Saturday, August 27, 2011

Morgue File: Chicken Feet

This piece in my morgue file was inspired by a prompt given for a writing contest. The prompt consists of the first several lines of the story, ending with "Grammy hummed in agreement."

Image via Flickr

"Chicken Feet"

One night, a few weeks before the wedding, I heard Papaw telling Grammy that Mama should have waited longer than a year before hitching up with some new man.  They sat in the TV room, rocking and talking.  I was in the bathroom, but I wasn’t in the tub.  I had my ear pressed right up against the door, listening.

“I’m telling you, Frannie,” Papaw said, “I don’t know what the dad-gummed hurry is with her. Our son hasn’t been in the grave a year yet.”

I heard the squeak of the floor as Grammy rocked.  She didn’t speak.  She never said much. Not out loud anyway.

“You think she’s marrying that fancy dude for his money?” Papaw asked.

Grammy snorted.  I wanted to snort too, but then they’d have known I was eavesdropping, and Grammy hated that.

“I think she’s making a spectacle of herself, that’s what I think,” Papaw said.

I burned up at that. I knew what a spectacle was, even at 10 years old.

Grammy hummed in agreement.

I must have made a noise then, because the chairs stopped squeaking; I heard Grammy’s clothes crinkle as she turned. I could just see her, eyes squinted, staring hard at the door, through it, but it was Papaw who spoke.

“Helena, if you’re not in that tub in two minutes I’m gonna tan your hide.”

I felt my face go hot and turned to start the water.


Mama was a Rousseau. One of those Magickers from the wrong side of the tracks; that’s what Papaw said when I asked him why he and Mama never seemed to get along.

“They’re trouble, your Mama’s folk,” he’d said, “so many wards festoon those Rousseau yards you can hear ‘em buzzing a mile down the road and ain’t no reason to have so many ‘less you don’t want someone nosing around.”

“But Daddy didn’t think bad of Nana Jean and the others….”

“I loved your Daddy, lil’ bit, but he didn’t have the sense he was born with when it came to your Mama or her family.”

That was what killed him.

Papaw said.

People said.

Nana Jean and her sister had a little shop at the edge of town where they sold charms, like fairy stones, Dreamcatchers, and scrawny-feathered chicken feet gris-gris that were supposed to identify good people and repel the bad ones. 

But I always heard things…about the stuff they kept in the back of the shop. Stuff only special customers got to see.

People in town didn’t like that.

Neither did the other Magickers. 

The night a bunch of them decided to do something about it, Daddy was in the shop doing the inventory. Whatever charm they used made sure he never smelled the smoke.

The firemen told Mama he still had his clipboard in hand when they found him.

No one knows who that group of Magickers was and no one ever cared to find out. Not the Sheriff. Not even Nana Jean. No matter how much Mama screamed and cried and threatened curses.

"Amelia," Nana Jean had told her one night, her voice scratchy and tired and stern. "You don't go courting trouble, 'specially not after it's already found you once."

Mama stopped screaming after that. But she and Nana Jean no longer seemed to like each other.

 Nana Jean had the shop rebuilt and Mama—despite not liking her too well—helped by making calls, stocking the new inventory, and occasionally running the shop. 

That’s how she met Jacob.

He came into the shop, on the back of a summer storm, polished and put together in a dark suit. The chicken feet, hanging on their display, did a little dance when he walked past them, reaching for him with their black claws.

Read more after the jump. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tweet Challenge: A New Normal

I'm jumping into this week's Red Writing Hood prompt challenge, which was write a story of your choice. The catch? Write it as a tweet. Use only 140 characters – including spaces.

"A New Normal"

At first they scare her. But time breeds familiarity. By the time she’s 18, even the most gruesome spirits are merely part of the landscape.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Creative Exercises: The Image Journal

She filled her bag with stones, each shining and bright like pieces of starlight fallen from the sky.

I've complained previously (see: Killing the Muse: College Writing Classes) about the last fiction writing class I took in college. (My Muses have mostly recovered since then. Though they still have the occasional moment of diaspora where they would seem to be better suited writing a term paper than a short story.)
Writing is a lot like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it gets.
Daily calisthenics work wonders. Image via Flickr

In the post, I mentioned the image notebook/journal.

This was probably the most useful thing to come of that class.

The image journal is exactly what it sounds like. A journal full of images. Written images, in the writer's case.

Underneath the clean smell of the rain lay something darker. Headier. A fetid odor. Green earth and bones bearing strips of skin gone to rot.

The image journal is an ongoing creative calisthenic. Its purpose isn't just to keep you writing, but to keep you thinking about writing.

The idea is to write in it daily. To take it everywhere you go, so that you're always ready, in a split second, to capture an image (or sound, or odor if you want to get between the lines) in words.

It's helped me to take pause in my life. To stop and look. Listen. Consider the world and the people around me. And commit what my senses capture to memory. And paper.

One thumb hooked under the shoulder strap of his bag, the other pointed back at the road. He crunched gravel under his boots as his stride lengthened; swift and sure, it was the walk of someone who knew they had far to go and didn't care.

I love description. I want to read description in others' works and I want to write it in my own.

The image journal has proven valuable to me as a collection tool; once I've written an image down, it's typically committed to the archive in my brain and I'm able to pull it up again when it's pertinent.

It also serves well as a prompt reservoir. Occasionally, I've flipped through my journal, found myself captured by an image and, before I know it, I'm writing another scrap or story.

And it's helped me--through writing more often--avoid the cliches that we all perpetrate now and again. (See also: "eyes blue as the sky"; "teeth shining like pearls"; "you're as cold as ice...." Sorry Foreigner fans.)

The grey sky reminded her of the beach as the tide recedes, all strange swirling patterns framed by foam white lightning.

My image notebook is a black, faux-leather bound book I bought at the supermarket for less than $10. It's currently filled with neatly captured word-paintings, riotous scrawls done in the moments-in-between, half-lies, partial truths, and incomplete sentences of sights or sounds or scents that I just didn't have the words to finish capturing.

I've stuck completely to words in my book.

But an added challenge might be to include a visual--a photograph you've taken, or a print of a painting you enjoy--and attempt to capture it in unique, non-cliched language. Maybe even limit yourself to a word count.

But if you want to start simply...just look out your window and tell me what you see, in 50 words or less:

Afternoon sunlight, mixed shades of goldenrod and honey particular to mid-August, slithered through the trees, dropped over the retaining wall and splattered bright and hot over the hoods of the cars.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Writing Space

I live!

In a manner of speaking.

I changed towns this past month. It's only a three hour change. Four, if you count the time zone...

One stuffed bookshelf.
After M-Day, I took a week's hiatus from just about everything, save the biomechanical actions that support my existence, and I've spent the last week getting the new apartment set up, beginning with the kitchen and (not really) ending with my "office" (so named because I'll be working the day job from home) slash writing/creative space.

First came the usual accoutrements: the desk, computer, printer, bookshelves. Then a few extras by way of the old television, Playstation2 and the CD/Record Player.

And, lastly, came the decor.

The view from my desk chair.
Yes, I am a little Joker-happy.

I like chaotic order when it comes to decorating my writing space. I want to stimulate my visual senses. (And occasionally my tactile and olfactory senses as well, but pillows and incense typically aren't as interesting to post about.)

Anyway. I want pictures and posters and random odds and ends. Things with sentimental value, beautiful things, and ghastly-pretty things. So, I've filled my space with all of the above.

Additional bookshelves.
Still more live in other rooms.

And I'm sure they'll be more to come as I finish unpacking the last few boxes.

So, tell me: what is your writing space like?
All images are copyright to their respective owners and used according to Creative Commons agreements.