“Stolen Collection” – Flash Fiction for Friday Fictioneers

This story was written for Friday Fictioneers.  Each week, Rochelle gives us an image and 100 words to tell a story.  She also inspires us with a story of her own.  This week’s prompt image comes from Jean L. Hays – thanks!  Click on the blue frog below to read more stories that correspond to this prompt and to add your own.

By the way, I’ve been having trouble trying to comment on Blogger or Blogspot blogs…maybe something in my privacy settings?  I will try to investigate.  I keep pressing the “publish” button, but it won’t publish; the page just refreshes with my comment still pending.

jean-l-hays

Photo Prompt Copyright Jean L. Hays

Stolen Collection

(100 words)

“Really?”

“Come on—adventure!  Local color!” Ben said, steering Janice into the little store by the highway.

Merchandise was piled against the windows.  Ben started explaining their unorthodox honeymoon to the silent owner.

Then she saw it—an unremarkable green plaid shirt—yet her heart swung toward it even before she saw the pink heart patch she’d sewn on the elbow twenty years ago.

It was quiet.  Ben was staring at a locket, mouth open.

“How—” Janice said, holding the shirt. “My dad?”

“Things find their way here,” the owner said, sitting back.  “People, too.  What’s your memory worth?”

If you have a moment and the interest, I hope you’ll check out my story, “The Magic,” published with Necessary Fiction today.  : )

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A Moment for Writing (with Baby)

About five weeks ago, our first child, a little girl, was born.  Between the end of the pregnancy when I was trying to wrap things up at work and then getting to know the little one, I’ve been MIA from writing and a lot of other things.  I’m trying to ease myself back into a routine that allows for some writing.  Life has changed a lot, and I’m sure my writing will help me wrap my head around those changes.  Right now, I’m writing with a baby asleep on my chest and my husband asleep on the couch next to me.

I’m glad that I have my wonderful writer’s group to return to–they inspire me always!

I spent some time this morning working on a short story in progress, and now, a little poem:

 

A Moment for Writing

She is a warm weight

on my chest, her little arm

outstretched, fingers curled.

*

With my laptop propped

on a pillow, I write, and

bring my old world in

to meet my new one.

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A Time of Firsts: My First Pregnancy and My First Novel-Writing Class

So I’ve puzzled a bit over whether or not to share this information on my blog, mostly because, though I’ve been open about my reading and writing, I haven’t shared much about my personal life here.  BUT…this is something that will affect every aspect of my life, including my writing, and I’ve been working on some poems around this topic, and if they evolve enough, I’ll likely include them here.  I’m about five months into my first pregnancy.  So far, so good.  A lot to think and feel, and moments that have been a bit overwhelming, but I’m on the road forward and looking ahead to a new family member this winter.

In other news, I thought I would try a novel-writing class this summer.  I took one poetry class and a few short story classes as an undergraduate.  As an English major, I did a concentration in creative writing and wrote a novella as my honors thesis.  So while I have taken creative writing classes before, I had never taken a class designed around a novel.  I’ve been to a couple of conferences and attended lectures and workshops on novel-writing, but haven’t done anything more long-term or intensive.

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I signed up for an online class called “Novel Builder” through the Grub Street organization.  A few friends of mine in my weekly writers’ group had taken Grub Street classes before and recommended them (despite the fact that they are a bit costly!).  I decided to go for it.  I have a draft of one novel complete, but have shelved that for future thought while I’m working on another novel, women’s fiction with paranormal elements.

Salesses

The course was taught by Matthew Salesses, who has several credentials in fiction and nonfiction writing, including a forthcoming novel, The Hundred-Year Flood.  (By the way, The Hundred-Year Flood is available for early reading through Kindle First, free for Prime readers.  I read it and really enjoyed it! – official release date 9/1/15.  Here’s the link to my brief, spoiler-free Goodreads review)

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Without giving away the content I’m sure Matt Salesses worked hard to put together, I definitely want to say that the course was worthwhile.  Based on the idea that many successful contemporary novels are comprised of twelve major scenes, the goal of the course was to write and receive feedback on six scenes.  Over the course of six weeks, we watched craft talk videos given by Salesses, read the novel excerpts he’d prepared, commented on our classmates’ scenes from previous weeks, and then posted our own scenes based on weekly prompts.

I found it was immensely helpful to consider the structure of a novel at length and from the angle that Salesses presented.  I was able to see my protagonist’s arc more clearly.  I was also able to more clearly see how I could make the plot accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish in order to get my characters where they needed to be.  I enjoyed my classmates’ writing very much, and benefited from their thoughtful feedback, as well as the feedback provided by Salesses.  We are all working on very different projects, but I found each story fascinating, and hope that I’ll be able to keep in touch with my classmates and read these novels in full when they’re ready.

Though I expect things to get very busy in the coming months, with my return to teaching and this pregnancy and whatever it brings, I hope to take another online class through Grub Street.  Feel free to write in about your own experiences or with any questions.  Based on my experience, I would definitely recommend taking a novel-writing class to move your novel forward, and in particular, I’d recommend this one; I can see online that it will run again through Grub Street, starting in October.  I’m hoping to keep putting in as much time as I can on my own novel and I feel a renewed confidence in my ability to finish it (and maybe before our future child is able to read) after taking the course.  Next steps: write the climax, figure out what the ending is for my secondary villain….

In other news, watch out for an anthology on the way from Three Line Thursdaymore news to come!

Flash Fiction: The Cocktail Party

The Cocktail Party

The party had been going on for a few hours.  Most people had had a few drinks.  Most people had confined themselves to a corner or a chair or a place by the window.  A few drifted between the groups, failing to wedge themselves in permanently, failing to fully blossom into social butterflies.

Someone made a loud comment about the president.

Someone else said at least he cared about global warming.

At that, everyone looked toward the polar bear where he stood by the window, sipping at a martini and ducking his head.

Does the president really care about global warming?” a woman with dark hair and pointed glasses asked.

The man next to her in the tweed jacket that was too warm for the overheated apartment leaned into the woman, put his hand on her upper arm, and gestured toward the polar bear.

“Please don’t,” the bear said.  “I don’t want to be a ‘polar bear’ tonight.  I just want to be Mike.”

Everyone felt insensitive.  One man in a tight black t-shirt clapped the polar bear on the back and said, “Of course, Mike!” too loudly.

Everyone forgot about that awkward moment after Freddy showed up.  Freddy came uninvited to the party of his ex-girlfriend, bringing a date who looked as though she barely knew where she was.  Freddy kept an arm around her and propelled her through the party, bowling into the guests’ tight configurations squeezing her side as he slurred.

I went over to talk to Mike, and we averted our eyes from that fiasco.  Then we had a very serious, very deep conversation.  I told him about my dreams of becoming a writer, and how this would be very different than my current, soulless existence.  He told me that he missed the polar ice cap, but how he couldn’t take being around all of the moaning anymore.

“It was a bad scene,” he said.  “Everyone down there is so depressed.  Everyone is always talking about this melting and that melting.  You start to see that you’re really off-white compared to snow, once you look at it long enough.”

It was too much for him.

“Your coat looks lovely in the moonlight,” I said.

Mike blinked at me, and I could tell he thought I was being insincere.

I shrugged and smiled.  I walked away.  Freddy lunged at me with his new girlfriend, and they breathed hot booze onto my skin.  I shook my head to clear it and left the party, pulling on my coat as I clunked down the stairs and outside.  When I looked up at the lit windows of the party, I could see the shape of the polar bear against the window.  He started to move, but I turned away before I could see what gesture he would make.

* * *

If you enjoyed “The Cocktail Party,” please check out my other flash fiction stories, “The Toad,” “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” “Just in Case,” “The Arrangement,” and “The Song in the Night.”

Poem for Trying to Write Good Words

I’m in the hedge maze,

and I’ve always loved hedge mazes

and topiary animals.

I’m walking at a steady pace,

but when I turn a few corners,

I’m interrupted by a wall

of prickly green.

It seems to me that there are two choices:

turn around, or force myself through the hedge.

Mostly, I turn around.

That’s how you’re supposed to do it, right?

I turn right back around

and my movements would look funny, seen from above,

like a dog chasing its tail before lying down.

The way through the maze isn’t becoming clearer, though.

I’m getting dizzy from the turns.

Standing inside the next dead end,

facing the next green wall,

I push my arms and face and hands

into the living design,

and it scratches me

everywhere.

I keep pushing, with my eyes closed,

and the hedge is writing

on my skin, and

I think I may be bleeding.

The hedge is too thick, too dense,

and it will not be possible

to make it through to the other side,

thought it’s so short a distance.

I’m not going back, though.

I keep reaching into the green and

the points of the twigs reach into me,

and the pain is a relief

from the turning.

There is that.

Flash Fiction: The Toad

I didn’t have a chance to work on some of my extended projects this weekend, but I did work on a new flash fiction piece, drawing on the following list of words for inspiration:

rotting, trapped, slab, faith, paradise, mangle, toad, match, wolf, lamb, ginger snap, nursing, bones, newts, bathtub, abroad, protectors, lodging, elapsed, diminished, married, confidence, indulgence, welcome, ragged, mysteries, lively, intelligent

Words selected from Life Studies and For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell (1964) and Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell, Penguin Edition (2004)

*

The Toad

            The feeling had diminished, whatever it was.  Earlier, she had felt it crouched inside her: a lumpy toad, spreading a rancid chill amongst her organs.  It was, she supposed, a type of depression.  There were strains, too, of anger.  There were hints of loneliness and undertones of dissatisfaction.

Harriet had given lodging to the toad.  What choice had she had?  Yet, she’d left the door to the creature’s abode open, to try to tempt it to leave.

Time had elapsed, and the toad had left her abdomen and had hopped onto the kitchen counter, where it watched her preparing dinner.  It sneered at the french fries as she poured them, frozen, but still greasy, onto the pan.  Under its intelligent eyes, she felt guilty for the indulgence.

After the terrible meal, her stomach had become a slab, and the toad hopped to it and settled there once more, and he made her feel cold and little afraid, so she ran a bath for herself: hot with fragrant bubbles.  These were enough to make the toad unsure of his welcome, and he once again departed from her, though he didn’t go far.  He sat on the vanity and peered down at her obscured, but naked form in the bathtub.  Harriet felt sure that none of her mysteries were secret to him, and saw that his eyes were more lively than she had hitherto realized.

Regarding the toad from tub and meeting his liquid eyes, she felt herself warming to him.  Might he not be a protector?  A supernatural gift?  A benign influence bent on nursing her back to health?  It might only have been her own bleak feelings which had initially framed him as a bad omen.

Reading her thoughts, the toad launched himself down to her from the vanity, and perched his squishy body upon the edge of the tub.  Next, he would slip down into the water.  Harriet felt a quiver of apprehension at that, a wavering of her confidence.  Why had the great beyond sent her a toad, after all?  Why not a wolf, or a lamb?  Why was her familiar a creature so universally known for ugliness—a creature whose only defense mechanisms are camouflage and peeing into the mouths of predators?

The toad read these thoughts in Harriet’s eyes and turned, launching himself onto the bathroom rug and exiting the room.  When Harriet stood, toweled herself dry, and peered into the hallway, she was alone.  The toad had gone, punishing her for her lack of faith.  Who knew what he might have been, if she had been patient?

Harriet felt a new heaviness settle inside her, as yet unfamiliar.  She vowed that she would not be so careless with this entity.  She would guard her thoughts.  She would strive to be grateful.  She would hold back any desire to cringe at an unexpected form.  She would kneel at the knee of this new shape, and she would study its lessons and recite its mantras.

As she made these fervent promises, the new creature lifted its head from its coils, and Harriet reached out a hand, free of trembling, to stroke its scales.

*

If you liked “The Toad,” please take a look at my other works of flash fiction, “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” “Just in Case,” “The Arrangement,” and “The Song in the Night.”  

Musings on the Past Few Weeks…and a Poem

I feel like my schedule’s been getting away from me the past few weeks.  I haven’t found as much writing time as I usually do. Why?  We had the end of term 1 of school (all that grading and extra help and contacting home!) and the beginning of a new one, fun family things, yard work, some meetups with friends, some excursions with my husband…  Good things, really.  Even the yard work.  My husband and I are still very much in the glow of having our first house and first yard.  I’m loving being outside and taking care of the property.  We filled a lot of leaf bags this weekend, and got to spend time outside together with the dog.  Oh, and we washed the dog, and his bed.  He will smell really good for a few days…or maybe one…  Today, I’m writing right before I transition to doing a little more prep for this next (short!) week.  I’m hoping that with this holiday week, I’ll find some extra time.  I’m missing my quiet, intense hours.

It’s not that I haven’t written at all.  There have been a few snatched, furtive moments, but not those long, satisfying stretches of repeated clicking and clacking of the keys until I truly can’t write any longer…sigh.

Ha ha–well, I have been reading, which has been good.  I’m grateful to the “Text to Speech” feature of my Kindle that reads books to me for free while I’m getting ready in the mornings and on my commute.  I couldn’t read nearly as much without it.  My husband thinks the voice sounds awfully mechanical, and, hey, it’s not an actor, but I’ve gotten used to it.  I don’t mind it.  Thank you, authors and publishers who have enabled “Text to Speech.”

Here are my writing resolutions for the not-to-distant future:

-Polish my current short story, a deviation from my typical short stories, involving ghosts

-Return to writing my second novel (I’m midway through!  I’m leaving the first one on the figurative shelf for now)

-Write another installment for this blog of “Shows I Liked that Got Cancelled”

-Write a post for this blog with my thoughts on some of my recent reads

And, for now, a haiku:

Haiku for Missing My Writing

Well, I have opened

the document.  That counts, right?

I miss you.  Sorry.

Flash Fiction: “Just in Case”

I decided to try another flash fiction story.  These have been helping me to focus my writing brain before working on some on some of my ongoing projects.  I departed from Robert Frost for my inspirational words this week, and pulled two other, much-loved books off of the shelf.  I hope you enjoy–if you’re minded to try the challenge of writing a 150-word story using at least ten of the twenty words below, I’d love to see your story in the comments section!

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: shook, colors, rattling, discontent, name, bells, chill, tattoo, moaned, scratched, winding, gallantry, commands, deserved, warming, grinning, iron, cage, wicked, inheritance

Words are taken from Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems by Sonia Sanchez and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Just in Case

In the dim light of the party, he’s grinning at her.  She’s warming to him, though her eye drifts to the tattoo on his arm: an iron cage with its door wide open.  It chills her; there’s something wicked about it.

He offers his name: John.  Perfectly ordinary.  He is all gallantry, getting her another drink, asking about her life.

Still, the warning bells sound.  But perhaps they are wrong.  She’s been on edge so long, ever since her sister disappeared.  Since then, her environment has degenerated into flashing signs: Warning!  Caution!  Yet away from the alarming colors of the outside world, there is only dull discontent.  Part of her has been caged, and now it scratches at the lock, wanting.

John runs a hand down her arm.  He asks her, low and charming.  As she follows, she sticks her hand in her purse, feeling the outline of the knife.

* * *

If you liked “Just in Case,” I hope you’ll check out my other two flash fiction stories, “The Song in the Night” and “The Arrangement.”