Short Short Story: Unraveling #Mondayblogs

Following is a bit of short of fiction that was published last year in The Paperbook Collective (Issue 7).  The issue itself is available here.  It contains plenty of good fiction, poetry, and photography for your reading pleasure.
***

Maggie tossed the gray mess to the empty spot beside her. She rubbed at her eyes, crushing the tiny bits of “sleep” that had crusted in the corners. Her OttLite floor lamp, tall, skinny and utilitarian, hung over her, shining a pool of white light on her hair which made the auburn and gray strands pop. She sat up straight and pulled her thick unruly hair away from her face, winding it into a knot at the base of her neck. Times like these, she thought, she was grateful that her hair was wiry enough to hold together without pins. That knot, as variegated as her favorite skein of yarn, would stay at the base of her neck throughout the night and perhaps even into the next day.  She reached for the clump of lacy gray alpaca yarn that she had just tossed aside. The wooden needles clicked together, still sheathed in the stitches of the “shrug” she had been knitting. Maggie wanted to shrug at the idea of knitting a shrug. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had drooled over the picture of the sweater in the catalogue, a bolero style with a paneled back that curved at the sides. It looked simple yet elegant. Much the way Maggie wished her life was.

Maggie had the simple part down pat. She lived with her cousin, who was more introverted than she and thus the perfect roommate. She had inherited her house and only had to pay taxes, no mortgage. She managed a yarn store that had already been in business for twenty years and had devoted customers when she took it over. There was very little effort she needed to make to get through her days. Her life was very simple. But there was no elegance.

Maggie knew that the lacy lightweight shrug would turn into a frumpy cocoon the minute she put it on. Everything did. She had a thick mane of hair she couldn’t control, a pear-shaped body that no clothing designer cared to design clothes for, feet that had gotten wider over the years, and she was a klutz. She could not chew gum and walk at the same time. She had to use the wall whenever she attempted Tree pose in her yoga classes. And she was lonely. Loneliness felt very inelegant to Maggie. Loneliness was simple but there was no style to it, no way to make it appear refined.

When Bobby, her husband, was still alive, she had knitted scores of hats, scarves, socks, and sweaters for him. Although she was already a fast knitter, she had wanted to be even faster to ensure that he always had an ample supply of woolen garments to see him through their long, cold winters. So she learned to knit the Continental style, with the casting yarn on her left hand and picked up with the right-hand needle. The Continental style also looked more elegant.

The problem, she thought, as she looked critically at the knitted fabric that hung lifelessly from her needles, the problem was the purling. She hadn’t gotten the hang of purling in the Continental way. For twenty-five years, she had knitted American style, using her right hand to throw, or loop, the yarn over the right-hand needle. With the Continental style, she ran a greater risk of dropping stitches since she was now “picking” them instead of throwing them. And once Bobby was gone, she hadn’t needed to knit fast anymore. Her knitting slowed as her world contracted to this small spot on her couch, where she tried to knit for herself.

The longer she sat there and fussed over the shrug that was actually almost complete, the more she worried. Could she unlearn the Continental? She wanted to ask Bobby, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t even a ghost in her house, since they had been living in a small apartment the day he died. Maggie turned to the empty spot at the other end of the couch. She imagined that it would have been his spot. She could almost see his thin frame propped up with throw pillows, his long legs stretched out on the ottoman. He would be sipping hot tea, and he would offer to read to her while she knitted. She stared, forcing his image to come into focus. Was he actually looking at her now?

Maggie’s hands moved slowly, sliding the stitches off the thin needles. She wrapped the loose yarn around her fingers. She kept staring at that dark empty spot as she started to unravel.

***

I Really Should Be Writing, But …

“But a good writing day ought to be simply any day you worked. … The hell with all that anxiety about what may or may not come when you do work. Quit expecting it to dance for you. It’s not about you, finally. It’s about itself.”  Richard Bausch, The Writer’s Chronicle, March/April 2014, p. 20 (more…)

Party Time: The Community Storyboard Is Back!

The Community Storyboard is back and ready for submissions!  Read the guidelines below or click here.

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We’re back!!!

After careful consideration and discussions with a panel of experts (we hear voices), we are implementing some not so drastic changes.  In the spirit of keeping this a fair and fun community for everyone, we have rearranged some privileges, made some editorial changes, and adjusted our guidelines.  Some of you who had free posting privileges prior to our closure may now find that you are restricted and need an editor’s approval before posting.  After a history of consistent quality posts, you may regain privileges to post without editor approval.  This is not anything personal or a judgment against your writing or talent, but we are striving to take the CSB in a more positive direction.  To do so, we need to establish more quality control.

Going forward, we ask that people remember that this website is about feedback.  The ‘C’ stands for Community and we mean it.  Even if you dislike a piece, please feel free to comment on it with respect and integrity.  Consistently coming to the editors with an issue about works that are represented on the blog does not help the author in question learn and grow.  If discussions do get heated and cross the line of civility, the editors will step in and there will be the risk of removal of offending party(ies).

Without further ado, here are the New Guidelines!

  • This blog is intended to feature Short fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as art pieces and musical works. We would prefer if your submission was no longer than 1000 words long, unless it has been arranged prior.
  • We ask that you limit your posting to 1 piece per day unless you are an editor or have previous permission.  The exception to this rule is during contests, prompts, and themes that require more than one post per day.
  • The work you submit must be original and all rights must belong to you. If you are submitting work for someone else, you must include a signed release with your submission. Any work that is deemed as not original will be promptly removed from the site and you will no longer be allowed to participate. This includes any art work or photos that are an accompaniment to your writing, unless it is public domain.
  • Your work will be published as determined by the editors of this site, and on the schedule that works for them.
  • We will not edit your work for you. It will be published as is.
  • We maintain the right to refuse to publish a work at our discretion and without any further explanation.
  • We do not claim any rights to your work. It is yours to do with as you wish. If you no longer wish to have your work featured on the site, please use the contact form on the Submission Guidelines Page. Please remember to include the title of your post so that we may easily find and remove it. It may take up to 72 hours for it to be removed from the site.
  • Please keep in mind this is a community.  Choose only your best stuff and post the rest to personal blogs.
  • The formatting of your piece will be handled by our editors, unless you have posting privileges. WordPress sometimes does odd things. We will do the best we can to ensure that it comes out looking great.
  • If you are submitting an excerpt of a published book, please also send us a link to the book and the publisher information.
  • Fan Fiction will NOT be accepted.
  • NO self-promoting via single links to your blog with no other content.
  • All content on this site is property of the individual author. If you are going to use it in part or in whole somewhere else, you must have permission from the author first, with the exception of reblogs.
  • Please include the links to your website/sales pages with your work if you wish to have them posted.
  • Please note: It may take up to a week for one of our editors to get back to you.
  • If you wish to have a photo included with your submission please note this at the top of your submission and we will send you the appropriate email to submit it to. We kindly ask that you limit your photos to one per submission, unless you are doing a photography post that has been previously approved.
  • Please ensure that your photos are appropriate for all audiences and are not offensive.  This includes graphic nudity, violence/gore, sexuality, and anything else that may be construed as inappropriate.

We hope everyone has a good time here and shares in the joy of reading and writing–Thank you, the editorial team.

Keep a look out for a post about coming events such as an artist contest and the bi-monthly theme, which will be replacing the weekly prompts.

The Knitter and Mashed Potatoes

This short story was inspired by a post on Jill Weatherholt‘s blog:  http://jillweatherholt.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/is-that-really-true/.  If you haven’t visited Jill’s blog yet, you should do so.  Like me, Jill is a writer who has to juggle a full-time job with her passion for writing.  Her posts are always entertaining, thoughtful, and generate a lot of comments.  And, apparently, they can also be the inspiration for a short story.

***

English: A small plate with a serving of mashe...

English: A small plate with a serving of mashed potatoes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another off-white, brown speckled clump fell beside Emily.  She had been dozing.  Well, really she had been sleeping.  Sleeping for six days as she did every week.  The soft thud of the odd clump was enough to rouse her, and she stirred in her rocking chair, her hands folded in her lap.  She stretched, raising her arms straight up and then out like wings.  Her back crackled as each vertebrate popped into life.  She gazed down at the unsightly lump beside her chair and smiled.  It was Sunday.  Sunday dinner to be exact, and she could knit. (more…)

I Am a Debut Writer on We Poets Show It!

I’m very honored to have a story published on We Poets Show It:  http://wepoetsshowit.com/2013/10/31/debut-writer-love-letter-to-a-young-man-in-a-foreign-land-by-marie-ann-bailey/  Like so many of my story or poetry ideas, this one just slowly emerged and then wouldn’t leave my head until I wrote it down.  How I came about to write it reminded me that my writing muse is like Nature:  she dictates when, where, how I will express myself, much like Nature will determine when, where, and how a farmer can grow his crop.  This is probably one reason I have such a hard time with writing prompts.  The more I want to do them, the more my muse recedes into shadows.

This particular story, “Love Letter to a Young Man in a Foreign Land,” is special to me because it’s part fiction, part fact.  It evokes for me the pain and doubt I actually felt back then, and that I’m relieved to no longer feel, unless I’m writing about it.  Please follow the link over to We Poets Show It and let me know there what you think of my little story.

A Date with the Druid, Part 1

After much discussion, A of The D/A Dialogues and 1WriteWay (yours truly) decided to let their characters, D and Mary, meet for a date.  For those readers new to this blog or The D/A Dialogues, Mary is a contemporary woman in a series about three widowed cousins who start a private investigation firm.  D is a 1300-year-old Druid. 

This is Part 1 of A Date with the Druid.

***

Mary stood in front of the dark wooden door.  The glass inset was opaque and tinted green so she couldn’t see through to the interior of the pub.  She took a deep breath, pulled her mirror out of her Louis Vuitton knock-off wallet purse, and took one last look at herself.  The streetlamp behind her set a halo about her short salt-and-pepper hair.  Her face was in shadow.  She sighed.

“Well, I promised her one date,” she muttered to herself as she clasped the door handle.  “One date … with a Druid.”  Mary pulled at the door, releasing heat scented with body odor and beer.  She wrinkled her nose and walked in.

The pub was lively, with nearly every round table filled with people eating, drinking and talking, seemingly all at once.  The bar before her was lined with every manner of backs and butts.  Most of those at the bar were focused on the soccer game playing out on a telly stuck high up in a corner.  The hazy yellow light of the dirty overhead lamps cast everyone and everything in a dull glow.  It seemed that no one had noticed her walking in, and yet she felt eyes on her.

Off to her left, there was a sense of someone watching.  She turned and there, in a corner, sitting alone but for a bouquet of red and white roses and a pint of dark ale, was he.  The Druid.  The … man … that Mary had agreed to meet.  He stood up as Mary approached the table.  Oh my, she thought, he’s taller than I imagined.

His hair was long and dark and, to her relief, he wore clothes, a long dark coat and pants.  Mary had only seen the drawing of the Druid on The D/A Dialogues and had been anxious that he would show up dressed, or undressed rather, pretty much as he was in the drawing.

d-as-imaged-by-green-embersThe Druid looked down at Mary and smiled, his dark eyes peering into her blue.  Mary felt her knees ready to buckle.

“Hi! You must be D!”  Mary knew her voice was a bit too loud as she thrust her hand out in front of her.

The Druid’s smile deepened.  He took her hand but instead of shaking it, as he knew Mary expected him to, he gently turned it and kissed the top.  Her skin was cool, no doubt from the chilly night air outside the pub, but his lips were warm.  Mary shivered slightly with the kiss and firmly but slowly withdrew her hand.

D pulled a chair out for her and, with a slight nervous laugh, Mary sat down. God, I’m acting like a schoolgirl, she thought as the Druid took a seat to her right.

“What would you have to drink, my lady?”  He still had that all-knowing smile, as if he could read her thoughts.  Mary started to feel annoyed.  She was in love with Randy.  No Druid, no matter how tall, dark and well-muscled, could interfere with that.  Not to mention that he was much too old for her, several centuries too old.

“A glass of Chardonnay, thank you.”  She smiled back at him, revealing her perfect white teeth.  The Druid snapped his fingers, ordered another pint for himself, the Chardonnay for Mary when the server came.  Then he leaned in.

“I’ve heard so much about you.  You are more beautiful than my imagination allowed.  You remind me of a wench … I mean, a woman I knew, oh, a couple of centuries ago.  She was feisty, very independent.  But she could not resist me.”  He gave her a large smile, revealing his perfect white teeth.  Mary bristled.

“Really, I … is that a compliment, somehow?”

“Oh, indeed, my good lady.  Ah, here are our drinks.”  He paused to attend to the bill, and Mary was relieved that he wasn’t running a tab.  She didn’t want to have to deal with a drunk Druid.

“So how is it a compliment? I mean, really, we’ve only just met and yet you imply that I will not be able to resist you.”

The Druid leaned back in his chair, his dark woolen coat falling open, revealing his broad, toned, naked chest.  Mary grabbed her Chardonnay and took a big gulp.  I love Randy, I love Randy, she started chanting in her head.

“The only woman I know that has so far resisted me is A, and I believe that’s simply because I live in her head.  One cannot have an affair with a figment of one’s imagination. However …”  The Druid leaned forward and grabbed Mary’s hand.  “However, since we are both figments of imagination …”

Mary pulled her hand away so abruptly that she almost knocked her wine over.

“Nevertheless,” she said as she tried to steady her breathing.  “I am in love with someone.  I am not about to cheat on him.”

The Druid picked up the bouquet of roses and held them out to her.  “Has your lover ever given you flowers as beautiful as these?  Has his lips burned a kiss onto your hand, as I have?  Oh, yes, dear lady, I felt you shiver with that kiss.”

Mary took another gulp of wine.  She was going to have to have a long talk with 1WriteWay, her author.  She studied her glass, wondering why it was empty so quickly and, more importantly, how to extricate herself from this large, overbearing, egotistical hunk of a man.

To be continued …

***

Will Mary yield to the … charms (?) of the Druid?  Will the Druid find himself with wilted roses and a glass of Chardonnay thrown in his face?  Will either character ever speak to their authors again?  Let us know what you think, dear Reader.  Where should this story go?

Friday Feature: An Interview with John W. Howell

JohnHowell

John W. Howell
Photo by Tim Burdick

Welcome to an interview with John W. Howell, author of a new novel (working title:  My GRL) soon to be published by Martin Sisters Publishing.  John is also an editor at The Community Storyboard, a student of the haiku, a short story writer when he is not writing haikus or working on his next novel, and is my “partner in crime” in producing a weekly Top Ten List of Things Not To Do at both his blog, Fiction Favorites, and my own, 1WriteWay.  John worked for 40-plus years in the private sector world before taking up writing full-time and is currently undergoing “margarita therapy” in an effort to overcome the unpleasant memories he has from that long, painful experience.

M:  John, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.  Of course, I wanted to return the favor since you had interviewed me not too long ago.  And I do need to return this margarita glass that I inadvertently took with me when we last met.  All that aside, I am very interested in your writing, how it all came about and where you want your writing career to go from here.

J:  Marie, it’s a pleasure to be here.  Thanks for returning the margarita glass.  It was getting embarrassing to have to serve the odd margarita in a mason jar.  Aren’t you going to offer me anything?

M:  Oh, of course, my manners.  I’m no good at mixing drinks so …

J:  I’ll have some hot tea.  I have a long drive back.

M:  A pot of hot tea coming up.  Be careful where you sit.  There may be a cat on the chair.

J:  Thanks for the warning.  Since I have two cats as well and know they don’t like to be disturbed.  Perhaps if you could just find me a chair without a cat in it.

M:  Here you go.  OK, let’s get started.  So, elsewhere you’ve said that you worked for over 40 years in the business sector.  If it’s not too painful, could you talk a bit about what you did, what your occupation was?

J:  Yes, Marie (takes sip of tea). I actually had three separate careers. The first was in consumer marketing and sales where I worked for over twenty-two years. In that time I started as a section sales person and finished as President of a consumer healthcare division. The second career was as a consultant in consumer marketing. I worked as an independent consultant for about five years and then for my third career started when I was hired by one of my clients. The client was a major telecommunications company and I started as a cube dweller and worked for about fifteen years and finished as a director. I retired and began writing full time in 2012.

M:  That’s really interesting!  Has any of this experience influence or play a part in your writing?

J: I have a reoccurring character named Frank who embodies all the arrogance I witnessed by upper management when I was working. You know the attitude, believing everyone else is less than equal and not quite as smart. I am slowly torturing Frank by giving him a life that he loves mixed with a life of a homeless person. I do this in various stages of his dreams. So whenever Frank goes to sleep he wakes up under a different situation and the beauty is he remembers the previous dream and is in agony. I love it.

M:  And you wrote a short story about Frank that received an Honorable Mention from Writer’s Digest in their Popular Fiction Contest. Our readers can enjoy “Cold Night Out” on the Community Storyboard.  Congratulations on that award.  So now you are retired from the business world.  What prompted you to take up writing?  Had you done any writing while you were employed before?

J: I actually did a fair amount of contract writing on my last job. I became very interested in the creative process which I then infused into the contracts I was creating. I was able to have living documents that two parties could embrace. It was this experience that got me to the keyboard so to speak. I finished my first book while still working. I printed it off and it is now holding the laundry room door open which seems the best purpose for a 122,000 word piece of trash.

M:  I think a lot of us may feel the same way about our first novels.  You’ve said that Kurt Vonnegut is a writer you look up to and that Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is the book that got you interested in reading.  Do you have any other literary influences?

J:  In college I studied comparative literature and part of the curriculum was a concentration on the classics. I guess if I were to pick another influence it would have to be Stephen Crain who wrote The Red Badge of Courage. It was not only a compelling story but also reflects the inner experience of its protagonist. This inner experience or feeling I continually bring out in my characters. One of the reasons I like to write in the first person is that my protagonist has the responsibility of interpreting the scenes around him and then explaining those scenes to the reader. This makes a story not so much as an external circumstance driving the protagonist but an inner conflict that is causing the behavior.

M:  And it makes for a compelling story, much like “Cold Night Out” where the reader only knows as much as Frank knows.  Let’s talk about Haikus.  When did you start writing Haikus?  You know, you are quite the master.  For our readers, many of John’s haikus are featured on The Community Storyboard.

J:  Oh, Marie, you are so nice to say Master, but I am a humble student. I was challenged by a fellow blogger who you know as Kirsten to bring some of my poetry out of the closet (so to speak). I had a great fear of being laughed out of the blogosphere with some of them. I started studying the various forms and somehow fell into Haiku since it comes close to my natural writing style. I practiced and read a lot about Haiku and so I guess I learned with a hands on method. Here is one for you:

Marie is the best,
Truly cares for all near her . . .
Secret of her smile.

M:  (blushing) John, that is lovely and so sweet of you.  Thank you.  Here, have some tea (clears throat and sniffs).  Now, I understand that My GRL is will be published by Martin Sisters Publishing.  How did that come about?  How has your experience with Martin Sisters been so far?

J:  I finished the book and then went through the query process to find an agent. After about two months of no response, I went on line and looked up publishers who would take a chance on first time authors. Martin Sisters Publishing and a number of others came up and since they did not require an agent, I sent a query. They liked my query and asked for that I sign a contract which I was very happy to do. They are very thoughtful and have great respect for writers. I have really enjoyed the experience

M:  As you know, many of our fellow writers are self-publishing these days.  What are your thoughts on self-publishing?  Did you consider self-publishing at all?

J: I was actually going to go the self-publishing route before contracting with Martin Sisters Publishing. I think self-publishing is the way to go if you have some aversion to relinquishing some control over your book. I was very faint of heart when I knew some rights like cover design were now in the hands of the publisher. Martin Sisters also has an option on the next book which I just finished so I am not sure I will be in the self-publish mode for a while. I would like to try it though.

M:  Oh, you just finished your second novel?  How exciting!  Is this a sequel to the first?

J: Yes, it seems the story was too big to fit in one book so I ended the first with some question as to the justice system’s ability to bring the true perpetrator to trial. The second starts off with the protagonist being hailed as a hero and scheduled to appear at the White House for an award. All the while the person behind the original terrorist plot has another in mind and he wants to get his hands on the hero. Many more bullets fly in the next book.

M:  Sounds like fun (big smile).  So, what is a typical writing day for you?  Do you set yourself goals like word or page counts?  What needs to happen for you to say that you’ve had a productive and satisfying writing day?

J: My day starts with normal chores like walking dogs etc. By noon I am ready to write. I set a goal for one thousand words for the day on my WIP.  Of course with blogs and e-mails I write more than that totally. A successful day to me is moving the story along and working out a twist or plot problem successfully. (Oh and getting all the 150 E-mails put somewhere.)

M:  Hmmm, you get a lot of emails, too.  Ah, you know, publishing whether it’s self-publishing or traditional publishing is very competitive.  Writers who are coming out with their first novels or short stories may feel overwhelmed or intimidated by the marketplace.  Do you have any advice for writers who aspire to be published authors?

J:  Anyone who wants to be published needs to understand that the work is hard and the result needs to be a personal goal not driven by some other person. Given that understanding, the writer needs to write every day. It really doesn’t matter how much but every day is a must.

M:  Well, John, that’s great advice.  I agree that writing everyday, even if it’s just an email in response to 150 emails, is worth doing.  I want to thank you again for taking the time for this interview.  I know I am one of many others who are eagerly awaiting the publication of your first novel.  I assume you will announce it on your blog, which again is Fiction Favorites.  Would you like some more tea before you head back?

J:  Marie, it was my pleasure to be interviewed by you.  You have a lovely new kitchen and I must say your cats are well-behaved.  Yes, I would love some more tea.

Well, that’s it, folks!  My first interview with Haiku student (master), novelist, blogger, and all-around great guy, John W. Howell.  Be sure to follow his blog Fiction Favorites.  And please stay tuned for more interviews by 1WriteWay.

Short Story: Rachel Comes of Age

A short story by moi on The Community Storyboard (and my 10th post there)!

The Community Storyboard

Rachel pleaded with David, pressing her cell phone closer.  “David, please, can’t we talk about it?”  She lay on her side, hugging her pillow to her stomach. He had just told her about his plans for the summer, a European tour that he would take, but not with her. Not now.

“Rachel, we have talked about it,” David’s voice was low and soft, but impatient.  “I told you from the beginning.  I’m going to med school in the fall.  I told you that when we started dating.  Nothing has changed for me.”

Rachel felt her face burn.  “Not even your feelings for me?”  She sat up on her bed and hugged the pillow closer.  Her long honey-blonde hair hung heavy with sweat.

David sighed.  “Look, I care about you.  And I will miss you.  But I don’t love you the way you want me to.”

“But you could someday.  Especially…

View original post 901 more words

Honorable Mention is as Honorable Mention Does Part III

Part III (and conclusion) of John W. Howell’s short story, Cold Night Out. It will have you on the edge of your seat!

Fiction Favorites

Español: Lobo en el zoo de Kolmården (Suecia).

Synopsis part I and Part II

Frank wakes up in the middle of the forest and thinks he has had an accident and was thrown from the car. He can’t move very well and thinks his cell phone has been thrown free. He is a big executive making about Twenty Million dollars a year. He decides to try to help himself so he makes his brain connect with a useless arm. It begins to rain and Frank unconsciously moves his hand to wipe the drops away.  He can now use his arm and moves it carefully to try to find his cell phone. He manages to find only a Bic lighter. He is also starting to remember some events of the evening and recalls driving a young assistant named Patty home. Frank would like to believe he behaved himself but deep down knows that is probably not the truth.

Cold Night…

View original post 1,635 more words

Honorable Mention is as Honorable Mention Does Part II

Part II of John W. Howell’s short story, Cold Night Out. The mystery continues …

Fiction Favorites

English: A Bic cigarette lighter Español: Un e...

Synopsis of Part I:

Frank wakes up in the middle of the forest and thinks he has had an accident and was thrown from the car. He can’t move very well and thinks his cell phone has been thrown free. He is a big executive making about Twenty Million dollars a year.

Cold Night Out Part II by John W. Howell ©2012

It looks like I am starting to take stock in where I have been and what I am doing in life. I am asking myself if; this so-called taking stock is what happens when it is time to leave this world for the next? Before I contemplate answering my own question, I decide to at least give a plan of rescue serious consideration.

It is obvious that no one is going to hear me yelling unless they are actually looking for me. I need to concentrate on getting…

View original post 1,407 more words

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