Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Story Posts

For New Year's Eve, I decided to compile a list of my favorite story oriented posts that I made this year.

Some are singular pieces, others want to be a blog series, still one or two come from novels or novellas that are constantly percolating in the back of my mind.

Consider this my (Blog) Fiction Year in Review.


One Night in LA
An artist checks into a rather infamous room at the Highland Gardens Hotel in Hollywood, California. The room is already occupied.


The Work
Eva has spent a number of years doing what her family calls "The Work," helping people cope with the deaths of loved ones. Even when those loved ones haven't moved on.


The King is Dead
The aftermath of an abusive relationship.


An Almost Adult Conversation
An overdue conversation between lovers.



A Morning Pick Me Up
A young man meets the one at a coffee shop.


That Time Of Year
That three month stretch of the year that all of us hate.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How To: Make Arm Warmers out of Socks (in Two Steps)

I finished my first semester of grad school!

In celebration, let's talk about something creative....that's not focused on words. (I'll try to get back to words later. I still need to see where my series The Work is heading. Those ghosts are calling my name.)

I digress. On to arm warmers!


Have you ever had a favorite pair of socks that you just can't bear to throw away, even though your toes are poking through the ends or your heel's hanging out the back? Or have you ever bought a pair of really cool socks only to find out they don't fit (or don't fit without stretching out the interesting graphic)?

Cute, interesting, and oddball socks have long been a passion of mine. At one point, I think I had socks for most of the well known holidays not to mention socks with random characters, animals and text on them.

Of course, they wear out, but typically, the most interesting part of the sock remains intact.

It seems a waste to chuck them in the trash bin, so I choose to go green and recycle.... Below is a pair of wrist warmers created out of some raccoon socks that I couldn't bear to part with. (They're just too damned adorable.)





For this tutorial, I have a pair of Harry Potter Slytherin House socks (they're sized for Juniors, so I knew they wouldn't fit when I got them).


Step 1.

Determine where you want to cut your sock.

I usually do it just above the heel so I don't get that weird pouch that interferes with folding and hemming. As always, measure twice, cut once. If you're not sure where to cut, just cut the toes off first, then slide your arm inside and see how they look.

Th Slytherin socks had the heel pouch colored black, so it was easy to trip a bit past that.





Step 2. Fold and stitch.

Some people recommended folding twice and then stitching. I say, do whatever looks/seems best. Usually one fold works for me. (And depending on the size of the sock, I may not want to fold more than once.)

I tend to sew small things by hand (partly due to the fact that I'm still not used to my machine), but do it however you want. I usually use a back stitch for these arm warmers.



And that's it! Apply a hot iron to help the edges stay down, if you like. Slap on your arm warmers and go. (There is an optional Step 3, which includes making a thumb hole, but I usually don't bother. It's one more step without much of a return on investment.)


The completed version. (And apparently I forgot to take a picture of my left arm, so you get the same arm warmer, repeated. It looks just like the other one.)

    


There you have it. Two step arm warmers. Put those old and interesting socks to good use.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Music Mondays: Slipping into Fall




The wind has shifted, the sunlight is at once strong and weak, bright against the backdrop of the sky, not quite warm enough to chase away the chill of the recent autumn breezes.

On the campus where I work, the leaves have been falling off the trees for the last month. They're just now starting to change color, a starburst-bright array of orange and yellow and red. There's a crispness in the air and on some days I can detect the smell of wood smoke, of leaf piles burning.

And just last week, the TPMS light went off in my car.

Without a doubt, autumn is here.

Much as I try to hate this time of year, much as I long for the warmth and softness of spring, there's a prettiness to the season that I can't ignore. Potential for revelations in the too bright days, a moment for nostalgia in the cool nights.

I had to accompany the season with some music.


"Into the Mystic" - Van Morrison


"Wake Me Up When September Ends" - Green Day

"The First of Autumn" - Enya

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

WWR: Rogue Effigy




It had taken them all afternoon to build the dummy. Her arms were tired and scratchy from stuffing pine straw inside the old jeans and button up shirt.

But it was worth it.

The dummy sat upright in a rocking chair on the front porch. The feetless jeans were shoved into a pair of cowboy boots, the handless arms tucked into a pair of workman's gloves. And an old cowboy hat, hung from a piece of fishing line, hovered just over where a head would be.

Running back inside to drop off her tools (a rake and a pair of scissors), she grabbed the big bowl of candy and headed for the porch to join her straw man companion.

On the porch, the once occupied rocking chair sat empty, slowly creaking back and forth as though someone had just pushed out of it.



What happens next?




This is your prompt, should you choose to accept it. Scary, sweet, funny? Run with it as you will. Come back before next Wednesday to share a link to your work in the comments. I'll tweet about it.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

WWR: Seasonal Depression



He wakes up in a nondescript hotel room, the kind you'll find, cheap, near any major interstate. He doesn't know where he is. The last thing he remembers is leaving work Friday afternoon, ready to unwind with some laps at the pool.

Bruises bracelet his wrists; there are tears in his jeans. His wallet, with its twenty dollars, is still in his pocket, along with a jingling array of change. His face, in the mirror, shows weeks worth of beard growth.

Taking a breath, he opens the hotel door. The sun spills pale and bright over the trees, the hoods of cars. The air is full of the odor of fall, crisp air, moldering leaves, woodsmoke. His skin prickles with gooseflesh and something sour and hot stirs in his stomach.

There's a newspaper rack just down the way. He buys one. The date is September 23.

That sour-hot feeling crawls up the back of his throat.

He's lost three months.



Where did they go? 



This is your prompt, should you choose to accept it. Come back and share a link to your work in the comments. I'll tweet about it.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

[Fiction] The Work, Part 2



(Continuing from last week's The Work.)

“Earl Grey,” she said, handing the tea cup to the dead man in her living room.

He took it, sloshing tea over the side, but didn’t drink, just sat staring into the bottom of his cup as though it held all the answers to the universe.

Eva slipped into the chair across from her visitor, studying him. The dim light of her living room blunted his pallor, made him look a little more alive. Well, aside from the autopsy scar and the milky eyes….

A spirit inhabiting a body after physical death. Vivens mortua was the Latin name. The living dead.

There were stories of them in every culture. Legend often saw them as just another kind of parasite, tangling them up with tales of vampires and zombies. In other stories, they were mischievous creatures back to wreak havoc on the living. In still others, they were considered ill omens, predicting death or great loss for whomever saw them.

But they weren’t flesh eaters. They didn’t wear red silk lined capes or dine on blood. And if they predicted ill omens, Eva had never heard of any coming to fruition.

Of course, she’d never seen one of the living dead either. Though she had heard stories.

Admittedly, they were little more than myths handed down through the generations. People getting back into their bodies and going about their business like nothing had ever happened. They were some of the most difficult to move on, convinced as they were that nothing had changed. Sometimes, it wasn’t until their bodies began rotting around them that they accepted their own deaths.

But no story had ever depicted the living dead as so….

The man fumbled his tea cup again, fingers flailing as they tried to right it.

Uncoordinated, out of sync.

This man…he fit together wrong. Like someone had taken slightly mismatched puzzles pieces and mashed them together with a hammer and glue. His stunted, unsure walk. The way he held his body. Not to mention the silver-grey mist that roiled from his form every so often, curling and dissipating like smoke.

A thought came to her. “Is this….your body?”

He looked up. “No.” His voice was low, raspy, decaying vocal cords struggling to produce sound. “It’s the body of the man who stole mine.”


Read Part III



Written for several prompts. Inspiration Monday's inhuman race, the Light and Shade Challenge's Thursday quote, and Studio30Plus' parasite.

A little short this week. I just started a graduate program and lost some of my creativity in the mishegoss of reading and homework.


                                       





Friday, August 15, 2014

[Fiction] The Work

Pic via Flickr user mgabelmann


Mr. and Mrs. Avery squirmed slightly, looking for more comfortable positions on the narrow-seated late 19th century chairs. Hand-me-downs from her mother's side, Eva hadn’t been able to bring herself to get rid of the chairs. They'd spent most of their time wedged in a tiny closet in the back of her house.

Until she'd started doing The Work.

The chairs added to the mystique of what used to be her dining room, with its blue heirloom flocked wallpaper, Victorian crystal chandelier, and the white candles that decorated nearly every empty surface.

And they were uncomfortable. They didn’t encourage lingering.

On days like this, that was a godsend.

Mrs. Avery clasped her husband’s left hand. Mr. Avery reached into his pocket with his right, placed a folded wad of bills on the table. "We have to know.”

Grief deepened the lines of their faces, the curves of their mouths, stiffened their bodies in such a way that it seemed if they moved too fast or too suddenly they might shake themselves apart.

“Your son,” Eva said. “Kyle.” She fought to keep her eyes from straying to the spirit of said son. Grey and filmy like oil on water, he lingered by the front door, watching her.

“Yes! You know him. You’ve seen him? Is he okay?” The words spilled out of Mrs. Avery in a torrent. Tremulous, hopeful, desperate.

For a moment, Eva considered leveling with the couple…but, no. Mrs. Avery was mentally recapping Kodak-moments of her son’s life, from first steps to birthday parties. Happier times. Mr. Avery, twisting his hat in his factory-roughened hands, recalled the last words he’d ever said to Kyle, over two years ago.

“He’s moved on,” Eva said. And so began the song and dance she’d had to do more often than she liked. On the “good” days it was for estranged families whose relatives had nothing more to say to them in death than they had in life. On bad…well, there were more skeletons in this particular closet than she was prepared to sweep out.

The ghost of Kyle prowled the edges of the dining room, restless, pissed. She’d felt the lurch of his surprise when she’d lied to his parents.

I know you see me, he said.

She ignored him in favor of handing Mrs. Avery a tissue.

Twenty minutes later—a new record—she had them assuaged and heading out the door. As they went, she pressed half the money back into Mr. Avery’s hand, shrugging. “You didn’t get to speak to him. Seems unfair to charge you the regular rate.” And they needed it more. Mortgage was due.

He patted her hand in thank you, guided his wife down the old stone steps and to their car.

Eva flipped the sign on her door to read CLOSED, set the locks, watched the glass panes fog with cold.

Why, whispered the dead man in a voice that was like the clatter of spilled nails, didn't you tell them? That I want to talk to them? That I’m here

The chill of his rage burned through her. She breathed slowly, pulled the roller shade down over the frosted glass before facing him, taking in the deep set eyes and gaunt features that were familiar to her.

A spirit had shown her his image a year ago, as she hovered (literally) over Eva’s sofa, trying to piece together the scattered memories of the end of her life, the blind date who had seemed so perfect for her and had left her a broken mess on the floor of her own kitchen. The spirits of two more women had come in the following months, dead long before their time.

“They don’t need to hear from you,” Eva said, voice steady. “They don’t need anything more than what I gave them.”

You don’t get to decide that.

“Actually, I do. Part of my work is keeping parasites away from the living. You’re a parasite, Kyle. You feed off misery. You’re done. You don’t get to cause them any more. They’ll be moving on. And so will you.” Something skittered at her door. “Shortly, by the sound of it. And don’t think you’ll be following your victims to a new playground.”

Kyle’s photo-negative eyes narrowed. So I’m Hell bound, is that it?

The hinges creaked.

“Above my pay grade,” Eva said.

The frame shivered; the door thumped as something hit it from the outside. They couldn’t come in, whomever or whatever it was that came to deal with the broken souls who found her. They couldn’t pass through the protective wards that generation upon generation had placed on the house.

But those wards were to protect the living.

Eva stepped back as Kyle’s form shook, shivered, broke apart as if someone had struck a fault line in his center; he turned to so much grey smoke and was sucked out beneath the door. Hoovered into wherever it was that spirits like him went.

The world fell quiet, save for the passing of traffic, the sound of thunder in the distance.

She had no more appointments booked for the day, so a cup of tea and a long bath were in order. Eva slipped through the door to the kitchen, only to be brought back a few minutes later by someone pounding on her door.

“Sign says closed.” She raised her voice just enough to be heard.

“Please. Please. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what to do!” A hand rattled the doorknob.

Eva twitched the shade back, blinked hard before reaching for the locks, peering through gap of the open door.

The man on her stoop was dark haired and wearing a pair of green hospital scrubs that set off the unnatural pallor of his skin. They were too big for him and slipped off one shoulder, revealing the edge of the unmistakable Y-shaped incision of an autopsy. His eyes were wild, the pupils blown wide behind the hazy cornea.

“Please,” the dead man said. “Can you help me?”

This was written in response to three prompts. Inspiration Monday's uncertainty is worse; Studio30Plus' entwined; and Monday's Light and Shade challenge picture prompt. (Any embarrassing errors are the product of my sleep deprived mind. Other rough edges are part of my effort to embrace first drafts as being imperfect. I edited as little as possible.)



                                  







Tuesday, August 5, 2014

WWR: Voices from the Sea



She's been beach combing for hours, hunting for unique shells along the tide line, putting dead ones in her bag, throwing the live ones back into the sea. As she turns to start her trek back, she stumbles over the sharp spires of a lightning whelk.

Whatever lived in the shell has vacated it, leaving an unobstructed view of the smooth, pink walls. Holding a hand against her left ear, she lifts the shell to her right, waiting to hear the rush of wind and water.

Instead, a voice emanates from the shell.

What does it say?






This is your prompt, should you choose to accept it. Come back and share a link to your work in the comments. 

[Fiction] Three Weeks

8 a.m. and she’s hiding in the laundry room, leaning against the tumbling dryer, sketchbook in hand, trying not to upset the leaning tower of dirty clothes to her left.

She can hear them outside. Laughing, stalking, trying to find her. They want her to make ice cream sandwiches for breakfast. And play tag, and tell them stories, and…

“Honey? Have you seen—”

…Find their old baseball uniforms so they can relive the highlights of their youth.

Something scratches at the door; the faulty latch clicks and it swings open. The baby looks in, smiles, then toddles by, wearing nothing but a diaper with a tulip (from the birthday bouquet her mother sent) stuffed down the back of it.

Three weeks, she thinks. Three weeks and it’ll be over. Summer will end. Hopefully, before I end them.

“How many times have I told you to not use your baby brother as a flower pot?” Three sets of giggles flee down the hall.

“There you are!” James pokes his head in. “Have you—“

Ripping open the dryer, she pulls out his uniform. He looks at her once, steals a kiss, the uniform and promises to be home by 1:00.

She can’t promise, she thinks, opening the washer to find the clothes wrung out and stained purple, that home will still be here.

A quick fish through the damp laundry reveals a small, now empty, pot of Permanent Mauve oil paint.

“Three weeks,” she says.

It’s fast become a mantra. 


For Inspiration Monday's "paint in the washing machine" prompt and Studio 30's "summer will end." 










Friday, August 1, 2014

New Beginnings and Creative Conundrums

Via Stock Xchng


I'm having one of those moments. The ones that come well after you've taken the initiative to do something, when all your plans are in place and things are moving toward their inevitable conclusion. The ones that make you sit back and consider what you're getting yourself into and what you're going to be giving up. The ones that make you ask yourself "Was this really wise?"

I think the answer to that last question is yes.

But I won't put a definite on that until the end of the year. (I should have a better idea at that point.)

By now you're probably wondering what I'm rambling about....

I start grad school on the 20th of this month. It's something I'd been considering ever since (well, even before) I lost my job at the end of 2012. I considered it further when I got the part time transcriber job that I'm doing now and then decided to go ahead and apply. Applications were submitted, electronically, at the beginning of May. I was accepted within the week.

Luckily for me, it's an online program. While I have to have my ass in the seat two nights a week, for about three hours, I don't have to navigate the traffic of vehicles and pedestrians down at the university.

Between school and between my transcribing, I'm hoping I'll still have time to write. Which is funny, considering I haven't been doing a ton of writing with the time I have had.

I don't know what it is, but sometimes I think my schedule has to be completely filled before I can bring myself to sit down and really work at a project. Maybe with a full schedule, I feel that I'm earning my keep in this world? That I'm not just frittering away time.

It's the creative conundrum. You wish for more time and when you're granted it, you can't figure out how to use it. I think there's something about lacking free time...you tend to be more efficient. (Even if you're pissing and moaning about your lack of time the whole way.)

That said, despite the dent in my free time, despite the homework I'll likely have, I'm looking forward to school. I'm looking forward to learning more about the field I started in. I'm looking forward to enhancing my skills in editing audio, video, images and learning more about the field I spent a number of years in.


Have you had those moments of "did you really think this through?" How'd they turn out?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Seaside Images

The trees along the beach of the northern end of Jekyll Island look like something out of a story book, twisted and bent. The high tide line is barricaded from the waves by a man made rock wall that's been put in place to slow the erosion that's slowly moving the northern part of the island to the south.

 


I wish I'd thought to get some images of Driftwood Beach (to the north of our hotel) but by the time we actually made it that far in our walks, it was dark and I, of course, had left the camera in the room.

On this vacation, I had every intention of being creatively productive. Sure, I thought, I'll take my notebook down to the beach, spread a sheet on the hard packed sand, lay on my belly and kill two birds with one stone: work on the tan and get some writing done.

Needless to say, that didn't happen. For one, I'd forgotten how hard it is to write at the beach with the wind tossing hair and pages about and the grains of sand that find their way into everything. I'll be shaking them out of my belongings for some time to come.

For another, I was far too engrossed with watching the waves and playing in the surf to bother putting pen to paper.

Though on our second day there, I did manage to collect some images in my image notebook.

Considering one of the many short stories I've been poking at focuses heavily on the sea, they should come in handy. My memory is strong and with my many ocean visits over the years, I can easily recall the smell of the brine, the dark odor of decaying marine life, the sharp, gritty feel of sand against my skin, the drag of silt around my feet as I waded into the sea.

But in the event that my memory fails me, I like having some things committed to words.


The voice of a gull echoes over the roar of waves, high pitched and cackling at some joke passed between her and the fish.




Monday, July 21, 2014

Music Mondays: Seaside Songs



I'd like to say that my lack of blogging is due to my working tirelessly on my backlog of short stories...but, if I'm honest, it's more due to my having either few ideas to blog about or lacking the wherewithal to actually write them out.

Though I am, slowly, ploddingly, penning images, outlining plots, writing short sections of stories. Yes, I'm working on more than one story at a time. (It keeps my Writing ADD at bay. What? It's a thing. I'm convinced.)

For this Music Monday, I decided to throw out some sea related songs to inspire me to make headway on my ocean-oriented tale.


"The Pirate's Bride" - Sting


"The Downeaster Alexa" - Billy Joel


"Edge of the Ocean" - Ivy


"The Heart of the Sea" - Flogging Molly




Tuesday, July 1, 2014

WWR: Working Late


Your prompt: 

It's late at night. She's lying in bed reading when she hears movement downstairs from the kitchen. The opening and closing of the cabinets, of drawers. Thinking her husband is finally home, she gets out of bed. Just as she's stepping through the bedroom door, her phone hums to life, volume turned low for the late hour.

She snatches it off the night table. Her husband is on the other end, telling her he'll be home around 1:00.



What happens next? 

Link up by midnight on the 8th and visit any others who've linked up. Tell a friend about the challenge. Feel free to take the WWR image or button. 








Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writing Opposite Gender Characters

Via Flickr (Elephant Gun Studios)

Do you get anxiety at the thought of writing a character of the opposite gender? Do you worry they'll come out stilted or stereotypical? Do you worry about getting it right? Then this post is for you! (And we're talking gender here, not sex. Of course there are biological and physiological details you may need to research, depending on what you're doing. But this is about people's thoughts, feelings, reactions, actions, etc.)

First thing first: people are people. It doesn't matter their gender identity. People are people first. Everything else is window dressing that's draped on us (and occasionally pinned or stapled on us) by society; we may embrace said dressing or not.

The trick to creating believable opposite gender characters is to....well, create believable characters. If you're trying to create a character based on flat stereotypes (the "typical man" or "typical woman"), they're going to fail.

How about an exercise?

Character 1 walks into their apartment and stops outside their mostly closed bedroom door, peering through the gap. Their partner is in bed with Character 1's coworker. Bile floods the back of their throat and they take a quick step back, then another, all they way out of the house. They get in their car and drive off.

Character 2 walks into their apartment and stops outside their mostly closed bedroom door, peering through the gap. Their partner is in bed with Character 2's coworker. Character 2, as if on auto-pilot, turns and goes swiftly and silently to the kitchen. They pick up a knife. Just as silently they return to the bedroom and shove the door open so it hits the wall with a slam, making the couple in the bed jump and scream. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" they say, entering the room, knife held at their side but clearly visible.

Character 3 walks into their apartment and stops outside their mostly closed bedroom door, peering through the gap. Their partner is in bed with Character 3's coworker. Character 3's face heats, their head fills with static, time seems to slow. They pulls the cell phone from their jacket pocket and start recording, making sure to get the faces of their partner and the other person on camera. They set the video to upload to various social media sites. Then Character 3 pushes open the door, shouts "Say Cheese!" and snaps a still photo. This will make a great addition on the company's Announcement Board.

Which of these characters are men? Which are women? They could be either or neither. They're individuals, with distinct reactions to a situation that any person could share.

Instead of worrying about making a character who's a man, or a character who's a woman, stick them in a story, wrap a plot around them, and ask the truly pertinent questions. What are they working for? What haunts them? What do they want? Who would they die to protect?

When you do that, you'll get a character worth caring about. And any trappings (or subversions) of sex or gender can be added later, if or as they're pertinent, to make the character more real.

I say that last part, because we live in a society built on the idea that men do this and women do that; a society that doesn't often recognize options beyond the binary. So writing characters completely emancipated from the social baggage isn't entirely realistic. (Unless, of course, you're writing in a different kind of universe, in which case, as we all know: rules are meant to be broken.)

Bottom line: be wary of stepping into cliches or stereotypes.

As Mette Harrison writes:
Women, despite the sense of awe and fear that some beginning male writers seem to view us with, are actually a lot more like men than you think. As a culture, I think we have codified certain gender stereotypes to a point that is ridiculous and actually harmful to men and women. 
Men are not all unable to listen, unable to ask directions, good drivers, bad at cooking, always thinking about sex, clueless about fashion, and unable to engage in deep emotional conversations. 
Women, by the same token, are not all obsessed with their hair and makeup, worried about how many calories they are eating, thinking about how their butts look in this pair of jeans, helpless when it comes to math, illogical, and only interested in romantic comedies as movies. Men, and not only gay men, share some of these characteristics. This is perfectly normal and healthy. The characters you write, whether male or female, should never be examples of only-supposedly female characteristics or only supposedly male characteristics.
- Writing Characters of the Opposite Gender 






Friday, June 20, 2014

Saturday Shorts 6-21-14



I'm feeling a little literary this weekend. So, here's your prompt, from Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "Witch-Wife":

 She learned her hands in a fairy-tale
Write 100 words.


Come back before midnight on Sunday and leave a link to your piece in the comment section. (I'll tweet your work.) Visit and read the work of any other participants.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Music Mondays: Awake Edition


where you invest your love, you invest your life


This week's music. I've been revisiting video games for inspiration and relaxation. And book-ending those tracks are a couple of nostalgic sounding pieces of music (despite their relative newness) that have accompanied me on a number of recent road trips. They awake my creative spirit. (Which poses a small problem of my wanting to work on multiple things at once and only having two hands and one brain.)

What are you listening to? What's setting off your creative spark?


"Your Bones" Of Monsters and Men






"Suicide Mission" - Mass Effect 2 OST




"Still Alive" - Mirror's Edge OST



"Awake My Soul" - Mumford and Sons

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Morning Pick-Me-Up


For June 9th's 5 Minute Love Affair prompt.

Lately, everything I write goes off in directions I didn't originally plan. While I don't always like that (I'm often convinced my original plan was better), I'm learning not to fight it.

Because, let's face it, sometimes you can mold a story and other times, the story will tell itself the way it wants to and there's not much you can do about it.

So, here we are, posted pretty much as written in my continuing effort to embrace first drafts as imperfect.







The end of the morning rush at The Rose found Michael yawning. He tried to disguise it as a customer-service smile as he handed off a half-caff, low fat latte with extra whipped cream to one of the regulars. 

Treat in hand, the woman dropped a crumpled bill in the tip-jar and headed for the door, murmuring a thank you to the man who stepped aside to let her out before he came in.

Spine pulling tall and tight, Michael straightened his milk spattered apron, because it was the end of the morning rush and the one had just stepped into the cafe, looking like he'd rolled straight of bed. Tall, with a wiry slimness, he wore a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and jeans with tears at the knee. His hair—a mass of riotous loops and whirls—looked like it was trying to escape from his head.

Michael would be lying if he said he didn’t consider what activities could give someone such epic bed hair…and then imagined himself doing them.

The man looked toward the counter and Michael fixed his gaze on the next customer before he got too wrapped up in one of his fantasies.  

But as he ground beans, steamed milk and handed back change, he stole glances at him and soaked in little details: the hint of a colorful tattoo beneath the left sleeve, the shadow of stubble along his jaw line, the dark freckle on his throat, just above his shirt collar.

And then they were face to face and...wow...his eyes were really blue. Michael opened his mouth to ask for his order but all that came out was a strangled noise, not unlike the cheep of a young bird.

"Hey, Michael!" Jane, damp haired, her apron haphazardly thrown on, breathing hard and ten minutes late, stood at his elbow. "You can take your break now."

"No. Nope. I'm good. Already had one, thanks Jane." He cleared his throat, tried his best to send a telepathic message to his coworker.

"But, when—" She looked at the customer, at Michael. "Oh. Oh, yeah,” she said, and wandered off to wipe the counters.

When Michael turned back to the customer, the man was smiling at him, brilliant and…knowing. “Ah. You wanted?”

“Black coffee.” His voice was soft, almost sleep rough. “Surprise me on the blend. With a dash of cinnamon, please, Michael. To go.”  

Michael filled a cup with his own special blend and gave it a liberal sprinkle of cinnamon.

Entering the order into the register with one hand, he held out the coffee with the other. Fingers closed around his, cool where he was warm, faintly calloused. As the man pulled the cup away, he drew his index finger over the length of Michael’s pinky.

“Thank you,” he said, dropping a folded bill into the tip jar. “See you around. Michael.”

As the door closed behind him, Jane came back over, slapped her rag on the counter. “Finally noticed Mr. Blue Eyes, did you? Was wondering how long it’d take you.”

“You’ve seen him before?”

“Oh, he was in here yesterday and the day before. Lunch rush. You've been too busy slinging croissants at people to notice. But, looks like he noticed you.”

Michael, face warm, snorted inelegantly "Just a morning pick-me-up."

"Really?" Jane asked, leaning over and plucking the five dollar bill from it’s resting place at the top of the tip jar. She unfolded it. Scrawled across the face of the bill was a name—Victor—and a phone number. 





Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Everybody's a Critic: Dealing With Criticism

Via Flickr
Criticism hurts.

Even when it's constructive, it stings.

So what can you do? How do you deal?

It's actually quite simple.

First: ask yourself two questions:

Was the criticism constructive? Can I gain something from it?

If you've read Being a Good Critic, you should remember: constructive criticism offers praise and also highlight areas that you can work on, whether that's something technical like grammar or something more abstract like character development.

But sometimes you get criticism that doesn't follow the constructive path (e.g. someone only points out what they didn't like). However, there may still be something worth sussing out. That's where the second question comes in. Is there anything you can gain from the glob of crap that's been thrown your way?

If the criticism doesn't give you some idea of how to improve, or better yet, specific examples of what to address, dismiss it. It's not worth worrying about. It may have been your critic focused on something subjective which you don't need to change. And if not, you'll more than likely find a better critic later on who can give you advice that's actually helpful.

Should the criticism be an actual attack on your writing (e.g. "Your character development is shit.") or on you ("You suck!"): dismiss it. That person doesn't deserve your time or your energy.

Last: check in with yourself.

Getting critiqued is a hard day's work. If you find the criticism niggling at you, if you can't figure out whether it's helpful or not: put it away. Try to forget about it. Work on something else. Do something fun. Come back to it when you're in a better mood. Read through the criticism again. Then read through your work with the criticism in mind.

At that point, you'll be able to better answer the question of whether or not the critique is helpful or if it's something you should just let go.


Don’t mind criticism. If it is untrue, disregard it; if unfair, keep from irritation; if it is ignorant, smile; if it is justified it is not criticism, learn from it. - Unknown


Up next (and it'll be the last post) in the Everybody's a Critic series: responding to criticism without coming across as the proverbial thin-skinned-artiste.






Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Rewards of Writing

I don't write much about the trials and tribulations of my "professional" life on this blog (because that's not really what this blog's about).

But I did want to pen a little something on this occasion.

Last summer, after the rather underwhelming loss of the job I'd held for seven years (and I say underwhelming because it just sort of...fizzled away as the economy stagnated), I did some consulting work for a colleague who had, much earlier, gone to work for another company. (The team I worked with was actually made up, mostly, of people who used to work at my former company. Family reunion!)

I digress. One of my teammates let me know yesterday that the project I'd done the scripting for won a Best of the Best/Clinical Category award in the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) awards this year.

Party!

I had no idea there were such awards.... (Learn something new everyday!) But I'm happy my writing abilities were able to help swoosh the team into the slot.

While I don't write for the recognition, a little outside positive feedback makes the world go 'round.



Monday, May 26, 2014

Music Mondays: I Don't Know Edition



I'm in a weird head space right. I've been reading too much news out of California, paying attention to too much media (social and otherwise) and it's left me a little numb. So here's some music for this Monday. 




"Go Home" - Joan Jett and Evil Stig




"Doll Parts" - Hole



"Volcano Girls" - Veruca Salt



"Night Vision" - Suzanne Vega


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Writing: Energy Management v. Time Management

Via Gilsworth, Stock Exchange
"How do you find the time?" is a question often asked of writers.

I think it's the wrong question.

We all get 24 hours a day. (Unless you know something I don't.)

The time is there to be taken: 30 minutes to an hour during lunch. 20 minutes sipping coffee in the morning. The hours that you spend watching television, playing video games or vacuuming the living room (does it really need vacuuming again?). The downtime you have at work. Your bus commute. The times you hide out, from your spouse or kids, in the bathroom.

The time is there.

The energy, however, may not be.

When I'm overtired, I'm not at my best. I might be able to get out a few sentences that are worth something, but most of what I write feels (and reads) like crap.

Despite the romantic image of the writer penning prose late into the night, fueled by near lethal doses of caffeine and not too little inspiration, it doesn't usually work. (Though it might be enough to get you a shitty first draft. A really shitty one.)

Via Stock Exchange
I've been trying to rectify the energy issue over the last few months. I've set a loose, but fairly consistent exercise plan consisting largely of yoga (something I very much enjoy) with interspersed trips to the apartment gym for jogs on the treadmill and weight lifting.

There's been a lot of improvement to my flexibility. Obvious improvement to my energy. I've been writing more (if not necessarily better). Though I'm still battling the demon of Not Enough Sleep.


What say you? Is it a matter of time? Or a matter of energy? And what do you do to address either issue? 


Friday, April 25, 2014

Saturday Shorts Challenge 4-26-14



"Doctors make the worst patients." 

Write a 50 word story about that little drop of wisdom. Link up or, if you don't have a blog, leave your story in the comments.








Monday, April 14, 2014

I Am a Work In Progress

I was invited by my fellow blogger Joe Scott (Mostly Harmless Drivel) to participate in the My Writing Process blog tour. (I don't do these blog-tag things a lot, though I tend to enjoy them when they come along.)


1) What am I working on? 

Aside from my grad school application letter?

Well, if you know anything about me, you know that I always have multiple projects going at once. But I'm trying (and failing?) to work on The Devil's Water (a working title) the novel I started with this past year's NaNoWriMo.

I've been missing my characters since I had to stop at about 30,000 words. (Due to real life issues.) I want to know more about them, their individual stories.  I want to see my two main characters interacting with each other. I want to get to the end of my tale and see what happens.

One of my main characters popped up on my blog, in the piece: One Night in LA. That takes place about 10-15 years before the main events of the novel (if it takes place at all).


2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

Umm. It's mine? The writing style? The sexual fluidity of (at least one) of my main characters?

It's a story about a father and a son, a brother and a sister, artists and musicians, sacrifice(s) and love. Along with some weird supernatural bits.

Honestly, at this point, I wouldn't want to guess about the difference/sameness of the novel until I get it into something resembling a....well, a novel. At the moment it's mostly a collection of ephemeral images in my brain: a lot of style, little substance.



3) Why do I write what I do? 

I write because a character has a story to tell.

I also love horror, fantasy and slash fiction, so when I can mix them up, I'm happy.

I write what makes me happy. Not necessarily what will "sell." In fact, "writing to sell" is one of the quickest ways for a project of mine to end up in the trash. That happened to me last summer when I received an invitation to submit another story to a publication after my first submission (a piece I'd been shopping for a while) was rejected.

(This is also why I have no intention of turning fiction writing into a day job.)




4) How does my writing process work?

Ideas come to me at random. Sometimes they're inspired by an image, a song, a movie. Other times they bubble up out of the ether.

I may immediately put pen to paper to sketch out the idea.

Or I may roll it around in my brain for a while, imagining the story, putting myself into the body of the main character(s), trying to see and feel what they experience.

Then I put pen to paper. Or, if it's a big project (like The Devil's Water), I get nervous and start questioning my every ability, including things like basic grammar skills. (My Inner Critic pulls out all the stops.)

I'm slowly learning that for big projects, I must break them up into sections, treating each chapter like a short story. Sometimes even smaller chunks is better. It hasn't yielded any polished novels or novellas yet, but we'll see how it goes.

I'm also reintroducing myself to the art of longhand writing. I've spent so many years writing on a computer that I've forgotten the zone I can slip into when writing with pen and paper.

Maybe it's because there's no annoying blinking cursor on a sheet of college rule, daring me to fill up the blank screen as fast as I can. Or maybe it's because I can scribble notes in the margins and draw arrows and cross out things without that overwhelming feeling of permanence that comes with making changes in a word document (despite the fact that I tend to use the track changes feature).

While this current project might not be entirely written longhand, it's definitely gong to be a big part of my approach. I'll let you know how it goes.


You're It

Well, the idea of this tour was to tag other people to join in. As of this posting, I could only find get in touch with one other blogger (so many of those I follow have gone on hiatus!) who was game and who hadn't participated yet.

Say hi to Meg Hart. Meg blogs about a little bit of everything, from writing (and publishing) trials to daily life, all with warmth and humor at Hart Stories by Meg, While you're over there, check out her House Cat Confidential blog and see what goes in the mind of some suburban house cats. Meg'll be responding to the above questions next Monday (the 21st), but don't wait until then to check out her work.





Sunday, April 6, 2014

Act Your Age?



I'm 31 this year, but the point still stands.

Well, except for those days where I feel like I'm about 16, mentally.

At the risk of being a tad narcissistic, happy birthday to me.

The next few weeks may be a bit sparse as I battle with my muse and my inner demons (see: inner critic) working toward my sparse, but very much achievable, word count goal for Camp NaNoWriMo.

Wish me luck. (I need it!)


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Almost Adult Conversation


"Tell me again.” Nick’s voice is soft, wary. The same incredulity he’s used against people on the stand.

Sam swallows, finds his throat hot and tight. He actually hadn't meant to say it out loud, probably never would have if it weren't for the damned blindfold. Something about not being able to see took away his filter, allowed him to say all manner of things. Some that would make a sailor blush.

And others that made his loquacious lover drop into a stunned silence.

But…was the revelation really that surprising?

"I love you," Sam says.

The bed dips as Nick sits on it. His fingertips pass in front of Sam's mouth and Sam presses a quick, tongue-damp kiss to the pads, feels more than hears Nick's sharp breath. If he could see through the silk of Nick's tie, he's pretty sure he'd find the man staring at him the way he does the cases that cross his desk: intrigued, determined to peel away the layers and reveal the truth of the matter.

"You love what I do for you. To you."

"I do love the way you hurt me." Sam shifts, feeling the ache in his muscles, his bound arms. "And the way you make it better. The way you give me what I need."

"And?"

"And I love how you react when I give you what you want. How you touch me, curl around me when we fall asleep.” Sam pauses, considers, forges ahead. “I love that you went into human rights law and that you sing in the shower when you think I'm not listening and that you cook me breakfast even though you said the smell of bacon makes you gag."

Nick's hand lights on Sam's throat, toying with the black chord of his necklace and the plain silver band—that Nick had given him months ago—hanging from it.

Sam turns his head, lays his face against those broad fingers. "I love the way you smell when you've been outside.” He darts out his tongue, licks along the meat of Nick’s palm, the soft, tender wrist. “I love the way you taste. And I love the way you feel when you come. The sounds you make, the way you grip me, like I've taken you completely apart."

A half choked noise, and Nick's hands catch in Sam's hair, fingers tugging the knot in the tie, brushing it away from Sam’s face.

Sam blinks into the light. "I love that we put each other back together, better than we were before.”

A smile catches the corners of Nick’s mouth and Sam takes a deep breath. “I love you.” It’s harder this time, looking into the deep amber of Nick’s eyes.

And easier.

And when Nick presses close, mouth seeking the sensitive skin at the juncture of Sam’s neck and shoulder, his tongue spinning out soft words of agreement, hot words of encouragement, and his fingers digging just so into the curve of Sam’s hips, it’s totally worth it.







For Inspiration Monday's challenge "complimentary compliments."

And Studio30Plus's prompt using the third definition of "love" - sexual passion or desire.

Questions, comments, constructive criticism? I welcome them in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Contamination



Smack. 

The class stared. Miss Hana stared.

Tommy, turning Elmo-red, his hand on the cheek Claire had kissed (and then licked, just to get her point across), looked at her like she’d sprouted a second head, covered in green slime. His eyes were shiny; he looked like he might puke.

Cooties were a big problem this time of year.

Well, that’s what he got for pushing her face into the sandbox.

Later, in the principal’s office, a smiling Tommy and his mom passed her.

Claire licked her hand, wiggled spit-slick fingers at him, and watched him run out the door.









For VelvetVerbosity's 100 Word Challenge: Smack.





Linking up with Fiction Friday at Nikki Young Writes.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Music Mondays: Birthday Edition



Guess who has a birthday coming up? Go on, guess.

When I was little, birthday parties were a thing, filled with a lot friends, too many sweets, punch, and shiny, strangely shaped packages.

The older I've gotten, it seems well, a little weird to me to have a day dedicated solely to your own existence. I was just about to turn 13 when I told my mother I didn't want a party. The idea was discomfiting, part the beginning of teenage angst, part recognition that I was still the new kid in town and....I really didn't want to engage in the effort of inviting people to a party.

So began my general dissociation with parties. I still recognize my birthday....mostly as a mark on the calendar, another life milestone passed. Honestly, I think I'd forget it all together sometimes if my mother didn't bring it up during one of our phone calls.

For this week of my birthday, I'm listening to a mish-mash of music that speaks to coming of age and figuring out where the hell you're going.


1979 - The Smashing Pumpkins


Thursday's Child - David Bowie


Down So Long - Jewel




Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Have a Confession: I've Been a Bad Audience

I don't take the time that I should to visit other people's blogs.

And often, when I do, I don't make enough of an effort to comment on what I read.

As much as I enjoy receiving comments—from the simplest "I like it" to the more constructive "You could try...."—I've been very bad at providing those same comments to others.

Image via StockVault
Part of this is due to the fact that there are only so many hours in a day. I've touched on how I split my time Living On Social Media.

Like it or not, Social Media eats into the time you could be using to do....something more productive, like writing.

The rest of it is due to, well, let's just chalk it up to a mix of self-doubt and procrastination. Thoughts of they really don't need to know what I think or I'll return later, read more carefully and leave a comment.

Later, of course, turns into never. And even if they don't need to know what I think, I know many of them would like to know.

I would. That's half the reason I blog.

Community is important to a writer. At least it is to this writer. As much as I'm an introvert in the physical world, I like talking to people, especially about the craft. I like to share my writing. I like to receive feedback and I like to provide the same. Hearing from someone who's gotten some indefinable something out of what I've shared makes me feel good, it behooves me to share more. And I'm certain I'm not so different from anyone else writing out there.

So I'm making a resolution, to spend time on Sundaytypically one of the slowest days of my week (especially here in the South where everything is closed)to visit a few of my fellow writers/bloggers and actually leave those comments instead of finding excuses not to.

Will you join me? Will you take the time to provide some support to your fellow writers?


All images are copyright to their respective owners and used according to Creative Commons agreements.