Monday, December 28, 2015

Top 5 Reads of 2015

I started using Goodreads in July, which has allowed me to actually keep track of what I am reading. Since July 1, I have read 71 books. Here are five of my favorites from the year. (Well, the last half. I don’t remember what I read in the first half!)

The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski
These are the first two books of a YA fantasy trilogy. Book three (The Winner’s Kiss) is due in March.

I do not usually like fantasy. For me, all the blah-blah that goes into world-building is wasted text that puts me into a coma. I get lost in the endless stream of odd names for people and places. Once we do get to story, I have a hard time following it, probably because I don’t know who the people are or where they are.

I did not have this problem with Kestrel’s story. Her story clearly does not take place in my world, but the world and people who populate it have enough touches of the familiar that it was never a struggle for me to stay invested in the story.

It doesn’t hurt that the story is just good. Kestrel is torn between obligations to her family, obligations to her country, and obligations to her heart.

On Writing by Stephen King
I have read this book before. I’m sure I will read it again.

This is not a how-to-write manual. This is the musings of one man about writing and his relationship with it.

Every time I read this book, it reconnects me with that pulsing drive to put words on the page. Sometimes that pulse gets buried, drowned out by the world around me. It’s nice to have a book that can sweep all the debris away.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
I blazed through this story in less than 24 hours.

The writing is witty and sharp. The characters are bent, borderline broken. I loved them all.

This is a story that has the power to draw you in, plunk you down in France (even if you have never been there), and take your heart for a ride.

I loved the book already. Then I found out it was born in NaNoWriMo, which made me love it even more!

The Only Woman in the Room by Eileen Pollack
Possibly my favorite non-fiction read of the year.

I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to this book, so I won’t say a lot here. This book challenged my perceptions of myself and the world around me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Five Things I Learned in NaNoWriMo

Today is November 29th. Day 29 of NaNoWriMo. To be on track to hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, writers should be at 48,333 words.

I am at 50,083 words! I won NaNoWriMo!

My first draft is not finished, though. There are still loose ends to wrap up. I realized this morning that the resolution of a novel is really your main character dealing with all the fall-out from the decisions they made on the way to achieve their goal. There are side effects to all of those choices that led to the character saving the day!

I hope to write another 2000 words or so today and tomorrow to wrap things up before I forget what is churning through Kass’s mind.

That will still put me at a very slim 52,000 word first draft. I’m okay with that. (I’ll explain why shortly).

On December 1, my novel will get tucked away for a rest. I won’t read a single word I wrote for at least a month. I’m sure the story won’t leave me, I will have ideas and thoughts. I will save them for later.

Since I have reached the target for the month, I thought this would be a good time to sum up what I’ve learned from participating in NaNoWriMo. This is my second time winning this crazy, loony game (first was this summer in the Camp version).

Five Things I Learned in NaNoWriMo

1. The pressure of a deadline is a good motivator for me.
Even though there were no penalties for not meeting the 50,000 word goal (and really not much of a reward) the simple act of logging my word count on a website where other people could see it if they were so inclined made we want to sit and write. I didn’t want the world to know I am secretly a slacker.

2. I write short first drafts.
For many writers, the revision process is cutting their manuscript to bits. Their first draft is an unwieldy 500,000 word monstrosity. A giant slab of marble. They need to go through and cut away the excess to reveal the story hidden within.

I am not that kind of writer.

My first drafts lean toward the short side, barely skimming over 50,000 words. I found when I worked through revisions on the novel I wrote in July that most of those words were keepers. There wasn’t much that I wanted to cut.

What I found instead were lonely sentences that wanted to be part of a scene. I added over 10,000 words to my manuscript during revisions in September. Apparently my first drafts are skeletons waiting for me to add flesh.

3. The pace of NaNoWriMo is a little too fast for me to sustain indefinitely.
For me, the trouble with the pace of NaNo is that I can’t take a break. Ever.
I can’t take a day to be lazy and drink hot chocolate on the couch.
I can’t take a day to let a story idea percolate, grow into something else.
I am committed to moving the story forward every single day.

I did well with this for the first 20ish days this month. Then I hit a wall. My main character was at one point and I knew she needed to move to another. What I was missing was the nudge. The thing that would send her over the edge, recommit her to her goal. I really could have used a day or so to brainstorm and come up with lots of possibilities. I was able to take thirty minutes. I’m not sure that what I currently have done to move her forward will stay.

I have learned that my writing schedule could use a touch more flexibility than NaNo allowed me to give it (and still make it to work five days a week). 40-45 K is probably a more realistic monthly goal for me.

4. NaNo is not for everyone.
I had heard writers before dis on NaNo, commenting that only crap was written in the month of November. I didn’t quite understand their point, because to me it’s not just the number of words. Yes, I wanted to write 50,000 words this month. I wanted at least 45,000 of them to be relatively decent. I was after quality quantity (you know what I mean, right?).

This month, I finally heard an argument against NaNo that made sense to me, even though it wasn’t my point of view. Jenna Moreci made a video about NaNo and explained why she doesn’t participate. One of her reasons was that she tends to overwrite, including a lot of crap that she cuts during revisions. For her, NaNo fuels this bad habit. She becomes too focused on the number of words, not caring anymore about the quality of what she is writing and whether it serves the story. I could see this being an issue for writers who are highly competitive, determined to have the highest word count at the end of the month.

5. I recommend every writer try NaNo at least once!
To me, what NaNo does above all else is helps writers find their habit.

The completely artificial and arbitrary goal of 50,000 words pushes you to figure out how you work as a writer.

Are you a write every day, no matter what writer? A write ten thousand words on the weekend and walk away during the week writer?

Are you a die-hard plotter who needs to outline every detail before you write a word? Are you a pantser who starts with nothing more than a single image? Are you a plantser who has a few key plot moments and waits for the characters to fill in the blanks?

Do you tend to overwrite your first draft or underwrite it?

There are a million other questions that will occur to you as you wrestle your way through a novel in a month. You will find endless advice related to all of those questions. In the end, you are the only one that can answer any of them. Every writer is different. The process is going to be unique for everyone.

Before I participated in NaNo in July, I did not think I was even capable of writing a novel, much less finishing one in a month. Now I know that I can. I am a writer.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NaNoWriMo: One Week To Go!

It is November 23rd! Day 23 of NaNoWriMo. Just over a week left for writers across the globe to reach their goal of writing 50,000 words of a novel.

To be on target, writers should have 38333 words by the end of the day today. Currently, I have 42,371 words. I hope to pass 45,000 today.

I’ll have a lot of words next week about the overall process, but for today I give you an excerpt from Kassandra.

It would be so easy to give in to him. She imagined wrapping her arm around his neck, pulling him close and kissing him. That’s all she would have to do. He would direct everything from there, she was sure. She wouldn’t have to make any more decisions other than the decision to take the first step down that path.

But what about after? Would he disappear? Would he follow her home? Leave, but then randomly reappear whenever he decided that she hadn’t paid enough for the gift, demanding more? Kass didn’t know what the fall-out would be if she did what he wanted, what she was tempted to do. Kass didn’t know him.

She opened her eyes. “No.”

He took a single step toward her. “No?”

Kassandra nodded.

“Are you sure about that, Kassandra? I really do think it is a reasonable request.” Apollo moved closer, close enough to twine the single stray curl around his finger, close enough that every hair on her body stood up, drawn to him. “Your body tells me you want to, that you are tempted.” Kass nodded again, unable to squeeze out any words.

Apollo took a step back, withdrawing his warmth. She suddenly felt empty, cold. He saw the change in her face. “Hmm, change your mind?”

“No. I won’t change my mind. I don’t know you. I certainly don’t love you.”

“That’s not a requirement, you know.”

“It might be for me. That’s something else I don’t know. I don’t know enough about me.”

Apollo nodded. “Last chance. You’re certain of your decision?”

Kass took a deep breath and swallowed, now concerned that there might be consequences for denying a God. She couldn’t make herself say anything at all, so she just nodded.

“All right, then. I withdraw my request for compensation.” Kass let out a huge sigh. “I do have another request, though.” Again he stepped close. So close this time that she could feel his muscular thighs brushing her slimmer ones, so close that she had to brace her hand against his bare stomach to keep her balance, to keep him at any sort of distance. Every muscle in Kass’s body was tense, waiting to hear what his new demand would be.

“One kiss,” he said.

This request was far more tempting. A single kiss. From a Greek God. It was sure to be an amazing kiss. They had already settled the issue of sex, so Kass didn’t think he would press her for more. “One kiss? That’s all?”

His eyes locked on hers, he nodded, leaning even closer. Kass was forced to move her hand. She let it slide, traveling across the ridges of his abdomen to curve around his side. She felt his muscles tense, his breath hitch, as her fingers passed. Kass smiled, enjoying the effect she had on him.

Apollo took the smile as permission. He closed the sliver of distance still separating them, letting his lips land softly on hers. As soon as their lips touched, they both stopped breathing. They stood frozen in place for a long moment, overwhelmed by the power of the connection.

He was the first to move, sliding one hand behind her head to angle her head the way he wanted it, the other around her waist to pull her tightly against him. His movements were slow, and velvet smooth, but worked to get them both breathing again. Their lips parted as they shared the same breath.

Apollo took advantage of the opening, deepening the kiss. Kass had a flicker of a thought that this kiss was a bad idea, that she should pull away, but the feel of him was too much for her to give up.

She would have continued kissing him until the end of time, but he pulled slightly away, resting his forehead against hers as he looked into her eyes. “Please remember that I gave you a choice,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“You might not like what I’m about to tell you. I want to remind you that it was your choice.”

Kass shifted back, wanting to step away. Apollo let her go. There was no need to hold her now.

“What? What did you do?”

“Why do you think I did something?”

“You’re a God. You have powers. You can make things happen.”

“What do you think I did?”

“I don’t know.” Kass shuffled through possibilities in her mind. “You wanted compensation for the gift you gave me. Did you take it back? Did you take away my visions?” Kass didn’t know what answer she wanted. Her visions were often unpleasant, sometimes forcing her to think fast, figure out how to change what was fated to happen. But they gave her a chance. A chance to make the world a little bit better, sometimes a lot better.

Apollo shook his head. “Funny thing about gift’s from the Gods. Once we give them, they can’t be taken back, they are yours forever. There is no way for me to take the visions from you.” His lips twisted into a smile of wicked delight. “But there’s nothing that keeps me from giving you another ‘gift.’”

“You gave me another gift.”

He nodded, a chuckle escaping him. “I did.”

“What did you give me?”

“I gave you a curse with my kiss. Since I couldn’t take away your visions I added a caveat. You will see things that are fated to happen. But no one will believe your warnings or fall for your attempts to change what you see.”

Kass took a moment to think about what this meant. “I will be able to see the future, but unable to change it? I will know bad things are going to happen, and just have to watch them unfold? Like the boat, over and over.” She started to breath fast, too fast to actually get oxygen into her blood. Kass started to feel dizzy.

“You should probably sit down.” Unlike before, Apollo did not offer to help her, guide her to a seat. He stood back and watched her as she stumbled past him, sinking onto the rock. It was not enough. Her body said enough, and shut her down, sliding her into unconsciousness.

Apollo caught her falling form, lowering her to the soft moss beside the rock. “We’ll see how this plays out my dear.” He kissed her on the cheek, then was gone.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Half-Way!!!

NaNoWriMo is half-way over!! I am still alive. Mostly.

I am still ahead, but not as far ahead as I was last week. Currently, I stand at 28,859 words (a little less than 2000 words per day). I intend to write more today— I really want to get to 30,000 before the night is through.

In the spirit of a picture is worth a thousand words, here is my pretty stats image from the nano website:

It looks like I am sailing through.

Here’s the problem. I have reached the midpoint of the novel. I should be celebrating. I’m halfway there! The issue is that I am what is called a pantser. I do not outline before I write. I tried this time, I really did. In October, I figured out the inciting incident, some initial plot points, and a midpoint. And then I got stuck. I didn’t know what my main character would do from there to get out of the bind I had put her in. I still don’t. I have a hint of an idea of what the climax will be. But I don’t know how Kassandra gets there. I am waiting for her to show me. She just managed to call Apollo from wherever Greek gods hang out when they aren’t making trouble for mortals, hopefully that leads somewhere.

This is going to take many long walks to work out. I don’t really have time for that, so we’ll see what happens. It’ll all be fine.


If you have any ideas for complications that can plague Kassandra in her quest to free her twin brother from Apollo’s clutches, let me know. I clearly need all the help I can get!!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

NaNoWriMo, Day 8

It is November 8th, otherwise known as Day 8 of National Novel Writing Month. I thought it might be nice to post an update on my status.

So far, I am doing far better than I expected.

I started working full time again about ten days before NaNo began. I was very worried about my time. Would I be able to squeeze in 1667 words per day while working 40 hours per week? I doubted that I would be able to do it.

To be on track at this point in the month, writers should have 13,333 words by the end of the day. I have 15,981 with seven hours left in the day. I am over 2000 words ahead of target! (And I might write more later tonight…)

If I keep this up, I will have over 60,000 words at the end of the month, and possibly the entire first draft of my novel.

The reality is, I probably won’t maintain my current pace (around 2000 words per day). It’s tiring. And there’s that whole Thanksgiving day and following turkey hangover coming in a couple of weeks. Those will definitely take time away from writing.

The other problem I am trying to ignore right now is that I have no idea what happens after the midpoint of my book. I have great plans that will back my main character into a horrible position. I really have no idea what she will try to get out of it. I have no idea what will finally work for her. Or if anything will. Maybe I am actually writing a tragedy. I have no idea!

Kassandra better be on her game, because SHE is going to have to figure out the second half of my novel.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Making My Internal Editor Work For Me

Hello friends and strangers!

It is November 1st. The day of candy hangovers. The start of the month of turkey feasts. Snow could appear at any moment. More importantly (to some), it is the first day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Writers all over the world take on the crazy task of writing 50,000 words of a first draft of a novel in thirty short days.

I am participating in this insanity (sleighmonroe on the NaNo site, if you want to find me). I’ll be writing a retelling of the Cassandra myth.

I listen to the chatter in the NaNo forums, and all over Twitter. There is a ton of cheering each other on, which sometimes makes me wonder how any of us find time to write any words that are part of our actual novel. There are also a lot of questions out there, most related to how to deal with your internal editor.

Even if you aren’t a writer, you have an internal editor. It’s that voice that pops up in your head, telling you how much you suck. It criticizes whatever task you are trying to focus on, giving you tons of suggestions for ways that you should be doing it instead. The internal editor takes great joy in telling you you should just give up completely and find something else to do with your time, like maybe throwing pudding at a wall.

If you are a writer, your internal editor can bring your work to a screeching halt, leaving you staring blankly at the computer screen, unable to press the keys and type words. Or your editor can send you back into words you have already written, adjusting and rewriting endlessly.

This is a massive problem during NaNoWriMo. There is no time to sit still. There is no time to cycle back through work you have already done. You have to keep moving ever forward if you are going to make it to the end.

The most common advice I hear in regards to dealing with your internal editor is to just ignore it. This works for some writers.

I ignore that advice. I am unable to push my editor far enough into the recesses of my mind. The other problem with ignoring my editor, is that I would lose all the input she wants to give me. So, I make my internal editor work FOR me.

If my editor pipes up with the comment “Oooo, you should add (whatever) to that scene twenty pages ago,” I do it. I go back, and ADD the words my editor has suggested. This ups my word count. Win!

If my editor instead suggests that I delete a scene, or change an event (Betty shouldn’t walk to the park, she should find an old bike in the barn), I go back to the scene in question, but I don’t do what my editor suggests. Instead, I change the font to bold and hand her the keyboard. She is allowed to type whatever she wants. She can tell me all the reasons why a scene should be cut, she can tell me the color and style of the bike in the barn, she can even tell me that my main character is a whiny turd who just needs to be flushed. I don’t read what she is typing. Not yet.

This might seem a little odd, but really, it’s a win-win. All the words she just spewed onto the page count toward my word count. Win! Plus, I have her comments saved for later. Like January. Whenever I get to revisions for the novel, all of her comments are there for me to sift through. Some will still be garbage, and I will delete them. Others will bring up valid points and suggestions that make my book stronger. (My editor has some skills, after all, or she wouldn’t be an editor). Second win!

This works well for me; I am able to keep the story moving forward, and get the benefit of my editor’s comments. Let me know if you try it, and if it helped you deal with your internal editor.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Dozen Roses

Day 30 of StoryADay September (the last one!!).
The Prompt:
Jeff  was walking to the parking garage after work when he comes upon a flower stand full of beautiful roses. Jeff decides to buy a dozen roses for his lover. 

Jeff slows to a stop, the riot of color drawing his eye. Roses. Red, yellow, white, pink. Blue? He reaches out, glides a finger over a velvet petal. If red signifies love, and yellow friendship, what does blue mean?

“Hey,” Jeff calls to the man behind the stand, competing with the ear buds planted in his ears. The man pops one bud loose, releasing a stream of thrashing guitar into the air. “What do the blue roses mean?”
“I don’t know man,” he shrugs. “I’m just here to take the money. Why don’t you Google it?”

Jeff watches as the man replants the dangling bud. He has a fleeting thought about kids and work ethic, then realizes there are probably only five years between their ages. He takes the kid’s advice, pulling out his phone and typing blue rose meaning into Google.

When the entry appears, Jeff’s eyes bounce from the text on his screen to the roses and back again. These aren’t supposed to exist; blue roses are a myth, white roses tinted with dye. Fake, in other words. The color represents mystery and the unattainable.

Jeff pulls a single blue rose from the basket, lifting it close. The blue was deep, rich, evenly spread throughout the petals. He doesn’t think they’ve been dyed. The rose taps his nose, perfume crawling into his thoughts. He closes his eyes. “Bridgette,” he breathes out her name.

Jeff’s eyes open, focusing on the kid again. Jeff lifts a hand, waving it to get the kid’s attention. “A dozen of these blue.” The kid pulls a sheet of green plastic from a stack, bundles the roses and twists a rubber band around the bunch.


Jeff slides the cash from his wallet, trading the kid for his prize. They are perfect. Just like Bridgette. Jeff nods at the kid, then continues to the garage and his car.

As he drives, the scent of the roses fills his car. He has to fight back the images of her to maintain sight of the road in front of him. He sees her, looking back over her shoulder, her eyes skimming over him. He sees her, lounging by the pool, lowering her book and sliding her shades to the top of her head to look in his direction. He sees her, tipping her head back, a laugh bubbling up, oblivious to how it affects him, makes his toes curl in delight.

He pulls to a stop at the curb, walks to the front door and rings the bell. He hears the dead bolt click free, then the door swings open, bringing them face-to-face. Finally.

“Can I help you?” Bridgette asks as her puzzled eyes take in the flowers and the man’s face behind them.

“These are for you,” Jeff says as he pushes his way in and kicks the door closed.

Bridgette turns to run. Jeff smiles. Time to attain the unattainable.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Human Shrapnel

Day 29 of StoryADay September.
The Prompt:
In no more than 600 words write the ending of a story. This is effectively the final scene, the denouement, the resolution or however you want the story to end.

(This is the ending of a short story in which a woman travels back in time to prevent the death of a friend. The friend’s death had resulted in her group of friends drifting apart. She will do anything to keep them together, but has a hard time finding the way to make that happen.)

I finally figured it out. There is a way to keep our odd little family together. Someone HAS to die. Just not Trevor.

When Trevor died, it blew us apart, we couldn’t hold the pieces together. When I saved him, the same thing happened. The only difference was that Trevor was still alive. I still lost you. We were all still miserable. And alone.

I’ve realized that something has to change; our family has to move forward. We have to lose one piece to keep the rest together. The piece we need to lose is me. I have to die.

I know that sounds crazy. But it’s true. I’m the least important member of our group. I may have been the nucleus that our family formed around, that drew us all together. At this point you could take me out and the rest would remain intact.

I bought a gun this morning.

I’m going to go to Trevor’s apartment again today. I’ll be earlier than I was before, and I won’t knock on his door. When he finds me dead in the parking lot he won’t go to work. He won’t die. But I will be gone.

You will all shift and adjust, I’m sure. But you will be fine. You will all stay together. You will move on.

I didn’t know if I should tell you or not. I finally decided to write all of this down, explain the story. I need you to know how much I love you, how much I want you to be happy. I would do anything for you.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Day 28 of StoryADay September.
The Prompt:
Write a story with a character who has a difficult decision to make. Put this character in the setting you observed and use your sensory detail in the story.

I step out of the gas station into the midnight dark, silvered moonlight filtering through the trees and splashing onto my skin. I shiver, the air cold against my wet skin.

I start to walk away, no idea where I am going. No idea where I am. I lose my balance and start to fall, catching myself against the trashcan. I look down at my feet. One black stiletto heel, one foot bare. I kick off the shoe.

A wave of sour milk, rotten fish, stale coffee washes over me. I lift arm, sniffing myself. The stench isn’t me, but I don’t smell right. I smell like iron. I look at my other arm, the hand at the end still braced against the trashcan. I push away from the smell and shuffle out into the empty parking lot.

The asphalt is cold and rough against my bare feet. I ignore the bite of small rocks, focused on reaching the street. At the sidewalk, I stop, look left, then right. Which way? Where should I go?

I close my eyes, trying to remember how I got here. I remember sliding a short purple strapless dress over my head. My hands move, sliding over my arms and stomach. Instead of smooth and silky, the dress and I feel sticky. I open my eyes, looking down. I am wearing a short dress, but the moonlight obscures the color. I see sprays and splotches of glistening liquid everywhere I look. I am covered in sticky goo.

I pull my mind back to the bigger issue. Where to go? I hear cars, a highway, so I turn to the left and start walking. The wind gusts, swirling crinkly leaves around my feet and raising goosebumps on my exposed skin. I cur in, wrapping my arms around my torso, picking up the pace of my stumbling shuffle to almost a run.

I don’t see the dog until after I crash into it and tumble to the sidewalk. The dog darts a few steps away, then turns back, sidling up to me. I scramble back, scooting on my butt, hands, and heels as the dog creeps closer. He is sniffing, his lips curled back, exposing sharp white teeth. He is close enough to bite, but instead I feel his tongue slide along my shin. His eyes meet mine as he pulls away, then moves in closer, lapping at my leg.

I sit. I let the dog clean my legs and arms, pretending that I don’t know what he is licking away. What is smeared across my skin.

I push the dog away and clamber to my feet, turning to the sound of car tires buzzing on the pavement. I run. The dog follows.

We reach the overpass. Bright lights shine on the roadway below. The dog and I stand in the dark sky. I watch the cars speeding under me, disappearing, going somewhere. The movement of the cars pushes the air, the wind blowing warm and acrid in my face as I step up onto the railing. I decide to follow the cars.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Star Gazer

Day 26 of StoryADay September
The Prompt:
The Secret.  Your character has one, or knows about one. Will it be kept, or disclosed?

“Tell me something no one else knows.”

Tyler turned his head to look at Karen, then down at their fingers threaded together. Why did girls always ask this? Every girl he let get even a little bit close wanted more, wanted to crawl inside his brain and investigate everything hidden inside. “You see that star, right there? The really bright one? It’s not actually a star. It’s a planet. Venus.”

Karen turned her head from the sky back to Tyler’s face and glared. “Yeah, I know. I wanted something no one knows.”

“No one bothers to look at the sky anymore,” Tyler responded. He was surprised that she knew that already.

“I do. My dad used to take me out all the time to look at the stars. We would pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere and stay up until dawn looking up at the sky.” Karen turned her head back to the stars and pointed. “That bright one, just underneath Venus. That’s Regulus. It’s part of Leo.”

“The lion Hercules slayed.”

“Or the lion that scared off the girl.”

“What?” Tyler’s eyes dropped from the sky again, his body turning on the car hood to face Karen.

“There’s a competing myth. Supposedly the story that inspired Romeo and Juliet. Two young lovers were planning to meet under a tree. The girl got there first, was scared off by a lion and dropped her scarf. The boy saw the scarf and the lion, thought the girl had been eaten, and killed himself.”

“I have never heard that story.” Tyler looked at Karen. Really looked at her. He had never met a girl that paid attention to the stars, let alone knew something about them he didn’t. She might be able to handle his secret.

He turned back onto his back, looking up at the stars and remembering the two he told before. Lynn, the girl he thought he loved. She thought he was crazy and refused to ever speak to him again. Rachael, who thought it was awesome and told her friends. She wanted to go with him. He moved to new town to get away from her.

Karen was different. He could feel it. He wanted to tell her. “What are you thinking?” Karen’s voice brought him back to her.

“I want to tell you something. Something real. That almost no one else knows.”

She smiled, rolling her body to face him. “Okay.”

Tyler reached over, turning her face up to the sky and pointing, “You see that smaller star, slightly yellow, right by Regulus?”

Karen looked for a moment, then nodded, “Yeah.”

“That’s Mars.”


“That’s where I’m from.”

Karen laughed. “Right. Women are from Venus, men are from Mars.”

Tyler turned her face back to him. “Really. I am.” He stared at her, willing her to believe him and somehow be okay with it. She stared back.

“So, what now?” Karen tightened her grip on his fingers.

“That’s kind of up to you.”

Karen closed her eyes, as if she could see the future unfolding on her closed lids. He thought maybe she could.

She opened her eyes, the clear blue sparkling like the galaxies splashed in the sky above them, then leaned close, resting her lips on his. “We’ll figure it out,” she grinned and kissed him again.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Interview

Day 25 of StoryADay September.
The Prompt:
Write a story that revolves around a character with a ‘fatal flaw’ who, as a result, commits a fatal error that has a tragic result. Use a frame story to reinforce the flaw.

Smith flipped open the front cover of the case file. It had taken all day to convince his sergeant that he could handle this case, persuade him there wasn’t any need to get the FBI involved. Smith had one day. One day to interview Dr. Chase Gordon. One day to get him to confess.

The sheets in the file were in reverse chronological order. Smith flipped quickly to the last page, wanting to think through events from start to finish.

Kimberley Bryan, 24. Grad student at NYU. Found hanging from a ceiling fan by her roommate. Dr. Gordon had been treating her for OCD.

Nate Green, 30. Construction worker. Jumped off the top of a forty-foot scaffold during his lunch break. Dr. Gordon had seen him once for anger management.

Chelsea Snow, 42. Stay at home mother of five. Found drowned in her bathtub after swallowing a bottle of Percocet. Seeing Dr. Gordon weekly for bipolar disorder.

Three suicides. All seeing Dr. Gordon within a week of their deaths. Police didn’t see a connection until Mrs. Snow’s husband came in convinced something was off. He had seen Chelsea depressed before. None of the signs were there in the weeks before her death. He wanted records from Dr. Gordon, transcripts of his wife’s sessions. He threatened to go get them on his own if the police wouldn’t investigate.

Parks was the detective assigned to go talk to Dr. Gordon, see if anything felt off. Twenty minutes after leaving Gordon’s office, Parks pulled his car to the side of the road, put his service weapon in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Gordon was brought in for questioning. Carpenter and Munoz interviewed Dr.Gordon for two hours, all of it caught on tape. The three detectives watching from a neighboring room saw nothing out of the ordinary. Carpenter and Munoz left the interview, walked down to the evidence locker where they obtained two knives. Each of the men slit his own throat.

That was yesterday.

Smith closed the file. He didn’t know how Gordon was doing it. Somehow he was hypnotizing people, planting a command for self-destruction. Smith wasn’t worried. He knew he would be okay. He couldn’t be hypnotized. Smith planned to watch Gordon closely, figure out how he was doing it, and use that information to force a confession.

Time to get started.

Smith opened the door to Interrogation Room 3. Dr. Gordon was already inside, sitting behind the small table. His feet were shackled to each other and the bolt in the floor. His hands were cuffed together, cinched tight to a bar on the table, restricting his movements. Dr. Gordon looked relaxed, unconcerned with the charges or his captivity. He smiled at Smith.

“Ah, another detective. I told the others everything I know. Which is nothing.”

“You’re not responsible for the deaths of these people?” Smith tossed out the handful of photos in his hand, three civilians, and three detectives. They spread across the table.

Gordon took a moment to look them over. “I’ve met them all. Spoken with all of them. But I did not kill any of them.”

“I know. What I want to know is how you got them to kill themselves,” Smith settled into the chair across from Gordon, leaning his elbows on the table.

The right side of Gordon’s mouth quirked up into a crooked smile. “People make choices. I can’t be responsible for all of them.” Gordon paused, his eyes traveling over the faces on the table again, coming to a stop on Nate Green. He managed to tap the photo with the tip of his middle finger. “This man reminded me of my son. They didn’t look anything alike; it was the energy inside. The sense of invincibility. My son never took my advice, listened to my warnings. Mr. Green didn’t, either. He felt he didn’t need me.”

“Is that why you made him kill himself?”

Gordon laughed. “I warned him of the fallacy of invincibility. He ignored my warning.”

Smith changed tacks. “What happened to your son? When he didn’t listen?”

“He fell from the sky. Much like Mr. Green. Jeff stepped out of a plane, believing a thin piece of fabric would slow his fall.”

“Sky diving?”

Gordon nodded once.

“People do that all of the time. Usually it’s okay. Sometimes things go wrong. Your son took a risk.”

“He thought he was invincible. That he could live forever. Many of my patients share this delusion. If they do the right things at the right time, all will be right in their world. It’s a myth. Shit happens, as they say.” Gordon leaned back in his seat as far as his arms would allow, giving the light above access to his well-buffed nails.

Smith’s eyes were drawn to the glint of light off the hard surface, watching the gentle motion of the finger back and forth, the light tracking across the surface of his retina. After a long moment, Smith’s eyes lifted to Gordon’s face, watched the man pull his lip in between his teeth and bite down gently.

“I don’t think I have anything else to say.” Gordon broke the silence. “Perhaps we can talk again tomorrow?”

Smith blinked hard, then nodded. “Yeah, maybe tomorrow.” He gathered up the pictures, stacking them neatly before leaving the room.

The next day, Detective Ohara opened the file for the case against Dr. Chase Gordon. There was a fresh sheet on top, describing the death of Detective Smith. Smith was found dead in his home, apparently having consumed a box of rat poison.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Becoming Bob (Three Microstories)

Day 24 of StoryADay September.
The Prompt:
Click on this link.

Flick through the gallery and pick the first three pictures that catch your attention. Now, write a short, 50-100 word story for each. No more than 100 words each. (Note: The first piece is 110 words, I cheated a bit)
(Images in this post were accessed at the website listed above, and credited to the U.S. National Archives.)

“This feels really weird. Why are we doing this?” Marcy squirmed inside her shell.
 Photograph of Acetate Foil for Laminating“I’m working on a treatment for anxiety,” Bob replied. “The idea is that the acetate will wrap around you, embracing you like a warm hug. This should make you feel relaxed, less anxious.”
 “Well, it’s not warm, like a hug. And it’s rather stiff,” Marcy tried to lower her arms, but they were stuck sticking out like the limbs of a scarecrow.
 “Hmmmmm. Let’s try adding more,” Bob continued wrapping Marcy, working from her toes up to her neck.
 “Don’t cover my face, I’ll suffoca-“ Marcy’s words were cut off by the acetate enveloping her head.

South Beach Has the Longest Stretch of Public Beach in the Miami Area. Thousands of Retired Persons Have Settled Here in Inexpensive Residential Hotels Built Within Walking Distance of the Beach. The Area Now Faces Problems of Over-Development.Bob emerged from the waves, his deep tan glistening, the sunlight reflecting off water and salt scattered across his skin. He made his way to the outdoor shower, rinsing the salt before it could dry his skin. Bob wanted to look good for Marcy. He needed to appeal to her, earn her trust.
Clean and relaxed, he took a moment to practice his smile in the mirror and perfect his wavy locks. they were still not as perfect as Marcy's.

Rockport's Barbershop 02/1973

Bob’s first professional haircut made him angry. The man didn’t understand that Bob hated his hair in his face, hated the straight strands that poked in his eyes.
Squirming in the chair hadn’t made the man stop. Bob scrunched his face tight, imagining what he could do to the man with the straight razor sitting on the counter.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Attic

Day 23 of StoryADay September.
The Prompt:
Before she knew it, she was just another set of eyes in a dusty attic, waiting for the stairs to creak.

Before she knew it, she was just another set of eyes in a dusty attic, waiting for the stair to creak. She didn’t expect the day to end like this. But, that’s what they all say, isn’t it?

He was cute. He was holding a puppy, letting the little ball of blonde fur lick his face. Her first thought was a wish that she were the puppy. The thought caught her off guard, making her blush. She had waited for the blush to fade, then walked over to say hello.

His smile was bright, so large it lit up his eyes when he turned to answer her hello with his own. His voice was deep, tinged with an accent she couldn’t quite place. The sound rolled from him, smooth, like silk sheets sliding over her thigh. She blushed again. Where did that thought come from? He saw the pink graze her cheeks. He had her already.

He let her hold the wriggling puppy as he told her stories about the puppy’s antics at his house. The puppy fell asleep in her arms, one paw resting on her chest. He feel silent, both of them staring at the paw, rising and falling with her breath.

Eventually he broke the silence, asking her if she would like to see his house. She stared into his eyes, seeing nothing alarming in their depths. The puppy trusted him. She trusted him. She said yes.

She carried the still sleeping pup, the man’s hand on her arm guiding her steps to his house. It stood on the front half of a large lot, carefully manicured lawns spread both front and back. Butter yellow, it stood looking out at the street through two stories of large windows. Cedar shingles climbed to the roofline, broken by a small hexagonal window in the attic. She thought the house looked just as nice as the man and his dog.

She walked up the stairs and through the door without an ounce of hesitation. This was her third mistake, the one that sealed her fate.

Across the threshold he closed the door and took the puppy from her hands, nestling it in a bed near the front door. He filled her hands with his own and leaned in to kiss her, the spell upon his lips.

She felt her knees get weak and leaned further into the kiss. She felt him curve around her but did not realize the reason. She was shrinking, forcing him to bend to maintain the contact until she lay on the floor, asleep.

Her eyes opened here. At first she saw only dust floating in the shaft of sunlight pouring through the small window. She tried to turn her head, but could not. She pushed her eyes to the periphery, catching glimpses of the other dolls with wide-eyes stares that surrounded her, waiting for the man to come for a visit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Meet at the Gate

Day 22 of StoryADay September
The Prompt:
Write a short story about a family gathering where things don’t quite work out as expected. It can be a social event at work or a family holiday that goes spectacularly wrong, you choose.

“We made it!” Kendra grabs Megan’s hand, pulling her close for a hug. Megan squeals, lifting Kendra into the air and spinning them both around.

The squeal fades into silence. “Wait. Where is everybody else?” Megan turns again, this time looking for the rest of their family. There is no one else here. The two stand alone, facing a giant golden gate splitting a fence that appears to stretch into infinity. The other side of the fence is shrouded is mist, the sights and sounds of the inside muffled. A sign hangs to one side of the gate “Gate open 4:00 - 4:30 pm daily.”

“It’s almost four, right?” Kendra asks, turning Megan’s hand to look at the watch on her wrist.

“We only have a minute. Why isn’t everyone else here?” Megan is still turning her head, waiting for her mom and sister to appear.

“Did everybody drink it?”

“I think so. We each had a glass. Your dad told everyone to drink the whole thing.”

“Maybe it takes longer to work for some people? That happens with alcohol, I heard. Some people are drunk after one beer, others can drink like, twelve, before they’re drunk.”

“Maybe,” Megan squiggles her lips into a frown. “What if they don’t show up?”

“Where else would they go?”

“This isn’t the only option, you know.”

“But it’s our family. We’re all good people.”

The conversation comes to a stop as the gate starts to swing open. Kendra and Megan watch the movement, stepping back to avoid being hit. The gate comes to a stop, exposing a tunnel through the misty clouds. Like the fence itself, the tunnel seems to stretch into infinity. They still can’t see what they are about to enter.

They lock hands, walking together into the unknown.

The walk is long. Eventually they hear the clang of the gate closing behind them. They turn to look, but cannot see the gate. “Maybe they’ll get here later. The gate will open again tomorrow,” Megan tries to comfort her cousin.

When they turn to continue, they are surprised to see something other than mist. A small hamlet is spread out before them. It looks warm and inviting, if you overlook the absence of people.

“You know, maybe you have to be REALLY good to get here. Mom liked to play slot machines,” Megan gives Kendra a worried look.

“Your sister totally cheated on her math test. I saw her copy off of Brent. She didn’t deserve to be here,” Kendra takes a few steps toward the nearest house.

“Really? Your dad kissed my mom. When your mom was still alive. He cheated, too.”

“Take it back.” Kendra takes a running leap at Megan, intending to punch her. She disappears in mid-air.

“Whoa,” Megan looks at the space formerly occupied by Kendra.

Megan moves to a bench near the path, sinking to a seat. She takes a deep breath, then pulls a deck of cards from her pocket, dealing out a game of solitaire. “Someone good will come along eventually. Right?” she says to no one at all.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Day 21 of StoryADay September
The Prompt:
Your character is being forced into something they do not want to do: an arranged marriage, eating their broccoli (!), working for someone they know is evil. So he or she is running away to avoid it. Suddenly there’s voices nearby/a light flashes on/someone steps into the passage ahead…Your character stops, heart pounding, afraid of discovery.

Tucker is almost asleep when he hears it. A squishy slithering. A squelching slide. His eyes pop open as his heart jumps to a pounding pulse in his throat. “Jacob,” he pushes the whisper past the obstruction. A moment later he pulls a deep breath in and lets loose with a shriek, “Jacob!”

The room is silent, then bursts to life with the flick of the light switch. Jacob stands in the doorway rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Tuck. What’s wrong?”

“There’s something under my bed. I heard it.”

Jacob groans. “This again? I looked last night. There’s nothing there.”

“I heard it, Jacob. I swear.”

A long sigh from the door. Jacob drops to his knees and crawls across the carpet, peering under Jacob’s bed as he moves. “Dude, there’s nothing there. You’re almost eight. Aren’t you getting kind of old for imagining ghosts?”

“It’s not a ghost. It’s something slimy. I heard it dragging its goo.”

Jacob is on his knees next to Tucker’s head. He drops his own head onto Tucker’s pillow. “Tuck, there’s nothing there. I looked. Please just let me sleep.” Jacob scoots his head closer, dropping a kiss onto Tucker’s head before rising to his feet. He pauses at the doorway, his hand on the light switch. “Goodnight, punk.” Jacob flicks the switch and disappears down the hallway.

Tucker stares up at the ceiling, imagining he can see it in the darkness. He is stone still long enough that sleep starts to creep back up, pulling on his eyelids, making them drift closed. The sound again. Directly under his head.

Tucker imagines the slimy thing sprawling tentacles out from under the mattress, reaching across the floor. He stands in the middle of his bed before taking a flying leap as far across the room as he can. He hits the floor running, his hand slamming the light switch up as he spins to look back at his bed.

There is nothing there. Tucker stands in the doorway, his breath coming in sobbing gasps. He turns to his closet, pulling the door open and grabbing his sleeping bag from the corner.

“What are you doing?”

Tucker turns to see Jacob blocking the doorway. “I can’t sleep here. The thing under my bed is going to eat me, I know it. I’d rather sleep outside!” Tucker tries to push past Jacob, but his brother is twice his size and stops him with one arm.

“Tuck, you can’t sleep outside. It’s snowing.” Jacob hugs his little brother. “What if we trade rooms? You can sleep in my room. I’ll sleep in here. My room doesn’t have a monster under the bed, right?”

Tucker nods, gives his brother a huge hug, then scurries down the hall to nestle into Jacob’s bed. Jacob is right. There is no monster under this bed. He sleeps.

Just after dawn he wakes to the sound of his mother screaming. Tucker runs down the hall to his room, where his mother stands in the middle of the floor. Tucker skids to a stop, his feet sliding through the slime that covers the bed and much of the floor. It is splashed with blood. “I told him there was a monster under the bed.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Good Samaritan

Day 18 of StoryADay September
The Prompt:
A stranger to a remote area encounters a family with a mysterious and troubling past.

James enters the kitchen, stamping mud off his boots at the door. The stranger stands quietly behind him, trying to get a look at the room and the woman in it without making eye contact.

“Who is this?” Beth asks, a warm smile lighting up her face. “Another good Samaritan?”

James laughs, stepping aside to allow Beth a good look at the man. “This is Caleb. He helped me get my truck out of the mud. I offered him dinner as thanks.”

Beth steps forward to shake the man’s hand. “Welcome, Caleb. Thanks for helping. This happens every time it rains. I swear, it’s almost like he drives into the mud on purpose!” Beth meets James’ eyes for a moment.

“Well, have a seat, gentlemen. Dinner is almost ready.”

Caleb steps fully into the room, carefully scraping his boots on the rug and latching the door behind him. “Can I use a washroom? I’d like to clean up a bit,” he holds his muddy hands out for Beth’s inspection.

“Sure, right this way,” James pops up from his seat at the table, leading Caleb into the hall, which is lined with closed doors. “Second door on the right. You can look around a bit, if you’d like, but please stay out of that room,” James points to the last door on the left.

“Okay,” Caleb gives James a confused smile before entering the bathroom, closing the door between himself and the strange old man.

James hurries back to the kitchen, “I told him to stay out of the room. We’ll see if he listens.”

“They never do,” Beth says with a sigh, setting a large platter of meat loaf next to the mashed potatoes already on the table. “Thank God!”

Caleb reenters the kitchen to their laughter. He smiles, even though he doesn’t understand the joke. “Thanks for dinner. A warm meal will be nice. It’s cold out there.”

“No problem, dear. You eat up, now,” Beth pushes the platter of meatloaf his way.

Dinner is quiet. James and Beth eat ravenously, bordering on rude. Caleb is more polite, but just as quiet.

Beth hurries from the table the moment she is finished, piling her dishes in the sink before scurrying down the hall. Caleb’s eyes follow her, wondering what the hurry is. James shrugs to Caleb, even though he knows exactly where Beth has gone, what she is doing.

The men finish eating in the continued silence. Finished, Caleb stands and places his dishes neatly in the sink, adjusting the ones dumped in by Beth.

Beth reenters the room, a wide smile on her face. She gives James a nod, indicating that everything is ready.

Caleb turns to the couple. “Thank you so much for dinner, but I should get going, I have a long drive ahead of me. If it’s okay, I’ll just use your washroom before I go.”

“Sure, sure,” Beth says, waving him down the hall.

Caleb heads down the hall, his eye caught instantly by the door standing ajar. It is the last door on the left. The room he was told not to enter. He quickly averts his eyes, darting into the bathroom and closing the door. He wouldn’t look. They told him not to go in. But why? What was in there? Why did they point out not to go in, when all the doors were closed?

By the time Caleb exits the bathroom, he is twitchy. He can’t keep his eyes from the door. He wants to push open the door, walk in, and see what’s inside. Willpower wars with curiosity. He takes a step closer to the partially open door, then stops, listening for any sounds from inside. The house is silent.

Curiosity wins. He takes the last step, placing his hand flat on the door, pushing, but barely. The door swings open without a sound. Caleb follows the movement of the door, crossing the threshold and walking in.

It is a bedroom. Sort of. There is a raised platform in the center of the room, draped in linens. A woman sleeps. She is lovely. Caleb’s gaze caresses her delicate face, her rich mahogany hair, the silk that covers her arm. He moves closer.

He does not hear James and Beth enter the room behind him.

“Beautiful, isn’t she?” Beth’s voice is little more than a whisper behind him.

Caleb spins, his face heating with blood and nerves at being caught. “I’m sorry, the door was open, I didn’t mean…”

“It’s okay, son. No one can resist.” James steps to Caleb, placing a hand on his shoulder and turning him back to the sleeping woman. “Now you have to kiss her.”

Caleb turns his head, “What?”

“You chose to stick your nose in a room you were told not to enter. You have to follow through. Kiss her.” This is not a request, James voice is commanding. “You better hope she wakes up. We can’t let you leave and tell if she doesn’t.”

“But,” Caleb starts to make excuses why.

“Now. Time’s a wastin’,” James prods Caleb in the center of his back.

Caleb stumbles forward, his thighs now pressed against the platform. He stares down at the sleeping woman. She is lovely, but he doesn’t want to kiss her. What if she wakes up? More importantly, what if she doesn’t? These people might kill him, bury him out in the acres of fields, never to be found.

He leans forward, bringing his lips close to the woman’s. There is a light, unpleasant aroma drifting up from her. A hint of sulfur, a touch of almondy sweet. He swallows back a surge of bile, then closes his eyes and leans forward, resting his lips gently on hers.

The smell intensifies, sending him reeling back from the platform. The woman sits up, a smile beginning to decorate the otherwise vacant face.

“She’ll be better soon,” Beth says, rubbing Caleb on the back. “You two will be happy here together, I’m sure.”

“I can’t stay,” Caleb blurts, trying to make it to the door.

James blocks his progress. “But you will. I insist. You’ll understand when you have a daughter of your own. You’ll do what it takes to wake her. You’ll see.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Day 17 of StoryADay September
Today’s prompt is about the inner self of your character trying to break out, to be seen, to be heard, to simply be acknowledged.
Think along the lines of being present in a group, yet you’re being discussed as if you were not there.  Now multiply those feelings by 100 for your character who, for reasons you will develop, cannot (at the moment) speak up for themselves.

“Tomorrow is your wedding day,” Miriam says, as she places a platter on the table.

Elize drops the mug in her hand, splattering cider across the skirt of her dress, the mug skittering across the floor until it crashes into the wall to my right. “No,” Elize says. “Dad promised!”

She’s right. Paul did promise, Miriam. Miriam does not acknowledge me, as usual.

“Your father is dead, Elize. Things have changed. I cannot provide for both of us.”

“I can work, mom. Let me earn my own way.”

“And make yourself forever unwedable? That is not what your father wanted.”

No. Paul wanted her to marry me. He knew Elize can free me.

“He didn’t want me to marry someone I don’t love!”

“Maybe you should hear who you’re marrying before you decide you don’t love him.” Miriam moves to Elize, trying to slip her arm around Elize.

I lean closer, not wanting to miss the name.

“I’m not in love with anyone, mother. It does not matter who you have planned.

The bitterness in her voice makes me cringe. I hope that Elize will love me.

“Elize, please. Just give this a chance. Give Jarrot a chance.”

“Jarrot?” Elize and I cry in unison.

“He’s old, over forty.”

“He’s healthy. He makes a good living, he can provide for you, Elize.”

“Mom, he’s the undertaker. I will be constantly surrounded by death. How can I be happy with that?”

H fancies, boys, Elize. That’s the bigger issue. She does not hear me.

“You will adjust, dear. That’s what every marriage is. Adjustment.:

“I don’t want to adjust. I want love, mom. You and dad had it. Why can’t I?”

The room is silent. Miriam searches for words, but cannot find them. Finally, she speaks. “It is done, Elize. Get some sleep. It will make more sense in the morning.” Before Elize can protest, Miriam has moved into her room, closing the door firmly between them.

Elize follows Miriam with her eyes, her mouth hanging open. “It will NOT make more sense in the morning. This will never make sense. And I will NEVER do it!” She yells this last at the closed door.

She turns, scanning the room, searching for a solution. She looks to me.

Elize, it WILL be okay. We can fix this. You have only to ask.

She moves closer, stopping mere inches away. Her hand drifts up, coming to rest gently on the frame surrounding me. “I wish you weren’t just a painting. I wish you were real. You’d get me out of here, I know it.”

I am real, love. Just stuck. I want to touch her.

“You are the only thing I have left of him. The last thing he gave me.” She laughs. “What will Jarrot make of you, I wonder?”

I draw in a quick breath. Don’t give up. Ask, girl! I think for a moment that she hears me. Then her eyes get a far-away look, glazed and dreamy.

“I remember my dad singing a song to me when I was little.
            You are my love, my light
            A beacon in the darkest night.
            In my hear it’s you I see
            Won’t you please come back for me?”

I smile, feeling the warmth rise as her voice echoes through me.

“Elize,” I say, stepping from the frame.