gave a short emphatic shake of her head so Derek tucked the note in his pocket. Was she hitting on him?

“Let’s get you scheduled for an appointment, shall we?”

*****

In the car, Derek pulled out the note.

“Before you get the medicine, take her to John Garrett. Trust me, he can help you.”

There was a map below the instructions.

“What the heck?” The doctor had prescribed medicine. Wouldn’t that take care of it? He looked at Maddy’s listless face in the mirror. “What would your mother do?” And he knew, she would have gone to any lengths to care for Maddy and she would have trusted another woman.

Derek started the car and headed out of town, following the map into the hills.

It took about half an hour to reach an access road, which led to a farmyard. The house was plain but neat, with a flower box at the windowsill. Derek got out and opened the back door. As he unbuckled Maddy from her car seat, two kids came running around the barn. They stopped when they saw him but as he straightened up with Maddy in his arms they came forward.

“Is this where John Garrett lives?”

The older girl nodded. “Dad’s inside.”

She led the way. “Dad, somebody here to see you!”

Derek stayed on the front porch, unsure of his welcome. A bearded man in jeans and a flannel shirt came to the door. His face was impassive but as he took in Maddy, it softened.

“Stephie, at Dr. Cole’s, sent me.”

The other man nodded. “I’m John. You’d better come in. She having trouble eating?”

Derek nodded. “How’d you know?

“That’s who Stephie sends me. Have a seat.” John indicated the table near the kitchen area.

Derek stepped inside. The floor plan was open, with doors to the right, leading into the rest of the house, a kitchen area in front of him and a family area to the left.

John opened the fridge, pulled out a bottle of green juice and poured a little into a cup.

He put it in front of Derek. “Try to get her to drink some of this.”

Derek picked it up and sniffed. It smelled… green, but a little sweet, like juice.

“It’s just fruits and vegetables – apples, kale, lemon, some parsley, and the like.”

Derek offered it to Maddy. She was hungry enough to take a few sips but then she pushed it away and Derek set it down. “Thanks, but it’s hard to get her to eat.”

John nodded. “Because it hurts, I know, but this won’t. Just give her a few minutes.”

They watched for a minute and Derek was amazed when Maddy actually reached for the cup and picked it up. He laughed as she drank the cup down. “What’s in this? Chocolate?”

John smiled and shook his head. “Just fruits and vegetables grown from open-pollination or heirloom, non-gmo seeds.”

“Are you saying I just need to buy organic food?” Derek was incredulous.

John shook his head. “Not quite, your little girl’s having a reaction to the genetically modified food. It’s like lactose intolerance or inability to digest soy, but on a larger scale. Genetically modified seed has become ubiquitous in our farming. For the most part, you’re getting organically farmed food from genetically modified seed. Crops have been contaminated by pollen from GM foods.”

Derek tried to make sense of it. “Her mother died six months after she was born. Maddy seemed to do well when she was breast feeding but when we started formula it started and got worse as she started eating more solid food.”

John nodded. “Her mom’s body was filtering out a lot of the bad stuff, which helped your girl but overloaded her system. I lost my first wife the same way. That’s how I got started in this type of farming. One guess as to who holds the patent for the medication the doctor prescribed for your girl today.”

“The same people who hold the patent on the genetically modified crops?”

“Bingo.”

John excused himself and returned with a bag for Derek.

Derek opened the bag and found envelopes, hand labeled with tomato, corn, peas, etc.

“These are heirloom seeds. They’ll get you started and you’ll be able to grow more plants if you save some seeds from these guys. I’ll be able to supply you with safe food for her for a bit but we need to get you producing your own food.”

It was hard to take in but Derek looked down at Maddy. She smiled and held up the cup “More?”

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her smile.

“Okay. What do I do?”

The April Countryside and Narrative Magazine’s Sixth Annual Poetry Contest

Thought I’d share a poem for a Sunday morning. I don’t write poetry much but occasionally my mind turns to it, like it did one April day this Spring while driving along. If you write poetry or know someone who does, you might want to be aware of the Narrative Magazine Sixth Annual Poetry Contest. Check it out for yourself or share it with someone you know.  Thanks for reading!

The April Countryside

Gray April skies shower an inconsistent drip.

Follow a winding ribbon of gray

up the hill then down as it drops away.

Matted yellow grass, freed from blankets of snow

fills the pasture, greening at water’s edge.

Last year’s corn stubble dots the muddy field,

bare limbs move restlessly as

clinging dried orange leaves shudder-shake.

Old out buildings stand slant-sided,

unable to resist the ravages of winter

while, older still, a barn that could

squats solidly in the middle of a field.

Senselessness in Suburbia: a flash fiction

(Note: This is a quick short story in response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge on 5/12/14. Please let me know what you think!)

 Suburban_neighborhood,_Van_Nuys,_CA

 

Senselessness in Suburbia

Ellen opened her eyes and blinked until the chair rungs came into focus. Her head ached and she felt nauseous. She lifted her right hand to the painful spot on the top of her head and groaned softly.

She used her other hand to slowly push up into a sitting position. She was on the floor of her kitchen. How did I get here?

She looked around slowly. Her hand flew to her mouth. Jim was lying on the floor behind her. She moved to sit beside him and touched his face. It was bruised, one eye swollen shut, his lip split and bleeding. “Oh! The Borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”

Wait. What? She had meant to ask if he was alright. She tried again, “A poetic pattern retains inertia.” What the heck? Something is very wrong. I’m not making any sense. She stroked Jim’s cheek but there was no response.

Using the chair beside her, Ellen climbed to her feet then sat as her vision threatened to short circuit and her stomach lurched. The kitchen was in disarray, drawers pulled out, and she could see into the next room that it was similarly trashed. What had happened? She couldn’t remember. “The expression of classification is connected to the culture of corporeality.” And something was seriously wrong with her though she seemed to be thinking clearly.

She needed help but she couldn’t call 911 if she couldn’t talk. Mark! The next door neighbor was a doctor.

Ellen made her way out the back door and staggered across the yard in her fluffy slippers and terry robe. She banged on the back door with the side of her fist until it hurt but there was no response.

Nick! Nick was halfway down the street and he was a podiatrist but surely he had gone through medical training. She looked back at her own house then turned and went along the side of the neighbor’s house to get to the sidewalk. Need to hurry but I can’t afford to pass out.

Along the front of houses, the well-manicured lawns were empty in the too bright mid-morning sun and the birds chirped too loudly. She could hear a lawn mower somewhere but couldn’t tell where. Which house was Nick’s? It was yellow with white trim, she remembered that. She walked along, pausing to put a hand on a tree trunk whenever her head swam too much. She found Nick and Marina’s house and went up the walk. There was no answer here either.

What now? Tears threatened as her head pounded so that she could hardly think. She snuffled and headed back toward her own house. Need to check on Jim. Maybe if she dialed 911 they would trace the call and come even if she couldn’t explain?

The hum of a car coming up the street behind her made Ellen stop and turn around, hope rising. It was a police cruiser! She stepped into the street and waved her arms. The car slowed to a stop in front of her.

The passenger door opened and a young female officer stepped out and came around the car. “What’s the problem, Ma’am?”

She clasped her hands together as if praying or pleading with the young officer to understand her. Please, you have to listen to me. “The criminal disappears after the inventor.” Her face crumpled. No! No! No! Why was she saying that? Those weren’t the words screaming in her mind to get out. Why couldn’t she say them? She forced her feelings under control. No! She would not give up.

The older male officer in the car leaned out. “What’s going on? Is she a bag lady?”

The younger officer looked at her then spoke over her shoulder. “No, I don’t think so, Sarge. Too well put together, good haircut and color. I think you better call an ambulance. She might be having a stroke.”

Ellen reached out and grasped the young officer’s arm. She tugged at her, trying to pull her toward the house.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the young officer said. “My name is Theresa. I don’t understand but I’m going to do everything I can to help you.”

Ellen tugged at Theresa’s arm, and turned to point to her own house, then grabbed the young woman’s hand and raised it to the top of her own head, tipping forward to show the bruise.

Theresa’s eyes went wide. “Okay, okay, I think I get it.” She called back over her shoulder. “Sarge, she’s got quite a wallop on her head. I think I better follow her. Somebody else might be hurt.”

“Okay, I’m right behind you.”

Ellen drew her down the sidewalk by the hand. She heard the Sargeant following. She led them around back but when she tried the doorknob, she realized the door had closed behind her and locked. She gave a wordless cry of frustration.

“Is this your house?” Theresa asked.

Tears welling in her eyes again, Ellen nodded and pointed to the gap between the curtains in the door’s window, one hand on the other woman’s shoulder to draw her closer.

Theresa leaned in and looked. “Sarge, I think I see someone’s legs on the floor.”

“Let’s get it open,” he agreed.

They stepped back. Theresa broke and cleared the window glass with her baton then reached in to turn the knob.

As soon as the door opened, Ellen rushed in and knelt beside Jim, crooning as she stroked his hair.

Theresa checked his vitals then turned to her partner. “He’s still alive.”

He nodded and spoke into his shoulder mounted walkie-talkie. “Dispatch, we have a man down inside the residence.”

“It’s going to be okay,” Theresa told Ellen. “Help is on the way.”

Ellen nodded and let the tears flow as she held Jim’s hand. It was going to be okay.

Writing and Creating Every Day

800px-Blossoming_almond_tree

 

It’s amazing how the time flies! Spring is busting out all over here. I just realized yesterday that it’s been almost FOUR months since I posted! What have I been up to? Quite a lot, I suppose.

The last time I posted was just before I started teaching a workshop at our library called Creativity Unleashed, based on The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. (More about that in a minute.)

I’ve been writing whenever possible, a lot of journaling with the Morning Pages, one of the tools from The Artist’s Way. Our writer’s group is going strong and I’ve been meeting with them on Thursday evenings whenever I could.

I worked really hard last fall on a futuristic, after the fall, mythic short story that I submitted to the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest… and got the rejection late winter. Then I turned around and submitted it to the Narrative Magazine… and also got rejected. Need to find somewhere else to submit it because it is a really good story and deserves to be published.

Anyway, I’ve just started reading blogs again and there are a couple posts that I’ve particularly enjoyed recently. One was sent to me by a friend and came out of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog, inspiring and some good reminders, What I’ve Learned as a Writer. When I read it a couple months ago I realized I had been putting off reading because I didn’t feel I had time for it. Reading this reminded me I need to make time for it if I want to be a good writer.

Then I read one a friend of a friend posted from Chuck Wendig, similar inspiration but with a totally different spin, How To Push Past the Bullshit and Write That Goddamn Novel. (Warning, LOTS of profanity, but well punctuated.)

I can’t vouch for the idea that if you do a full-time job outside the home people will leave you alone to write in your free time, my 4 year old does not follow that logic, but I particularly like where he says, “You can sneeze 350 words.” Now that’s the kind of inspirational writing I can appreciate.

That night I sat down in a chair and wrote 350 words on the ending of my novel while my daughter played before bed time. I think she said something to me a couple times. I caught it and answered but didn’t let it distract me from my purpose. That’s what we need to be doing more of.

Okay, a little bit more about The Creativity Unleashed workshop I’ve just finished teaching.

For the past three months, I’ve been leading a workshop at my library that we called Creativity Unleashed, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Some years ago I picked up this book, read it and put it on my book shelf. Then, when I started getting serious about my writing but couldn’t afford any writing workshops, I decided to do the book as a 12 week workshop at home on my own. It really helped me open up creatively and start writing daily.

One of our group found she could get copies for everyone very cheaply online so we all purchased a copy of the book if we didn’t already have one. The composition of the group was very eclectic and the reasons for being there were just as diverse. The focus was increasing creativity wherever that might be in our lives, whether looking for a new job, writing, quilting, or whatever else it might entail.

Basic Tools

Morning pages, artist dates and weekly exercises are the basis of the Artist’s Way.

Morning Pages are pretty straight forward (and the bane of many a participant.) It is simply three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing as soon as you wake up. When I first started though, it was at 3 in the afternoon. I think the next day was around 2 pm and I worked my way back to mostly 7 am, after I’d been up an hour. I love them! They make me so much more focused for the rest of the day, but even I found it very difficult to get them in towards the end of our workshop when my munchkin had been sick almost continuously for a month and I was suffering severe sleep deprivation.

Cameron says the Artist Date is about filling up the artist’s well with images but our group just set about having fun and took themselves on a huge variety of artist dates. Of course, most of mine tended to have some component of writing but they often included taking in new stories in the form of movies or simply new experiences. I made a practice of checking our local Arts Council calendar for options. One participant brought up the concept of vision boards, where you cut out images from old magazines that appeal to you and I started one on Pinterest. People went to live jazz concerts, beginner bird walks, free movies at the library, and art gallery openings. One week for me it was simply about getting to read a whole mystery novel and another artist date involved cooking up a storm, including honey oat bread, buffalo wing meatballs and coconut pound cake with raspberry sauce.

Weekly exercises run the gamut from writing exercises, like a letter to your future self, to throwing out one piece of old clothing. I admit I did nearly all the exercises when I did this book the first time but then did not pay as close attention to them this time.

If that sounds interesting, I highly recommend you check out the book. I’ll be sharing more about the workshop in the weeks to come.

It’s Friday, go write something. Remember, none of us are promised tomorrow so if you love to write, make some time for it today.

Writing dialogue without quotation marks?

QuestionMarkWoman1922

I just finished the novel Benediction by Kent Haruf. This was only the second book that I’ve read from the modern era that did not use quotes to set off dialogue. It wasn’t totally foreign to me but, to be honest, I wasn’t aware that there were a number of authors doing this.

The only other book that I’ve read, written in modern times, that used this quoteless dialogue was Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which I loved. It was a work of speculative fiction so I assumed that her lack of quotes to delineate dialogue was part of her intention to create a certain atmosphere. I accepted it and really enjoyed the story. I thought the lack of quotes gave it a very internal feeling.

I thought the lack of quotation marks in Benediction was difficult to follow at first but I was soon okay with it.  Again, I thought it gave the novel an internal feeling or perhaps even a timeless feel.  It was as if I were looking at events that happened through frosted glass.

I wondered why someone would choose not to use quote marks to delineate dialogue. I did a quick search online that led me to an article from Lionel Shriver on the Wall Street Journal site where I learned that a number of modern authors, including James Frey, Kent Heruf and Cormac McCarthy, are popularizing the trend.

Shriver contends that “By putting the onus on the reader to determine which lines are spoken and which not, the quoteless fad feeds the widespread conviction that popular fiction is fun while literature is arduous.”

Here’s one of my prime problems with it. I have no problem reading dialect and dialogue without quotation marks. I’m a very fast reader and can adapt. However, I know people who simply cannot read dialect, such as Mark Twain. Their brains simply don’t translate the written word into sound in their head. I believe that writing is about communicating. Anything that gets between the reader and the story inhibits that communication. Now, I know that not every book is for every reader but, as writers, shouldn’t we be trying to communicate in the most clear manner possible?

I also came upon a an interview Cormac McCarthy had done with Oprah some years ago in which he says that the intent is to make the reading easier, not harder. “If you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

He does concede that “You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks to guide people and write in such a way that it is not confusing who is speaking.”

I think that is a rather large challenge and whether writers who write without quotation marks live up to it is another matter altogether.

I took this issue to my writer’s group last night. One of my group contended that a good story will not be brought down by poor grammar or punctuation. Another member said she wouldn’t be able to get past the first few pages. Yet another threw something on the floor in disgust and said that it was sheer laziness on the author’s part.

I think I will personally continue to use quotation marks in my writing, but I won’t reject a book just because the author does not use them.

What do you think? Were you aware of modern authors writing books without quotation marks to set the dialogue apart? Do you enjoy it? Do you do it yourself? I’d love to hear some more perspectives.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to Unleash Your Creativity!

Thomas Cole

I’m very excited. On Thursday we had the first meeting of a new group at my library that are devoting themselves to doing the 12 week course in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron with Mark Bryan. I was planning on 12 people but two extra showed up . . . and two more plan to join us yet!

We’re calling it Creativity Unleashed!

There are some people who have done this before, like myself, who are really excited about the possibilities. I did this ten years ago and it helped me get writing every single day, feel more balanced by releasing my anxieties on the page daily and curb that inner censor.

There are also people who have never done it but are creatively inclined and are looking forward to it. Then there are some people who don’t consider themselves creative but they’re willing to give it a chance. I hope it will pleasantly surprise them. I believe we are creating all the time, from a simple list . . .  to a meal . . .  to love letters.

My biggest hope for this workshop is that it will help me work through those last two chapters of Biomalware. Julia says, in the book, that you can’t keep putting down the same complaints in your morning pages without some kind of solutions presenting themselves.

Of course, finding time for three pages of long hand writing every morning can be difficult. She suggests setting your alarm for a half hour early. That sounds good right now.  However, that night, my daughter had a bad night and needed mommy at Midnight, 2 am, 4 am and she got up for the day at 6:55 am. I didn’t get to my morning pages until 3 in the afternoon.  (By then, I had a lot to say.)

The idea, however, is to get your worries and anxieties down on the page in the morning so you can be more productive the rest of the day.  I have no doubt there will be days I manage that and days I don’t. I will take what I can get.

There’s another reason I love doing workshops like this. Teaching someone else something they don’t know makes me feel competent when other areas of my life are making me feel incompetent. It’s very helpful. I sometimes forget I really have something to offer. It’s a good thing to get out of that head space.

I highly recommend this book to anyone out there, and I do mean anyone. You don’t have to be an artist. You could do the workshop on your own or  find some people to do it with you!

Have you ever used The Artist’s Way as a workshop for yourself? Alone or in a group?  How did it help you? Or did it?

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