Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writers Bucket List

Awhile back I wrote a blog entry talking about making a writer's bucket list.  And then I never did it.  So today, with nothing else to do, I completed it.  Here it is, in all it's glory: 

Writer’s Bucket List

-To be published in The First Line
-To be published in One Story
-To create Art books and other writing related art on etsy
-To finish my set of eleven novels on Jonas and Vincent (more on this later)
-To be nominated for a Pushcart Prize
-To win a Pushcart Prize
-To finish my book, Almost Midnight
-To have my book, Almost Midnight, available as an e-book for purchase
-To be interviewed in Bust magazine about my writing and art
-To be interviewed by People magazine about my book
-To make enough money from my writing to support my family

Do you set goals as a writer?  I feel it is important to aim big, so some of these goals seem off the wall. 

Switching topics, I have two annoucments to make.  First, I updated my art work section of the blog.  It's still a small selection of all the work I've made, but it's a great start.  Second, I am now going to be regularly posting three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  That way, if you are reading my blog, you know exactly when to tune in for a new post.  I hope this helps.

Happy writing!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Bracelet in the Bush

                 I saw her for the first time when I was four years old.  The morning started out peaceful.  Daddy hummed as he fixed my bowl of cereal and poured his coffee.  After breakfast, we moved to the living room.  For once, Daddy didn’t seem to mind I was hanging around.  I entertained myself playing with my dolls.  The coffee table made a perfect dance floor.  Daddy sprawled out on the couch, reading a paperback novel.  The golden writing on the front cover caught the sunlight and made little rainbows on the walls of the living room.

                Daddy looked up from his paperback and warned me not to spill his coffee.  Moving the book caused the rainbows to flutter away.  I reassured him I would be careful.  Daddy nodded and went back to reading.  The rainbows returned to the walls. 

I heard Daddy’s warning, but his words escaped my mind.  Making my dolls dance turned into making my dolls fly.  I didn’t mean to hit it.  Jagged blue edges stood sharp where a coffee mug had been moments before.  When Daddy saw the puddle of liquid slowing making its way to the carpet, he hurled his book away and grabbed me.  The rainbows disappeared for good.  He screamed for my mother to come clean up this awful mess and get me out of his sight.  I sobbed as he screamed at me.  I never did anything right.

                My mother hurried in from the kitchen.  She separated us and ushered me out into the backyard to play.  Although I was distressed, I realized I was getting outside earlier in the day than normal.  Usually I wasn’t allowed in the grass until the dew had dried.  This was a special treat, even if it was supposed to be a punishment.   I ran away from our house, away from Daddy’s anger, down to the garden.

                She was standing in the middle of the strawberry patch.

                I said the only thing I could think of at the time.  “Hey, you better get out of there.  Mommy don’t want anybody hurtin’ the berries.”

                It didn’t dawn on me until I was older what a girl would be doing in our backyard.  She was taller than me, so that must have meant she was older too.  I liked how she looked, thin with long blond hair.  She wore a yellow tank top and light yellow shorts.  The only thing ugly was her bruises.  She had many of them, up and down her arms and even a few on her neck.  My own arms would be covered in bruises tomorrow.  Daddy had grabbed me hard.

                She studied me.  “You’re wearing my dress,” she said when she finally spoke. 

                “No!” I replied.  “It’s mine.”  I was wearing an old, second hand play dress.  I hated it, but Mommy made me wear it a lot.  I wrapped my arms around my body.

                “What is your name?” She asked.

                “Rayelle Elizabeth.”

“Really?  Your parents named you Rayelle?”

“It’s a pretty name.”  I stuck out my tongue at her. 

“My name is Rachel Elizabeth.  We have the same middle name. ” Rachel looked towards the house and frowned.  “Your daddy is mad, isn’t he?”

I lowered my head.  “I broke his coffee mug.”

“I know.”  She stepped out of the strawberry patch.  I was afraid she was going to hurt the berries but I didn’t see any squished.  She reached her hand out to me.  “Why don’t you come with me, Ray-Ray?”

I took her hand and squeezed it.  “How did you know my Mommy and Daddy called me Ray-Ray?”

“I just had a feeling.”  She took my hand and we walked. 

She led me to the end of our property, right to the edge of a forest.  The forest belonged to our neighbors, The McGees.  They owned just about everything on this road, except for our little plot of property.  Their trees spilled out of their forest and threatened to take over our lawn.  Mommy told me that someday Daddy was going to build a fence along the tree line, but he wasn’t ready to do it yet. 

Rachel started to lead me into the woods, but I dug my heels into the soft soil.  “No,” I said.  “Not allowed.”

“Come on,” she said.  “I have a present for you.” 

After about thirty seconds, I nodded and went with her into the darkness of the trees. 

“When I was little, I walked this way so much there was a path right to this special spot.  You will have to make your own path, ok, Ray-Ray?”

I nodded.  She moved some trees and walked forward.  There was a clearing in the woods.  The area was big enough for a patch of sunlight to shine down on the ground.  Where the sun was shining a pink rose bush was growing on a mound, reaching up with its giant branches. 

Although the rose bush was pretty, it wasn’t the main attraction of the place.  It was obvious the area used to be somebody’s personal dump, but it had been arranged.  An old, white porcelain sink was resting on a tree stump.  Rusty pots and pans were stacked neatly on a broken bookcase.  Three mismatched chairs sat placed around a wooden barrel. 

“This was my playhouse, a long time ago,” Rachel told me.  “You can have it now, if you want.” 

“I love it,” I said.   I hugged the girl around her waist.  She was solid, like stone.  I wondered if she had the ability to tell when I was lying, like Daddy had.  Although this place was amazing, it scared me.   Something bad had happened here. 

Rachel and I stayed there for a bit.  The sun was reaching the middle of the sky when she suggested we head back.  I didn’t want to, but I knew Mommy would be looking for me soon.  Rachel took my hand and we left.

 “Just don’t tell your parents about this place, ok?  Especially Daddy.  It’s dangerous for you to be here, with the rust and stuff, ok, Ray-Ray?  You gotta absolutely listen to me!”  She crouched down and looked me in the eye. 

“I understand.”  She looked like Mommy did when she was trying to explain stuff to me.  I smiled at her. “I really, really understand.”

Rachel kissed me on the forehead and told me she heard Mommy calling.  I panicked, Mommy always got really upset when she couldn’t find me right away.  I ran into the house.  Mommy, although happy to see me, had not been looking for me.  

Although I wished for it to happen, I didn’t see Rachel again.  I wanted her to come to my backyard, where it was sunny and happy.  I had a feeling I might see her if I went to the forest, yet I stayed away.  The place gave me a vague feeling of being sick.  Years passed, and the junk yard-forest-playhouse faded into the back of my mind. 

* * * * *

It was Mother’s Day, six years later.  I was ten and lying on my bed, wondering how I could go to the store and get Mommy pink roses.  Daddy had already left for work and he wasn’t the type to do something like that anyway.  Pink roses were Mommy’s favorite.  I wanted to surprise her.  

I sat up.  I knew where I could get Mommy pink roses.  I ran out of the house, letting the screen door slam behind me.  I was surprised how easy it was to find the clearing in the woods.  The bush was still there.  I hacked off a few stems, and ran back home as fast as I could.  As I left, I thought I saw a flash of yellow.

Mommy loved the roses.  She kissed me and nuzzled my neck.  “They’re beautiful, Ray-Ray,” she said.   Daddy walked into the kitchen.  She pulled away from me and looked at the floor.

Daddy didn’t say much.  He looked at the flowers, nodded, and grabbed a beer out of the fridge.  When he left, Mommy’s smile returned. 

She visited me that night.  She accused in the dark, “You gave Mommy my roses.”

I rubbed my eyes.  “Rachel?”  She was sitting on my bed.  Last time I saw her she was older than me, but now we were the same age.  Her long hair was messy, and her eyes were red and puffy.  Her bruises looked fresh as ever.

“Isn’t it enough you have Mommy to yourself?  Isn’t it enough Daddy learned his lesson?  Isn’t it enough you have my nickname and wear my dresses? ”

“Rachel…” I started to say, but she was already gone.

The next day, I gathered my courage.  I went to the forest.  There had to be some evidence of who Rachel was.  My search turned up empty.  No lost diaries or clues; nothing you would find in mystery stories like the ones I loved to read,  just some trash and a rosebush.  The only thing I found remotely interesting was a gold bracelet with a heart charm.  I clasped the bracelet to my wrist and went home.

I wore the bracelet constantly.  At first, nobody saw it.  Daddy was the first one to notice. 

“Where did you get that?” He asked me.  He turned to my mother with cold, murderous eyes.   She shook her head and looked terrified.

I never lied to my father.  The result was always worse if he caught you.  “I found it in McGee’s woods,” I said quickly.  “Near a rosebush.”

He slapped me across the face and sent me flying into the refrigerator.  That night, I cried myself to sleep.  As I was sobbing in my semi-conscious state, I felt a cold hand push my hair back from my tear drenched skin.  When I dreamed that night, I saw Rachel’s face. 

The bracelet came off my wrist and into the back of my jewelry box.   I never went to the forest again.  It was something to be avoided.  Even when Mr. McGee started clearing the trees behind our home, I resisted my curiosity and stayed away.  I heard he was building his daughter a house right where Rachel’s playhouse once stood.  He was going to find the rose bush and once he did, everything would come out.  I could only brace myself for the storm.

* * * * *

It happened when I was sixteen.  I came home to police cars in the driveway and an ambulance pulling away.  I burst in the house and found Mommy in the kitchen, surrounded by cops. 

Mommy wrapped her arms around me.  “I have so much to explain,” she cried.  “Daddy is dead.  He shot himself this afternoon.”

I felt nothing.

“There’s more,” she said.  “Mr. McGee found something today.  Under a rose bush in the forest.  He found the bones of…”  She couldn’t get it out.  “Daddy couldn’t take it.  He loved her so much.  You had a…”

I stepped back from my mother.  “I know.  I had a sister.  My father—our father—didn’t kill himself over sadness.  He killed himself because he did it.  Daddy killed Rachel.  And you know it.”

I turned away from my mother and walked out into the backyard.  Rachel was standing in the strawberry patch.  She was a little girl now.  Or rather, she had always been a little girl.  It was me who had grown up.  Rachel gave me a wave before she faded away.

* * * * *

I purchased another heart charm.  The two gold hearts hung together, sharing a closeness that two sisters never got a chance to know in life.  I asked the funeral director to put it in the casket with Rachel.  I really liked the bracelet, but I knew Rachel wanted it back.  Besides, I wasn’t planning on wearing it.  I didn’t want to anger Daddy anymore than I already had. 

He would be watching, just as Rachel had been watching.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Coming to a blog near you...

I am pondering uploading my unpublished short stories to my blog.  I have been very lucky—since I started my writing career, I’ve had six short stories published.  This makes me feel accomplished and has given me the boost I need to take the next step.  I feel it is time to seriously start working on my as a novelist.
 For the last few weeks I have been working on a novel.  This would be my first (completed) one.  I finished a novelette last year around this time.  When I was writing, I had the full intention of fleshing it out and creating a full length book.  That hasn’t happened, although it might happen sometime in the future.  I have started writing a different novel; based on an idea I had years ago.  I am excited.  As I write this blog entry, I am 27 pages into the story.  I feel great!
You might be asking what this has to do with publishing stories to my blog.  To be honest, I don’t want to be thinking about submitting short stories while I’m hard at work on my book.  Besides, I’ve wanted to share examples my work with my blog reading audience for awhile.   So this kills two birds with one stone.   It also gives me a clean slate to start submitting for the New Year. Anything I submit in 2012 will be a new piece of fiction.
The only stories I will not be publishing on the blog are the ones from my fiction collection, Almost Midnight.  I am hoping to release it someday as an independent e-book.
On a more personal note, we have started the official count down until Christmas!  I’ve been working on my story Christmas cards and I made cookies.  I want to savior every moment of this holiday season, but I have a feeling it is going to fly!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

100 words or 150 words??

                I’ve been hard at work making my Christmas cards for this holiday season.  I have finished a few short- shorts.  I have even illustrated one of the stories.  I’ve made my list of people I have to send cards to.  I’m already way ahead of the last few years!
I had a few good ideas for writing Christmas narratives.  I was trying to make the stories 100 words each, but I haven’t been able to achieve this goal.    One of them is 100 words, one of them is 150 words, and one of them was 300 words.  All short, but I really have a soft spot in my heart for 100 word stories.  I call them “story potato chips.” 
So what is the difference between 100 words and 150 words?  See for yourself.  Here is one of my stories I rejected.  It’s called “The Vow.”  I felt like it was too dark to be on a Christmas card.  I really like the idea behind it, so I’m posting it on the blog.   See for yourself the difference 50 words can make:

The Vow (150 words)
“I’m sorry.  This can’t be my life anymore.  I’ve moved on.”
                My hands shook.  Lives change every day, but when it’s your own, it rips your heart apart.  I tried to look at him, but I found myself staring at his shoes.
                “How can you make this decision so lightly?  After all these years…”
                “But I’m not, not really.  I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  There is so much in the world I need to see.  I don’t want to be stuck here anymore.  I lost my enchantment with this a long time ago. 
                 I knew what I had to do. 
                “I, Santa Clause, release this elf before me from his duties at the North Pole.”
                I continued to watch his shoes.  No longer were they a pair of green velvet slippers decorated with jingle bells.  Instead, his feet now had on a pair of sneakers.

The Vow (100 words)
“I’m sorry.  I’ve moved on.”
                My hands shook.  I tried to look at him, but I found myself staring at his shoes.
                “How can you make this decision so lightly?  After all these years…”
                “I’m not.  I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time.  I lost my enchantment with this awhile ago. 
                 I knew what I had to do. 
                “I, Santa Clause, release this elf before me from his duties at the North Pole.”
                I continued to watch his shoes.  No longer were they a pair of velvet slippers.  Instead, he was wearing a pair of sneakers. 

                There are three big things I see in the 50 word difference.  First, lack of filler.  I say what my characters mean, and that’s it.  In conversation, we say a lot of fillers. In 100 word stories, that goes right out the window.  Second, no description.  You don’t have room to describe what things look like when you are working with so few words.   Third, I have to change words.  In the 150 word version I wrote, “I lost my enchantment with this a long time ago.” (Ten words)  In the 100 word version I wrote, “I lost my enchantment with this awhile ago.  ” (Eight words)   It’s not much, but it is a difference.
                I guess what I am trying to say is that story potato chips are not always easy to write, but they are fun and help improve editing skills.  So unlike real potato chips, which are fun but do not help you “edit” your waist line at all!
                Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The ideas keep floating.... like snowflakes

I always try to make hand drawn holiday cards for my family and a few friends.  Since my day job is being an artist, people expect handmade cards.  I admit, I would love to do this for everyone I know, but if I did, I would be making Christmas cards ALL YEAR LONG.  It’s become a tiring task, and frankly, the last few years I have abandoned the Christmas card tradition.  I just don’t feel like drawing that much during the holiday season.
This year I got a great idea.  I’m just going to draw the cards, scan the images into the computer, and then print them off.  I can “hand color” the images at night, when I am watching Star Trek or something.  (Yes, I am a Trekkie.)  Maybe I’ll make my Editor color too.  Hehehe.  (For those who do not know, I am married to my editor.  We share the same family and friends.)  For the first time in many years, I am sending out cards. 
Now, I have this second idea.  What if I wrote a short-short to include with my cards?  I know they always have greetings and well wishes  included on the inside, but to me, that is so dull!  Of course I wish you well!  If I hated you, I wouldn’t be sending you a card.  Duh.  I think a neat little piece of short fiction would be so much better. I think this will be great. It won't take up too much time away from my novel, yet it will be a welcome break. 
So, that’s my project for the weekend.  I’m going to get started on these cards, ASAP!!!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Plenty of Reading Material around this House Tonight

I had a very good day today. 
In the mail I received not one, but two, magazines that contained my work!  The first one was Nuthouse magazine.  The second one was The Nocturnal Lyric. 
The Nocturnal Lyric published my story, "The Subsequent Existence Corporation."  Nuthouse published "One,"
which is part of my short story collection, Almost Midnight.  It is a very surreal experience to re-read your work in the printed form.  I can't wait to someday hold a book in my hands that I wrote.  Short stories are great, but a novel would be so much sweeter.  But I am not complaining.  In this moment, I will enjoy this success.   

Because, right now, I am feeling very proud and accomplished!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The First Line

One of my favorite literary journals to read is The First Line.  It is on my writing bucket list to be published by this journal.  I have submitted five times, give or take a submission.   Each story has been rejected, but I have no hard feelings towards the magazine.  The editors have always included feedback with their rejections, which I feel is kind.  Anytime someone puts in the effort to help me with my writing, I appreciate it.
Anyway, the entire point of this journal is to write a story with the “first line” they give you.  There are four lines given per year.  Each line has its own due date.  If you want to write a four part story, all four parts are due by the first deadline.   
The new lines for 2012 are out.  I have started my story for the first deadline, February 1st.  I might even write a four part story if I can find the time between now and the first of February.  I encourage you guys to check it out.  Even if you don’t end up writing your own story, supporting a literary journal by purchasing a copy always is appreciated—not only by the editors, but by us writers.  If there were no literary journals, who would publish our work?
On that note, have a great week everyone!  Happy writing!