The Rise and Fall of the Phoenix: a flash fiction

Phoenix_detail_from_Aberdeen_Bestiary

 

A silly little 50 word flash fiction for Chuck Wendig’s challenge, but at least it’s something new. Feeling the need to write today.

The Rise and Fall of the Phoenix

The Phoenix rose into the air, shaking off ashes.

Gross.

Up and up it climbed until at last it could soar on zephyrs. It swallowed the urge to crow like a rooster.

How inappropriate.

The bird never knew what hit it. The 747 never realized either, as it went on its way.

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.

A Couple Grants and Contests for Writers

WilliamAdolpheBouguereau

Well, I’ve actually been getting a fair bit of writing done and I’m planning to enter a grant competition at the end of the month.

I’m working on a short story for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest, 1,500 words maximum, getting one bit each night.  I’m really pleased at how it’s coming along.  It may be utter garbage but just the fact that I’m producing and having ideas is the best feeling.  (The British term “chuffed to bits” comes to mind.  I wonder if that would be a proper application of it?)  Anyway, the deadline for that is in November so I’ve got some time.

As I said, I’m working on a grant application at the same time.  It’s for the Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award.  You must have a child under the age of 18 and they do give preference to people who live in the San Francisco area but there’s no entry fee so I’m going for it!

Besides the application, they want 4 writing samples and they prefer you’ve written them since you had your child.  Well, I’ve got quite a few things on my Yahoo! Contributor Network board so I’m trying to choose four from that.  I’d LOVE to have anyone’s input who cares to take a look and comment.

I am thinking to choose between –

Memories and Choices  http://voices.yahoo.com/memories-choices-12079419.html

Devolution: The Beginning  http://voices.yahoo.com/devolution-beginning-11335874.html?cat=44

Regrets: A Confessional Villanelle  http://voices.yahoo.com/regrets-confessional-villanelle-11335696.html?cat=47

27 Minutes  http://voices.yahoo.com/27-minutes-11439900.html?cat=43

Faith Hope and Love  http://voices.yahoo.com/faith-hope-love-10777773.html?cat=43

Biomalware  http://voices.yahoo.com/biomalware-11149566.html?cat=44

I’d like to include the two that were featured on Yahoo!, Regrets and Devolution, because they got really good feedback.  However, Memories and Choices, Faith Hope and Love, 27 Minutes and Biomalware all have more to do with being a parent than those two.

To further complicate manners, novelization of Biomalware is my current project and novelization of Devolution is my next project so those might be good choices to show them where I’m headed.

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.

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!

The End of NaNoWriMo 2012

Winner-180x180

Here we are, the final day of NaNoWriMo 2012. I’ve got a cup of amaretto hot chocolate and about 1,200 words to write yet. Unless the 2 year old has other ideas, it shouldn’t be a problem to finish. I don’t have big plans to celebrate. This cup of hot chocolate and maybe a nap is about the size of it. I’m simply enjoying the sense of accomplishment of being able to say I wrote at least 50,000 words this month and didn’t lose my mind. In fact, I really enjoyed it.

There’s been a lot of emotion spilled out on the page, both mine and my character’s. It’s been an interesting month of writing. Except for a few zigs to the left and zags to the right, I’ve pretty much kept up with my daily word count for a change. Perhaps that because I chose to be a NaNo Rebel this time around.

I started out thinking I would pick a different prompt every day and write a collection of short stories, essays, blog posts, poetry, etc. – one thing complete every day. There were short stories, some of them finished, but I was surprised to find a couple that I think could actually turn into novels in the future. There were some short stories that went nowhere and some that took multiple days. No poetry but lots of blog posts and several essays.

So, it didn’t quite work out the way I planned. When does NaNoWriMo ever? Heck, when does a piece of writing ever start at point A and simply arrive at point B like you planned? It’s pretty unusual for me, but that’s part of the journey. We start out and find the horizon moves as we walk towards it.

I’d like to get one more really short story in. I’ve always enjoyed the flash fiction genre. I’ve been shooting for anywhere from 50 words to 1,500. It’s a challenge and small work of word art to make a complete story arc in that amount of words. I’ll go find a prompt and see what I can do then post this when I’ve completed my NaNoWriMo word count.

Post script – It’s done. 50,228 words and the start of some kind of space opera.  Not a complete story yet but the start of something is certainly a good thing too. Right, time to make a tomato and bacon bit sandwich. Cheers!

Give Yourself Some Writing Credit

Taken by Bohringer Friedrich

So often, we think about all that we have yet to do or that we should be doing, but I’d like to take a moment to focus on all we do get done as writers, usually with schedules that are already full of living.

 Last week a coworker sent me a link to Pen Parentis (http://www.penparentis.org) an organization set up specifically for writers who are also parents.  There are dues to pay but you receive certain benefits by being a member, like being part of a community of writers who understand your challenges as a writing parent, savings on application fees for certain contest and fellowship application fees from Pen Parentis partners, an author profile, marketing space, promotion of your literary events on the events calendar and a Pen Parentis logo that you can use on your web site or e-stationary.

 Anyway, it got me thinking that, you know, I’m doing pretty darn good at this writing thing. I am a parent of a small child, I commute an hour each way and work a full-time job. I still write, even participating in National Novel Writing Month where I wrote over 50,000 words in August during Camp NaNoWriMo and hope to do so again this month. I’ve published things on Yahoo! Voices and earned actual money from it, as well as entering various contests.

 Of course, all this writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. My job is a tremendous help. Not only am I librarian, surrounded by books in a moderately large library, but I run an adult writing group there, sanctioned and originally requested by the library. My director is tremendously supportive of my writing endeavors too. When I had two pieces featured on Yahoo! Voices, she celebrated by giving me a ticket to a local charity fashion event.

 Then there is my family, friends and past school teachers. I’ve never been laughed at or scoffed at but rather supported in my writing. I remember each of my English teachers in high school being supportive in some way.  I remember going to a reading with some students from one of my English classes in high school. I thoroughly enjoyed it and when we left I said that I really liked one particular story and wished I could write like that. My English teacher looked at me and said, “You write better than that.” I never forgot that.

 Last, and perhaps most importantly, my husband is very supportive of my writing – verbally, actively and financially. He listens to me talk about stories that I’m writing with interest and when he knows I’m working hard on a piece he will do extra chores around the house, like emptying the dishwasher when it’s not his turn. The laptop that I’m writing on right now, plus the voice activated digital recorder and the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software that I use were all bought for me by him.

 No, all the roadblocks in my way have been of my own creating which creates a little bit of guilt. I love to write and hope to one day write for a living. Now I have to prove that is what I want by writing and submitting finished pieces. I could kick myself for not moving toward my goals faster, but as the song by Jason Mraz says, “I’m letting myself off the hook for the things I’ve done/ I let my past go past/ and now I’m having more fun.”  We need to start giving ourselves credit for all we do accomplish and enjoy writing. Who’s with me?

The Moving Target

Why is it that our plans for writing so easily go astray?  The post before last I said that I was going to finish this novelization of Biomalware by October 25th to give to my writer’s group and let them read it and give me feedback.

I haven’t done it.  No, instead I’ve been watching Doctor Who and writing a sort of fan fiction based on some experiences I’ve had recently.  It’s been a pretty strange time, as I’ve previously recounted, and it turned into a weird little story.  I’ve finished it and now I’m thinking – what’s the point?  I’m not going to sell it that way.  I’ve written an interesting little anecdotal story and now I want to invest it with mean, or maybe I just need to discover the meaning in it, what it means to me Why did my brain come up with it?  I did find two of my favorite themes in it so I hope that helps bridge it.

I think fan fictions and dreams are interesting to ourselves but a lot of times they don’t stand on their own as a story.  It takes some work to turn them into a real and complete story of their own that doesn’t require a whole lot of back story.  I shared the story with my writer’s group last night and the reaction was lukewarm.  Maybe it was just my sleep deprivation interpreting their reactions but I was looking for at least one person to really LIKE it, even if they could see room for improvement, but I didn’t hear that in their responses.  I have to wonder if that isn’t because fan fiction just requires too much knowledge of the story world for it to make sense to the average reader.  I don’t know.  I’m going to move forward with their suggestions and hope it makes it more accessible for everyone.  They gave me some good info about what didn’t work for them so I hope I can bridge that gap.

I also still want to finish that novel for my writer’s group but I just don’t see it happening before the end of the month and November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) so I may be looking at the end of the year for that.  I want to finish it but I don’t want to rush it.  Maybe the ending will be part of my word count for NaNo.

I’m planning a NaNo that combines short stories, non-fiction and maybe poetry.  I seem to keep getting pulled back to science fiction.  I started thinking I should be writing in that vein because I love it, but I also love mysteries.  Then I looked at what I’ve been writing on and realized it pretty much is science fiction.  I’m sure both will show up in my Nano.

Right now, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo by collecting inspiration and prompts.  I’m making lists of people I’ve wanted to base a character on, things that inspire me, topics I’m interested in and the like.  I once did a 2,000 word story a day for most of a month so that’s what I’m shooting for.  Of course, I was out of work and single at the time, but why let little things like a family and work stand in the way of a good NaNo?  It might just take a little time travel to get things done.  No problem.

 

Inappropriate Stories in My Head

I was supposed to be working on my novelization of Biomalware.  I was supposed to be editing and re-writing, but the Universe had other plans.  Let me tell you a little story.

Last week I ordered a few items as presents for an upcoming birthday.  Earlier this week, the packages arrived, plus one.  I didn’t think too much of it but as I opened the last package and pulled out an item I wasn’t expecting to see, my mind did a few backflips.

It was a red Ferrari logo t-shirt.  I had seen this somewhere before, and recently.  In my sleep deprived state, my mind struggled to piece it together.  I knew I hadn’t ordered it.  Where did I see it?  A television show that we had watched that weekend.  Someone had been on the phone asking if the Ferrari logo was on the front and the back.

My mind reeled.  I had seen it somewhere else too, an online store.  Was I dreaming?  I almost always know when I’m dreaming.  I looked in the bag, no invoice or note.

I hadn’t bought it, had I?  Was I ordering things in my sleep?  Had someone ordered it and sent it to me for the birthday party that weekend at my house?  Perhaps one of my siblings?

I checked my invoices.  No, I hadn’t been ordering anything in my sleep.

I talked or messaged family.  No, no one had ordered it and had it sent.

To add a little more context, I’ve just started watching Doctor Who, the new series.  I had just watched the episode where Rose looks into the heart of the Tardis and becomes an avatar, sending the words “Bad Wolf” back in time and space to warn herself.

This was just too f@%*ing weird.

So, last night at writer’s group, I put the story to the group and challenged them to come up with a reason for the package arriving.

One of the group went the way of a horror story.  Fine.  Not for me, though.

As I drove home my mind continued to work on it, suggesting where the package had come from and why.  (Gallifrey, Texas.)  I’ve become a bit too invested in Doctor Who and he figured prominently in the explanation I’m afraid.

This morning, while I was showering, the story began again, dialogue writing itself.  I’m supposed to see a psychic in a week and apparently she has a message for the main character, saying where the package came from.  Little bit of telepathy, he’s not really dead.  I had to go write it down before work in order to still the voices.

I think I have a nice little sci-fi story going and it could really turn into something publishable if I just write it and then take out the Doctor Who specific references.

It’s not what I was supposed to be working on, but at least I’m writing again, creating.  I’m just going to ride the wave and enjoy it.  The other will come in its own time.

Life is strange and wonderful, if you just look at it the right way.  Enjoy.

Editing and The End of the Line

Well, it’s been a great run but it had to end sometime. Yahoo! Voices has updated their top spots. Devolution: The Beginning garnered 279,448 views and my villanelle, Regrets: A Confessional Villanelle, received 56,639 views before Yahoo! booted them out of the top spots on their Creating Writing page. 
 
I received some really nice comments in the process, as well.  One person said the villanelle was “deep and powerful” while another said the last stanza was “epic.”  Personally, all I could think was how tortuous it was to write!  I had the idea immediately but it took me three weeks to tweak it into form.  I’m really glad people liked it.  Someone called the beginning of Devolution “gripping.”  I hope they will be back to look for more.
 
I do wonder though, how many people really liked it, or at least derived some modicum of entertainment from it, since I don’t see that people shared it on Facebook.  Perhaps they copied and posted the link.  Very hard to tell.  This is where you just have to write for yourself and hope other people enjoy it too.
 
Devolution started as a novel.  Since it was sitting on the hard drive of my laptop, not going anywhere, I decided to pull a story out of it when Yahoo! Voices asked for a short story of the science fiction persuasion.  I had already done a lot of editing on it, following advice about getting things off to a fast start, so it wasn’t too difficult. 
 
Last night I pulled another story out of it.  I’m looking at it as linked short stories, sort of a serialization in the tradition of Charles Dickens.  It feels good when you can go back to a peice of writing that you haven’t looked at in six months and think, “Not bad.  I’d pick this book up to read myself.” 
 
I’m still editing the boring stuff out of the next installment of Devolution.  Much easier to do when you haven’t seen it in six months.  I’ll post that then, and this is where it gets sticky, I’ll have to write some more.  At the end of the scene, my character and her brothers are confronted by a gang on a bridge, then everyone is swept off the bridge by a flood.  My character has been nearly drowned and pulled out of the water by strangers.  The possibilities are limitless. 
 
Wasn’t there another novel I was supposed to be writing this summer?  Yes, and it’s happening, just a little slower because my mind has too many things it wants to say all at once.  Feels a little like a flood.
 
 Oh!  Forgot to mention my latest poem, Agnostic Blessing, is up.  It was inspired by another poet I met at a workshop, Susan Deer Cloud.  I told her about seeing a wolf and she said that was powerful medicine.  That made me start thinking about other animals I had seen in the country where I live.  Hope you enjoy!

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