I’m calling time out on my story Broken Notes, because things have been so chaotic it’s been hard to keep up. Mainly, it’s because of my job, which probably should be done by 2-3 people, and hit the point right before Thanksgiving where I hit mission failure. The Army soldier in me, where it’s “accomplish the mission,” hated doing the fact I couldn’t do the mission. But I told people that I couldn’t make the deadlines any more.
After I saw this post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch on indie writers and scheduling, I realized also that I wasn’t being realistic about my time. If I wasn’t working, I was trying to write something. What I wasn’t doing was taking a day off–a real day off–each week.
So I’m having to step back and figure out how to rebalance everything to keep from burning out. I’ll still work on the story, but offline, where I can do it.
Dick Van Dyke has wonderful charm in this fun video. I remember watching him in reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s hard to believe he is 92.
My book, Soldier, Storyteller will be released in the Remembering Warriors on January 1.
One hundred years ago, in 1918, the Great War ended after four terrible years. Never had the world seen such a conflict. All touched by its scythe hoped we would never be thusly reaped again. Their hopes were but desperate dreams. Since that first armistice, there have been many more battles, and thousands have given their lives or their health to preserve freedom and escape from tyranny.
A hundred years after the first armistice we still remember and honour those brave souls. But still the soldiers fall, for the War to End all Wars did not.
10% of the royalties from the Remembering Warriors bundle will go to the Royal British Legion plus another 10% to Help for Heroes, two charities that support wounded and ex-service personnel and their families, in commemoration of the World War I centenary.
Check out all the books in the bundle: https://bundlerabbit.com/b/remembering-warriors?nocache=1
I have a guest post over at the Odyssey website (and you’d never believe how hard it is for me to spell Odyssey. It’s a word that does not make sense and cannot be visualized!). It’s my own experience taking one of their workshops. It was quite eye opening to look at where I was at then in my writing and where I’m at now. Enjoy!
Charles almost refused to come over to Randy’s house, especially after learning “one of those Chandlers” was there.
Randy, frustrated by the stupidity of the feud, blurted, “So you’d the whole town go to hell than deal with a Chandler?”
That had gotten him a stony silence for so long he wondered if his father had hung up.
Not happy. But coming.
Randy hung up his iPhone and tossed it on the coffee table. Nikki started at the sound and glanced up at him with wooden eyes. She hadn’t moved from the sofa once. Molly hadn’t moved from her lap either.
“What does he have against Chandlers?” Nikki asked.
Randy sprawled out in the armchair, slouching down. Maybe he should have paid more attention to the masonry work of his family. But he’d wanted to stay out of all the petty bickering.
“I have no idea,” he said at last. “It was like what happened with your family when they just stopped coming to the house. One day, we were friends with the Chandlers, and then we weren’t.”
“They never tell us anything.” Nikki managed a smile that brightened up her face.
Randy laughed. It felt good, releasing some of the bleak tension. He fished out a dog treat from his secret stash in his jeans back pocket and extended it out to Molly. She poked at it with her nose, then took it delicately, crunching it down.
He rested his elbow on the arm of the chair, propping his chin his hand. “Tell me what you do remember about that last summer. Maybe there’s something kind of connection.”
“I don’t know. It was so long ago.”
“C’mon.” Randy gave her grin. “Let’s start with something easy. What did you always do here?”
Nikki lifted Molly up and set her on the sofa, then stood. Molly turned in a circle three times and curled up in the warm spot were Nikki had sat.
Randy watched Nikki pace. Actually he watched the way her hips moved. The jeans fit her very nicely, though that cat shirt—
Mind back on topic, mind back on topic.
“There was a playground we always went to.” Her voice warmed with the memory. “It had a giant rocket ship. I used to climb all the way to the top and pretend I was going into space.”
Randy knew what she was talking about. It had been in the days when playgrounds were just a little bit dangerous. Now everything was all plastic and too safe. Didn’t prepare you for anything.
“You do the slide?” he asked.
He laughed. “You live for danger, lady.”
He knew well how hot that metal slide got with the summer sun beating down on it.
“I’d come off the end of it and tumble into the sand,” Nikki said. “Get it all over my knees and on my palms.”
She stopped pacing and stared out the window that overlooked the yard.
“There was someone there that day, watching us,” she said.
Randy stilled. He wanted to dash out questions, fix this problem. And he knew it would be a bad idea. Memories could be fleeting.
“Did you know him?” he finally said.
“No. But my mother did. He was an older man. I remember him because I thought I was seeing Santa Claus in summer. White hair, white beard, rosy cheeks. He looked like a man who smiled all the time and enjoyed smiling. He came over and talked to her.”
“Did you hear anything?”
Nikki turned away from the window, arms folded across her chest. The cat eyes on the shirt watched Randy.
“No,” she said. “My mother looked upset though. Maybe angry. I wondered why she was mad at Santa Claus. I was afraid I wasn’t going to get any presents.”
Who was Santa Claus? Randy knew everyone in town, and there was no one that he could recall who fit that description. He would have been still on the sidelines of the family masonry business; the Southworths had still been a powerful voice in the town’s politics.
Yes, he would have known who this man was if he’d been from around from him.
Could he have traveled from the portal?
Sorry for the delay on this. I’ve been taking the Novel Structure workshop. It’s a lot more work than the other workshops I’ve taken, and it’s a huge learning curve for me. Might have another lesson with a lot of work this week, and then the next two weeks, I’ll have two workshops at the same time (Teams, then in February, Secondary Plots). But a lot of good stuff that I really do need and am ready for.
Bit by bit, Nikki felt better the futher away from the portal they got. The air seemed to clear, as if it had been fouled. She still felt like she needed to wash herself.
They arrived at Randy’s house, and all around, it was disturbing to see the portal’s effects. People here weren’t frozen, but they were moving very slowly.
Maybe the portal was something to do with time?
Her brain felt like it was going to explode. They were the only ones seemingly unaffected. How were they going to fix it?
“I have to check on Molly,” Randy said. His voice was too fast, thinning out. “She was scared before.”
Nikki followed him into the house, breathing in the smells of dog fur. A jangle approached. Molly came through a doorway. Not her usual energetic self. She trembled, and her eyes were fearful.
Randy scooped her up, stroking her back. She flicked out a pink tongue, licking his chin.
Why wasn’t Molly affected by the portal either?
Nikki scratched the little dog behind the ears, finding some of the tension easing. Dogs were good people.
“You’ve been keeping some things from me,” she said quietly. “You need to tell me. Everything.”
Randy glanced up at her, and his eyes were wooden. “I know.”
He gestured to the sagging sofa. Nikki had to clear off a stack of newspapers. Randy gave her Molly, and she resettled the dog in her lap. He went into the kitchen and poured two plastic tumblers of water.
“I’d do something stronger…” Randy handed her one of the tumblers. “And I think I wouldn’t be able to stop until I passed out.”
Nikki felt the same. She rested her glass behind Molly’s trembling body and stared at the water.
“All the houses were portals,” she said. Not a question. She wanted to hear the confirmation.
Randy parked himself on the coffee table, close enough she could smell the fear rising off him.
“Yes,” he said. “Each house has a portal in one of the upstairs rooms. When the houses were built, the masons–my family–did a special mortar mixture that helped focus the portal’s energy. Each of the houses were built like a giant conductor for the portals.”
Nikki took a moment to digest this, wondering if her aunts had known. Had her aunts used the portals?
“Where do they go?” she asked.
Randy shrugged. “Depends. The piano in the living room is a control device. You play one tune, and the portal opens up to a particular location.”
Nikki remembered all those times she’d banged the keys, and got an ugly jerk in her stomach. Had she done something to the portal when she played the piano?
Her hands were trembling.
Randy, as if reading her thoughts, reached across to squeeze her knee. “It has to be a specific tune. There’s supposed to be a book somewhere with the tunes and the locations.”
“But where does it go?”
Molly, sensing Nikki’s agitation, stood up, claws digging into her legs. The little puffball tail wagged half-heartedly.
Now Randy was squirming. He glanced away, focusing at a painting on the wall.
“It’s a place where art is reality,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“Your family and mine…we came from a different place, a different existence.”
Nikki’s stomach jerked, sourness rising in her mouth. What did that mean?
“I’m sorry.” Randy tickled Mollie’s triangle ears, his eyes flicking up to meet hers. “I should have told you sooner.”
She wanted to be mad. She should be mad. Yet she found herself comforted by the way he looked at her, like he was a dog ready to jump in help, even if he didn’t know what he was helping with.
“I probably wouldn’t have believed you anyway.” Nikki managed a rueful smile. “Part of me still doesn’t believe it. I don’t know what to make of that portal.”
Randy shifted his hand from Molly’s ear to her hand, his warmness against her skin. It did little to ease the icy chill in her heart.
It sounds simple. Add details. Be specific. It’s not. It’s an incredibly hard skill to learn, especially when writers a cultured to treat description as boring.
An officer talks about resiliency and failure, plus being a woman in a male-dominated place. Most notable is this quote about the culture for women:
”… It is a culture shift but it has to come from the top down because that is how the military works. It can’t be organic and it has to be the men who are taking the responsibility because the women can’t change it in the very small numbers that they are in.”
When memberships in the VFW or the American Legion come up, women say they don’t feel welcome, and they’re told to join and fix it. ^^ That’s the reason that suggestion doesn’t work.
My experience with seeing the flag folded is from NCIS and other TV series where the soldiers or Marines in their crisp uniforms and white gloves precisely fold the flag, then hand it to the family member at a funeral. Scroll down past the image for a text version of the image describing what each of the folds means. Link from my reunion cabin mate Lila Sise Spurgeon.
A lot of writers gravitate to movie writing advice to write novels. This link above shows why that’s not a good idea. There’s value in studying movies, like I’ve been doing Die Hard as part of the Novel Structure workshop. But it’s easy to veer away from the other senses and visceral reactions when trying to write a like movie, and have POV problems.
And, finally a quote I ran across at work this week, perfect for indies.
“If you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”
– Donald Trump
Nikki’s knees gave out. She would have fallen to the sidewalk, but Randy caught her arm and held her up. He was a warm, comforting presence.
Which wasn’t much out here. The portal in the street glared back at her like it was an eye of evil.
But the sliminess had receded. Now she felt the coldness of satisfaction emanating from the portal.
“What do we do?” she asked. “How do we fix that?”
Randy’s face was as pale as she thought hers was. His words were drawn tight. “I don’t know. We need to leave.”
“Leave?” Nikki’s voice sharpened.
Randy leaned in close, his breath hot on her ear. “It might be able to hear us.”
Her mouth turned dry. “What about Brian? The others?”
There were at least five people who had come outside, frozen in place. Why wasn’t she frozen? Why wasn’t Randy?”
She’d ask that later. She circled around the front of the truck. Heat rose from the idling engine. She felt eyes on her from the portal, watching like a cat stalking prey.
The door opened easily enough, so it wasn’t frozen. She touched Brian’s arm. Still warm. But he didn’t respond to the touch. Not even a twitch.
“Brian, can you hear me?” she asked.
She tried again. “Brian, if you can hear me, I’m going to try to fix this. I’ll going to leave, but I’ll be back.”
She reached across his lap to turn off the engine. He’d be mad if his truck ran out of gas.
A laugh rose in her throat. It was a wrong kind of laugh. Not for something funny, but for hysteria bubbling up from her belly.
Randy was right. They needed to get out of here.
It was all she could do not to run away.
My flash fiction story “The Library Patron” is out in a new anthology! This was a fun story to write. I saw a prompt that said “Neighborhood Zombie,” and the story simply happened.
Fabula Argentea: 5th Anniversary Anthology
To celebrate the first five years of publication, we have selected stories that we feel exemplify the spirit of the magazine and the variety that it offers our readers. These thirty-four amazing stories, from both first-time and established authors, will take you on unforgettable, and sometimes unexpected, journeys to places real and imagined. They will take you to the past, the present, and the future. Some will make you laugh; some will bring tears. And some may call up memories from your own past. We hope that you will find these stories as enjoyable and memorable as we have.
Available on Amazon
Nikki couldn’t see the hunger. But she felt it. Cold and slimy. Thick with darkness.
It was interested in her.
She could sense its curiousity. Like she was a piece of food, and the hunger was poking around it, seeing if the food was tasty.
Her body was rigid. Sweat prickled down the hollow of her back. Her breathing stuck in her throat.
The music swirled around her, and she thought she heard a voice chiming in with the notes: I want to help.
And then someone was behind her, a warm presense. Hands touched her shoulders. Warm breath puffed on the back of her neck.
She allowed the music to pull her in, and Randy came with her. The music was like an old tapestry with holes in it. The hunger snuffled along the holes, trying to find the biggest gaps.
To get through.
“Take the lead,” Randy murmured.
To do what? Fear jabbed at Nikki’s chest. She didn’t know what she was doing!
The hunger pushed at the music’s barrier again. Its strength horrified her. The music wasn’t strong enough to keep it out.
Fear rose up from her belly, coppery and bitter. She didn’t think. She just reacted.
Bouncing along in the flow of the music, she found the biggest of the holes. In her mind, it was gaping, and black. Dead.
It was from the house on the other end. It had been gutted in a remodel. Nothing left.
How could she fix this?
She felt the hunger grin. It could get through here.
It pressed against the gap. Too big. But it could work at the hole. Make it bigger.
“Spackle it,” Randy murmured. “Like mortar.”
Nikki’s mouth had gone dry. The need to hurry pressed at her.
She pictured the wall of the house with the lines of bricks, the overlapping rows providing support. Spreading the mortar in the cracks.
Randy squeezed her shoulders. She was trembling with exhaustion.
Breathe, breathe, breathe!
The world titled sideways. Nikki fell away from the music. The sidewalk bounced up to her face.
Her chest locked up tight. For a terrifying moment, she couldn’t breathe.
Randy pulled her up into his arms, wrapping them around her.
Better. She could breathe.
The hunger had receded from the air. But its satisfaction tinged the air.
Bit by bit, she took in her surroundings again. Brian was still frozen in his truck, reaching for the passenger lock. A neighbor across the street was stuck in mid-step.
Randy? He was moving, alive, resting his chin on her shoulder. But his eyes were alarmed.
She’d been avoiding that thing in the middle of the street. Now she looked.
Her breath caught in her throat, souring. The edges of the portal had solidified.
She’d made it worse.