A Book, a Quote, and a Wish (One More for Women’s History Month)

I didn’t plan to write another post for Women’s History Month, but it seems the universe had other ideas, and here we are.

I’ve been working my way for the last few days through If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie.

(Cover image from Goodreads)

I’m not finished with it yet, so I can’t recommend it completely, but it is certainly making an impression. And there’s one quote from it, in particular, that I just can’t get out of my head:

We are wild creatures still, at heart, and if we listen to our hearts we will remember how to listen to the song of the fierce-beaked, wild-winged little wren who, hopping from tree to stump, shows us the way home. When we stop, when we let ourselves see, when the torn veil of this broken civilization lifts away from our eyes – we can find our way back home.

I’ve been thinking on this one for days – women as wild creatures, the unrelenting call of home, nature as a partner, and as something sacred, and the things, a million little things, that pull us as women away from ourselves.

The older I get, the more I notice. And the more I notice, the more determined I become to explore and discover my own magic, and to live in it and share it without shame or fear. And I suppose that’s my wish for all women, as we continue to make history – that we find our magic, that we let our magic shine, and that we leave a path for others to follow.

Found Friday #24: My friend wrote a book!

Y’all! I am so excited to share this! A friend of mine published his first book, Thomas Creeper and the Gloomsbury Secret.

The official release date is Sunday, March 21st, but I preordered several copies (one for me, one for Graham, one for the cat, one for the dog, a bunch for friends and family…), and they arrived today.

Yes, I have already read it cover to cover.

This book was so delightful and fun and just absolutely the perfect read for kids (and adults!) who like mysteries, spies, secret codes, ghost stories, pirates and submarines, history, magic, and unlikely teenage heroes. Yeah, J.R. Potter managed it all of that stuff into one fantastic little book. And he created all of the illustrations, as well.

Here’s the jacket summary:

Thirteen-year-old Thomas Creeper hasn’t been dealt the best hand. He lives in the seaside town of Gloomsbury—a damp and miserable place overrun by scabber weed, where the sun shines for only a few days each year. With the inexplicable death of his older brother, David, Thomas becomes heir to Creeper & Sons, the family’s funeral business, and his place as a mortician’s apprentice seems set. Thomas, however, dreams of a different kind of life (as a code-cracking spy) in a different kind of place (anywhere but Gloomsbury!).

When a body arrives on the doorstep of Creeper & Sons Funeral Home with signs of foul play, Thomas and his smart-as-a-whip sidekick, Jeni Myers, are thrust into the middle of a terrifying mystery, one which will reveal the link between Thomas’s family and the dark secret of his hometown. Joining forces with the motley crew of the Conch Whistle, a high-tech submarine that hides in offshore waters, Thomas and Jeni must rely upon their wits (and a few magical devices!) to defeat a powerful and horrifying foe.

I’m so proud of my friend and so happy for him! And the book is really, really, really good. It’s even won an award already – the 2019 Kraken Book Prize for Middle-Grade Fiction.

So, if you’d like to learn more and maybe purchase it and see for yourself, check out his website: https://www.jamesrobertpotter.com/

And for those of us still plugging away at our own great works, onward!

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?

I’m having trouble thinking of what to write today. Normally, I work on posts a week or two in advance – though I don’t always post what I’ve worked on – but lately, life’s been too chaotic for much in the way forethought.

So, I found myself today doing what I normally do when I’m feeling uninspired, and I looked through some of my favorite pictures. I came across this one, from a trip to Alaska back in 2016.

I’m not sure what it is, but something about this photo just speaks to me today. Maybe it’s the way the water is just so calm and clear. My mind certainly isn’t lately. Or maybe it’s that the pebbles all seem to fit together just so, like they were meant to be exactly where they are. Maybe it’s the slant of the light on the ripples, beautiful and brief, and now memorialized forever in a snapshot.

And I don’t know what I want to do with it. I’m sure, though, that there’s a poem or a story in it somewhere.

So, we’ll see, I suppose, and hopefully I’ll wake up feeling better and brighter tomorrow, because I’ve promised a short story on Friday, and I keep my promises. 🙂

For now, I’m curious. What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired? How do you fight feeling…just, meh…when you’re writing? If you have a good tip or any tools that you use, I’d love to know!

P.S. – Thankfully, we didn’t get a lot of ice on Monday evening. And also thankfully, it looks like we might actually get some snow this weekend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

2021 Short Story Challenge Theme!

You guys, I have agonized over this. And I’ve gotten some really good suggestions. I’ve looked at quotes and poems, at nouns and verbs and adjectives, at artwork. I wanted to pick a theme for 2021 that feels accessible, not esoteric, and that will lend itself to lots of different stories from lots of different people with lots of different life experiences.

So, here it is, the theme for my 2021 Short Story Challenge:

Home. A place of comfort for some, a place of anxiety or fear for others. For many of us, a place we’ve seen plenty of in the last several months. A physical space, or a feeling, a certainty or a longing, a boon or a burden.

I feel like home has plenty of stories to tell. I hope you’ll join me in telling twelve this year. Let’s see where home takes us.

My story for January will be up next Friday, January 29th. (And then I’ll resume the regular Found Friday feature.) I…haven’t started writing it yet, but I’m excited to see what it will become.

And, if you want to write along and post a story for each month this year, I’m excited to see what you’ll create.

Let’s make 2021 a year for stories.

Short Story Challenge 2021!

At around this time last year, I’d made up my mind to write twelve short stories for each month of 2020. The idea was that each story would have something to do with its respective month – inspired by a holiday, typical activities, the weather, etc.

I enjoyed the project so much that I’m doing it again in 2021. This year, I think I’d like to challenge myself to write twelve stories around a central theme. But I don’t know what that theme should be! So, I thought I’d reach out to you, wonderful readers, for your ideas and suggestions.

And to see if any of you would like to join me in my Short Story Challenge 2021. 😊 It’ll be fun!

So, what do you think my central theme should be?

**********

If you haven’t read them and you’d like to catch up, here’s a list of the twelve stories from 2020. Some of them I really like, some of them could have been better, but either way, it’s kind of cool seeing all of them listed here. I enjoyed writing each of them. I’ve put asterisks by my favorites.

January 2020 – Charmed

February 2020 – Snow Moon

**March 2020 – Something Borrowed

April 2020 – The Green Man

May 2020 – The Bridge

**June 2020 – The Day Thomas Leonard Came Back

**July 2020 – Magic Hour

August 2020 – Birthday Funeral

**September 2020 – Memories of September

October 2020 – The Sleepwalker

**November 2020 – In the Time It Takes

December 2020 – The Last Glenmoor Christmas

A Note on My December Short Story

I’ve been plugging away at my December short story this week. I think I like what I’ve got and where I’m going. My original goal was to post it today, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. So, I’ll try to post on Friday. It’s a Christmas story (I think), so it would make sense to post it on Christmas Day (I think).

If not by Christmas Day, then it will be next week.

By the end of December, there will be a new short story on this blog.

I don’t struggle with deadlines, I think, so much as I struggle with ideas. I’ve got lots and often I’ll start a few different stories at once and see which one finishes first. I’ve started two different stories for December, and I like them both. I’ve put in a similar amount of time on them at this point, but I think I know which one I’ll focus on in the coming hours/days.

I don’t know yet quite where it’s going, but I’m looking forward to seeing how it gets there.

I think that’s my favorite part of writing, at the end of the day. I love the journey. I love starting with almost nothing – a character, or a sentence, or a setting, or a few lines a dialogue – and building a whole world in the course of just a few pages.

There’s nothing quite so tantalizing and terrifying as a blank page.

So, onward, and we’ll see where I get to. Or rather, where the story takes me. Somewhere good, I hope, and a bit Christmas-y.

What scares you the most about writing?

Someone told me once that they wouldn’t be brave enough to write, and that I must be very brave to try. I’ve been thinking about that this week, as 2020 comes to an end and I set goals and dream dreams for next year.

I’m not a very brave person. Truly. I’m afraid of heights, snakes, flying, germs (ESPECIALLY NOW), crowds, ladybugs (Don’t ask. I don’t know either.), and the dark. Yes, the dark. And yes, I am in my thirties.

When I decided I wanted to write – really write, and make a career of writing – it wasn’t out of courage. It was out of desperation. I felt like there was nothing else in the universe I could do, and do as well, as write, and that if I didn’t get my words out there, part of me would just…shrivel up and die. And I felt like I was perilously close to that happening, and I couldn’t let it. I couldn’t lose myself.

I know. It sounds very dramatic. I’m a Leo. And an only child. And a retired theatre kid.

But the sad truth is, writing scares me, too. I figure anything worth doing should probably scare you a little, and sharing my thoughts and my fears and my hopes and my demons with the world is pretty frightening.

The thing that scares me the most, though, more than anything else, is that once I write and put my words out there, they don’t belong to me anymore. They belong to anyone who reads them. And once I’ve sent my poems and stories and essays out into the great, wide world, I hope they’ll find the people who need them, who want them, who will love them. But I know the world is not a safe, kind place for stories.

I write anyway. I think that’s the thing about life. You’ll always be afraid, and you’ll live anyway. Boats are safest in the harbor.

But that’s not where they’re made to be. So of course, I’m afraid to put my writing out there. But I do it anyway, because stories are meant to be read. And words are their own kind of magic. And I’d rather use the magic and be afraid than live a life without any magic at all.

A Grandfather’s Story

Veteran’s Day always makes me think of my grandfather, my favorite veteran.

He died in 2015. He didn’t talk much about his service, at least not to me. What little I do know, I’ve learned from my mother, and I’m always trying to piece it together in stories, because those are all I have left of him now. I wonder how many grandchildren could say the same thing.

Here’s something I wrote not long after he died. I thought I might include it in a larger work (that still isn’t done, and might never be).

Some of it’s true.

************

At a fork in an old country road, surrounded by rocky fields and green mountains and flanked on both sides by cracked pavement, sits an old white farmhouse. Its shutters and clapboard are going grey, its chimney is crumbling, and any reminder that it used to be part of a functioning farm is long gone, replaced by overgrown patches of wild onions and cattails. There’s no sign now that it ever housed a family. This is the house where my grandfather grew up, nestled outside of a small Appalachian town.

The land is called Hell’s Half Acre, and my grandfather knew, when he was a boy, that he’d have to work it. Walking home from school, a satchel of books swinging in his hand, he wondered every day if it would be the last he’d make the trek. And one day it was. He left school in seventh grade, a servant to the farm. It was that, he told my mother, or be sold to another family, one with the resources to afford another mouth to feed.  Instead, he used his hands to work. Evenings on the farm, and days underground, laying wood for mine shafts. And each day, he’d stare at the fork in the road, and wonder if he’d ever get to choose any direction at all.

“When I grow up,” he said to himself, eating dinner at a quiet table full of tired, hungry people, between gulps of buttermilk and bites of toasted biscuit, “when I grow up…” He didn’t dare dream of that time. Dreaming felt hopeless, not an escape but a trap, a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end. 

Then, when he turned sixteen, there came a war.

“I’m going to sign up,” he said to his brother, and he did. He lied about his age, though not by much, and found himself on a train west, to basic training somewhere in the Dakotas. And then a ship east, to Africa. And then a ship north, to Italy. And it was there, sleeping in empty towns and eating blood-spackled bread, that he met a girl. Sort of.

Back home, my grandmother was reading books by flashlight every night, hiding under her covers from a father who thought women shouldn’t read and a step-mother who wore her dead mother’s clothes. Sometimes, in the quiet, heavy darkness, my grandmother would talk to her sister, who died when they were both very young, because she had no one else to talk to. 

“Lucy,” she’d say, “when I grow up…” And she’d pause. “When I grow up…”  And she couldn’t finish the thought. When she grew up, she would be some man’s wife, some child’s mother, and finally some graveyard’s newest coffin.

And then one day, she sent a picture and a letter to a soldier from the county, off fighting in a war that involved the whole world. And it changed everything.

October Stories #4: Regret Won’t Die

Here it is, folks – the final post in this limited series. For the others, go here, here, and here.

I’ve really enjoyed sharing these incomplete snippets! It’s intimidating to post things that are unfinished and largely unedited, but it’s also sort of freeing. It’s a good reminder that, when it comes to writing, something is better than nothing. You can’t build sandcastles without sand. Just getting something down on the page is the most important thing.

This particular piece is more a pre-writing exercise than anything, creating a character and a history to build on, inspired by a trip I took (I think I was on it while I was writing this) to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I imagined this story as a psychological mystery/thriller, with a ghostly component. I liked the idea of exploring regret and isolation, of looking at how running away isn’t a solution, and how old hurts and bad thoughts, unchecked and pushed away, can be debilitatingly toxic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series! I’ll try to think of some others I can put together in the future. In the meantime, thank you for reading! (And check back on Wednesday for a complete short story for October. It’s going to be a good one!)

************

Laura Fuller had always envied her cousin’s hair. Lyla Henry had deep auburn hair that glowed copper in the sunlight, and bright green eyes with fiery gold flecks. Laura’s own hair was dull blonde, almost gray, and her eyes were brown. Just brown. Lyla’s alabaster skin shimmered like a pearl. Laura’s was tawny, always tan, even in winter. 

One night, when Lyla and her parents had come for a visit, Laura had teased knots into Lyla’s hair as she slept. The next morning, Lyla had sniffled, resigned, as she watched the tangled mess fall to the floor, lobbed off with kitchen scissors. One summer, as they lay on a blanket under a blistering hot sun, Laura watched as Lyla’s milky white skin turned deep purple.  She’d replaced Lyla’s sunscreen with coconut-scented lotion. Laura broke Lyla’s glasses, put baby oil in her shampoo, sprinkled pepper in her soda. Any petty, unkind thing. When Lyla cried, Laura smiled. 

When Laura learned that Lyla’s parents had died, and that Lyla would be coming to live at her own house, she spent the whole night outside wrapped in a blanket, lying with her back on the ground and her feet propped into the tire swing, staring up at an unfriendly moon in an angry sky threatening rain.

Laura believed that we must be born with the ability to hate, because she had hated Lyla, who was chatty and funny and kind, for as long as she could remember. Next to Lyla, she felt dirty and clumsy. At sixteen, Laura could muster only mild sympathy, and a bit of ruthless satisfaction, knowing that Lyla had nothing, no parents and no home and no love.  And for that, she felt awful all over again. Why had Lyla been born gentle and beautiful, while she had been born bitter and spiteful?

Lyla settled in quickly, but she cried into her pillow at night when she thought no one would hear. She shared Laura’s room, and the day she moved in, she made Laura a throw pillow with lace and sequins to put on her bed. She’d sewn a picture of the two of them into the stuffing, and made herself one to match. Lyla helped Laura’s mother with the dishes after dinner, and swept every other day. Laura seethed, and spent hours reading books and lying in bed. Lyla exceled in school, made a large group of friends, and went to the movies every Friday. She put a picture of her parents on her bedside table, and kissed it each night before going to sleep.  Laura hid the picture under some blankets in her closet. While Lyla searched, Laura stepped outside to watch the birds in the garden.

About a year later, Lyla didn’t come home for dinner after studying with friends at the library, Laura felt relieved to have one night alone. When the police found Lyla’s hat and gloves in a ditch the very next day, Laura worried, and cried for Lyla for the first time in her life. When her mother hosted a funeral service, with a casket filled with Lyla’s favorite books and photos, and the pillow she’d sewn to match Laura’s, Laura spent the night again wrapped in a blanket in the garden, with her back on the ground and her feet propped into the tire swing.

********

Laura and Lyla were connected, had always been connected, born two days apart to two twin sisters. When Laura had fallen and scraped her knee, Lyla’s had scabbed over. If Lyla should happen to trip on the stairs, Laura would stumble. And when Laura felt angry and hateful toward Lyla, Lyla would stare into Laura’s eyes with a deep ache in her own.

On the night Lyla disappeared, Laura dreamed of wind and weeds. She dreamed of dirt and dark. In the wind she heard howls, and in the weeds she smelled blood. When she did wake, twisted in a heap of blankets on her bed, she heard only the sound of crickets and clocks, the quiet, calm noises of an old house, and she knew that her dream was real. Laura felt empty and incomplete, as if a part of her was missing, gone, murdered. Whoever had taken Lyla had taken a part of Laura too.      

The police never arrested anyone, and they never found Lyla. Laura spent the next two years, until she turned eighteen, haunted by bad memories. If she found a copper hair strewn across her pillow, if she found a picture of Lyla and her parents in a desk drawer, if she felt someone behind her walking in the woods, or gentle hands on her back as she brooded in the tire swing, Laura feared that Lyla was there, or had been there. Laura became so apprehensive and nervous that any drop of hatred in her body dried up, became hard and heavy, sitting in her chest like a stone, growing mossy, dark black with mold. Some days she could smell damp on her breath, the earthy mushroom scent of that jagged rock in her core, odious and acrid.

********

On the day she turned eighteen, Laura purged her room of all signs of Lyla. Any picture, any stuffed animal, any book or belt or piece of jewelry. She stuffed the pillow Lyla had crafted into the bottom drawer of her dresser. She put fresh yellow roses on Lyla’s empty grave, and promised that she would never worry about a breath on her cheek in the night or a presence behind her as she walked. She went to college, and spent the next four years practicing forgetting her cousin. But she felt the stone in her gut dig deeper, carve out a larger cavity, and sink into her, heavy and unbreakable.  She wondered again why she had been born only to hate and hurt.      

********

Out of college and living at home, Laura began again to feel the breath on her cheek as she slept.  She dreamed only bad dreams, and spent her days groggy and silent. When she found an old picture of Lyla lying on her dresser, she knew Lyla lived in that house still, and was watching.

Laura moved, when she was twenty-two, across the country, to a sparsely populated island on the eastern shore of Virginia. She lived with an acquaintance of her mother, who was elderly and needed help with housekeeping and grocery shopping. She settled into her small bedroom, into her routine of housework and errands, and thought very seldom of Lyla, or of the stone still nestled inside her. She wrote editorial columns and feature articles for a local paper. She learned to bake soufflé and to play piano. She read at night on the porch, and listened to the distant clamor of gently crashing waves. 

She made friends with the locals and spent quiet evenings at the table playing cards and eating cookies. Sometimes, in between sleep and wake, she dreamed of Lyla humming, or sometimes, whispering.

Find me. I’m here. I’m not gone.

October Stories #3: A Little Christmas

*For the first two posts in this limited series, go here and here.*

I’ve been working on some version of the story this scene comes from since 2016. It’s a story about a house, a family, a legacy, and what it means to come home again. I don’t know why I’ve never finished it. I suspect it’s a bit too close to my heart. I’ve loved and hated writing it, and it’s given me more trouble than it will perhaps ever be worth. We’ll see.

Enjoy this bit, though, and be sure to check back next week for the last October Stories post! (And thank you for reading!)

************

The dark tree limbs meandered like streams against a bright midnight sky, black, gnarly rivulets creaking with the howling wind. Tall grasses, waiting to be baled into winding bundles of hay, swayed back and forth. The craggy fields sat silent, waiting for the promise of Christmas snow. How many years since Tess had seen a winter in this hollow? 

Eight Christmases away, eight in the bustle and traffic and lights of the city, attending party after party and trying to build some reputation in the world. Wrapped tightly in a sturdy handmade quilt, Tess certainly didn’t envy the partygoers now.

As she sat, alone except for Charlie, in front of the glimmering embers of the fireplace, she thought of all of those wasted holidays. How many red velvet cakes had she missed? How many cups of Christmas custard? How lonely, now, the last Taylor woman, waiting along with the empty fields and valleys for that first flake of mountain snow.

From somewhere in the belly of the house, Tess heard a step, a sigh, the creak of a door upstairs. Perhaps not so alone, she thought, and scratched Charlie’s wrinkled head.

“Charlie,” she whispered, watching his ears perk up and his eyes remain closed. Did he feel it too? This was home, and you’re supposed to be home at Christmas. Even the house, standing tall and dark and steady against the winter wind, seemed content to have a Taylor home.