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Wednesday April 13, 2011

Open your e-mail and randomly choose the subject line of a message. Make that the first line of your story. Then, choose another subject line, and make that the last line of your story.

April newsletter.  Typed in bold letters across a bundle of white pages.  Standing there exposed on the roadside in nothing but the nubby old robe she had grabbed for the journey, Jaylnn ran her eyes over the letters again, thinking they might rearrange themselves if she cocked her chin at a different angle.  No.  They looked the same the second time around.  Unbelievable.

If it was April, then she had been in that house more than four months.  The idea made something clench deep in her belly and she had to lean against the mailbox to keep from collapsing on the gravel.  Her mind resisted, but her body knew.  She could feel it in the dampness at the back of her neck.  Had felt it every time the wind picked up since she stepped out into the world.  It wasn’t a winter wind, she knew that.

Jaylnn was expecting the green HOLD slip, that was hardly a surprise.  When nobody picked up the mail, the post office stopped delivering it.  That had happened before.  What she wasn’t expecting were the pages that she held in her hand.  The bundle had neither stamp nor return address.  How did it get here and what did it mean?  When she broke the thin layer of tape that held the pages together, the sheet opened and held only four words.  A picture for you.

She snatched her hand back towards her body and the pages fluttered into the gravel.



Chris Baty Rocks

Thursday October 28, 2010

I’m getting excited about November bc I’m writing a novel in 30 days.  Yup, you heard that right.  I have jumped on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon with both feet.  In fact I even got the book.  In the book, Chris Baty suggests that you create two important lists which he calls Magna Carta I and Magna Carta II.  Magna Carta I is your list for what makes a good novel.  Magna Carta II is the list of what bores and depresses you in a novel.  Here are my lists.

Magna Carta I

  • Depth in character development
  • Focus on relationships
  • Quirky characters
  • Lots of introspection
  • Unexpected personal revelations
  • Southern characters
  • Self-awareness
  • Working-class
  • Dialect
  • Lots of personality/character detail
  • Precision

Magna Carta II

  • Historical fiction
  • Detailed setting
  • Fantasy elements
  • Violence
  • Primary focus on action
  • Shallowly drawn characters
  • Lack of complexity
  • Lots of short chapters


Fear Factor

Wednesday October 27, 2010

For a Halloween party, your character has decided to face his biggest fear by making it his costume. And at the party, his biggest fear comes true.

The costume had seemed like such a good idea last night as he rushed towards his car and away from the desk that seemed to have tentacles that were forever grasping where they didn’t belong.  After a particularly lengthy and fruitless session with Danny, who was in his office only because he would find himself back in a jail cell if he failed to make an appearance, it came to him.  He could dress up as a client.  It might not be the most politically correct idea he could have conceived, but thinking about what kinds of clothes and props he would need made the day feel lighter and almost entertaining.  Counseling abusive men who repeatedly found themselves on the wrong side of the law couldn’t kill you if you were laughing about it, right?

Now that he was in the midst of an assortment of witches, lumberjacks and  more than one Sarah Palin, he wasn’t so sure.  Explaining his costume made him feel like a jerk, probably because he couldn’t manage the “Oh yeah, I’m cool with it” tone he was going for, and so he had spent most of the night drinking Bud Lime (what was happening to his life) and listening to a woman dressed like a French maid complain about her husband.  When Joe announced a beer run, he grabbed the opportunity, excused himself from the disgruntled maid and offered to drive.

He was glad to get away from the crowd and the cool air lifted his spirits.  Joe was rambling on about something in the seat beside him, but he wasn’t even listening.  He had had enough of that.  Driving towards the gas station with the windows down, he focused only on the sensation of the wind whipping through the windows.  It felt good.  It felt good right up until the moment when the blue lights seared into his rear view mirror.  The moment when the beers with the maid, Joe’s sports car, and his clever costume collided into one very bad idea.

Tempting Fate

Tuesday October 26, 2010

Write a scene featuring a red truck, an asthma inhaler, and the word “fate.”

She had had asthma as long as she could remember.  Longer even than her Momma had been driving Shelby, the old pick-up that might as well have been part of the family.  Every Sunday when they got home from church, Daddy said he had to go take care of the red-head and he’d spend the next hour making Shelby look as good as an old truck could.  Around the time that Fate started packing the inhaler in with her PE clothes, she realized that most people didn’t name the cars they drove.  Missy Flanagan was more than happy to share this information as Missy was a girl who thrived on knowing things that other people didn’t.

But Fate was no longer a girl and although she still had asthma, she had lost Momma and Daddy before she walked across the stage for her diploma.  Not that the diploma had really done her much good.  Cutting hair at Elvira’s Hair Port didn’t require a high school diploma, but it did require transportation.  For the first few years it had been hard, but now Fate loved driving Shelby.  Settling herself into that lumpy seat each morning, for just a moment, she didn’t feel alone.


You Had Your Reasons

Friday August 13, 2010

The hotel was $19.99 for a reason. And you were there for reasons of your own … but not the kind everyone might think.

You get what you pay for.  She had always bristled when those words fell from her father’s disapproving lips, but as usual the sentiment was apt.  Just because it’s trite doesn’t mean it’s not true.  These couch cushions were a testament to that.  Looking around at the solitude that twenty bucks had bought her, she wondered, not for the first time, what she was doing here.  In this hotel room, in this town, in this life.  All of it was so simple and straightforward that it took her breath.  Snatched it right from the place by her heart where it was supposed to stay and sustain her.

Pretty is as pretty does.  Her mother’s voice this time, speaking the words that seemed to come more frequently as she had made her way towards adulthood.  Because pretty she was, anyone could see that, but on the inside?  That was a bit harder to see.  Who knew what lie behind the sparkling eyes and the easy laugh?  Of course, no one knew, she had seen to that, but if anyone had an inkling it was her mother.  Mother’s were like that.  They knew things, but everyone else was in the dark.

That’s why she spent $2o on one afternoon a month to sit alone in a hotel room while the kids were at church.  She didn’t even stay the night, just a few hours was enough.  It had to be.  By the time her husband got home from work, she would have picked up the kids and settled herself carefully back into her life.  Her real life.

She had her reasons, but they were some of the only things that were still hers.

Your Story No. 28

Thursday August 12, 2010

During your weekly housecleaning you find an unfamiliar cell phone in the cushions of your couch—but can’t recall having had any recent visitors. It rings.

At first, I didn’t even hear it; the vacuum does make a lot of noise after all.  It was the green light flashing from the couch that caught my eye.  That was unusual.  So unusual that I turned off the vacuum and that was when I heard the ring, or what passes for a ring these days.  We would have called it a song in my day and a vile song at that (were they really singing about that???), but these days it signals an incoming call.

I only answered it bc I couldn’t see any other way to get that song to stop rounding its’ way through my living room.  Answering that phone was just as natural as opening an umbrella in the rain or turning up the heat when it’s chilly in the house.  Simple as that.  Not a moment of surprise to encounter a stranger’s phone in my living room; a stranger’s pink leopard print phone (did leopards come in pink now?) at that.  No hesitation or suspicion.  All of that would come later, after I had heard the voice.

Something You Should Have Never Seen

Tuesday June 8, 2010

At the library, you see someone using a public computer—and the contents of her screen leave you speechless. Pretending to look at books, you peer over her shoulder and read.

Thank God for Saturday Story Time.

Before I had kids, a free 30 minutes on a weekend afternoon could be blinked away in a moment.  Gone before it ever arrived, and certainly not treasured.  These days just the prospect of Saturday Story Time can get me through a good three or four days.  It’s only 30 minute, but I have them all to myself.

Usually I wander to the coffee shop next door with a magazine for some cafe au lait in a big, comfy chair, but not today.  Today I have work to do.  Getting time at home with the computer without a little person looking over my shoulder or wanting to sit in my lap has been impossible.  If I want to find a cool party site in our new town and manage to keep it a surprise with the kids, this is probably my best bet.

Making my way to the computers, I allow myself a moment of pity here in this new place with a bunch of kids and nothing but the internet to help me with party ideas.  Of course, it could be worse.  I could still be in Tuscon.  Instead I am here with a birthday party to plan.  Things are definitely looking up.

I click my way easily through the login process and towards the internet.  Immediately images of brightly colored cakes, balloons and putt-putt golf courses fill the screen. It looks like central New Mexico has plenty to offer in the way of kiddie entertainment.  Jotting phone numbers quickly on a receipt I dug from the depths of my purse, I notice that it’s already 2:30.  Time to gather the little people.

Making my way through the computer maze, I spot a familiar face.  Actually, from this perspective it is a familiar bun, but that bun can only belong to one person.  Bright red hair bound tightly and secured with a black ribbon, makes this fellow library goer Sarah, the Preacher’s wife.  I’ve only spoken to Sarah a few times, but running into her here makes me feel a little less alone in this new place.  As I step forward to greet her, the screen of her computer comes into focus.  I freeze.  Am I hallucinating?  I can’t believe what I’m seeing and now there is no way out.  The ribbon whistles through the stale air and our eyes lock.