All good things must come to an end. Today is the last day of the A to Z Challenge. Crazy! This month flew by. Today I wrote about a little girl Zoe for a flash fiction challenge over on Micro Bookends. Enjoy. I have a pounding headache this morning, so I’m off to catch a few more Zs and see if I can sleep it away.
Wild feelings flitted through Zoe’s mind as she walked through the ancient and abandoned sewer system. She stopped and stared up through one of the openings, the glare from the sun blinding her for just a minute. When she looked down black spots speckled her vision, and she thought she might faint.
She’d show them. She’d never come back. She’d live in the woods for the rest of her life. She knew how to survive. A ladder at the end of the tunnel reached almost up to the sky. She would climb out from the darkness of the underground transformed into an adult, no longer a child.
I can’t believe the A to Z Challenge is coming to an end tomorrow. I’ve loved doing it. I thought about writing, “It’s not over YET,” as my “Y” post, but I had some flash to do, so instead I just named one of the characters Yvette. I think I’ll do a reflection post on Friday about the A to Z Challenge. I’ve enjoyed the experience so much.
Without further ado, here’s the piece I wrote for Mid-week Blues-Buster. The song, to me seemed to be about internal demons, but it spun a great little thriller piece in my head. This is one I may develop further at another time.
Peace at Last
The rain rushed in as Yvette tried to kick in the door with her heel.
“Let me do it,” Steve said, pushing her out of the way.
We thought the house was empty. It’s true what they say—when you’re wrapped up with the wrong group of friends, you never realize it until it’s too late. That night, as the lightening crashed down around us, and the moss on the oak trees swayed like ghosts dancing in the rain, fate started shaking its ugly fist.
Steve and I both had pistols. Yvette and Coco raided the kitchen. I didn’t know why in the hell they always went there first. I followed Steve toward the bedroom. The house was dark, but looked lived in. A magazine was tossed on a coffee stained table in the living room, a stuffed bunny abandoned on a multi-colored rug. We rounded the corner, and looked up stairs that led to a loft, but continued past to the master bedroom. If the girls had told us food was simmering on the stove, we would have walked out the door, but that’s not what happened.
They were in bed, and the commotion had awakened them. A terrified look on their faces like a deer right before he’s hit by a car.
“I thought you said no one was home,” I said.
“Shut up,” Steve said.
The half-naked man and woman in the bed shook, huddled together with fear. Steve had his gun out now, and so I took my gun out too.
The half strangled word came out of their mouths, “No,” before it was cut off by the sound of the bullet crashing into the man’s skull and the woman’s scream, which I quickly silenced with a bullet of my own. My heart raced in my chest like thunder rolling down a mountain, and I couldn’t believe what I’d done in that split second. Now, I wasn’t just a thief, I was a killer.
“Oh my God, we have to get out of here.”
Steve laughed. That nervous type of laugh, you know the one a kid has after he’s done something he’s not supposed to.
“We killed them, Ollie.”
My face blanched, but I refuse to look back at the bed where Steve was staring.
“We came here to rob the joint and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The girls were sitting sullenly in the living room.
“What happened?” Yvette asked.
I was too stunned to answer. A few minutes later Steve came out with a bag full of Lord knows what. I didn’t want any of it—I just wanted to rewind time. My head was spinning with the knowledge of what we’d done.
And then we heard it.
We all looked up. A little girl, no more than four stood up at the top of the loft stairs looking down at us. Steve pulled out his gun, but I grabbed his arm. It happened so quickly, when he pulled the trigger, the bullet traveled into my skin and through my side.
“It’s just a flesh wound,” Coco said.
“I can’t believe you were going to kill that kid,” Yvette said.
“Let’s get out of here,” Steve said.
I stood, blood dripping everywhere, and I looked up the stairs to see the little girl’s wide blue eyes looking down at me, like an angel from above beckoning me to join her. Coco, Steve, and Yvette were gone by the time I stumbled over the side of the couch. I tried to stand, to get my footing, but I slipped on something wet. When I hit the floor, the blood pooled around me like embryonic fluid. When I closed my eyes for the last time, I felt the little girl’s hand on my face, soft and warm. Peace at last.
Today I wrote for “Finish That Thought.” Enjoy Xavier’s little story, which all you writers out there should be able to relate too!
A “Dicken” of a Block
The policeman took off his hat as he said, “You should sit down, sir.”
Xavier stared at the sentence written on the lines in the journal. He crossed it out with his Uni-ball pen, and when that wasn’t enough he kept scratching until there was a black hole in the paper. He sighed, took another sip of his coffee and picked up Hard Times. He’d just immerse himself in a book—easier than writing, that’s for sure.
But that didn’t work. He set Hard Times back on top of his stack of Dickens, covering David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities.
Another sip of his coffee, and he held his pen to the paper but no words would come. Why couldn’t he just be like Dickens? His first lines always sounded unique and never spoiled the plot. Xavier knew the “policeman” line would make his readers think something terrible had happened, and wanted it to be mysterious—not give it all away at the very beginning. The only words that could follow a policeman saying, “Sit down,” were tragic. Words like, “I’m sorry sir, your fill-in-the-blank has died.” Not like Dickens’ famous line, “It was the best of time, it was the worst of times.” Oh yeah, well which was it? Good or bad? The line made the reader want to keep reading.
Xavier set down the pen and started cleaning up the living room. It was noon, and he wasn’t out of his pajamas. He’d read the key to success was getting up and getting ready for work every morning. After Zombie Killers ‘R Us had made him a tidy little profit, he’d gotten rid of all his suits and decided to put himself into writing full time. Although, his near instant success with Zombies had not translated to more words streaming from his now empty noggin.
He had on his flannel pajamas, which made him feel like he was wearing a security blanket, as he shuffled to the mailbox. He was surprised when he saw it. The return address in New York. The logo. It could only mean one thing, the agent had found a home for Killer Fairies.
He tossed the envelope on the kitchen table, without opening it, and paced around the kitchen. News that should have been exhilarating brought anxiety to his racing heart. Because it meant they’d want more, and the truth was Xavier hadn’t written anything in nearly four months.
He went into his closet leafing through clothes. He shed his Flash shirt, which had become a second skin to him, and threw on a button up shirt, leaving the top noose of a button undone. He found some khaki pants and slid into them. He grabbed his laptop and slid it into his briefcase.
If the words wouldn’t come at home, then he’d just go to where the words would come, he thought as he left the house traveling to destination unknown.
About four years ago, I was in a serious funk. I felt like I had lost my way. I felt like the world had risen on so many days without my true presence. I was going through the motions–taking care of my three kids. But mostly, I was sitting on the couch watching T.V. or playing on my computer for endless hours.
I was absorbed with the kids, and not much else. In essence, I felt like I’d completely lost my identity. I didn’t realize at the time that I wasn’t living my calling. I was too focused on what I was supposed to be doing.I dutifully went through my day, going to work, diapering kids, making dinner, and then plopped into a chair to partake in mind-numbing activities.
I woke up one day and realized the larger than normal alopecia patch had turned to total hair loss–alopecia universalis. It was a wake up call. I felt unhappy. Intensely. I was a balding, fat, thirty year old, with nothing to show in her life except for her children’s accomplishments. At first, I sort of went off the deep end. (Okay–there’s no sort of about it–I really went off the deep end).
I needed to recreate myself. I joined Taekwondo, because I needed to feel alive and refreshed, and exercise can do that. Through Taekwondo, I found the confidence inside me I didn’t think existed anymore. I made a lot of new friends who encouraged me. And I also realized I had abandoned my innate talent and needed to resurrect it from the dead.
I started writing. Slowly at first. My first goal was to start and finish a book. Before that point, I started lots of works but never finished them, and I hadn’t put pen to paper in ten year years when I decided to write “No Turning Back.” When I started writing, I realized it was cathartic. I could pour my emotions into the characters. I could torture them, and treat them horribly, and play out family dynamics with them. I could make them dance and sing and fall in love. I could give them everything or nothing. I could set them up in all sorts of disgusting situations just to see what would happen. Writing made me whole again. When I started writing every day, my mood soared. I had regained a part of me that was missing.
I think about the tortured writer, and I know that person exists inside of me. I definitely had a lot of ups and downs. I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety. I used to be the happy person with a sad heart. But when I write I truly feel happy, as long as words are filling up the paper, I have a sense of fulfillment. And that’s what life is all about.
Four more letters left. I can smell victory on the A to Z Challenge! It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, but I also know I need to get through the next five days (Sunday is a rest day).
I’m one of those people who tends to celebrate a victory before it happens. I’m happy go lucky, when I’m not depressed. Or maybe, I just wear whatever emotion is gracing my life on my shoulders. But, when I finished writing my first book I celebrated. I told everyone I knew that I was now a writer. When my second book was accepted by Booktrope, I celebrated–again, I told everyone I knew. I had reached success.
I celebrated these little victories, as one should, but without looking at the big picture. Once your book is accepted, the hard work begins. Someone you don’t know begins to pull apart your work. What do you mean by this? What’s the importance of this statement? How many times are you going to use the word “just?” I wonder just how many writers give up when they reach this stage?
Every writer I know (and I know quite a few now), knows the importance of an editor. But every writer I know also struggles with someone else telling them their work is crap. So many writers say every first draft is crap, and that in order for a novel to be ready it takes a lot of hard work, rewriting, editing, beta readers, etc. Isn’t this the same for so many other things in life? TRUE victories require a lot of hard work from us.
Celebrate the small victories: when the book is done, when your beta readers love it, and when your hard work finally is accepted by the publisher. But realize, that the work doesn’t stop there. Gather your steam and push on through your edits, through the formatting process, through the marketing process, and then start your next book.
Writing is like running. You start out learning how to run a mile, then build up to two. Before you know it, you’re running a 5K, then a half marathon, then a marathon. Celebrate each victory, but never give up!
*This post was written, as I continually struggle with the editing process (both self-editing and having an editor work on my piece), and it’s a reminder to myself to keep going.
A couple of years ago, I started a Dystopian piece called Underground. I imagined it being a book, but then a short story contest by Almond Press came along. I tried to adapt Underground as a short story. It didn’t work too well, and I didn’t win. And then I abandoned the story all together. The last few days, I’ve been thinking about picking it up again. I tend to do this when I’m having a hard time with one story, jump around and see what else I should work on instead of focusing on what I need to. The problem is the story has a billion moving parts, and I need to plot it out and work out all the details of the society–doing this amount of world building is a bit overwhelming to me. And when I’m overwhelmed I under perform.
I’ve also thought of exploring Urban Fantasy a little bit more. I did a mash up piece, Urban Fantasy and Alternate History, for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds a few months back, titled The Wall. You can read it at Adventures in Lululand, my other website that I’ve been neglecting lately. What’s there not to like about killer fairies? I may expand this story, as I had a lot of people interested in the concept. I did a smaller short story, Berlin, as a follow up for a flash fiction contest too.
Both of these ideas are sitting in my mind, taking up space, as ideas tend to do in writers’ heads. But at least I know I have ideas I can explore if my current work-in-progress doesn’t pan out.
There’s never enough, is there? Time is like a thief. That’s a quote someone wrote, isn’t it? But time can be a gift too. I look at my first hour of every day as a gift. The kids are sleeping. The house is silent. The dog lies snoozing at my feet. I listen to music, and I type. Or I read. Or I go for a walk while the sun rises. The minutes slip by, and I make the most of each one. I put words on sheets, and I weave a story.
I love when 6:30 rolls around, and the noises of the day begin to fill up the house.
A small child will sneak down the stairs, and tip-toe up to my chair, then throw their arms around my neck, greeting me as I greeted the day earlier.
We can make the most of our time, if we try. Some days, I’m not so productive. I procrastinate. I watch Netflix. But, I always use the time in the morning for myself. And I love that I set away this chunk of precious minutes to spend on myself. It’s hard to come by alone time when you have three children.
I use the time to write novels. To edit. To complain about writing novels and editing. I use the time to pour over Facebook photos and to catch up on commenting on the A to Z Blogs (these days).
Time isn’t like a thief if you use it wisely. Sure, we all will grow old and die, but it’s what we do with our time today that’s the most important. Use it wisely.
Today I wrote for Mid-Week Blues-Buster. I skipped this one last week, because I just had so much going on. But I love Johnny Cash, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to let his music inspire me. Today’s MWBB was inspired by the song, “Ain’t No Grave,” by Johnny Cash.
The worms of cancer had spread through Dad’s body, wriggling their way through his intestines and then up to his brain before he even knew they existed. Simon said Mom fainted when the doctor gave him three weeks.
“Hell, three weeks and I’ll be up dancing a jig,” Dad said.
But, of course, he wasn’t. Hospice came with a hospital bed, and they set it up in the guest room. And a week later I took leave from work, and traveled the five hours to the town that held remnants of my childhood. I fell into my twin bed at midnight and turned out the lamp still adorned with a pink shade. I dreamt about the bullies who used to live next door. I woke up with tears in my eyes, after dreaming about how Dad used to take Simon and me to get ice cream every Sunday after church.
As the colors of dawn were spreading through the sky, I tiptoed to my father’s room like a child just woken from a nightmare. Simon was sitting on the edge of Dad’s bed, and he turned and looked at me with a grimace on his face.
“The nurse had to go to the bathroom.”
“What’s the song?”
“Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash. Dad’s playing it on repeat. I guess he wants to be a zombie or something.”
I laughed at my little brother, and came up to sit next to him on my Dad’s bed. I glanced over at Dad’s sallow cheeks, and listened to his raspy breathing, noticing how his chest was still rising and falling like the waves of the ocean just outside our front door. He was asleep and soon he’d be asleep forever.
“The song’s about salvation. Dad wants Jesus to meet him in heaven.”
“The song’s about someone wanting to live forever. Big headed and all that,” Simon said.
Tears sprang to his eyes, and I wrapped my arms around him. We sat huddled together on the side of the bed as Dad’s breathing rattled on, listening to make sure it didn’t stop. The nurse came back in, and she nodded at us then parked herself in the corner chair with her knitting needles.
“How’s Mom taking it?”
“Best she can. She thought there would be more time.”
“Don’t we always?”
“The nurse,” Simon said, nodding toward the woman in the corner, “said it would be soon. He’s not doing well.”
“So no jig dancing for him?”
Simon laughed and we hugged each other harder. Silence descended on the room, as we sat there listening to the clock tick through the early morning. The birds came out and began singing their songs of spring. Dad opened his eyes.
“My little girl.”
I scooted toward him. He wrapped his bone thin arms around me, and I let him hold me. I stopped crying and pulled away.
“Remember that time you took Simon and I down to Cheaha to spend the night. Mom refused to come. It rained all weekend, and we were miserable, but you were intent on staying. You wanted to show her all the fun memories we were making?”
We talked all morning about memories from our youth. “Ain’t No Grave” played in the background of our words. Dad asked Mom to read John 3:16 from the Bible.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
“That’s what the song means,” Dad said to Simon and me. “No need to fight about it.”
Then he turned his face away from us, looked at the white wall, and the rise and fall of his chest ceased.
I wrote today for Finish That Thought. I had a little trouble with this prompt, but in the end this is what I came up with.
Truckin’ @laurenegreene 498 words
When we hit the state line I cheered. Ricky glared at me, out of the corner of his eyes. We hadn’t spoken since Texas.
“Are you sure you want to go on this trip with him?” Mom had asked. “Who names their kid Richard when their last name is Head? Is there any truth to it?”
“Mom, we’re in love.”
Famous last words. First, we’d had a flat tire. When I complained about standing in the hot sun, Ricky had called me a sour grape. I mean, who compares a person to a rotten fruit? I was ticked at him, but we were following the Dead around the country—what could be better than that? Plus, Ricky had great eyes. The kind of eyes that make you pull out the dictionary and look up unique ways to describe the word “blue.”
Now the only way I could describe Ricky’s eyes were as cold and uncaring. I didn’t care if I ever saw him again. I folded my arms over my chest, tapping my feet against the dashboard as I counted down the minutes until I arrived safely back at my parents’ house.
Ricky pushed a cassette into the player, and “Truckin’” blared from the speakers. I thought about the blown out tire on the first day. The sunburn on my face so bad that people at the first concert asked me if I was a leper. One state after another, and there were some good sets. Even selling grilled cheese sandwiches in the parking lot wasn’t bad. Ricky and I had a good laugh over some people who thought we were Smurfs—high on Lord knows what.
It was the last week, when Ricky had picked up the hitchhiker after I had told not to. And we drove fifty miles in the wrong direction before the guy pulled a knife on us and told us to empty our pockets. We had. We’d rather have our skins than the money in our pockets. In some po-dunk Texas town, my Mom had to Western Union money to us, and I told Ricky I never wanted to see him again. In hindsight, I should have waited to speak those words when I arrived home.
I decided Ricky Head might have been right about me on the first day of the trip. Maybe I was sour grapes. And maybe he really did live up to his name. All I cared about was getting home into my Momma’s arms.
“I gotta take a leak,” Ricky said, pulling into the rest area. “You gotta go?”
I shook my head without looking at him, and picked at my fingernails. I followed his back with my eyes, and when he was in the rest area, I hopped into the driver’s seat.
He’d left the keys in the ignition. I threw the car into reverse as fast as I could. From the rearview, Ricky’s arm flailed trying to get someone to stop me. So long Dick Head!
Q? What am I going to write about for the letter “Q?” Maybe I thought I’d have quit by now. I’m not generally a quitter. I could be described more as wishy washy. I make up a decision, and then sometimes I change my mind. Sometimes it’s too late at that point to actually be changing my mind. But quit–no, not me!
I’ve thought about quitting writing. Several times. I have all the usual author complaints.
But it’s hard
I don’t want to rewrite.
My first draft is awesome, do I really have to put more work into it? (Said nobody ever!)
I put hours and hours of work into something and only 20 people read and review my books!
Plus, the doubt. I’ve written about that before. Let me tell you something, writers don’t become successful by quitting. They become successful by coping with lots rejection. They become successful by plowing through the edits, even when looking at their piece one more time makes them want to vomit. They become successful by submitting over and over again, until someone accepts their work and believes in as much as they believe in themselves.
It takes ONE person to make a writer successful. The writer, herself.