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My Random Summer Reading List

I know it’s been said that a writer must read a lot in order to write well.

This was probably said by someone whose only job was to write. It was definitely not written by a mom who works two extra jobs in addition to writing and parenting. I know that time is limited. And although I LOVE to read, I also know that it sometimes takes a back seat to the ‘have-to’ list that is my life. So I would amend that you should read as often as you can. And it doesn’t have to be grand, sweeping novels of classical literature. Reading articles (well written and somewhat brain stimulating), short stories, poetry, or flash fiction all count.

Being what it is, when I get to sit down and read a book, I will often fall into lighter genres of fiction, usually, with a preference for romance, suspense, psychological thrillers, fantasy and urban fantasy, speculative, some sci fi, and a dash of historical fiction. That’s not to say I don’t read non-fiction. But I tend to reserve those books for book club invites and I’m not too proud to say there are some of those I never finished.

So, in thinking about reading, I’d like to offer you some good rules for every writer to follow when it comes to the limited time you have.

  • You should always have three different books on your nightstand at all times.
    • Something you love (by genre or author)
    • Something that challenges you (out of your genre, or tougher content)
    • Something that broadens your knowledge base or improves your craft.
  • Take a book along whenever you
    • have more than five minutes to wait
    • are traveling, anywhere
    • want to feign being ‘busy’ in the company of people you’d rather not talk to.
  • When you find yourself dreading a book, not because it’s challenging to your beliefs or makes you similarly uncomfortable, but because it’s nauseatingly boring or poorly written…stop reading it and move on. Life is too short to waste reading time on something that doesn’t bring you joy or positive change

So, now that you have a good reference for how to choose a book and how to get it written, here’s a list of books I’ve recently finished reading or are on my nightstand. I encourage you to be eclectic and curious when you chose your books, but always have something familiar for the nights when you need the comfort of an author or genre you’re familiar with.

Check these out:

In the category of craft/professional development:

  1. Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life by Teresa R. Funke
  2. Breakthrough: How to Overcome Doubt, Fear, and Resistance to Become Your Ultimate Creative Self by Todd Mitchell
  3. Write Naked by Jennifer Probst
  4. Ed Parker’s Encyclopedia of Kenpo by Ed Parker
  5. Seishin Shuyo: Mental Training in Traditional Martial Arts by Jimmy Lockett
  6. The Trail Runner’s Companion by Sarah Lavender Smith

For something that challenges/stretches my worldview and brains:

  1. Killers of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  2. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
  3. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  4. How to See Yourself as You Really Are by the Dalai Lama
  5. TransQuality by Bethany Beeler
  6. Ornkey: A Historical Guide by Caroline Wickham Jones

In the category of somethings I love:

  1. Mr. Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson (all of his books thus far have been phenomenal)
  2. The Miriam Black series by Chuck Wendig (again, a smart, beautiful writer, with a heavy dose of IDGAF bravado)
  3. Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater (haven’t read yet, but looking forward to it)
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (I couldn’t put this one down)
  5. The Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy by Nora Roberts (both of these series are ones I could reread every year)
  6. The Three Sisters Island Trilogy by Nora Roberts

Well, there you have it. Go forth and spend some of these beautiful days, beneath the shade of a tree, losing yourself in the written word. Voracious readers (in the time they have to give) make better writers.

The Power of “What If?”

I know that I’ve written before about bolstering our creativity by keeping open minds concerning the direction our stories, characters, and plots can take. But in a world that can sometimes feel like a dark cloud over new ideas I think it’s important to revisit the power of a positive “What If?” in the way we approach our roadblocks.

We’ve all been in the middle of a down time in our writing and creativity. I know there are people out there that will preach that writer’s block does not really exist and you’re just procrastinating, or not wanting to put the work in.

While it is true that you’ll never write anything if you don’t actually sit down and write, trying to pour out a story (whether its 500 words or 100,000) from an overloaded, overworked, and over stimulated brain can be like trying to jam a king-sized sleeping bag into a twin sized sack. You know what I’m talking about.

There’s not enough room.

Some of the blocks taking up space may include fear (of failure and/or success), self-doubt, and perfectionism. These show up like the ghost in a Scooby Doo episode, unmasked to reveal depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome, and even ADHD.

So you’ll never hear me say that writer’s block doesn’t exist (and if I have claimed that before, I retract it). I believe that the inability to create can have very real sources that we sometimes need a dynamic team of teenage detectives in an ugly van to suss out.

Today, I’d like you to apply the two-word question to those moments of stifled creativity and see what happens.

Here’s an example:

“I have a novel, nearly complete, but you can’t figure out how to end it. It’s been on my laptop for a month and it’s driving me insane but every scenario in my head doesn’t ‘feel’ quite right, so I’m just not writing any ending at all.”

Why, that’s not a werewolf! It’s that dirty landowner PERFECTIONISM (who runs a floating crap game called FEAR).

By asking ourselves what we’re really afraid of, what’s really so hard about the situation (I don’t want to write the WRONG ending, none of the endings are GOOD ENOUGH) we can face the fear directly and start asking what if….

What if you took one hour each day to write three separate endings, for each of the different possibilities you have? Unattached to the novel, a separate document. Call it exploratory research. I would bet dimes to dollars that you’ll find one that is the BEST for your novel, and feel much more capable of completing the next project on deck.

Here’s another one.

“I haven’t written any new poems in over a week, I don’t feel creative, I don’t have any ideas. I can’t find the RIGHT words. I have submissions due, I can’t focus, and I can’t even remember how to write a good poem. I’m not a poet.”

Say, that’s not a two headed mummy! It’s the motel owner’s shady uncle ANXIETY and his henchman DEPRESSION. Your brain is overworked and can’t focus, you feel like there’s nothing new in the world to write about, or worth writing about. With a trace of PERFECTIONISM, and a dash of IMPOSTER SYNDROME, this combination puts an end to possibilities before they can even reach your brain.

What if you spent ten minutes outside? Find a tree, flowering bush, cloud, roly-poly, something not man made, and focus on it for ten solid breaths in and out. Don’t look at anything else, don’t think about anything else, don’t draw your attention away from that one object. How does it move, how is the light hitting it, how long has it been there, what color is it, does it smell, does it have a taste, what’s it made of?

Not only will being outside and remembering to breathe help you to relax and curb some of those anxious and depressive feelings, but you’ll realign yourself with the beauty of noticing the small things. And details bring poetry to life. Then sit down, in the grass, and write something, no more than a page, about what you felt, what you saw, what you took in through all of those sentences. Repeat, with anything. Human, animal, mineral, place, time, concept. The possibilities are endless.

Last one, best one.

“I can’t write a synopsis! It’s so detailed and I can’t possibly boil down my entire novel into a few pages. I wouldn’t know where to start, and what’s the point, no one will take my novel anyway!”

Oh, my little defeatist, that’s not a man-eating robot, why it’s nothing but the cranky heiress SELF-DOUBT dressed up in a spray painted, cardboard box!

Look, not every writer is birthed knowing how to write a synopsis. In fact, absolutely none of them are (I think they are, however, birthed with an extra gene carrying the appreciation of ‘old-book’ smell and a tendency towards adverb-overuse and caffeine addictions) We all had to research it, take a class on it, and put in the work including probably a dozen revisions along the way.

You can find a great resource for how to write one here:

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/

If you’re an plotter, a synopsis is easier. You have it all typed up somewhere, so work off your outline and put aside a time-specific block to work on it and only it. If you’re a pantster, may God have mercy on your immortally, unorganized soul, because it is fucking hard to do. Same thing though, set aside an afternoon (or two) with a start and end time and write it out like you would a copy of Cliff Notes

Add something enjoyable to the completion (extra coffee or old books?) to make the goal a little sweeter to reach. Have someone who doesn’t know your book read the synopsis (yes, it should give away the ending, no, don’t worry if Janet in Accounting knows how it ends). They can let you know if it’s easy to follow without being overwhelming.

Self-doubt, fear, perfectionism, anxiety and depression are not final resting places for your writing (or other creative endeavors). They’re road blocks brought on by your own expectation and unrealistic standards. The best advice I can give you about “What If” is to ask yourself, in the face of rejection, frustration, and doubt…

What if you can? What if you can write that book? What if you could write three poems in an hour? What if you can send your pitch, synopsis, and novel out by the end of the week?

What If, when used properly, can be the precursor to hope.

So give yourself hope. Give yourself a choose-your-own-adventure. Give yourself a good what iffing.

That got weird. You know what I mean.

Self-Editing (It’s Not Just for Polite Conversation)

I’ve read a lot of books on this topic, scoured blogs, took any and every class I could at conferences and workshops on the matter, but I always still feel like there’s vast room for improvement when it comes to editing your own work.

Part of the reason is that it’s incredibly hard after writing, rewriting, and rewriting again (times a thousand) to edit all of those words. Not because we’re narcissistic megalomaniacs and don’t think there’s anything wrong with our novel, but because there’s a true phenomenon that happens in our brains as we read (and re read, and re read again) our own work.

The human brain is complex and the way it takes in and interprets stimuli from outside is a complicated and delicate dance. If we were to notice every single thing in our world, we wouldn’t be able to exist in it. The noise, the colors, the sound, the smells are so varied and ever present that our brains would be in a constant state of interpretation that would cause us to vomit, or pass out. Or both. (Which is one of the reasons so many people on the spectrum can have a difficult time coping with crowded, noisy, overstimulating places). As a result, we tend to soften the edges of a lot of information, block it out, or keep it in the peripheral of our consciousness, allowing our brains to make up a great deal of what we take in, through context.

It can be the same as when we edit. We tend to be in a taking-things-for-granted-because-I-read-it-so-many-times-before haze. We coast over the words and retell ourselves the story we already know in our heads, rather than focusing on what is actually on the page.

You, the author who created this magnificent book, know what it’s supposed to say, you know what you meant when you wrote it. So in your brain, when your eyes pass over the words, it will fill in the missed words, ignore the double ones, and forgive the dangling participles because in your brain, it’s reading correct. Very rarely do we ever approach our own work as a completely new reader. It’s practically impossible to do.

Does that mean we shouldn’t edit? Fuck no. Unless you’re incredibly rich and can afford an editor to take your first draft to your final over the course of 9 rewrites. And if you are that author, why the hell are you reading this blog? This is for the poor, struggling authors who are trying to procrastinate their own editing by reading my blog. Not for big money-bag writers who bang out twenty political spy thrillers a year because they have a nanny, and a cook, and a dog walker, and a personal shopper, and a house cleaner…

Where were we—ah yes, self-editing. Here are some of the biggest tips that have helped me produce a much better final version (before I send it in to an editor for the one or two rounds I can afford).

  • Take it line by line, sentence by sentence. Is the structure sound? Does it make sense? Is it passive? Is it clear who is doing the action, who is in control of the perspective? Is there a random “pineapple” thrown in at the end of a paragraph?
  • Read it out loud. When all else fails, read it cover to cover, out loud. That’s when I find most of my mistakes. Or, if you’re not into that (or you live with people who aren’t into listening to you and by people, I mean cats) at least read aloud the passages, paragraphs and parts that feel awkward or over the top.
  • It’s not too late to kill some darlings. I have been known to cut out scenes/sentences/dialogue, in my final rounds that I knew didn’t belong but I clung to them like a freezing poor boy on the wreckage of the Titanic. Save them in a different file, but if you know in your heart it’s there to stroke your ego at your brilliant wordage but it’s not doing the story any good then show some humility and axe it.
  • Check your tense, check your POV, be consistent in those little things because they make a HUGE difference on whether or not your reader can follow the story and isn’t frustrated trying to do so.
  • Print it out. You can get a good deal at local or national printing companies (my local FedEx cashier knows me and it is so heartening every time she asks “new book?” and hands me the brown box of hope). Double sided, nothing fancy, cheapest version possible will still only set you back about $30 for a 250 page book. You will see things in ink that you cannot see on the screen, guaranteed.
  • Get a Beta reader or twelve. Yeah, it’s not really self-editing, but it’s part of the process that will help bring new eyes to your work. And usually it’s a low cost way to get a ‘real readers’ perspective on your work.

All right, that’s all I’ve got. Good luck out there. Don’t think this bullet list will take the place of a good professional round of editing, but it should help in your process. And maybe it can even help turn your first drafts into better drafts.

Flash Fiction: A Raccoon, A Traffic Jam, and Another Call for Submissions

Mornin’

As promised, I’ve thrown together a couple of flash fiction pieces that I’ll be running in the next couple of weeks. Before we get into the fantasy, I want to give you a reminder that submissions are still be accepted for The Beautiful Stuff’s 2022 Anthology, “A Beautiful Twist”. Here are the details (the short version for folks like me with a minor attention span)

  • Dates: January 28th to September 16th
  • Winners notified September 19th 2022
  • Publication Date: TBA Early November
  • Submission guidelines: Short stories (2000-5000 words), Flash Fiction (200-1000 words), Poetry (up to 5 poems allowed per submission), novel excerpts (up to 3000 words), Personal Essays (up to 2000 words). Non fiction, fiction, speculative fic, western, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica, historical, hysterical, time jumping primates, talking frogs, brains in jars, and ANY combination thereof. Submissions translated to English are preferred. Contest is open to domestic and international writers but awards will be paid in US dollars. Please submit your work as an attachment to your email which will be a lovely cover letter about you (name, email, your submission title, brief bio). Email subject line should read BEAUTIFUL TWIST SUBMISSION_name. The submission file (please use .doc, .docx, or another Word friendly format) should be the title of your submission and your last name i.e. “Merry Krampus-Reichert”
  • Top 3 submissions will earn prizes as follows: 1st–$30, 2nd–$20, 3rd–$10 paid via PayPal or Venmo (or check if need be). Runners up will be published in the anthology with a chance to compete in the Colorado Book Awards.
  • You may submit in multiple formats, multiple times (ie poems and flash, or novel excerpt and essay) but each submission must be in a separate email.
  • PLEASE DO NOT submit anything that has been previously published or that you no longer own the rights to. Simultaneous submissions are absolutely fine but LET ME KNOW if your work gets accepted elsewhere as soon as possible.
  • Prohibited subject matter includes: overtly violent or gruesome content that does not further the story, non consensual sexual acts, racist/homophobic/misogynistic/hate filled writing, violent or hurtful actions against children or animals, and anything that judges, stereotypes, or seeks to harm another human being based on their human being-ness.

Whew! Send in your stuff. I’m excited to read it. And now this:

FLASH 1: Raccoons and Moving On

“This is your fault.”

“Mine? How is this even remotely my fault?”

“You wanted to have the dinner party in that stupid farm to table place. With a stupid glamping theme. In the stupid middle of a stupid field!”

“Why is everything I do stupid?” he fired back. She glared over the dinner napkin pressed to her cheek and pulled away the bloodied cloth to show him, once again, the angry gashes that had undone the beauty of her Botox.

“This for one!” She put the cloth back on the wound and crossed her other arm in front of her low cut dress. The ER was always busy this time of the week, but she’d never had to wait for anything, and especially not with the general public, so it seemed even worse.

“I mean—the food wasn’t bad. The whole evening could have been worse.”

“Worse? Mark? Really? How could it possibly have been worse? A goddamn raccoon tried to take my face off!”

“You tried to pet it!”

“I was trying to scoot it out of the tent! Brought in by your ‘not bad food’ buffet!”

“Well, I mean, it was out in the woods. So technically, it was just like having a neighbor come over for dinner.”

“You’re a goddamn idiot.”

Mark laughed. He laughed so hard he doubled over. Hooting until tears came to his eyes.

“Wha—why are you laughing?”

“Just—the way your face looked when that little guy came at you! Eyes wide and—” he gasped for air between chuckles, “and shrieking like a banshee.”

“I want a divorce,” she yelled.

“I know you do. That’s why I planned the evening! To try and start to mend things.” At this he stopped laughing. “But I realized I can’t mend the past. I can only look at the future.”

She grumbled. “What does that mean anyway?”

“I’ve been seeing someone.”

“What?”

“She’s a park ranger, actually. The one that recommended the venue?”

“Are you out of your goddamn mind?”

“I probably won’t be once the papers get signed. Look, here’s your ride.” She failed to even notice as the nurse came to her with a wheelchair and an exasperated look.

“The doctor can see you now, Mrs. Sinclair.”

“Oh, it’s just Ms.” Mark corrected before helping to move his near catatonic wife, soon to be ex-wife, into the dingy wheelchair and watched it disappear with a squeaking tirade down the hall.

FLASH 2: The Longest Light

At first he didn’t notice when the light hadn’t changed. Louis could always find an excuse to look at his phone, play a quick game of Candy Crush, or text that hot little thing from accounting. He just figured it was a long light.

But it turned into an excruciatingly long light. Three games in and an unanswered tawdry text about how he’d like to ‘spread sheet’ with her, he finally looked up and found that the light had not changed. In fact, nothing had changed. Louis put down his phone and looked over at the driver in the lane next to him. Sipping her coffee. He watched for a good thirty seconds. Still sipping. He looked up towards the person in front of him.

The guy had been reaching into his back seat, not moving since they’d stopped.

“What the—“? Louis paused to adjust his radio, but the same note was still playing. The same long C. Echoing through frozen airwaves. Louis turned off the stereo and got out. That’s when the light would change right. Isn’t that how it always worked? But it remained, stuck on red.

The street was lit in the garish tone of a sun that had seemed to stop. No shadows moved. No sounds of tires against asphalt. No wind blew. He looked up into the sky and caught a strange dark shape. He thought it was a plane, tiny and glacially moving across the sky. But it wasn’t moving.

And it wasn’t a plane. Louis closed his door and looked closer at the pigeon, suspended in mid-air. His heart hammered against his chest, the only beat in the city. He looked at the woman in the car next to him, the drivers in the opposite lanes. Everyone, like some strange flash mob in reverse, was holding perfectly still.

“Hey!” Louis yelled, angry in his fear. “Hey, what’s the big deal! Move your car!” He jogged up to the first car in the lane. A woman, bags beneath her eyes, white knuckling the steering wheel and glazed over stare into the quiet nothing. In the backseat, a toddler, with his face red and sweaty mouth open in a silent and unending scream, clutching an empty applesauce packet in one hand and a sodden blankie in the other.

“What’s the big idea? What is this?” He pounded on her window with a force that have been loud enough to wake the dead. It did not wake her. Louis went from car to car, with the same method and the exact same reaction. Nothing moved.

The world was frozen in time and he was the only one outside the loop. Louis dove back into his car and grabbed his phone. Candy Crush was now dormant, he tried tapping on his messages but nothing budged. As if the moment his hands put it down, it too became frozen. A cold shiver shot up Louis’ spine and he spun in a circle.

“Knock it off! Whatever this is! It’s not funny anymore!” When the strangled universe refused to reply Louis took off down the street, looking for any sign of life, in a world without.

It would be the longest thirty years of his life.

Flash Fic: Weekly Prompt

Hello writers and readers.

Today, I’m stepping out of my normal routine of poetry and serial romancing to bring you a couple of exercises on writing flash fiction and some prompts to help get you started. (Think 1-800 word count, 1000 tops)

Now, I’ve talked in length about the fine art of flash fiction and what its doing in the field of literary wonder these days. Many a journal, website, and anthology are accepting these tiny powerhouses of storytelling as submissions. Their growing popularity, I believe, has to do with our shortened attention spans as well as our lack of free time. (Well, I mean we’d have more free time if we weren’t captivated by tiny screens most of our waking hours, but that’s a soap box for a different day).

A flash fic piece will tell the reader a whole story in a few hundred words and usually pack some kind of emotional, suspenseful, or humorous punch (‘humorous punch’ feels strange to write. Like slapstick?). For more on the logistics and down and dirty of them here’s a great blog on the topic… https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2020/08/06/the-beautiful-writers-workshop-26-flashing-for-fun-and-profit/

So, if you are interested in trying it out, or if you’re an ‘old hat’ in the flash arena, I’m offering up some fun prompts to work with this week, to help boost your submission pool and get you used to the art of brevity. If you find one you like, let me know and I’ll give it a shout out and a bump on the site (AHEM–you could also submit it to my Anthology due out at the end of the year: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2022/01/27/call-for-submissions-2022-anthology-a-beautiful-twist/

I will also post one of mine next week to show solidarity for all of our creative endeavors. You aren’t in this alone, after all. OK–here’s a bullet list because I know how much we like that kind of thing.

  • A man/woman/nonbinary person goes about their normal day, not realizing that they died three years ago.
  • A dog comes back to its owner after a rousing game of fetch, but instead of the ball, it’s carrying a human skull.
  • A dinner party, a raccoon, an affair (don’t ask me, it’s your job to make it work)
  • A parent’s first night in an empty nest
  • Time freezes at a traffic light, for everyone but the man in the third car
  • After kissing a stranger at a party, a woman finds she can no longer lie
  • Maybe it’s puberty, maybe they’re a werewolf
  • A demon finds a portal out of hell, but it empties into the ball pit at a fast-food playplace.
  • A man who can smell colors. And he’s a chef.
  • A lake, a toad, the agony of getting what you ask for

Okay–get writing. Go make something beautiful and strange.

Poetry 3-31-22

Photo by Marcelo Moreira on Pexels.com

The Tapeze Artist

My heart swings
in wild arcs over canyons
of the unknown

Hang on, white knuckles
to the slippery bar
and tattered rope
that threatens to drop you
one way or another

Down into the breaking of hearts
unmendable
succulent burn of muscle
and fiber
fighting to hold on
to the imperfect known
and not fall into the
unseeable future.

Have I so little faith
in the universe’s plan?
is my human failing
to fear so strong?
when the only worse case
is just death
in itself only a doorway
to another journey
another dark canyon
another unknown

Cling tightly
white knuckles
until the shaking
trembles unbearable
and you have no other recourse
than to
let go.





Spring Cleaning and The Writer’s Mind

Sometimes, at the beginning of the year when I’m trying to plan out my blog posts, I will randomly insert a brainstormed title with no idea where it will lead. The above is a case in point. I love the concept of brainstorming but it often makes me look back at past Sarah with a scowl (‘whatdafuq does spring cleaning have to do with the writer’s mind, Sarah? Whatwereyouthinking?)

So now, I’m going to attempt to free-style on the topic of “Spring Cleaning”.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

To be fair to past Sarah, she knew this blog would come around the time of the spring equinox which is a brilliant time to clean out homes, old clothes, ancient ideas…anything that’s not serving you, from your too-tight college jeans to the ideal that says you still should fit into those. Throw that baggage out.

At first I considered telling you to do the very practical, literal cleaning out of your laptop, files, and paperwork. Grouping together like-minded topics, removing old or already published notes that are no longer needed, and generally getting yourself a clean slate for the year ahead. But as I started to look through my own little chaos, the temper of the idea changed.

No one’s desk is probably more a mess than mine. It looks fairly ordered but the truth is, it’s a jumble of post-its, three-word ‘grand ideas’ scribbled in crayon on lunch napkins or old receipts, and seven different rewrites of the same novel that I have absolutely no reason to still hang on to. I have letters from old high school friends, squirmy notes about boys we liked and the bittersweet ones after our subsequent heartbreaks. I’ve got writing notes from conferences, random journals of poetry, thank you cards with mismatched envelopes, and the last letter my grandmother Emma sent me before she passed away. I’ve got pictures of the two friends I lost after high school and the tiny pamphlets from their funeral services. I have the fuel receipt from my first solo flight. And a certificate from my training as an early childhood educator.

I have my winning poetry from 8th grade Young Writers competitions, and the short story that lost magnificently about star crossed lovers on either side of the Berlin Wall (fuck yeah, I’m that old). And its jumbled and slung into folders like a field of wildflowers, contained in manila.

Nothing is in order, but everything has its place.

Perhaps I should go through. Let go of some of this history. Let go of the girl I used to be and the dreams she used to dream. I should stop looking to the past and wondering what I could have done, or been. How brightly I used to burn, when I was young and half-wild. Maybe we should all, let go. Clean out the things in our life that no longer look like our current state.

And in some ways, I suppose it is good. Sometimes we use these things to look back, to regret or be stuck in a cycle of ‘what if’…in some ways that can hold us back. But somethings also remind us of who we are. Sounds silly but–if you’re anything like me, and you’ve spent most of your life, trying to fit into boxes, shrink down, be smaller, be ‘easier’ to love, or be what you think people want…it can get so easy to become lost.

So maybe you read your grandma’s last letter. And your best friend’s note about her no good boyfriend, or that first draft you kept for no reason, and you let them all take you back for a moment. To the person you were, the person who was just a bit more trusting. A bit more bright. Before the world sanded down your edges and made you behave. Maybe you remember that these are pieces of you that are still in there. That cannot be fully swept away.

That you are still, even in small ways, young and half-wild.

Maybe I’ll toss the other six drafts. Maybe I’ll get rid of any napkins and three-word ideas that I can’t connect to. Maybe I’ll donate the books I know I won’t read, and let go of the thank you notes with no matching envelopes.

Photo by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya on Pexels.com

But I’ll keep everything else that makes up the story of me. So on days when I feel like I belong too much to the world and the other people around me, I can return to that girl, that wildling burning bright, and remember who I am. The girl who’s been a poet since she was 12. The girl who believed love could tear down walls on a grand, societal level. The girl who misses her friends, who promised to fill her days with the life they never got to finish. The girl who refused to shrink.

Clean up your space, but leave the layers of your soul intact. They are the story of you, and no one else can tell that story.

Projects In The Works

Morning, readers. I didn’t get a chance to write a blog last week, but some things are coming up you might want to know about.

First–Saturn Rising: Episode #2 should be running Monday the 28th, and you can find the link to the first episode here:

https://music.amazon.com/podcasts/ff4ba549-f715-4fa8-b6f0-a6bc3b9727af/saturn-rising

Second– The Beautiful Stuff 2022 Anthology “A Beautiful Twist” is still open for submissions. I have a long submission period and you can find the details about the submission here:

So far I’ve gotten some amazing poetry, a few great flash fic pieces, and one short story. There will be plenty of room so if you’re hesitating, don’t.

FInally–I am writing my little heart out on a new project with co-author Kerrie Flanagan, that will be due out this summer and will include (hopefully) some book signings at some totally awesome 80’s venues. The romantic comedy is due out in June but I will keep you updated!

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Well, there’s a catch up. I hope you’re able to enjoy the podcast and are looking forward to the new novel as much as I am looking forward to getting it out into the world. Take care and don’t forget to send me your submissions for this year’s anthology!

Westbury Falls: Episode #8

Well, here we are, Episode #8 and if you recall, our dear Ms. Byrne has just been…byrned? (Hooooly shit, sorry I’ve been writing and working like a maniac this week and the brain cells are a little punchy. Ahem… moving on). In the last chapter, Dr. Blackwell and Miss Bryne had a rather scandalous-for-the-time convo on the grass and he instantly felt guilty and took his leave. Such was the age of prudery. Is prudery a word? Spell-check says yes.

Now we get to see what Miss Byrne does with this slighting and gain a bit more insight (I shy from using ‘foreboding’) about our dear Colonel Mayfield. Keep your hands and legs inside the cart at all times, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

“Home!” Kitty shouted in despair. “But my darling Lillian! First you have not partaken of the cooling waters and second we’ve only just begun the afternoon of merriment. Surely a little sustenance would improve your countenance! Thirdly, and most obviously, a young lady cannot simply walk back all the way to Westbury Manor! That is at least half a day’s journey! You will surely expire before you reach the gates!”


“Please calm your worry, Miss Katherine, I shall talk with her in private.” The Colonel said and eased Kitty’s frantic tone.


The Colonel studied Lil’s pallid face and shook his head. It felt familiar to her and she attributed the motion with that typical of a father figure. She hadn’t had one of those for a long time. The Colonel leaned over, saddened, and extending his hand. Lillian took it and allowed him to help her up. His warm hand in hers made her memory jog loose and the fatherly premonition hit her solidly she staggered a bit and thought that the constant dance of want and denial that Dr. Blackwell had put her through, combined with the trauma of traveling through time, and a significant head wound were conspiring against her to make her quite crazy. The Colonel was not her father.


Maybe her heart and her soul just wanted a father figure, now more than ever. Someone to be solid and strong, and there for her. Not like her own father who’d disappeared from the face of the Earth when she was eight. She followed the Colonel docile as a lamb and they took a short stroll to the water’s edge where Lillian’s tears began anew.


“My dearest, what has vexed you so, please. Allow me the honor of helping you to sort out any muddled feelings. Is it Kitty?” He said quietly and looked back to the blanket now being spread with delicious luncheon things. Lillian stared past her to the blank hillside where Matthew had climbed and disappeared beyond.


“No, dear Colonel, I’m afraid our Miss Darlingwood is not so insensitive as to cause such a bereavement.” She sniffled and tried to control the tears that sprung up as her mind relived the cause of her bereavement. Ever coming to her aid was the paramount regret of his life. Her dearest friend in a strange and unfriendly world wished he’d never met her.


“Then it is to be the young Dr. Blackwell that we accredit such distress.” The Colonel said it so matter of fact that she wondered if a judge and jury might spring up from below the water of the lake and apprehend the criminal at once.

“It is of no fault, of his own, my dear Colonel.”


“Not his fault? Please explain. No gentleman would dare leave a lady in such a state. How could a man of honor cause a woman to cry such bitter tears in the middle of such a fine day?” Lillian shook her head, not knowing how to respond when Matthew’s leaving had everything to do with a man of utmost character.


“It is all my fault, I’m afraid. I’ve behaved very poorly and put the noble Doctor in too great of a quandary to find a righteous path. I’m just so—unaccustomed.”

“Whatever to you mean child?” The colonel responded with a hand on her shoulder briefly.

“I am not used, to…to feeling this way about a—a man. To feel so–lost and affectionate and–He—” she gasped for breath and felt the tightness of her corsets constricting even further as she tried to breathe. No wonder women in this era fainted so easily, the wires and metal served to keep them from barely breathing at all, let alone in any kind of crisis.

“What is it dear, Lily?”

“He upends me, sir. He makes my head and my heart spin until I have no rational thought at all and I am torn between what I know I must do and should do and what I want to do. What I ache to do.” She burst out suddenly. Lillian quickly covered her mouth. “You must think I am of a horrible moral character, to have—these thoughts about a good and honorable man.”


The Colonel smiled softly and lowered his head. He checked the unaware guests still engaged in other conversatiopns.

“My dear girl, one could be of the utmost character, the model of propriety, a human shining in the eyes of God and still the heart is a wild and beautiful beast. It wants as it does, and it rarely asks us for our opinion in the matter.” He smiled as if he’d been waiting a long time to give fatherly advice. “Sometimes, the question our heart poses to us, is exactly the one that holds the right answer for us.”


The question her heart was posing, the sheer ridiculous idea that she wanted him, to be with him to stay with him, though she knew him not, though she did not belong here, though she should be expending her energy on the plan to get herself back home to her own timeline…was that maybe all she really wanted was to be with Dr. Matthew Blackwell in any time, in any space.


“It’s merely stupid, irrational, female frailty,” she burst out, reprimanding herself and her wild beast of a heart. Lillian turned away from him, headed straight for the road and the way back to Westbury Manor.


“But my dear! You cannot make the trip on foot! You simply cannot! Please take my carriage!”


“Thank you, good sir, but I assure you that the exercise will quite calm my nerves,” she managed to croak before cresting the hill. Once free of the view of the lake side picnic, she broke into a run back down the shoddy dirt road. She lifted her skirts in the heat and the dust and let her poorly slippered feet run as though the mere thought of such an activity was inconceivable and would turn her rightly into some sort of mythical creature. Maybe she could just fly away from it all if she went fast enough.


In her own time, Lillian had been varsity on her cross country team and had accomplished a sub 1:30 half marathon not two weeks before. With skirts lifted she paced over the dirt and rock, the uneven ground and hot sun drenched fields for the next seven miles, sweating profusely in the heavy cotton gown and undergarments, her slippers torn to shreds before she finally made her way back to the gates of Westbury Manor.


“My mistress!” The gateman called, shocked at the sight of her, dirty and sweating, pink in the face and her bonnet trailing from her hand as she had torn it from her neck around mile two. “Are you quite alright, what has happened?” The old man stepped up to help her.

“Are you with fever? Are you in need of a doctor?”

Lillian shook her head, too exhausted and dehydrated to cry at the thought of the Doctor who would no longer be coming to her aid. She sighed, put her hands to her knees and gulped breaths of air through her tight corset.

“I assure you, good sir, I am quite fine. I will be set right in a few moments when I have caught my breath.” she said, lying as much to herself as to him. She was not sure she would ever be set right. The gateman stared at her as if she’d gone quite mad. She stumbled inside, shedding her ruined shoes at the door and continuing up the stairs on shaking legs and bare feet, until she collapsed into her bed.

Flash Fiction 1-3-22

I’m not sure what to say about this one. Sometimes characters show up in our peripheral. Sometimes we let them pass by like shadows. Sometimes they are too familiar more like ghostly reflections than shadows and we turn to look. Sometimes they tell us a story we didn’t know was in us. Sometimes…it’s scary…too close…even so, horrifically beautiful.

Seconds 

(formerly: The World Seems Too Long a Place to Live)


“I wish it were shorter,” she said. I looked up from my phone, standing behind her in the ticket line.

“It won’t take long,” I dismissed, going back to the news.

“It’s already too long,” she said. 

She stared through the people shuffling ahead of us with her glass blue eyes, stuck in the chain rope chute, before she startled towards the whispering red streaks of an approaching train, through a doorway, just beyond our queue. It looked like a candy cane twirling, fast and breathless.

The strange hunger of knowing filled her throat and she swallowed.

“I wanna go now,” she said. I took in a breath to ask what she meant. . .

Moments seem slow, sometimes. Like the glacial pace of my eyes following her dropped bag and her, silhouetted form in the sunlight, before she disappeared; in between the red streaks of a train that could not stop. 

But it was only seconds. One-one-thousand. Two-one-thousand. Three-one-thousand. 
Gone.

Poetry 2-24-22

Good morning. I had planned a vibrant book review. But some weeks the flow of energy is a low and staggered and we have to return to center ourselves. This week, it’s all about finding my solid ground again, being my own safe space, and casting away the self doubt that has saturated my soul.

How often are we paralyzed by the expectations we put on ourselves? By what we want to be for others, or because of others. How often are we overcome with despair when we fail to meet those expectations, to garner that acceptance, to find that love?

Here is what I know to be true–

Yours is the only heart you will have for your whole life time. From its very first beat. Until its last.

Lovers, spouses, friends, parents, even children will come and go in your life, in the natural waxing and waning of time and experience. But your heart, your soul, your presence is the only one you get to spend the entire journey with. So take care of your vessel…from the engine, to the machinery, the fuel and the fire. Take care of you. Love you. Believe in you.

And now, this.

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Becoming

Was there ever such a silence as this?
sun warmed skin and the echo of
small chirping voices
amongst the barking magpie and
reverberation of holy time
etched into the sides of mountains
silent, pine needle prayer

I’ve been a complacent wanderer
following the strongest flow
eyes on wayward trails
branching
never forward, exactly
but they tempt places I yearn
to wander

and it feels
like losing my ground
or finding it.

It’s in the din of life
the marked and constant boxes
that we lose our true course
give away our feet on earth
and forget 
silent places to find
ourselves.

I miss these mountains
and cultivating space between
what I dreamed of becoming and
what I’ve become.

What have I become?

Heat Index: What Spicy Pepper is Your Novel?

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Hands down, one of the dumbest blog titles I’ve ever come up with. But what are you going to do? We all have seasons of creativity in our lives, and sometimes I’m in the winter of title production. Today is that sometime. On to the point. What is a Heat Index?

Great question! Well, if you don’t write/sell/promote romance, you probably don’t need to worry about it, but as it’s the month of ‘love’ or whatever made-up hallmark holiday craze February represents to you, I thought I at least owed ONE blog about passion, romance, and how to make sure the right readers for your work find you.

Heat Index is, as in spicy peppers, a way to grade the level of sexual interaction (description of and frequency) in your books. Now, romance has a wide and varying range of heat levels. This blog will help you understand where yours falls, where you might need to edit to keep it in a certain level, and how and who to market it to based on it’s score.

Below is the breakdown of Heat Index. Keep in mind, this may vary from publisher to publisher, but in general the levels correspond pretty closely.

  1. “Wholesome”, Sweet” or “Clean” (I’m not a fan of either of these terms as it denotes that anything outside of this classification suggests that sex is dirty or nasty–and those are ‘bad’?) These are sometimes called ‘inspirational’ romances, and often fall into Christian Romance sub genres. They might have kissing, holding, etc, but rarely is a bodily fluid exchanged and the romance is built heavier in the emotional/ spiritual attachment.
  2. “Sweet”, “Closed Door”, “Off The Page”, “Gentle”, or “Quiet”— This level of heat says that there is sex in your novel, but it happens without the reader being included. The characters may kiss, fondle, make out, and get excited physically but they will shut you (the reader) out in the hall while they get down to business. More mainstream women’s fic will employ this index more often, and there’s something to be said for leaving a few things to the imagination of the reader. I’m not sure about the terms “gentle” or “quiet”–as we don’t know what’s going on behind that door. Ha. Sorry.
  3. “Sensual”, “Sex on Page” and “Minimal Description”–This level the readers definitely know that sex happened, as it’s written down, but not poured over. Minimal description can mean an author uses euphemistic language, very basic terms and ideas, or even is more mechanical in description. They sort of beat about the bush, without getting into it. Ugh, sorry, I had to. Nobody else laughing their ass off, just me? Ok.
  4. “Sexy”, “Sex on Page” and “Explicit” also “Erotica”–In other words, if you’re at your kids karate/dance/hockey/ soccer practice, it would be wise to not let anyone read over your shoulder. These scenes get as close as any good OB/GYN or proctologist might (but in a less clinical way). Sometimes the lines between 3 and 4 are more blurred. My rule of thumb, is that if it makes me blush, feel warm all over, and a bit flustered after reading it (or writing it), it’s probably a level 4. What constitutes “Sexy” might be more based on the female main character’s exploration of fantasy. “Erotica”, has much more to do with the physical aspects of romance and can be broken down by ‘special interest’ (ie bondage, monogamous menage, reverse harem etc.). In both cases, these are not “letters to playboy” books, even with more descriptive love scenes, they still have emotional attachment and a satisfying (nearly said ‘happy’) ending.

Well, there you have it. If you write romance, and especially if you’re looking to query your manuscript, it helps to know what you’re selling and if the publisher is a good match. If you just like reading romance, look for these keywords (often in online descriptions and sometimes on jacket covers) to make sure you’re getting the romantic endorphin hit you crave most.

Happy Reading!

“Saturn Rising” Coming to Audiocast

Hello readers. Today is a special blog!!

In an unexpected turn of events, my audiocast “Saturn Rising” from the amazingly talented Ngano Press Studios Ngano Press Studios will be released sooner than announced. The series will air the third Friday of every month (starting February 18th) for the next 5 months. M

y five-part series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of the brave but cranky Captain Eularia Longfellow and her mangy crew of misfits as they try to outrun both Saturn’s bloodthirsty Royal family, and the fate of their own humanity.

You can download the podcast from Ngano Press Studio’s website and its compatible with most apps for your phone, tablet, and other devices. Remember, it not only will be entertaining and an escape from your daily drudgery, but you’ll be supporting a local business that is doing amazing work and a local artist, who has two kids soon to be in college. The episodes will run about 30 minutes, and I’d love to host a Q & A session if anyone is interested. Maybe we could even do it at a pub. More details on that to come. Hit me up with any questions about it or how to get your ears on it.

Thanks! And spread the word!

Westbury Falls: Episode #7

Good morning! If you’ve been following our little romantic, time-traveling tryst, here is the next installment. Our star-crossed couple find themselves under the strain of propriety. If you need to catch up, please check out the previous episodes here on The Beautiful Stuff. Enjoy!

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The summer began its lazy progression into the tepid heat and humidity that made the house restless and the confining clothes, suffocating. Lillian had taken to wearing as few layers as was allowed and working out in the cool dirt of the garden whenever was possible, much to the dismay of the proprieties of the household. But it was Kitty’s suggestion that they have a lakeside picnic at the end of the week, as a way to socialize with the other prominent families in the province, that seemed to lighten her mood. Lillian suspected it was merely an excuse to socialize with Fitzwilliam, which she had no qualms with. They were a cute couple and it was obvious that her this-world brother was quite taken with the bubbly blond debutant. It also meant she might have another chance to see Matthew.

When the day of the picnic arrived, and Kitty was trying to convince Lillian that wearing a bathing suit without her fiancé in attendance may be deemed inappropriate, Lillian nearly didn’t go. Not only was she not interested in wearing seventy pounds of scratchy, wet, woolen material, but she ached to be inappropriate. Was it only days or years ago that she visited the water park in a two piece? Kitty’s insistence and droning lecture nearly made her reconsider, until she looked down through her chambers’ window, and saw Matthew Blackwood arrive with his father via carriage.

“Perhaps you are right, dear Miss Darlingwood, the best option I have is to remain in the shade, enjoying the activities from afar.” Her eyes never left the view of Matthew who had shed his proper coat on the hot day, and talked with the Colonel in jovial tones. Would he be swimming? Did men swim without shirts? Would he, being the rebel he was, do it?

“Right you are! You could use the ample time to work on your embroidery.”

A shudder of loathing went through Lillian and she frowned her pretty mouth into a pout. “Suppose you are right.”

Now, after helping Miriam with the food baskets and reluctantly packing up her hated project, she was settled on a blanket, listening to the other water revelers enjoy the cool water, even as her skin flushed in the heat. To make matters worse, the senior Dr. Blackwell insisted on setting his blanket next to theirs to talk with the Colonel. Matthew bowed demurely and acknowledged her.

“Miss Byrne, a pleasure as always. I hope the day finds you in good health.”

“Dr. Blackwell, the pleasure is all mine. My health seems to be returning even as we speak,” she said coyly as the ribbons from her bonnet blew gently across her neck. Matthew smiled at her, beneath the brim of his hat as he settled on the grass near, but not near enough to her.

“I hope you do not find it disagreeable to share a blanket in the grass?” he whispered and smiled.

“No, good sir. I only find it highly disagreeable that there are so many eagle-eyed chaperones,” she retorted with a quirked eyebrow before turning her wayward attention back to the knots. He smirked and settled in, listening to his father’s conversations intently while still keeping one eye and ear on Lillian’s frustrated curses beneath her breath and the pink heat of her cheeks. When the Colonel and doctor had left to find relief in the water, Matthew settled back on the blanket, hat over his eyes and nimble hands crossed over his trim middle. She wondered why he hadn’t gone in the water with the others. Perhaps he was stealing a moment. She wasn’t mad about it. She suddenly felt nervous, and the silence between them felt pensive. She spoke without really thinking, except to add to the bank of knowledge she was building in order to find a solution home.

“Can you tell me something?” She said, her fingers fiddling with the embroidery and the knots that were impossibly small to work with. She found, even in her nimbleness of finger and hand, it the most frustrating of challenges.

“Hm?” he said, beneath his hat, lying prone on the blanket, shielded eyes from the sun and breath deep and measured in his broad chest. She could stare at him all day and used the excuse of moving the umbrella to protect her skin to shield the others from noticing her study of him.

“About when we met…that is, when you first saw me.”

He grunted below the hat and she saw his mouth turn downward. “Why would you care to know such detail?” She couldn’t very well tell him she was trying to figure out how to get back to her own time.

“I just—I don’t remember except waking in the room with you there and even that is still a bit fuzzy.”

“Fuzzy?” he said and peaked one eye beneath the brim of his hat to look at her.

“Unclear…con—confusing,” she stuttered as he caught her staring at him. Matthew removed his hat and sat up. He studied the children and families playing in the water, squealing in delight and merriment. The gentle warmth of the sun and grass, the way the sunlight lit Lillian’s dark hair, now escaping into shiny wisps around her face. She’d removed the bonnet, and the curls remained in soft circles piled high on her head. Long neck exposed. The gentle bite of her lip between teeth in anticipation. Her long legs folded beneath her and the terrible excuse for embroidery knotted on her lap as though the art was frustrated with her and not the other way around.

“I was passing by, on my way to my father’s estate when I was called into the house by Mr. Fitzwilliam Byrne and hurried at his edict as quickly as possible. I must have smelled quite horrible as I’d been on the road for most of the day, a compellingly rank mixture of horse and sweat.” He shook his head and smiled.

“Well, now I think I’d remember such a detail as that,” she smiled and quirked an eyebrow at him. He smirked back at her. “Yet, I think I only remember—lavender, lavender and dust. And the sound of your voice as if coming to me in a long hallway. You called me angel.” He stared over at her, studying her in a way that made her feel uncomfortable and strange. Lillian cleared her throat delicately. “Go on, please.”

“You were at the base of the stairs, mumbling for your mother, lying face down. I was afraid to move you, for fear the injury had been to your neck. You pushed yourself up and stumbled to your knees, like a newborn foal. Determined and wobbly.” He smiled and shook his head, then his brow turned down and his lips frowned. “The blood was so heavy and had soaked through your dress, down your neck, in little horrible waves that made my body chill to see. You looked at me and staggered into my arms, a most trusting soul. The weight of you felt—warm and—” Matthew now cleared his throat and his eyes fell. “Forgive me—” he paused and continued “I carried you up the stairs to the first bedroom available. The maids helped me to wash your hair and—” he inhaled “neck. After I tended to your wounds.”

“Did you—were you—” she flushed and bit her lip harder. Suddenly all thoughts of trying to find out more about the moment she time traveled seemed trivial to her first encounter with Dr. Blackwell.

“Yes? What is it that you wish to know, Miss Byrne? Did we not agree to never lie or show restraint at the cost of honesty to one another? No matter how startling it may seem?”

Lillian glanced over to where the other people were otherwise occupied. “Did you undress me?” Matthew sat up straighter and looped his strong arms around his bent knees, he studied his thick thumbs and pursed his lips.

“Only one delicious limb at a time, much to the chagrin of the maids in attendance. I had to—” he paused to sigh, “inspect every part you see, to check for abrasions, breaks—” he swallowed. “Right down to your perfectly beautiful toes. I’ve never—” he swallowed and shifted on the blanket and Lillian wondered if he was fighting the urge to not allow his excitement to show. “known a woman to have so little hair on her body,” he said and he smiled with a confused light in his eyes. Lillian blushed.

“Well, I have hair in some places—”she said inadvertently, forgetting herself and quickly covered her mouth. Matthew’s eyes shot to hers, the blush of her cheeks, the way she looked like she might burst out with laughter or die of embarrassment at any moment was charming and melted him into a confused puddle of want and giddiness.

“I imagine it is as soft and raven dark as that which resides in those maddening curls on your crown,” he whispered. Lillian gasped and her hands fell to her lap. Her breath quickened. “Have I shocked you?” he said with a voice gravely and needful.

“No. You have not. You have, however, bewitched me. My thoughts are—” she swallowed and her hand trailed up her thigh, shaking. “Complicated and exciting,” her hand clenched in her lap.

“Where does the angel’s hand seek to rest,” he whispered wantonly. “Surely it is in the heaven of where my centermost thoughts lie.” He watched as her long fingers unclenched and squeezed the gentle flesh of her thigh. He growled low in his throat, and brought his hand to his mouth.

What was it about this woman? He had certainly had no shortage of beautiful young women showing interest, and those that were more accommodating, refined and available. But she seemed to turn him into a torrent of need and anger, coupled with the desire to keep her safe, to heal her, to listen to her strange accent and her new and interesting ideas. To lose himself in her eyes. To bury his face in her breasts. To steal her away from a highly respected member of the Provence like nothing more than a soulless cad.

He closed his eyes and he seethed beneath his breath. Perhaps it was she who had bewitched him, and was either imprudent for not understanding her own power, which he knew she was not, or she was purposefully trying to drive him insane and do them both a great disservice that would end in not just social suicide but quite possibly the damage of his career. He needed to rectify the situation.

“I am—a horrible—a terrible excuse for a gentleman,” he said softly. “My apologies. The things that I have said, to you, on this day and every day, since we were misfortuned to meet, were not respectable, nor were they acceptable. Please excuse me.” He rose to leave.

“You have lied!” she yelled suddenly after him.

“I beg your pardon?” He turned back to her.

“You have lied to me, Dr. Blackwell. When Miss Darlingwood asked about my engagement you lied and said men didn’t remember details of moments as women do, but you—you remembered every detail from the moment we met.”

“Miss Byrne,” he said, wishing he could protest, but she was, as usual, keenly right.

“You remembered my fall, my waking… you remember—”

“If you please, Miss Byrne!” Matthew interrupted harshly, as the moments played over and over in his mind. He wanted to remember her forever; he knew he should forget her immediately. Matthew sighed and looked to the heavens for the strength he felt he lacked so terribly.

“If I recall such details so clearly it is only because you are quite unforgettable. It seems my heart stands little chance of disregarding you even when my head and all demands of social constraint tell me to do so.” His voice was strained.

“Matthew—” she began and he looked down at her at the sound of his name. He took in a deep breath, sighed it out, looked to the crowd of friends and family now coming up from the water in laughing and jovial waves.

“Miss Byrne, ever coming to your aid is the paramount regret of my life.”

He pulled his hat on, tipped it out of habit, and left in a hurried walk towards his carriage. Lillian watched him go, her heart seeming to beat out of her chest with every one of his steps, aching to follow after him. Never in her life had a man said something so cutting and so understandably true. She wanted to collapse into a fit of sobs.

“Where on earth is Dr. Blackwell gone in such a hurry? Is there a medical emergency?” Kitty said exhilarated with the cold water and wrapping a blanket demurely over her woolen suit. Lillian didn’t know why she felt like crying or why the tears had already formed. She was surprised when a tear fell to her thumb and rolled onto her mottled cloth. Her chest felt heavy and thick and she tried to breathe but air only came in quick gasps and she felt as though she might faint.

“My dear! You are quite vexed! What ever could it be? Has something happened? Is it something concerning Dr. Blackwell? Has he offended you? What has he said? Tell me I must know, so that I may give him adequate reprimand!”

“Kitty, please—I—” she whispered and shook her head, trying desperately to wipe her eyes before the others could see. Colonel Maynard shuffled up from the shore, water dripping from his walrus mustache and joy in his red cheeks.

“I dare say, that may have made me both simultaneously older and young as a colt!” his smile fell as Lillian caught his gaze. He looked around at the milling groups now drying off to begin tea. Kitty handed her a damp kerchief but she politely shook her head.

“Miss Lillian, what on Earth is wrong. Has something happened, even on a day as fine as this?” he asked with utmost care, keeping his voice low so as to not alert the other party guests of her distress.

“I’m afraid I’m not feeling well, is there some—” she paused to sniffle and wondered how she could extract herself from people without seeming rude or arousing suspicion that Dr. Blackwell had anything at all to do with it. She quickly folded her work and stowed it away in the basket. “I beg upon your good mercy, Sir, could you please excuse me. I think I shall walk back home.”

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Poetry 2-3-2022

It’s been awhile since I regaled you with a little verse. Okay, to be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever ‘regaled’ anyone with anything I’ve written. But here’s a poem I scribbled down and now it’s part yours.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com
Misjudged

have you ever
thought you knew everything
about a human heart
only to find out,
in clips and phrases
the everyday
exchange of words,
those priceless commodities,
that you didn’t, in fact, 
like them at all?

With every volley of
thought-provoking ideals
and self-doubting forays 
trying to figure out the complexities
of life
and love
and sex
that every one of those micro chasms of worlds
in their lit-up brains
from the sadness to the fury
the senseless damage survived,
the deep, erotic bites hungered after
and the sweet forgiveness
you discover,

layer by layer

that you didn’t like them

not at all.

No—in all,

and all along,

you, in fact,

loved them.

Call For Submissions 2022 Anthology: “A Beautiful Twist”

Good morning, readers and writers. I can’t believe we’re already one trip around the sun from last year’s submissions call! The previous years have resulted in two wonderful poetry anthologies with a variety of contributors across the globe. This year, I’m changing things up.

The theme for this year is “A Beautiful Twist”. I will be looking for work that surprises and delights, causes a reader to pause and do a double take if you will. For instance, some of my own work will be myths retold in modern times (what if Bacchus was a recovering alcoholic, or Snow White was a dominatrix?) For poetry, think about a split between how it begins and how it ends. You start out thinking its about love but turns out to be about laundry. Twist a fairytale, turn over old paradigms and genre expectations, dust off any speculative fiction because that’s a goldmine for twists. Surprise me. Surprise yourself. Give yourself freedom to dabble in the ridiculous.

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Below you’ll find the details for the anthology, submission guidelines, and publishing dates. Please follow the guidelines. They exist for a reason…mostly to make sure I don’t pull my hair out whilst trying to read and format them. You are always more than welcome to contact me via this website with questions (Please use subject line: QUESTION ANTHOLOGY 2022). Some changes this year will include the length and type of content I’m accepting, and a monetary prize for the top three entries, as well as publication. Good skill to all of the writers out there, newbies and old hats.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Dates: Submission will open January 28th and will run until September 16th
  • Winners will be notified September 19th 2022
  • Publication Date: TBA Early November
  • Submission guidelines: The Beautiful Stuff will be accepting, short stories (2000-5000 words), Flash Fiction (200-1000 words), Poetry (up to 5 poems allowed per submission), novel excerpts (up to 3000 words), Personal Essays (up to 2000 words) all centered around the theme. I’m pretty lenient as far as genre. I will accept non fiction, fiction, speculative fic, western, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, erotica, historical, hysterical, time jumping primates, talking frogs, brains in jars, and ANY combination thereof. Submissions translated to English are preferred. Contest is open to domestic and international writers but awards will be paid in US dollars. Please submit your work as an attachment to your email which will be a lovely cover letter about you (name, email, job, what you write, what you love to do, your submission’s title, and the secret of life–haha, just kidding we all know its 42). Email subject line should read BEAUTIFUL TWIST SUBMISSION_name (not just ‘name’–use your name). The submission file (please use .doc, .docx, or another Word friendly format) should be the title of your submission and your last name i.e. “Merry Krampus-Reichert”
  • Top 3 submissions will earn prizes as follows: 1st–$30, 2nd–$20, 3rd–$10 paid via PayPal or Venmo (or check if need be). Runners up will be published in the anthology with a chance to compete in the Colorado Book Awards.
  • You may submit in multiple formats, multiple times (ie poems and flash, or novel excerpt and essay) but each submission must be in a separate email. You can copy and paste your cover letter…I’m not going to make you rewrite that thing, they’re a pain in the ass.
  • PLEASE DO NOT submit anything that has been previously published or that you no longer own the rights to. I can’t even begin to process the legalities, so just don’t. Don’t double dip. Simultaneous submissions are absolutely fine but LET ME KNOW if your work gets accepted elsewhere as soon as possible.
  • Prohibited subject matter includes: overtly violent or gruesome content that does not further the story, non consensual sexual acts, racist/homophobic/misogynistic/hate filled writing, violent or hurtful actions against children or animals, and anything that judges, stereotypes, or seeks to harm another human being based on their human being-ness. I’m cool with erotica done tastefully and along the lines of the theme. I’m also cool with expletives if they fit the character and scene and you’re not just using them like a 7th grade boy to look cool. Cool?

Well, that’s it! Start writing! Hopefully this will provide you the experience and drive to get some submitting done. Let me know if you have any questions. I will contact you to let you know your submission has been received and as we get near to September 16th I will keep you in the loop about your submission’s place in the anthology.

I’m so flippin’ excited to read your stuff. Truly. Don’t leave me hanging.

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Diversity in Fiction: Crafting Characters Respectfully

I’m not one to go seeking out hot-button issues, but the truth is when we don’t address underlying, systemic problems of all the ‘isms’ in our culture (from government programs, to housing applications, to writing fiction–) they continue to hold power over and harm other human beings. So, I’m discussing today how we, as writers, can be not only sensitive to the characters we create but the effects of their existence on our world. After all, stereotypes exist because we fail to see them in all the subtle ways they permeate our lives. As ethical and compassionate people, we should work towards burning down those untruths as much as possible, even in our own work.

I’m not going to stand on a soap box and preach without starting with myself. I’ve probably, in my ignorant and un-learned past, created characters that simplified the complexities of a human into certain traits. I’ve tried not to. I tried to craft my characters as strong, independent and powerful, more tuned to their personalities than their physical traits. But there were still subtle things, I wasn’t even aware of at the time, that filtered from my limited white experience. As I look into rewriting this character, I am constantly questioning how I can do better.

We all should. We owe it to the character, to the reader (and to the world) to examine our writing and go forward with an eye to our own hidden (and not so hidden) biases or ideas.

The best advice I can give you is to strip yourself of any cloak of magnanimous “equality”. Start by reading some real, hard to stomach, but necessary soul-exploring books on the complexities of race and gender equality, the reason systemic problems exist, and how we can best eradicate them. Talk to people from every background, attend classes, lectures, and forums, open discussions of others’ experiences. Do it with an open heart, and a willingness to accept your part in the system. Have the dedication to do something about it.

When we are invested in writing characters different from ourselves (race, gender, religion, sexuality, age etc) one of the best things we can do is RESEARCH. In the expansiveness of the Internet, so much good information, written by diverse voices, can be found. The ones most important (and really the only viable ones) are those written in their own voice, about their own experience.

I also encourage you to talk to as many other people of all walks of life as you can. (And not just to research for your work…do it for the benefit of your humanity and compassion.) While I DO NOT advocate for you turning your ‘one black friend’ into your go-to for all questions about a diverse, varied and culturally rich part of our world (it’s not their job or duty to educate you), don’t shy away from respectful and honest conversations that come up, especially when they happen from immersing yourself in different situations and events from a standpoint of open mindedness and learning.

Above all, when you are writing diverse characters DON’T, for the love of god, assume that by describing their skin color/religion/orientation that you’ve described their character in total. DON’T stereotype them. DON’T include diverse characters just for the sake of checking off a box.

DO make them unique to their upbringing, their experience, and their situation. DO describe all of your characters equally and in rich and expansive ways.

I’ve always believed that good storytelling is universal. And in our connected and dynamic world, it would be a shame to only write one kind of person. But care for your characters and the people they may or may not represent. Here are some good resources that may help:

Good luck and don’t be afraid. Just be respectful, compassionate, and educated.

Westbury Falls: Episode #6

Great day in the morning, it’s time to get back to our little time traveling Lillian. If you need a refresher of what happened last time, you can find it here.https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/12/02/westbury-falls-episode-5/

If you are lazy, like me, and don’t want to go back that far, we left our characters with Lillian running out into a storm, pissed off that she was stuck in a different time and about to marry some shady-ass-muthaf*&#ker and the good Dr. Blackwell, worried for her safety, because she’s too damn stubborn to take care of herself dashes out after her.

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And now–Episode #6

“Perhaps some other time. I am running quite late for meeting with my father and should not dawdle further.” He politely bowed, careful to lean back as to not come too close to the skin she so graciously offered up for perusal. She curtsied and Dr. Blackwell rushed from the room.

He indeed had a meeting with his father that afternoon, and so it was not a falsehood that allowed him to escape Kitty. But it was not his true reasoning. Acquiring his hat and gloves from the porter, he walked casually out the front door to the sound of thunderous clouds and the quickening rain drops that fell from the storm above. He looked in both directions, knowing that he should acquire his horse and go back to his father’s estate. He could, as Miss Darlingwood had advised, give Lillian the space she needed to ruminate over her “anticipated happiness”.

Only everything about her face indicated that she was not in the slightest way anticipating the impeding nuptials with happiness. Everything about what he’d observed felt that she was not at all pleased with what had transpired before her fall. Marriage was not always a cause for happiness but it would secure her future and she should not feel so passionately against such an advantageous situation. And he should not care that she was contrary to the idea. But from the moment he had taken charge of her care at the base of the stairs a week ago, he felt, deep in the soul of his person, that he was responsible for her safety. She was his patient. And she had just run out, unaccompanied, into the rain.

“Ridiculous,” he grumbled under his breath. How could he take care of a woman who so blatantly went against his good and sound advice? There was only so much he could control and she, with her strong will and stubborn countenance, did not make even those things easy. The rain began to fall in earnest then. Soaking his jacket and hat and making it difficult to see much past the gates of the estate.

“Blasted,” he cursed. Nodding to the stable hand who had brought his horse round, he mounted quickly and tore off in an expanding circular path around the grounds.

She would be wet and cold. Perhaps having damaged her stitches. Perhaps slipped and fallen in a gully. Bones broken, head split open, any number of horrifying injuries. Had she not a mind for the worry it set within his poor heart? His poor heart—he scowled and pushed the horse faster. His heart had nothing to do with wanting her to maintain her health and her reputation. Through the rain and wind, the rushing growl of thunder above, and the distant echo of it in the hills surrounding Westbury Manor he listened for a cry for help, but only the sound of distant gulls resounded.

His eyes scanned the horizon as his heart sped up with every moment that she evaded him. True worry, real and hard, began to seize hold of his good sense. He gasped and wiped the rain from his eyes. Matthew’s thoughts circled around in his head, just as his path circled through the gardens and expansive fields of Westbury. Why would a young, poor woman scorn an advantageous marriage?

Why would a young doctor refuse a prestigious seat on his father’s board?

Some things were simply not meant to be.

What would his strait-laced cousin think of her antics now? He could not fathom how a man like Fredrick would have considered her a suitable match. But knowing his cousin as he did, Matthew thought it must have everything to do with her being exceedingly beautiful. And his cousin had always been drawn to the shiniest, most sought-after things. She would, indeed, be a stunning trophy on his arm. A trophy that he barely made effort to get to know, to spend time with, to dote on. To even visit in her convalescence? Did she mean so little to Fredrick?

While Matthew, on the other shaking hand, could scarcely stay away even for the sake of the delicate propriety that dictated their strange and sudden relationship. Suddenly, he felt a pit of sadness open in his chest at the very thought of never seeing Lillian Byrne again.

“Blast, it all. Damn fool idiot!” he said again, not sure if his words were meant for her, his cousin, or himself. His eyes scanned the horizon ferociously.

Then, out in the south pasture, he saw her cresting the far hill. A sodden bonnet in one hand, an unused shawl in the other. Her hair, coming down in waves around her shoulders, out of the carefully constructed updo that hid her wound. Paled and soaked, she stomped determined up the hill. He urged his stead forward, down the first hill, and quickly up to intersect her path. The wind tore between them, swirling the rain round in a cacophony of sound and drenching water.

“Miss Byrne, I demand you stop this foolishness at once!” he yelled from behind her. Lillian, deep in thought, took two more striding steps with her skirt lifted, dropped the drenched and heavy material, and spun to face him. She pushed the hair from her eyes.

“What are you doing here?” she said. “You’ll catch your death!”

“Oh? Is that a matter of fact? But you are perfectly safe to be out in such a torrent?” He dismounted from his horse.

She scowled in response.

“Miss Byrne, I insist that you allow me to accompany you back home.”

“That is not my home,” she sobbed and pointed to the gray manor in the distance that was harder every passing moment to see. “Those are not my friends, that is not—” The wind stole her words and Matthew had to take off his hat and stomp nearer to hear.

“I don’t understand,” he said and stormed closer. Lillian stared at him as the rain fell from his nose in droplets and soaked his blond locks so they plastered to his head. He, in turn, watched the rivulets of it pour down her cheeks, drip off the shelf of her top lip, and its perfect pink peaks. The fullness of her bottom lip, wet and tender.

“Please come back,” he said as he came close, unable to take his eyes from her lips. Lillian’s fingers lost their hold of her bonnet and scarf and they fell in wet heaps beside her drenched and muddied feet. “This is no storm to be walking in. There is scarcely any air to breath with all the rain. We are worried over your well-being.”

“We?” she asked.

I am worried,” he said and hung his head. For all of the desperation to take her back and make her fit in the space and place a woman should, he did not try to touch her, nor did he force her to follow him.

“You—you were?” she said softly and tried to peer below the blond lashes that touched his cheeks as he gazed down.

“I was…much concerned,” he said softly and he knelt to pick up her belongings. When he looked back up, he noticed that the stitches of her wound had come loose, and a small trail of blood was now joining the rain to trace her cheek. He grunted and hastily took a handkerchief from his breast pocket, quickly pressing it to the cut and causing her to take in a quick breath. His fingers were warm as he put pressure to stop the bleeding.

“See now. You should have listened to me. Look what has happened,” he said, feeling relieved for having changed the subject and being able to reprimand her again instead of admitting to her effect on him. He took the cloth away and she stared at her blood.

“Perhaps your stitches were faulty,” she said and smiled up at him. He scowled at her snark and began to formulate an argument from his shock at her suggestion until he saw her smile.

“Why, you ungrateful little child,” he said and a smile played unwilling on his lips. She watched it grow with the speed of her heart. She liked that she got under his skin and so did he.

“I am no child.” She pressed further. He looked down at the wet, thin fabric across her breasts and the skirt that clung to the fullness of her hips.

“You certainly do not look like a child,” he whispered. Lillian swayed closer and he swayed backward in equal parts. “But your behavior suggests otherwise.”

“Well, perhaps you should have found a switch along your way to rescue me, so that you could take it to my backside and teach me a lesson for such immature petulance,” she countered.

“Miss Byrne!” He blushed profusely, shocked not so much that she had spoken such suggestive words but that the thoughts immediately occupied his mind. “I could not–could do no such thing! I would never strike a woman!”

“No?” she whispered and took his hand in her cold fingers and pressed its warmth to her face. If he would allow, she would show his hands all of the cold and drenched skin that now ached for his touch. He took in a deep breath and she could feel him pulling away.

“That would be the right of your husband, to dole out such punishment for your ill-mannered behavior.”

“And if you were my husband, would you?”

“Would I what?” he asked, his frown deepening with the effort to not allow his brain and heart the luxury of such a fantasy.

“Take a switch to my backside in punishment for my ill-mannered behavior?” she asked. His eyes sought hers, his breath quickened and she could tell he was in the throes of trying not to think of it. “Or perhaps, simply your hand to my backside would suffice.” Visions of her creamy skin, naked over his lap before a warm fireplace, his broad hand against the curve of her backside flooded his mind and his breath came in gasps as his eyes closed.

“Miss Byrne, that is a most improper thing to—”

“I am yet un married,” she said and looked up at him, into his eyes, showing the dark depths of her own desire by pressing her wet skin closer to him.

“You are soon to be.” He reminded, but his hand stayed for a moment and he looked as though he wanted to pull her in for a kiss. She leaned forward. “Lily, please—” he interrupted. “You must come back with me so that I may mend the stitches before you bleed out or catch your death of cold. I shall write my cousin this afternoon to let him know that you are in need of his company.”

“I am not—”

“Do not—” he sighed exasperated and reached out, “argue with me, Lily!” taking her by the hand he pulled her to the patient stead.

“Lily?”

“If you are determined to act like a spoiled child, then you shall be addressed as one,” he growled. “Does my cousin even know what kind of trouble he has set himself up to inherit?”

“Perhaps it would be best if he were to just call the whole thing off!” she yelled back and struggled against his strong hand that held fast despite the pouring rain.

“The arrangement is made, do not jest so boldly to undermine your promissory words. It is most unbecoming of a young lady and will only serve to ruin your family’s good name and your reputation.” Lillian felt as though she might throw up as he lifted her easily onto the back of his waiting horse.

“I can walk damn it!” she burst out.

“You will do as I tell you!” he yelled back and with a grace she’d never seen possessed in any person, he swung up on the horse behind her. “And I will see to it that you obey!”

“I will not obey you!” she argued and squirmed against the strong arms that held her fast. He tightened his grip and his chin sunk down firmly into the crook of her neck and shoulder. His hot breath on her neck, his voice in her ear.

“Please, Lily, I only ask to protect you. You would not survive the financial ruin. You would not survive the poverty I have seen in young women who have fallen out of society’s good graces. And, as if you did not know, let me patiently remind you that even a simple rainstorm has been known to cause life-ending fevers. Especially for those who have been exposed to great trauma. Please, for the sake of my heart, come home.” His voice turned desperate and he placed a delicate kiss to her neck, just below her ear.

“I do not like men telling me what to do,” she said back to him, though the warmth of him, the way his lips shook against her skin, and how his hands gently caressed her waist, felt as though he were trying to apologize in touch.

“I do not blame you. And I’m sorry if I seemed—too forceful. I am not used to a—a woman like you. You’ve quite befuddled me, Lily, in ways I don’t know how to recover from.”

“I just can’t marr—”

“Please do not say it. Please, my dear Miss Byrne, trust that you will find happiness, in some way, some form by staying the course of this engagement. I believe you will. I must believe it for I cannot bear any thought that it would be otherwise. And so, you must believe it too, for my sake.”

Lillian stopped her struggle, sobbed, and wrapped her arms around his, leaned back into the warmth of his strong chest and allowed him to guide the horse back to the manor.  What were the chances she could find a way home before she was forced to marry Fredrick Sutton? What were the chances she would be able to stay away from his cousin until then?

Both seemed very bad odds.

She held still and quiet, unusually quiet for her, while he stitched up her cut. She had been watching his steady fingers and hard, unflinching eyes as he worked, but it only served to make her fall more deeply in the trouble of affection with him. He glanced once down to her eyes, to see her staring at him and his brow fell.

“Does it not bother you to watch? I know this must—” he paused steadying his hand as he knotted the delicate thread.

“Hurt like hell?” she asked quietly so Kitty would not hear from where she sat on the settee beside them, watching her like a hawk. Instead of shock he simply smiled out one corner of his mouth and nodded. She spoke more loudly to dissuade suspicion on Kitty’s part of her curse and her blooming feelings.

“I’m hoping I can learn to improve my embroidery skill by watching you. Kitty tells me I am quite dreadful and wonders who must have been responsible for my instruction.”

“Who indeed had that pleasure?” he asked distractedly as he cleaned the remaining blood from the wound and that which had trailed down her cheek in the rain. Miss Darlingwood looked over at them.

“Yes! Who in deed, I think I would very much like to reprimand them.” She chimed in.

“I do not recall,” she said softly and looked back down at her hands, knowing very well that she had never in fact been taught the art as all respectable young women of the age were.

“Well, failing at one thing, I am well aware that you have many other talents,” he said, tossing the bloodied cloth into a pan of water. Miriam collected the first aid materials on a tray and left in the stealthy manner of a woman who runs the household without ever being seen.

“And how can you be so assured of my talents?”

“My cousin tells me you are quite the accomplished at the piano forte.”

Lillian’s head was not up to the challenge of puzzling through how she’d pull off living up to such a reputation.

“Oh that’s right! Why I’ve heard from Mr. Bryne that you play quite beautifully and are quite the accomplished singer.”

“Is that so? I would very much like to hear that someday. When I visit Mr. Sutton and you that is.” Dr. Blackwell said as he cleaned and put away his instruments, throwing small glances her way as if to remind her.

“I assure you; rumors of my talent have been greatly exaggerated.” Lillian said dryly. While she may have indeed learned and played the piano at the insistence of her mother for most of her life, she knew that the two were separate and different instruments.

“In such cases as this I would normally argue that such modesty is becoming of a young lady.” He smiled but Lillian did not return the smile.

“Finally, I am acting becoming,” she said and rose to put space between her and the doctor. Kitty looked up from her sewing as Miriam cracked the door

“Beggin your pardon Miss Darlingwood, but Master Byrne has asked if he could join you all later for tea and I wanted to ask you about the menu,” she said quietly from the door way. Kitty rose with a huff, not sure she wanted to converse with Mr. Byrne over tea, as he’d teased her mercilessly just last week about a curl that had escaped her carefully tended styling and made her feel quite self conscious. While she hovered at the doorway to talk to Miriam, Matthew caught Lillian by the wrist.

Normally, I said.” His finger gently traced an arch over the delicate skin. “But we both are aware that you are too honest to be concerned with other’s opinions.”

“I beg your pardon, Sir,” she said quietly as to not gain Kitty’s attention even as a fire lit her eyes. She moved to storm away, but he held her by her wrist.

“Feel, the angel’s heart as it beats faster,” he whispered and gauged her pulse. Lillian stopped; the world hung on his lips at the endearment. “Let us agree, Lily, to never be dishonest with one another. Though we are merely friends, it would do my heart much good, and give my soul ease to find an honest woman in my small social circle.” He spoke the words only realizing afterwards that they were, in themselves, more honest than he’d ever spoken to a woman. In the strange and misleading world that was always evolving around them, women and men stood in constant foreplay of truth and deceit, one always vying for the power over the other. Such an arrangement of honesty with Lily in particular would benefit not just himself, but her as well.

“I’m sorry that you’ve found no such honesty from my counterparts so far into your life. Though do not be misled that men are more upstanding. They have their share of plays for power through falsehoods I have sadly learned in my short time here.” She moved to pull her wrist away but he stood up and took her other arm in his as Kitty was now quite engrossed in the exact ingredients for the scones that would need to be made precisely in a certain way, despite the fact that Miriam had been making the most scrumptious, light as a feather scones since the time she was nine.

“Then I will make you the same promise,” Matthew said quickly. “To always be honest with you, even when the questions and subjects you bring forth to me are difficult to broach. Even if I am frightened of what I may divulge, I will always allow the truth to win out.”

Lillian raised her hand suddenly and offered it out to him. But instead of the customary delicate touch and curtsey, she held his grip fast, as if shaking the hand of an equal and he smiled to feel it.

“It is a bargain, sir. One I swear I will always try with every ounce of my being, to execute.”

“As will I, Miss Byrne.” He smiled and dropped her hand, just as Kitty turned back to them.

“What a horrifying ordeal!” she said with exhaustion and went back to her work going on to lament how Lillian’s brother had gravely affronted her with the tease. Lillian wanted to tell her it could be much worse. That her actual brother would prank her mercilessly even going so far as to cut off sections of her hair while she slept the night before school pictures. She opened her mouth to defend the goodness of this alternate Will but closed it again and sighed. When she looked back, Matthew was staring at her strangely, as if he’d been studying her. He pretended to inspect his new stitches while he stepped closer as Kitty continued in her own conversation of previous vexation.

He looked at her lips and, as if testing the deal they had struck, he leaned forward. “In our new arrangement of honesty, I feel it is my place to inform you that I would much rather seal our new contract with a kiss,” he whispered.

“I would prefer that as well, but I know that it would sully both our reputations should we be found out and I would not make a dishonest man of you, as you once so deftly lectured me on in the middle of a rainy hillside. Not twenty minutes past to be exact,” she whispered back.

“Ah, see, your memory is improving already,” he teased and moved back and away from her.

“Wonderful! Perhaps I will one day remember why I agreed to an engagement.”

“Don’t all young women want to be married?” he said and went to stand beside the window while he rolled his cuffs back down. Lillian watched him from the corner of her eye, while Miss Darlingwood sat in the other end of the couch and looked up periodically between them.
            “Yes of course,” Kitty chimed in without even thinking. Lil rolled her eyes. She could think of no way to control her features and now that she’d agreed to be honest with him, she didn’t feel it would be right to agree so readily.

“Some women are much in want of adventure. We surely don’t want to sail in calm seas all our lives,” Lil said, recalling one of her favorite Austen sayings. Kitty gasped. Matthew turned his curious blue gaze on her.

“Miss Byrne! What an awful thing to say, indeed!”

“Not at all—” Matthew spoke.  “Calm seas make for dull years. Storms build character and strength, even surprises and happy stories sometimes.”

“Surely you jest, Dr. Blackwell.”

“The best stories often come from our—wildest adventures,” Lillian agreed. “We’ve only one heart. One body, one life. Why would I want to spend it in only one place?” Matthew looked at her with quickening breath.

“Why indeed?” he whispered, falling into a trance that led him to believe that there could be no other woman for him in the world, than Lillian Byrne. And damn his cousin or the consequences that came from the realization. He could not take his eyes from hers. Kitty tittered nervously between them.
            “But what of safety, security? Home life?  Surely you would not want to tempt starvation and death all the days of your life.”

Lillian couldn’t look away from Matthew. “To some, marriage is a cage. A starvation of self, a death of soul,” she whispered softly.

“What a horrible thing to say, Miss Byrne!” Kitty struck out suddenly with a sharp reprimand. Matthew smiled strangely at her uncharacteristic poeticism.

“Perhaps—” he interrupted in calming tones, “the right marriage, to the perfect match, would be a feast of adventure, a finding of self, a life—made whole.” he whispered and looked down at her lips. Lillian nearly fell to her knees and ached to rush into his kisses, his arms, his bed.

Begin Again

So here we are, at the precipice of a new year and probably, in some part, still reeling from the last two. I recall, vaguely, that at this time last year I was filled with hope that things were about to get better. Then, events in the first week of the year reminded me that the calendar rolling over didn’t wipe the slate clean on the world’s troubles. It’s just a date. Not a miracle.

The only comfort I had, and still have, as we again sit at the top of 2022, is that I have control over at least one thing in the world, and that’s how I live in it. So no matter where you are, in physical or mental space, take an opportunity to day to think about what you would do if you could begin again. The date may be arbitrary, but the idea is sound.

Everything you’ve lived through up to this point has prepared you for the challenges ahead. Everything that you’ve seen, learned, failed at, succeeded at, has built in you a resilience for the journey ahead. So while we shouldn’t dwell on our pasts (whether it be to regret–terrible thing, or to relive glory days–also unhelpful) we should remember the value they have given us. Every experience, hardship, joy, failure, and triumph has added to your soul-resume and will give you what you need for this next year. I believe that whatever it is you set your sights on, whether its finishing a book, starting a new job, getting out of an abusive relationship, or giving yourself more grace, you will find success. But don’t just throw vague intentions out. Make a map.

Now how detailed you want to get depends on your level of focus, your own acknowledgement for order, and what works for you. I like to start with a general goal list, break it down by quarter, month, and week, and hang it up where I can see it. So when I find myself caught up in pitbull puppy videos, its looming over me, reminding me to focus.

That’s a shit-ton of bullets…*sigh*

At the beginning of the year, it looks daunting. So I have to remind myself, even if it’s on paper, it’s still fluid. Just because it’s all there, listed out, doesn’t mean it all gets done today. Like any journey, goals are a series of steps, one after another.

This year, I’ll be trying a few different things, and I only squawk about them here as a measure of accountability.

In the spring (March-ish) I’ll be releasing my Western Romance Series and planning some tour dates in my home state of Wyoming to promote it. This will include book signings, readings, and Q and A sessions. I’m aspiring to submit short stories, poetry, and flash fiction to at least 100 different publications (aiming for 100 rejections but my hope is they aren’t ALL rejected). In May, I’m hoping to finish up a collaboration with a local press for my Sci/Fi novella “Saturn Rising”. The blog will continue with weekly writing advice, poetry, guest blogs, and a special series on local charities, the work they’re doing, and how we can help keep them running. This year’s Anthology is not yet themed but I’m shifting over to include short stories, essays, and excerpts. Stay tuned for more details. This year, winning entries will be published and receive a monetary prize.

I’ve got my first co-authoring project in the works (a fun romp and homage to my love of 80’s pop culture) and will be working on my next series (I’m getting all Urban fantasy this time).

Outside of writing, I’ll be teaching a few more classes, continue advancing towards my next degree (Sensei Sarah has a nice ring to it), reading more, I’ll climb a few more 14ers, and work this old body into more flexibility through yoga. It all feels like a lot, but days are made of minutes and you can do a lot in those minutes….once you choose to begin.

Good luck out there. Come back and visit to keep updated on the anthology submissions and so we can check in with each other on our new starts. Above all, let’s just be better people this year. The best versions of ourselves we can be.

Lessons From The Year

It was a goal heavy year. I talked briefly a few weeks ago about how to set up your own yearly goals in a manageable way, but today I want to talk about you. That’s right…not some bullet list on a webpage or a chart of tick-them-off boxes. I want to talk about the beautiful human on the other side of the screen. Stop looking over your shoulder, it’s you. I mean you.

Now maybe I know you, personally. Maybe we’ve never met. The point is, I think you’re amazing. You may not believe me. It’s okay. I’ve talked A LOT about not believing everything you read…and my words are no different. So allow me to offer proof.

This year has been tough. Hell, the last two have been a raging dumpster fire…for nearly everyone who wasn’t making a personal rocket ship to go play Spaceman Spiff while countless other humans suffered in poverty, starvation, and lack of medical care on the Earth. No wonder they were so anxious to leave for ten minutes and show how awesome it is to have money… but I digress…

The point I’m trying to make is that you’ve survived 100% of all your worst days.

A moment of silence for 2021...

At the start of a new year we have a tendency to look back (sometimes like Indian Jones on the destructive explosions of warplanes and tanks going over cliffs, shaking on torn knees, dirty, bent, beat to hell, and wondering how we survived, still clinging to our favorite hats) and worry that the next year will only be worse—Nazis, aliens…Shia LaBeouf—it could get a lot worse.

But it could get a whole lot better.

And we have some say in that. Now, we don’t always have a say in the bigger things of the world. I’ll never change the inequality of women or be able to change the mind of every little girl who’s been told, (like her mother and her mother before her…and so on) that being skinny is the height of desirability and beauty.

Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

But I can shift the way I speak around my daughters. I can shift the way I talk to my friends (and speak up for them when they cannot speak well of themselves). I can shift the way I talk to myself.

I can’t fight capitalism. But I can support companies that  pay their workers a living wage. I can’t change lobbyists, or billionaires, or any number of corrupt, societal ruining forces. But I can lend a helping hand. I can volunteer. I can protest. I can stand up and use my voice, I can vote…

When we look at the battles ahead of us in this new year, let us pick ones we can charge into wisely. And please, for the love of mental health, let us start with the ones in our own heads.

The direction of your life, the ability to lift yourself above old and destructive habits has everything to do with how you speak to yourself. Your voice is the only one in your head 24/7. Your body is the only one you live in. Your voice, your mind, your heart, your body—every single one of those things is beautiful. Every one of them is enough. And they (read: you) deserve to be taken care of, loved, and respected.

So when we look into this new year, I only ask that you change one thing.

I want you to change how you talk to yourself. Be bigger than what the world wants you to be. Take up space and use that space to spread compassion and acceptance. Be outspoken with your understanding, your need for justice, and most of all, be outspoken with love.

Life is short. This could be the first year of a long and beautiful rest-of-your-life.

It could be your last year on Earth.

You simply do not know, so spend it with your heart and passions in mind. Draw and hold boundaries where they need to be and do not apologize for cutting out the people who are hurtful or refuse to acknowledge that you are enough. Speak well of yourself. Speak kindly to yourself. Accept every soul-bump as part of being beautifully human. Don’t be cruel, but take no bullshit.

We humans–we’re a beautiful mess. Falling in and out of love, drunk on passion and enthusiasm one minute, and stumbling into the gutter of disappointment the next. I say, just do your best, little human. Until you know better, then do the better. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. But don’t give away your light and energy to people who don’t appreciate and return it.

It’s just that simple. And just that complex. It’s just. that. human.

Stay safe until the new year and beyond.

Santa, Hippy Jesus, and The Importance of Choosing Joy

It’s that time of year when we are faced with a choice that defines our humanity. The choice to either believe in the light of the season in all the forms it takes and spread our own joy to illuminate the shortened days, or the choice to be a petty and divisive jerk and shit on other people’s beliefs.

Don’t be petty and shitty, not any time, but especially not this time of year.

The world is dark enough as it is.

Be good to each other.

Psst… if you’re looking for a way to be good, especially after you read this tear-jerking post then click on this link and spread some joy:

uspsoperationsanta.com

And now, grab a tissue and enjoy…

Dear Madelyn and Delaney…

I hear there have been some questions at school and amongst your friends, about if Santa Claus is real.

There comes a time, in most kids lives, when they are taught to grow up and out of what some adults call “silly, fanciful, daydreams.” And so adults and peers will go about destroying everything that even whiffs of magic, and work hard to wipe away every ounce of stardust from the eyes of children who believe.

To this I say…Shut your mean-hearted pieholes, you wankers. (And anyone who hasn’t, at some point in their existence, called a middle schooler a wanker is probably lying. Let’s face it, middle school is not our finest hour as humans.)

I’m willing to bet that these are the same little judgmentalists that gave you sideways glances for not attending a church (particularly one of a Christian persuasion).

These are the people who will say it’s obviously impossible for a generous old guy to deliver presents to kids one night of the year, while simultaneously cherishing and accepting the “fact” that a deity impregnated a virgin and their child wiped away the entirety of sin in the world…

…uh…

nativity

If they can suspend reality and base their lives around the idea of (albeit a cool),hippy/demigod, is it such a stretch to believe in a jolly old elf that spreads the ideals of generosity and selfless giving for just one day?

I won’t touch your demigod hippy if you don’t touch my fat guy in a red suit.

jesus-santa-bff
I bet Jesus calls him St. Bro-cholas.

I refuse to lose my stardust. (As Anne Shirley would say; I refuse to be poisoned by their bitterness.)

You want to know if there is magic? If Santa is real?

Here’s what I know…

Santa is real and magic exists.

How can I be sure?

I’m here aren’t I? You’re here, yes? We’re all here.

We were sprung from the unlikely combination of a chemical lottery and dumb, cosmic luck. We went on to survive hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary death traps.

If that’s not magical, what is?

Here’s what I also know.

There are two types of people in the world.

Those that destroy joy, and those that spread it.

I KNOW that it does no harm to believe in something better, more beautiful, and magical in our lives (Hippy Demigod or Santa Claus).

I KNOW, it does no harm to fill our eyes with wonder and joy in the midst of the darkest day of the year.

I KNOW, it does no harm to hope and anticipate.

I KNOW, it does no harm to walk into these short cold days with elation in our hearts.

And I KNOW this:

what a horrible, dark and sad world it must be for those that seek to take away such light; those who disbelieve and ridicule others who hold magic in their heart.

It does harm to take someone’s joy.

It does harm to smother the fire of giving and generosity.

It does harm when we seek to oppress the light of selflessness in a world so dark.

I KNOW this; each one of us chooses what we believe.

We choose what we fill our hearts with and in a world that can be so gloomy and wretched, why would you want to fill your heart with anything that would make it even more so?

I choose to believe.

I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in magic.

I believe that there is light in the darkest of times. And I believe that the joy that radiates from hearts that hope, and love, and give, is more real than any hot air getting blown around by a bunch of self-conscious, hormonal, dying-to-fit-in middle schoolers.

Now listen: I can’t decide for you what you believe, but neither can they.

So you choose.

Embrace the joy, be the magic, and light up the dark… or reject the lot of it and wipe the stardust from your eyes.

As for me and my heart; I choose joy.

I choose to believe.

REMEMBER! CHECK OUT THIS SITE AND DO SOME GOOD THIS HOLIDAY SEASON:

uspsoperationsanta.com

red and white ceramic santa claus figurine
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Reflections on Goal Setting

When I first took a class on goal planning for writers last year, the intention was to create an environment and a year where I carved out space for my writing as I would a career. Now, as we reach the end of another year (yeah, I hate to tell you, but its only a few hours away) I wanted to take the time to look back and let you know what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do better next time. Not so much a bragging post, this is more to offer you ideas of your own on how to pursue your writing career without feeling too overwhelmed.

Every great endeavor seems impossible while you’re standing at the base of it, wondering how best to begin. But journeys are not made in great leaps and bounds, they are made by singular footfalls, one in front of another. Maybe your goal is to finish your novel, memoir, poetry book, cookbook and have it ready for publication by December next year. That’s a huge leap when you’re staring at an empty page.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a planner when it comes to the creative process of my writing. I don’t outline in detail, I don’t diagram, and I sure as hell don’t employ computer programs to chart the course of my books…but–being the little virgo-seque, organizational lovin’ nerd I am, I do like a set plan for how I get from blank page to finished book.

So rather than try to eat this whole goal at once, try taking little bites. I realize it seems over simplified, but what what worked best for me was breaking down my goals by first naming the end result I wanted, then thinking about the benchmarks I needed to meet every three months to make it happen. Then I broke it down further, to what I needed to do every month to meet those benchmarks, and finally what I needed to do every week so that it was manageable within my life.

In example, I wanted to submit at least 55 pieces of work this year. That meant that every month I needed 4 to 5 submissions, or one + a week. It’s hard to think of 55 poems out for submission all at once. I don’t think I would have been able to feel capable. But one submission, every week was something I couldn’t find an excuse not to do.

I wanted to finish editng three novels and have them ready for publication. I didn’t try to cram them all into a month. I broke it down to 3-6 chapters a week, which gave me about four rounds of in-depth editing for each, including a Beta reading round.

Having defined goals in mind is essential, allowing yourself room to wiggle when life gets complicated (because life always does) is just as important. That’s why at every quarter, in my planner, I would write down a day to reassess. What was working? What wasn’t? What could I let go of? What was I ahead on? It helped me understand my work habits and held me accountable to myself more than just a post-it of ideas on the first of January.

When life got complicated, overwhelming, and sometimes down right depressing, I gave myself room to let go of what I no longer deemed as important (I didn’t read 100 books this year, but made it through about 15–plus 12 read-throughs of my own novels). I reprioritized the schedule so that the things most important to me (family) would have first dibs on my time and used what I had left to do my best.

Even while giving yourself grace, don’t give yourself the excuse to quit. I find, no matter what the task, if I’ve set a deadline on a particular project, I will almost always finish it on time or before. Having a date to work with helps boost the sense of urgency and makes you delete social media from your phone so you aren’t wasting even one minute that you could be writing/practicing/editing/researching/submitting.

So that’s pretty much it. Because I love you (of course I do!) here’s an easy bullet list reference:

  • Set defined, obtainable goals. Pick anywhere from 1-5, but don’t go crazy. You’re only human.
  • Break them down by quarter, month, week, even day if need be.
  • Schedule rewards for meeting your goals on these timelines.
  • Allow yourself room to drop/add/readjust if something isn’t working. The journey won’t go anywhere if you’re passed out on the side of the trail with exhaustion.
  • Set defined dates for benchmarks and completion of the steps toward your goal. In other words: Give yourself ‘Due Dates’.
  • Make sure you understand your “WHY”. Why are you doing this? What are you seeking? Is it fame? Closure? Justification? The “Why” is never wrong, and you will need to return to it when things get tough.
  • Set your goals and break down the schedule you’ll need a week to two before the start of the New Year. Nobody wants to wake up New Year’s Day and try to muddle through big plans. Start thinking about it now and give yourself time to figure out what’s obtainable and most desired.

Well, I’m done talking. I appreciate you giving this blog a look over and hopefully getting the gears turning about your goals for this new year ahead. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re planning to do (this is a good exercise in accountability–if you’ve told someone you’re gonna, its an extra source of drive when you don’t feel up to it.)

Happy Writing.

Poetry 12-09-2021

What Am I Made Of

The ghosts of hearts unfairly broken 
haunt me relentlessly
my own among their wreckage
and the ones still alive 
they kick down, through the floorboards of my brain
and reverberate
in the pit of my stomach

Ghosts of lovers
who loved me too much
those I rolled eyes at, 
and turned away from, 
to crawl for miles on bloodied knees
and claw at the departing feet
of those who did not love me enough.

Ghosts of the friends I picked apart
like the vulture's beak to carrion
and become angry when they
no longer fed me

Ghosts of friends who disappeared
into the ether of life
and forgot they were 
my solid ground

I think I'm made up of ghosts 
all vapor and energy
nothingness roaming
empty of touch
devoid of breath
but heavy,
oh so heavy
in soul.

Westbury Falls: Episode #5

Good morning! Welcome to December, I’m not sure what happened to this year, but I do know that after a month of NANOWRIMO, I’m taking this week off and I hope you are too. To soothe your tired brain, here’s the fifth installment of last year’s project for NANOWRIMO. The one where we meet Kitty– a ray of cherry-pink sunshine, who is also capable of burning those who slip away from propriety like a fire-obsessed toddler in a Stephen King novel. Oh–and there’s a little more Doctor. Get cozy, this is a long one. If you find yourself lost, please check out the earlier episodes of this strange little time-traveling jaunt. Enjoy!

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

“Oh Miss Darlingwood, you have caught me in the midst of my own wanderings, I’m afraid. My head has put strange and sudden thoughts into my being that I can’t always comprehend. The engagement…yes— “ Lilian stalled for a moment by twisting her hands together in what she hoped would look like a virginal nervousness. “It must have been very…nice.”

“Nice? Is that all? Oh please Lily, you do not mean to tell me that is all you can devise? You know I desire much more detail, every last whisper and turn of the leaf. Did he—” she leaned in close and looked around the deserted parlor. “Did he dare kiss you? Is that why you are remiss in telling me details that you not once have held back? Rest assured, Miss Byrne, I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

So much for being coy, Lil thought and tried not to smirk. How scandalous to have kissed a man who proposed to you! Lil rarely kissed anyone in her time. She was usually attracted to the dark, morose skater types, who’s plans included bringing down society by skipping class. Bad boys. Boys that didn’t hunt pheasants or drink scotch.

“I truly do not remember the proposal. I wish I had more romantic detail to give to you, I fear the fall has quite damaged my memory to the extent that even when the young Dr. Blackwell assured me, I had recently become engaged, I assured him that I had not.”

Miss Darlingwood took in a sharp breath and then released it in a whoosh of giggles. “Miss Byrne! I am both saddened at the tragic loss of such a memory and amused by your teasing of Dr. Blackwell by calling him ‘young’. He is quite the aged bachelor!”

“Ah yes, the ripe old age of seven and twenty,” she smirked. “Is not Mr. Sutton much older?” she asked. Miss Darlingwood nodded and looked around to the deserted room.

“Well, yes, but he is of means and acquired those means through several years of investments overseas. ‘Young’ Dr. Blackwell—“she giggled at repeating the name, “appears to be fallen from his father’s graces by practicing medicine in rural bumpkin-filled hovels in the south of England. He is much disgraced and would be most shockingly lucky to find himself a willing bride, unbothered by his recent escapades.”

“Escapades?” That sounded juicy and now it was Lillian who leaned forward. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean that he is treating the poor with so much regularity that he has become quite poor himself and has quiet assuredly upset his father’s plans to be the successor of the family’s highly respected hospital and board position in Bath! While we are all very grateful for his continued attention to your care, we were in part shocked that the good Colonel would allow him such access with his reputation.” She responded as if this were all very new information, and shockingly so. “With all his work in the poor houses, one wonders if he could really call himself by the title of “Doctor” at all. He makes barely more than even his stipend and does not seem bothered to live below his means.”

“He administers to the poor? But isn’t that noble and kind?” the last words drifted off softly between her lips and Lillian’s blush returned. Miss Darlingwood watched her face with curiosity before her eyes lit with mischief.

“Nobility and kindness do not mix, dearest Lily. He should have joined the clergy if he was so inclined, at least there is some honor in that. But in treating boils for trades of eggs and shelter in barns does not make for good husband material!” Lillian sat back and frowned. She needed to stay focused and try to learn what she could about her supposed fiancé so she could play along until a solution to take her back home was found.

“We must think up a good story—” Kitty began, “forgotten or not, when your engagement party comes to pass you must have something to tell the circle of women who will no doubt be dying to know how you captured the attention of such a man.”

Lillian felt sick to her stomach. She didn’t want to capture the interest of any man, she just wanted to go home. Kitty went on despite the quiet contemplation of Lillian.

“So, my suggestion is this…He proposed beneath the large willow tree on the edge of his favorite grouse field, rifle in hand and the mist making him all the more impressive of a man. You hesitated, as all good and proper young women do when faced with such a delicate and intimate decision and he snuck a kiss in to persuade—”

“He did not kiss me!” Lillian said it so loudly and adamantly that it startled them both. “Forgive me, I mean to say, I think such an occurrence would not have been lost to any fall or injury to the head.”

“Well, it sounds much more exciting than ‘it was very nice’,” Kitty argued. Lillian sighed.

“I do not wish to lie to you Kitty about the proposal. I simply do not remember it ever taking place. Are we quite sure he actually asked me?” In all of her mother’s study and the journals she’d read, never had her ancestor ever mentioned getting married to Mr. Sutton. She had disappeared before that time and shortly after was found, drown on the banks of Avon.

“Perhaps it is something we can get him to recall when he visits you again.”

“Again? I have never seen him here at Westbury Manor.” Lillian said distractedly and rubbed at the tight and perfect stitches, placed so carefully by such skilled fingers. Miss Darlingwood looked at her.

“You mean to say your fiancé has not come to see you in your time of need? Not in over a week?”

“Well, no—” Lillian’s eyes and hands fell to her lap. Strange, if a man was engaged to a woman, advantageously or otherwise, would he not come to see her post haste in the event of her injury? Perhaps they did not have that kind of arrangement. Maybe she was more of a convenience.

“He is otherwise occupied,” came the sudden and deep voice from the hall causing both women to turn. Miss Darlingwood rose immediately and bowed to Dr. Blackwell and she looked down at Lillian in horror as she stayed seated and glaring. Kitty nudged Lillian with her knee to remind her. Lillian made an annoyed sound and rolled her eyes at the ritual of rise and curtsy as was used in the era. She moved to stand but he stopped her.

“You needn’t rise, Miss Byrne, if you are feeling faint.” She scowled at him.

“I assure you I am quite fine.”  She stood and bowed but did not lower her eyes. Matthew’s eyes narrowed on hers and the heat seemed to rise in the room. Miss Darlingwood came around the settee to again bow and offer her hand. He did as was custom but as his lips touched Kitty’s hand, his eyes lit on Lillian for a brief moment.

“I have been occupied trying my very best to help Miss Byrne recall the details of her engagement to your cousin, Mr. Blackwell. “

“Doctor,” Lillian croaked in correction.

Doctor Blackwell,” Kitty corrected with a slight scrunch of her nose towards Lillian.

“You needn’t worry with titles, Miss Darlingwood. It is not necessa—” Lillian interrupted.

“It is absolutely necessary! Yours is a title that has been earned through hours of meticulous work, that you’ve accomplished on your own merit. It was not simply given.” Her voice quieted as he stared at her through the speech with a strange look on his face. She blushed at the overflow of startled affection that she’d felt for him after Kitty had unwittingly bestowed in her gossip of his supposed failings towards his family. She knew what it was to fall short in the eyes of those who should love you the most.

“Miss Byrne I—” his blue eyes fell and he clasped his hands behind his back.

“I would not have survived, if it hadn’t been for your calm and assured manner and skill. I have not thanked you nearly enough, and I hope you will not think me remiss or ungrateful. I am so—“she stopped speaking and stumbled, breathless and enchanting, around the settee to stand before him.

“So?” Kitty asked in a hushed voice as she stepped aside and watched the strange interplay between doctor and patient, unmarried and betrothed.

“So very grateful.” Lillian finished and bowed before him. Matthew’s eyes fell to the beautiful coils of raven hair, hiding the neat stitches, to the heaving and full bosom, held in the gray brocade material of her dress. When she looked up, the lavender eyes were stormy and gray.

He ached to pull her up from her submissive position. To have her complain about her stitches, or how rudely he had handled her, or how improper he’d been. Instead her behavior melted away the idea of guilt and replaced it with genuine need, hard and fast in his body and heart. Kitty cleared her throat.

“Doctor Blackwell, as Mr. Sutton is your cousin, perhaps you would like to remind Miss Byrne of the utmost happiest occasion of her life.” Miss Darlingwood said pointedly. Lillian rose and blushed and stepped away.

“I’m sure she’ll remember on her own in time.” He countered, not wanting to think on the matter.

“You might hasten her happiness by telling her now,” Kitty said in a strange smile that seemed almost menacing. Lillian studied her. Kitty was trying to keep the status quo. People in this era were much more astute at reading body language and probably could feel the uncomfortable play of emotion and physical response between Dr. Blackwell and herself. No wonder Matthew looked so angry and uncomfortable around her. She was upsetting his world.  

“Forgive me,” she said softly. “I do not recall the event.”

Dr. Blackwell cleared his throat and paced to the fireplace.

“You must keep in mind that men do not remember events the same as ladies do and we are prone to not fetter over the idealic details of how many flower petals fell on his shoulder or which type of finch sang above you or from which direction the spring breezes blew.”

Kitty giggled. “Oh Dr. Blackwell, you tease us so!” Lillian did not giggle. She did not want him to continue. She did not want to know how she came to be engaged to a stranger. Not even a truncated version.

“He did not kiss you, as I had overheard, forgive me, earlier from the hall. That is not to say he did not want to, for I know not the desires of his heart.” Matthew paused his story and looked back from the fireplace only briefly to gauge Lillian’s reaction and to contain the ideas in his own mind of kissing her. “He only asked with his usual, forthright manner…I imagine much as he would if asking to use someone’s grounds for hunting.” He said the last bit under his breath and with a roll of his eyes at his cousin’s unromantic nature. “If it helps you to imagine, I suppose he held his hands to his back and rocked on his heels in a proper amount of embarrassment and concern for your answer.”

“Perhaps he held them away so that he wouldn’t be tempted to sway you otherwise!” Kitty giggled and covered her mouth to stifle the sound as she looked back at Lillian, who blanched, somehow containing herself with pursed lips. She leaned against the sideboard, along the farthest wall from Dr. Blackwell.

“Perhaps,” Matthew said with a smile and turned away before she could read his face. “But, as I’ve known my cousin since I was three and he six, he rarely crosses the boundaries of propriety for the sake of affection.”

“Rightly so, he is a decent and excellent character we can be assured! You see dear Lily?” Kitty said and came to her and took Lil’s cold fingers in her hand. “You’ve nothing to worry about, Mr. Sutton is a proper and sound man.”

“Stoic, unaffectionate, proper…decent—fantastic. What more could a girl hope for in a life partner?” she said lowly to herself and the air around her grew heavy. She felt stifled. She took her hand from Kitty’s and lifted her skirts before bowing.

“If you would please excuse me, Dr. Blackwell, Miss Darlingwood, I think I should like to take some fresh air.” She darted from the room, making a rushed getaway that surprised both Dr. Blackwell and Miss Darlingwood.

“But isn’t it raining dreadfully?” Kitty squeaked behind her. Matthew watched her run out and down the hall before dashing to the left and down the staircase. Her slippered feet made soft and even taps on the tiles of the stairs.

“What if she falls?” Matthew said and moved to follow her but Miss Darlingwood stepped coyly between him and the door.

“I assure you good sir, she shall be safe on the grounds. Perhaps we shall leave her space with which to think. After all, it is nearly her engagement party in three weeks’ time and she may need the solitary moments alone to ruminate over the lovely details.”

Matthew looked down at Miss Darlingwood, petite and in pink cotton that illuminated the flush of both cheeks and breasts. He looked away quickly as she stared up at him through her blond eyelashes with a smile. He knew very well that she was a beautiful woman, one that had no shortage of suitors due in part to her soft and sweet countenance and part due to her father’s good fortune. He also knew that she had captured the heart of Lillian’s brother Fitzwilliam, but had no intention of marrying a boy of so little means even though he stood to inherit Westbury upon the passing of his childless Aunt and Uncle.

“I would love to hear some of your travels to the south. I hear it can be quite barbaric over the border.”

Matthew cringed and his lip drew back in disgust. Such was the prevailing attitudes of the times. When in all reality, he saw very little difference between the two peoples. Though he had observed that the Welsh were exceedingly proud of their hard-work ethic and rugged (in the eyes of the British Empire) existence. Certainly, a woman of Miss Darlingwood’s upbringing and constitution would not be able to survive such a “primitive” lifestyle. A woman would have to be adventurous, physically able bodied, and stubborn. Matthew looked out to the empty hallway.

“Perhaps some other time. I am running quite late for meeting with my father and should not dawdle further.” He politely bowed before rushing from the room.

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following me through the month of November, this marks the final installment of surviving NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve been flowing with a life-stages theme, and had intended to title this week “Retirement” but the thing with NANO is that only some of us will spend the last week resting and reaping the rewards of a month packed with hours of dedication to your project. A lot of us will find this final week to be the last, desperate attempt to finish.

So this brief post is for those who are struggling through the last four to five days to make up those words, or at least push to do what they can.

I hope, more than anything, and even above the lofty goal of 50,000 words, that you are still trying. That you haven’t given up. That you have built a habit of writing so that you don’t feel complete in your day unless you’ve spent at least some time on your work.

Because, that’s the whole point. This month is more about teaching us to prioritize our lives to include our writing first (or at least at the top of the to-do list) and to know that we CAN accomplish great things when we give it the time and love it needs. It’s more about building the habit of writing than it is about reaching the specific goal.

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle won’t be worth the outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. The end result is not all we are working for. Its the journey in getting there.

When we challenge ourselves, the bigger reward lies in the struggle. New ventures, hard and thankless work, and lofty goals teach us how to plan, how to plot, how to push ahead when we simply don’t feel like it or when others around us question or scoff at the ideas before us. Challenges shine a light on how amazing and resilient we are so that, no matter the outcome, we learn what we are capable of. And once we know what we are capable of, the bonds of doubt weaken and we begin to believe that if we can write a novel in a month, we can edit it, publish it, write another, and another, and another. And if we can write a book we can take a class, or teach a class. We can climb a mountain, we can travel across the world. We can do anything we set our minds to.

We can.

You can.

You’ve only got a few days left in this month and I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN do anything you’ve set out to do. You are amazing. You are imperfectly perfect and there’s no one in the world who can finish this month the way you will.

Deep breath, writer. Don’t let the home stretch scare you. Let the struggle instead be your gift and one which you are grateful to work through. You can. You will.

NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum, (say that one a few times fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

With only days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s. All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing, but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

Wilderness of Soul: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2020-2021 IS HERE!!!

Great day in the morning, it’s finally time! This year’s poetry anthology “Wilderness of Soul” is now available for purchase here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09L3281ZN?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

In addition, if you are looking for a copy signed by me, you can contact me via the blog with your information. A small launch party with a few of the poets in the area will take place later this month at William Oliver’s Publick House. Bring a copy your book to have it signed by some of the authors (limited copies will be for sale at the event), enjoy a few readings, and celebrate with us. More news on that to come as details are finalized.

A percentage of the proceeds from “Wilderness of Soul” will be donated to SummitStone Health Partners, a local organization that provides help for mental health and addiction disorders. You can find out more about them here: https://www.summitstonehealth.org/

Please think about buying a copy not only as a gift to yourself and others but as a way to support the arts, poets, and the dream of sharing the common human experience. If you do get a copy, know that even a short review will help every writer in the book be recognized for their work. A few sentences and a few clicks make all the difference. Thanks in advance and Enjoy!

Westbury Falls: Episode #4

Hello! I realize it’s that scary time of year and I could produce a terrifying post to do the holiday justice. Then I thought, what’s scarier than being sent back in time to a place where you can’t wear pants, all of your rights have been stripped away, and your set to marry a murderous psychopath? Not much. Welcome to episode #4 of Westbury Falls.

Photo by Matthew Badsey on Pexels.com

Lillian paced, her legs confounded by the narrow skirt and ridiculous undergarments that seemed to dissuade too much movement and thereby kept the fairer sex, fair. What she’d give for a pair of pants! Or a hot shower. Or an Advil. The bath she’d gotten from Miriam was an influx of boiling water that cooled far too quickly in the drafty room, in a copper tub where the maid scrubbed her down without the gentleness she had grown accustomed to with her brother and the sad, blue-eyed doctor. A shower would have been much preferred.

If she wanted to see or have any of the modern amenities that she desperately craved, she needed to concentrate and ignore the propriety that had been forced upon her both in garments and in expectations.

“Think Lil,” she said and nibbled at her thumb nail. There were only three possible explanations.

One, that she had indeed hit her head and was in her own time, unconscious and in a coma and this was just the wild dream she was stuck in. Yet her body felt pain, touch, annoyance… things too real to be simply a figment. If it were this first option, she could simply play it out until her brain was healed enough to get itself out of this maze.

Two, that she had hit her head, harder than she realized, and was, in fact, dead.

“Which makes this what? Heaven?” she snorked and looked down at the cinched waist and scratchy undercoats of her dress. “Not likely! Purgatory, at best.” In that case, she couldn’t very well do anything about it. Being dead meant she’d never be able to see her family again. But if she were dead, why could she feel so clearly? Why could she move from place to place? Why hadn’t someone or something come to explain the rules? Did heaven have rules? What would that make Matthew Blackwell then? Some fallen angel? An agent of the dark but still beautiful? Lil sighed. This wasn’t some fantasy, tween action series. She already checked most of the nooks and crannies of the place for cameras, in the case of it being an epic prank. She hadn’t even found outlets; no electrical switches. Only candles and lamps. And the fireplace in her room that cast such a beautiful glow over Matthew’s long straight nose and high cheek bones.

“Focus Lil, he’s the least of our worries.”

If it was not a coma, and she was not dead—what were the chances she’d stumbled across some sort of anomaly in the universe?

“Three, I fell down a magical staircase and ended up in a different time.”

She stopped in front of the windows in the parlor and her heart rate steadily climbed. The pulsing in her body amplified in the wounded temple and ribs, bringing about another horrendous head ache. The other options fell away from her rational brain as she faltered and sagged against a settee. Was such a thing even possible? Her mother had always been a sucker for a good fairy tale, and often made them make wishes in faerie rings as children and believe in the strange energies of places like Stonehenge and Newgrange, even though science would have greatly disagreed with such nonsense. Yet, here she was in the 1800’s somehow and no rational explanation could be found.

It was clear, be it dream or a hole in the space time continuum, she was Lillian Byrne, her ancestorial aunt. The one who had drowned, shortly after being married. She was yet to be married, as the good doctor repeatedly reminded her of her betrothal.

Maybe she had to solve this mystery…the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance soon after the date of her wedding and subsequent discovery of her body in the lake, ruled a horrible accident due, in part, the journal entries of her brother had said, for her love of nature and of daily walking.

Maybe her brain really needed to know the answer and was simply conjuring up the story as a means to keep itself busy while the coma ran its course. She knew now that she was, or thought she was, her own great-several-times-over aunt, Lillian Louisa Byrne.

The time period, place, and characters were all the same from the family journals her mother had poured over for years. She never recalled hearing about the good doctor. But perhaps he wasn’t part of the story so much as an extra playing piece her libido had conjured up. Lillian blushed with the idea that if she created him, she could do whatever she liked with and to him. The temperature in the room rose and she cleared her throat.

“My! What wandering thoughts have possessed your injured mind, I wonder?” came the cherry-pink voice of Kitty Darlingwood from the doorway. “I’ve rarely seen such a blush but for the roses in spring, dew kissed and new.” She giggled and came to sit beside Lillian tiny hands clasped demurely in her lap. Lillian had only met her once, in her room after she had first gotten dressed and was called upon.

She supposed in her life Kitty was what her mom would call a bosom buddy. The best of friends. Lillian plastered on her best smile and tried to conjure up some warmth for the stranger. In Lil’s time, she didn’t have many friends. She worked in soup kitchens and low-income restaurants in her neighborhood in Payton Indiana, while her mom, a stock broker, kept the family fed and clothed on her own. She didn’t have leisure time for friends. She didn’t get along with many of the girls in her class. Even at the end of her senior year, she was practically alone.

“Tell me,” Kitty whispered conspiratorially and her blond corkscrew curls seemed to vibrate in anticipation. “Are you reliving the moment of your engagement to Mr. Sutton. I’ve never heard told the story. It must have been quite romantic!” she twittered like a school girl.

Are you fucking kidding me, right now? was the phrase on Lil’s mind but she dare not speak in such a manner or they might bundle her up and send her to a looney bin for profanity. She gently smiled at the younger, spritely charge. What had her ‘brother’ said? Fredrick Sutton was a good man. A strong a sturdy gentleman of 40 who enjoyed parlor games and pheasant hunting. Good judge of scotch and not yet interested in marriage. What kind of proposal would such a man make that could be spun into a believable tale? Lillian sighed.

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Good skill, Writer.

Writing to Frighten: The Art of Suspense and Tension

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Good morning, writer. As we approach Samhain and the dark, twisty corners of the season I thought it would be a great time to bring up suspense in your writing. I’m not a horror writer and I’m not going to pretend to be just to fit in to the theme of the month but I do believe that being able to create suspense in any genre is key to keeping your readers engaged and turning the pages.

Suspense can help build emotion in your reader up to your critical moments of change (the top of your acts–the big doors–crisis of faith moments—etc.) And that helps them become more invested in your character and the outcome of the scene. Because it’s been awhile, I’m going to give you a good-ol’ bullet list. Everybody likes a bullet list. Here are some top tips to factor in while working the element of suspense into your novel/Work-In-Progress. Keep in mind, these are general so they can be applied to most genres, but within each tip, there are a hundred different directions you can go–from the benign to the macabre.

  • Tap Into Universal Fears: We all have some pretty basic fears that drive us. They are usually based in survival. Fear of death, loss of child/loved one, fear of physical pain, starvation, exposure–anything that can take away the basic needs for survival. Fear of the unknown–can mean anything from not knowing what’s making that bumping noise in the closet, to not have existential knowledge of where you’ll end up after death. Fear of emotional pain, fear of social stigma. We’re scared little apes, so there’s an endless well to tap into here.
  • Create the Right Atmosphere: Depending on your genre and the style you like to write in, you could use your scenes to strike psychological terror (inner thoughts, rampant and illogical emotions, mind-games, gaslighting, etc) physical/gross terror (think limbs stripped of their muscle fibers, blood spurting, eyeballs popped out, or any other gory, pain-inducing action), or subtle/unseen terror (the ever present feeling of dread–small sounds getting closer, lights flickering down long hallways, those two notes on the piano when Jaws was nearby)
  • Make The Stakes High: It’s not going to ruffle your readers feathers if your character meets the friendly neighborhood cat at night if they love cats and brought yum-yums to share. Make it ten mange-riddled cats with broken, sharp teeth, stalking down a feline-hater, from all directions on a deserted city street and then you have a show. Losing a job sucks–but make it the job with the benefits that her sick daughter needs the insurance for, and its a different game (let us pause for a moment when discussing terror and how the American medical system has actually become something that induces terror…think about that for a moment)
  • Consider Your Point of View: There isn’t a wrong POV for horror, it just depends on how you want the reader to feel. Are you aiming to put them in a shed with the axe murderer outside, holding their dying cell phone? (FIRST PERSON)Or are you sitting beside them in the shed with eyes on how close the bloodied axe is to the door, yelling out in the middle of the library “Make the call, you idiot!!! He’s coming for you!!” (THIRD PERSON)
  • Don’t Forget the Character: Listen, it all comes down to the basics, if the reader isn’t invested in your character, they aren’t going to feel the empathy needed to induce terror no matter what horrifying situation you put them into. Make your character someone worth following into the dark and twisted. If your character is the dark and twisted, give it/them the solid justification that makes the reader question who the bad guy really is.

OK! Well, that’s all you get today. Good luck out there creating some suspense. Use it as you need to in your own work and if you feel the Hallow’s Eve vibe, try your hand at a little horror. I always encourage dabbling outside your genre to help make your work stronger.

Happy Writing!

Westbury Falls: Episode #3

Good morning! Here’s the next installment for your reading pleasure. If you feel a little lost, please see the links to the first two episodes here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/08/26/a-little-excerpt-westbury-falls/ and here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/?s=westbury+falls

Enjoy a little head-hop into the good doctor’s thoughts on his difficult patient, and have a brilliant day!

Photo by Connor Danylenko on Pexels.com

Matthew paced in thoughtful contemplation in front of the parlor windows, pausing to gently touch the top of the piano forte. His cousin had spoken of her beauty. Matthew snorted and turned to pace the opposite way. Beautiful was not nearly a sufficient nor apt description. Lillian Byrne was a statuesque angel, though muddled in her manners and strange in her speech. He could hardly blame her after the fall she’d taken. Her mind was still trying to sort itself out after the contusion.

His cousin, his bumbling dolt of a cousin…far too old to rightly marry such an innocent young lady, had not warned him well enough. He stopped again at the instrument. Frederick Blackwell Sutton had said Lillian was also an accomplished pianist, that her long and delicate fingers were like graceful swallows, deft and quick. They had indeed been long and entrancing, holding so strongly to his shoulder and chest. Stronger than he’d thought a woman could be.

Then again, Lillian Byrne was a lot of things he didn’t think a woman could be. Definitely a few things she shouldn’t be. He thought of her direct and improper English, the way she’d come in and out of consciousness all morning, the strange things she’d called for, asked for. What was Advil? Morphine? Could that be the opium derivative he’d heard whispered about in the medical wings of Oxford?

He knew that the effects could be quite addictive and that he had a dear second cousin nearly ruined by its affects. Where he could have asked his father for a dosing to assuage her pain, he thought better of it. She was well enough to argue and to stand, what she needed most was time. He’d seen patients come out of such contusions and not be affected too greatly. Perhaps that was what was responsible for her impropriety? As she healed, he hoped that she would remember her station, her manners, and that she was indeed, his cousin’s fiancé. For if she were a single young lady… the line of suitors, himself included, would be a bane to endure.

He flushed beneath his high collar and stopped to adjust it, wishing he was on call in the country as he had been all week, in the east of England and southern Wales, interning with the poor, much against his father’s wishes. There he could loosen the buttons of his collar. There he could be more himself, practice medicine and have the community respect and revere him instead of always living in the cold shadow of his father’s profound reputation.

There, in the rural hamlets, where he stayed in sublimely unfettered accommodations and even at times, cozy and warm barns, his smile was easy and he breathed freer out from under the tight thumb of his father and the expectations of his station. He’d been set upon by several of the young farm girls and had enjoyed their attentions but would never consider besmirching their innocence, nor would he ruin his own reputation with ill behavior towards the fairer sex. Some of them clearly made it much harder to accomplish such feat of will. He touched his lips without thinking of anything but the gentle pads of Lillian’s cool fingers on his skin. A sparrow dived outside in the garden and broke the spell.

When he’d been riding past the Byrne estate, a parcel of land just down the road from his cousin’s and on his way home from nearly a year away, he’d seen a flurry of activity at the gate and the housemaid calling in severe tones to the old butler, nearly shambling off his horse as he was in such a hurried frenzy to seek help.

Was it serendipitous to cross paths with Miss Byrne in her time of medical need? Or was it just a test of his will power, he thought with a sigh as he replayed every aching moment of carrying her to the bed, inspecting and cleaning the deep gash as well as the bruising along her ivory perfect skin. He had kept the maids within the room as each part in turn was inspected, and kept his cool aloofness even as his heart hammered at the sight of her slender ankles, long legs bruised but not broken, and scraped and scuffed arms and shoulders. The maids had shooed him out as they inspected her more…delicate areas and declared that, besides a few bruised ribs, everything was ‘as it should be’.

He’d been entirely over careful as he’d draped her to inspect the ribs which had been struck rather hard. He remembered the slightness of them as he ran his thumbs over each in turn with great care. She’d moaned and shifted away and he declared two of the ribs indeed broken. Together he and the staff carefully wrapped her tightly in order to immobilize the area. The bleeding on her forehead, from a cut that stretched into the hairline of her raven tresses, was staunched as he carefully washed and stitched the delicate skin together.

She had affected him without words and in ways he wasn’t prepared to deal with, and that was before she’d even opened those lovely violet eyes. He’d never seen such a shade of soft and heather blue. Never seen such a wide and full mouth on a woman. Never a delicate and pert nose. The small beauty spot below the corner of her right eye, long and thick black lashes that fluttered down over her cheeks as she fell in and out of fevered sleep. First, he had placed his fingers alongside her beautifully long and graceful neck to find the flutter of pulse until the maid had cleared her throat from the improper touch. In the country, he could use the most efficient and accurate means necessary and was not questioned. Perhaps it was the way he’d inadvertently graced his fingers over her statuesque collarbones or the pleased gasp she’d let out at his touch.

To the Almighty above, he was nothing more than a cad! He surely would burn in eternal damnation for the thoughts and desires that had plagued him since first laying hands and eyes on Lillian Byrne. He leaned against the windowsill and stared out at the modest grounds. He must do his best to remember that his cousin’s fiancé was not a woman. She was a patient.

And an angel fallen from the heavens. Or at least from the second-floor landing.

The sooner he could visit his father, acquire his blessing to move to the Southern peninsula of Wales to begin his own practice, the better for him. Perhaps he would find a quiet and humble wife whose eyes weren’t the dusky hue of starry nights, one that knew her place and appreciated the strength of a man to compliment her softness. Matthew’s brow gathered in a scowl. Such a woman may have suited him an afternoon ago. Now… he thought and stared up to the ceiling where she lay resting three floors above, now he wasn’t sure any woman would affect him the same way again.

On Challenging Ourselves: National Novel Writing Month and Why It Matters

Good morning readers and writers. I’ve collaborated with the amazing folks at Masticadores to bring you a short series on what we affectionately call NaNoWriMo here in the States. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide, month-long challenge to help writers of all ages, genres, and abilities finish the first draft of novel (50,000 words) in one month (30 days).

Looking at those numbers, especially as a beginning writer, feels daunting, I know. But, having participated for 8 years, including 6 novels published (and soon to be published) I can tell you; it is possible.

Now listen, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve got a household, and pets, a garden, and other writerly obligations to fulfill, so I understand the idea of committing to this kind of word count can feel impossible. In this intro, I’ll break down the basics, and by the end I hope you’ll look at this challenge as something you can’t wait to start.

Breaking it down:

  1. If you want to get all math-y, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1667 words a day and you don’t have to write them consecutively. 330 in the morning, 560 on a lunch break, 780 in the evening, and you’re there. OR, 5000 over the weekend and smatterings throughout the week as you have time. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IS TO KEEP WRITING. One of the purposes of this challenge is to make you realize how much available time you actually do have to write, when you make it a priority.
  • This isn’t about the final product, i.e. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME EDITING! One of the major killers of first drafts and time is self-editing. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, don’t worry if it’s down-right shit, just put the words on paper. Editing will come later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, write first…save the editing for December.
  • Use the resources at the website: National Novel Writing Month. You can set up your own dashboard, upload ideas, picture boards, short excerpts, possible titles and even inspirational playlists for each project. On the website you’ll find links to local events, helpful tips and blogs, ways to connect with other writers (buddies!), all kinds of support and help, and badges to keep you inspired along the way. ALSO: you can log your words per day and check on your progress (honestly one of the best tools for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited to blow the curve, you know what I mean?)
  • If you don’t make the 50,000 words, there isn’t some Squid-Games pit that will open up and swallow you whole, but you will have made progress and learned a bit about your writing habits. If you do succeed in that word-count, you’ll receive free goodies to help in the next steps of editing, cover design, and self-publishing if you choose that route.
  • If you aren’t a novelist, don’t count this challenge out. At your author page/dashboard, you can select if you want to participate in the traditional challenge (50,000 words in 30 days) OR create a challenge of your own. It can be a collection of short stories or poetry. I’ve had friends and collogues use the challenge to get through final edits of their current novels or for drafting a complex series. The point is that you use the 30 days to build a habit of putting your writing first.
  • Lastly, as this blog is coming out in October, you will have plenty of time to prepare, especially if you’re a plotter/mapper. The weeks leading up to November 1st are a great time to outline your novel, create character boards, and get excited about telling your story.

For every week in November, I’ll be running one short blog (Wednesday or Saturday?) on this website to offer you inspiration for the week ahead. If you like the challenge, please support the cause by donating or picking up some sweet swag on their website. NaNoWriMo offers support and programs free for young writers to grow their skills, and for those disadvantaged or formally overlooked writers whose voices deserve to be heard.

I hope you’ll sign up. I hope you’ll find the time to invest in your book and yourself. I’m always open to any questions or thoughts on the matter, so hit me up at my website www.thebeautifulstuf.blog, through the contact page.

Thanks, and Happy Writing!

In the Dark and Light

So, last week, I hit a rough patch, and I appreciate all of the kind comments and voices of concern that were raised for my well being and in defense of the human. I wanted to take a moment, before I launch into today’s poetry (brought to you by the amazing NCW Writing Retreat I was able to attend) to reach out and say a few words.

I know all humans aren’t assholes. I also know it’s our job (each human) to try and do our best not to be assholes. To not raise assholes. To forgive those who are being assholes. I know these things. But just like holding a weight constantly can fatigue a muscle and cause injury, holding on to this dark while trying to be light can be draining, so it behooves us all to drop the weight once in a while and call out the asshole-ness when we see it. After all, our job as humans is to try to make it a better world and that sometimes means calling on others to do better by one another.

And now: Poetry:

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Breakdown
When we break apart
to find the core of iron-will within
or the soft underbelly of a soul
too long denied air
Then we will understand the
driving nature of our force
Lies not in what covers us
but what centers us

When we give in to the churning
burn of a life outside our control
the masticating masses of teeth bared 
in anger and fear
Then we will understand that
we only control the product 
of our own mind
And we are the owners of
sanctuaries or hells
within our own creation

When we let go
of the idea that its our job
to dictate the perfections of others
to drive their engines
to direct the film of their lives
and focus instead on 
what beauty we can leave behind
Then we will find the only
fragile, and faltering peace
a human can own.

Humans are Assholes

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Yep. That’s where I’m going today. I know this blog is primarily about writing, but it’s also a blog about living. And in the course of living this past week I’ve come to the ultimate conclusion that humans, by and large, are assholes. You can argue the point. I admit there are some good ones out there…but as our society ‘progresses’ I swear I’m witnessing an overturn of kindness and compassion into a collective settling of “me-first” assholeness.

From people honking behind you if you pause too long at an intersection, to those that sprain your wrist in karate class because you threatened their fragile ego. To those judgmental mothers who raise judgmental daughters who body shame other girls, in the same nasty way it has always been since long before I was born, because we’re so caught up in tearing each other down that we don’t realize how much powerful we’d be if we built each other up.

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To those spewing venom on the internet, raging in hateful and hurtful ways without stopping to listen to their own disgusting thought-vomit long enough to ask if it’s truthful. To the creators of those social media worlds that know the beast they’ve created is addictive and harmful, a veritable cesspool of useless and divisive vitriol that has been proven to be suicide-inducing, yet charge ahead anyway because the pay is sweet and the power sweeter.

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To the world that’s declining around us, fires and drought, floods and monsoons, dead coral reefs and decimated animal populations, the earth itself dying a little more every day, racing headlong into environmental destruction.

To the countries that slaughter and enslave women. To our own that treats women as if they were only good for being incubators and objects of desire (really only a step up from the aforementioned countries).

To the drug epidemic, our addiction to technology, poverty, wars we shouldn’t fight, battles we can’t win, politicians (career assholes) who care more about being reelected than they do about what they accomplish towards the common good…

Man, with this slew of examples, what subset of assholery does one even pick to write about? Humans have so many veins of douchery to tap into, I just don’t think I can choose one. All of this has settled like heavy sediment inside my skull and I have little room to breathe in any creativity. I have little room to breathe at all. It’s no wonder people purposefully walk away from it all, permanently or otherwise.

Who wants to live with a bunch of assholes?

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Westbury Falls (Episode 2)

What’s a blogger to do when she’s in the throes of final edits, soon-to-be-publications, and running out of guest posts? She throws you another section of fluff from her weird-ass time-traveling/faerie-mischief/Austen-esque novel. You’re–welcome?

Here’s the first installment, iff you need to catch up: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/08/26/a-little-excerpt-westbury-falls/)

And now: Part Deux (edited for length)

Westbury Falls (continued)

Lily was playing a game with herself; a game wherein every time she opened her eyes, she made rationalized odds as to whether or not she’d wake up in her own bed, or at the very least, a hospital, and that the good Dr. Blackwell would retreat back into her subconsciousness’ fantasyland.

This time, she thought, it’s gotta be at least sixty-percent. Her eyes, would flutter open to a blurry vision of a room. She knew that the head trauma must have been real as it was the only consistent thing she could feel when she awoke. When the fog cleared and she was again staring at the red velvet curtains of the ostentatious bed, or the worried and rounded face of one of the older women who had found her, she would close her eyes, and try again.

Occasionally she would wake to the deep blue eyes of the doctor (if that was in fact what he was) and she would stare into them, convinced reality couldn’t create such a stunning man. He would smile, sometimes. Looked concerned others. Brush her hair from her face, murmur that she was all right, and not to fret. Lily closed her eyes, fall back asleep, and tumbled into dreams. Dreams plagued with the vast swirling dark, with the sound of a voice somewhere in the shadows calling her. Sometimes it sounded like her mother, sometimes it sounded like her own voice echoing back. Sometimes it whispered the word Lily, and Angel, and Darling.

The most shocking moment came when she woke to the sight of the concerned face of her brother. Though still blurry, she thought for sure that this was the moment that she’d finally woken up in her own time.

“Will, thank God,” she whispered and moved to sit up. But as her vision sharpened, his face was changed. As though it was her brother with strange differences. A freckle on his cheek that hadn’t been there before. A slightly narrower nose, not like their father’s. Dark hair, like hers.

“Lillian my dear. Thank goodness, I’ve been terribly worried! You haven’t called me by such a pet name in years since we were but babes at our mother’s skirts,” the man said and solidified in Lillian’s mind that this was not her brother. Will wouldn’t worry about her. He rarely worried about anything. If he did find some ounce of concern for her well-being, he certainly would not admit to it. Her Will would have been shaking his head and laughing at how stupid she’d been. Calling her names. Name.

“Of course you’re Will,” she said, befuddled and grasping at her bandaged head. Suddenly, warm fingers were there, capturing her wrist and reading her pulse, She looked to see the fair doctor, keeping his eyes demurely turned away and studying her stats with a detached and professional manner. He cleared his throat.

“It is common for people who have sustained severe trauma to the head to revert back to childlike tendencies,” he said calmly to Will who nodded in understanding.

“I am not reverting! That’s Will! My brother—at least, at least I think it is—” she laid down once more.

“Fitzwilliam,” Will reminded her and for a stark moment Lillian was jostled awake by the name.

“Fitzwilliam,” she said softly. Her brain sorted out the card in a deck of a thousand and remembered the diaries and family journals her mother had carried in acid free packaging all the way from America. The diaries of Fitzwilliam Darcy Byrne and his wife. The truncated one from his sister Lillian (for whom she was named) that only accounted up until her untimely death from a drowning accident.

They’d spend most of a month traveling across the country in search of their ancestral story. And Fitzwilliam held a key role in all of it. It was his diaries that gave the most detailed accounts of their family history. How their mother had passed away, and they had moved to live with their aunt and uncle, Colonel Mayfield at Westbury Manor. How his beloved sister had drowned shortly after being married to—the names and stories blurred in her tired head and she wavered.

Lillian groaned and put a hand to her forehead. The possibility that seemed lost in all the fog, made her feel sick to her stomach. It simply couldn’t be true.

“Lillian, dear, what is it, how can we help?” Fitzwilliam said desperately and took her cold hand in his. Lillian peered out with one eye at him. Nope, not her brother. But if the drawings and paintings she’d seen could be believed, he was Lillian Louisa Byrne’s. This couldn’t be real; what kind of sick head game had the injury brought upon her?

“May I—“? She began but lost her breath.

“Yes, anything, Miss Byrne,” The doctor said from her other side.

“May I please—” she stopped to word it correctly. “Trouble you for a looking glass so that I may see the extent of the damage?”

“Miss Byrne, it is quite a disturbing wound and I would not wish to distress you further—” he argued.

“I am quite well enough to handle the sight,” she said stubbornly and glared at him. “Or are you afraid your stitching is subpar?” The grating insult seemed to take Dr. Blackwell back, and Fitzwilliam laughed beside her.

“Lily! Such terrible manners! I apologize Dr. Blackwell, she is indeed not herself.”

The doctor smiled at her and shook his head. As if her rudeness was a ruse he saw through and thought it quite charming that she should put up such a brave front in the face of such trauma.

“It is quite all right. I was not referring to my impeccable work, I was referring to the bruising and alteration of her rather plain appearance. I’ll allow you to decide if that is for the better or worse,” he retorted. Lillian gasped.

“You—” she began and the doctor chuckled. Fitzwilliam at first looked horrified but then laughed himself.

“He is indeed a match to your wit and most dark mood, sister.”

“My lady,” the doctor smiled and handed her a silver handled mirror from the vanity table beside the bed. It seemed, in all of her time, suffering through her mother’s obsession of the history and cultural norms of the era, that she would not think a true gentleman, especially a man of such esteem as a doctor to be so brash or rude. But perhaps the Austen’s and Bronte’s of the time were not so unlike the romantic idiots of the modern world, who tended to sugar coat the affections and behaviors of the opposite sex. She snatched the mirror away from him with a glare.

She wasn’t really interested in what the stitches looked like or the bruising. What she really wanted to see was if the image she held a reflection of was in fact hers, or was her great, great, great times seven grand aunt’s. The glass was milky and dusted, and for a moment Lillian feared that her vision had been impacted by the fall. She had gotten far too used to the modern world’s minor conveniences. Like mirrors. Cameras with their fancy filters and effects. The face that stared back at her seemed to share in her shock, the raised eyebrows and puckered mouth mimicking what she knew her muscles were doing. But it was not entirely her face.

The similarities were impeccable actually, but she was sure her eyes were not so deep a blue and she was missing a scar on her chin from a fall off a bike at the age of twelve. But the biggest difference by far was that, at the time of her tumble in 2019, her hair had been a short pixie cut and tinged with blue dye. Now it fell in long and loose raven curls all the way down to past her shoulders and mid back. She touched it in fascination, so soft and thick. Hair that hadn’t ever been dyed or blown out, or all the hundreds of other tortuous things the modern woman did to herself in the name of fashionable trends.

“My hair,” she said softly. Matthew watched her with some curiosity. She didn’t appear to even look at the wound but had spent the last few moments studying her own face as if it were the first time she’d ever done so.

“Do not fear, my darling, I’m sure the ladies can help you right it again when you are feeling much better. You mustn’t think it’s unbecoming, you are, after all convalescing.” Fitzwilliam said to her astonishment, thinking her upset for the state of it, wild and free.

“I actually prefer it—” Dr. Blackwell said before silencing the thought.

“Down and wild from days in bed?” Lily asked with a scowl. The words stopped his movement and Matthew stared at her for an uncomfortable moment in a way that suggested he was imagining days in bed with her. Matthew cleared his throat. Fitzwilliam cleared his throat.

“Yes, well, we can see to it that someone comes this afternoon to help you, if you wish,” her brother offered. “Perhaps Miss Darlingwood might be available. She has been much concerned with your absence and has asked after your health repeatedly.”

Lillian closed her eyes and the mirror fell to the bed beside her, still stuck in her hand. More people she supposedly knew, more people that knew her as someone she was not. She sighed and felt tears sting the corners of her eyes. What in the hell had happened? Could this be a dream? It did not feel like one.

“I—” she sniffed and opened her eyes. “It does not matter. But what I would greatly like, is to get up and—walk.”

“It is not recommended Miss Byrne,” Dr. Blackwell said immediately and looked into her glassy eyes. “If you should fall again—”

“I will be careful,” she said. He gave her a disbelieving stare. “I assure you Dr. Blackwell, I am quite well enough to stand on my own.”

“Oh? Will you be as careful as when you ‘decide’ to take the stairs eight at a time?”

Fitzwilliam burst out in a beautiful, room-lighting laugh and in it, Lillian found the comfort of her own brother’s laughter. She scowled at him in the same fashion she would her Will.

“It wasn’t the preferred method but it got me there with some haste,” she countered and jutted her chin at the doctor in defiance. He looked down at her pretty pink pout and his eyes softened, his smile grew. Both men chuckled.

“If it were up to judgement on your spirit alone, I would think you are healed all but in the severity of the cut,” his warm fingers went up to delicately touch the healing wound. She shied away until the contact of them against her skin seemed to draw the whole room into focus once more and she leaned in.

“You may walk,” he said and pulled back. “In short increments and only when accompanied by someone else.”

“Oh, well—” she scoffed and sat back against her pillows, still pouting. “Thank you for your professional permission.” Both men raised their eyebrows at her tone. Matthew leaned in to Fitzwilliam.

“Is she always this obstinate?” he whispered though not so quietly that she wouldn’t be assured to hear him.

“No, usually moreso. She must be tired,” Fitzwilliam nodded looking directly at Lillian.

“Oh you!” she took a small pillow and threw it at her brother, connecting it squarely in his buttoned up chest. Lillian studied the coat briefly, and the doctor’s clothes in turn. If this was a joke, if it was not real, then her imagination had made every detail impeccable. Right down to the brocade pattern of her bed sheets and the golden buttons on Fitzwilliam’s coat. Her new brother laughed.

“I shall send someone to help you bathe and dress,” he said softly and came closer to gently press a kiss to her forehead. Dr. Blackwell watched and Lillian swore he had the look of jealousy on his face, as though he wished he could leave her with such warmth.

“I can do it myse—”

“Please, Miss Byrne,” the Doctor interjected. “I know you are quite ready to be healed and understand your frustrations, but waves of dizziness can catch one unaware after such a wound. Be you a strapping and grown man or a—” he stopped, unsure if the next words were sanctioned or proper. “Delicate young woman.”

“I am not delicate—”

“So you keep insisting. Please—” he sighed with frustration and gathered his own navy blue coat from the chair beside the bed. Lillian wondered how long he’d been there, with her, beside her bed, no doubt sleeping in the chair in order to be close to her in the hours of her need. She had seen him in quite a few of the moments she’d opened her eyes. “I ask that you take the opportunity to allow others to help you.”

Lillian Byrne wasn’t good at letting people help her. She didn’t want to rely on other people. When her father had abandoned them at the tender age of eight, she’d learned that women couldn’t count on anyone but themselves to make sure they survived and thrived in life. And here she was, stuck in an era where women had little choice but to be taken care of by men. She, herself, was even supposedly engaged to be married. And where was her unwanted fiancé?

In the present moment she didn’t care. She just wanted to leave the confines of the bed and get her body moving. Maybe then her brain could sort out what had transpired from the moment she’d fallen and why she didn’t seem to be able to wake from this dream.

“Will you return to walk with me?” she asked suddenly, and then felt a hot flash light her cheeks. She knew from the research and books she’d been inundated with by her mother, that it was not proper for her, an unmarried or even promised young lady to ask an unmarried man. But the fact remained that Matthew Blackwell was the one person she was most familiar with. He’d been with her since she’d found herself in this strange and impossible set of circumstances. He was the most known to her. Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows and looked at the young doctor in anticipation of his answer at such a strange and forward question.

“I—I must go and see to business I’ve been kept from these last three days.”
            “Three days—“? Lillian began to ask, had it been that long? Her mother would be so worried!

“My father is expecting me as soon as my business here is concluded as I have much to catch up on in his clinic and with our…personal affairs. I’m sure that your brother, Miss Darlingwood, or Colonel Mayfield would be more than happy to accompany you.” He said softly and donned his coat.

“You’ve been here for three days?” she reiterated the question as if reminding him.

“Quite so! He’s a credit to his profession,” Fitzwilliam jumped back into the conversation. “The good doctor even slept in the chair by your bedside in the event you should need anything at any time of day or night.”

Lillian blushed and looked up at the doctor who avoided her liquid blue eyes with deliberate effort while he adjusted his collar.

The Rainy Day

Good morning, readers.

Today, I’m sharing one of my very first short stories. It’s always good to dig up past stuff and see how far you’ve come. It’s a little rusty, but it works. Enjoy!

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The Rainy Day

            Lydia Tremel stared down at her hands, folded in her lap. Like a pair of leather gloves. Cracked nails, tipped each finger, shortened and broken. She was never able to keep them nice for very long. The backs of her hands, now with parched valleys of wrinkles and darkened spots shouted, we’ve done our part, more than our fair share. Ed cleared his throat a foot away. He glowered down.

            “You’re gonna get the goddamn house, you know,” he said with veiled venom. Lydia bit her shaking bottom lip and clenched her hands tighter in her lap. “They always give the goddamn woman the house.” He paced the sterile corridor of the courthouse.

            Lydia stared across the wall at the cork board listing the community events on haphazard copies of paper. But her mind traveled far away to the endless hours spent caring for the house. To the dead, grey skin of her knees hidden under her nylons. The testament to countless hours scrubbing floors and bathroom tiles.

            She could feel Ed’s eyes on her, beneath his sweaty brow. His cheeks sagged like a bulldog’s jowls and his stomach stretched the yellow shirt above his brown slacks. A banana shoved into too tight a skin. “Thirty years…” he grumbled and resumed pacing.

            Thirty years. The two words bounced around the hall, and in her brain, conjuring up time that seemed to both last forever and to somehow already be gone. She thought of three children raised and loved by her arms only in ‘the house’. She thought of the tens of thousands of meals she alone had cooked and cleaned up after. She thought of how her girls were now all grown and gone. She glanced up to watch Ed rocking back and forth on his stubbed feet.

            Their names were called. They stood before the judge; lawyers coldly morose on either side. Due to his infidelity, she would receive the house and a proper alimony. Lydia hung her head. Ed’s face blossomed in red sweat, the argument caged behind his closed lips. His lawyer steadied him. Lydia stood up so suddenly that the heat of the courtroom caused her to waiver. The judge and lawyers swung heads in her direction, unaccustomed to a protest from the benefiting side.

“Only the house, your honor,” her mouse-like squeak fell short of the stand. The judge asked her to repeat her request.

“With all due respect, your honor; I would only like the house.” 

Ed sputtered beside her, either from disbelief or joy she wasn’t sure. When asked if she was certain, she only nodded in agreement. The judge raised his eye brows, papers were shuffled, and the request was granted. The rest of the words faded into the background of Lydia’s unadorned mind. The world faded around her glance, and she retreated into the years. Only to be snapped up by the banging gavel and the required signatures. Ed’s face lit up and there was much harrumphing and back slapping on the opposite side of the aisle.

            Twenty minutes to undo what a lifetime had built. Twenty minutes in his office with some pitiful soul hoping to improve her life. She had left her lipstick on his collar, and the smell of her cheap perfume all over his jacket. Twenty minutes in the court, at the end of her rope. Lydia thanked her lawyer and slid into her worn coat. She walked away alone, down the sun-drenched steps, towards the bus. Her knotted hands held tight to her purse as she sat watching the streets of her town sliding by. The market she shopped at, the gas station where he had her buy lotto tickets every week. The park they had once walked hand in hand together. The world was a new and strange place.

            The movers came that afternoon. She hadn’t wasted time in calling. Lydia was nothing if not efficient. Three messages were on the answering machine, one from each of her girls. They seemed to offer only weak assurances from thousands of miles away. Her heart warmed with hearing their voices. They were the best thing he could have given her.

Ed only showed up as the last of his things were being loaded into the grimy white truck. He stood somberly in front of her on the porch. A strange sadness came over his face as if he just realized what was happening.

            “Well.”  He waited for her to fill in his blanks, like a little boy without direction. When she stared blankly at him, an anger and bitterness surfaced in his eyes and face. “I hope you’re happy.”  She turned and closed the door behind her, locking him away. She stood still, eyes closed for a few endless moments. Happy. The word simmered under her skin, a most alien idea. Then, with the clarity she had not possessed since she was a little girl, she went to work.

            She dug into the back of her bottom bureau drawer, behind the lacy knickers and vanilla slips. To an old pair of nylons she had long since worn through. Balled up, and tightly wound around her contingency plan. Ten dollars, every week, for the last twenty some years. Just in case. Not enough to notice, but enough to make a difference on a rainy day. Lydia held the dense ball between her hands and took a deep breath. This was the contingency. This was her rainy day.

            She fidgeted around the house, suddenly not feeling comfortable in its lonely halls and empty rooms. Places still smelled of his cologne, of the roast she had cooked him a month ago, the night she had found the evidence. The same night something deep inside her had broken loose.

She couldn’t find the stomach for food. So, she poured herself a drink and sat in the living room, staring blankly at the freshly vacuumed carpet, the newly dusted shelves. The lifetime of duties now faced her like a museum display. The drink made her dizzy. She wobbled down the hallway and laid down on her side of the empty bed. Still clothed in her best but much dated suit, Lydia fell asleep.

            The next morning’s sun tore through the open blinds without apology. Lydia sat up and glanced around, making sure she had not dreamt the whole episode. Her friends would be meeting for coffee this afternoon. She had to get the last of her work done. With fresh clothes and shampooed hair she set about her to do list. She began with her most important task. It did not take her long, and she found herself with a few minutes to spare. When the box was sealed, she stood for a moment staring down at it. Bold plain print, neatly taped, no return address. She would need to get it to the post by five tomorrow evening. Lydia paused at the kitchen sink.

Staring through the window out into the back yard only brought back the memories of her happier and more ignorant youth. When all she had ever needed was him and the path he’d led her down. The phone rang, successively within the next hour. Her daughters each called again. She reassured them she was fine. She told each and every one of them, how much she loved them, how proud she was of them. They were exceptions to the rules that had governed her own life.

            Lydia had been brought up by parents who did not believe in that sixties-free-thinking-nonsense. She had attended community college but dropped out after meeting and marrying Ed. She began her family quickly as was expected by her parents. Upon the birth of a third daughter, when he had so hoped for a son, Ed had called it quits on having any more children. He placed the blame firmly on Lydia.

Something had simmered beneath the surface of Lydia’s skin as she held her last baby, alone in the hospital. Something that drove her to tuck away cash in an old nylon every week. Something that made her change her own ideas about where a woman’s place should be. Though she had never held a notion of a different for herself, she insisted upon it for her daughters. She raised them against her own grain. Raised them to be independent, strong willed, fighters. She gave them all of the gifts she had never received. And they blossomed. They spread their wings and flew. They’d left her nest. She stared at the sunlight glaring off of the counter top, bouncing across the waxed floor. Was a nest really a nest, without baby birds inside of it? A thin smile creased her lips as she took off her apron and hung it beside the door.

At a quarter to one, Lydia stepped out her front door, package in hand. She locked  up behind her and held on a moment longer to the door handle. Her walk to the bus station felt like leaving home for the first time. She never glanced behind her, kept her eyes forward to the sunlit trees, casting shadows across the pavement. Children were set free from the confines of school and buzzed by on their bicycles. Their shining happy faces bright in the sunlight, their laughter trailed behind them as they passed. She took the mid-town line to a small post office far across town. She paid in cash.

Unhindered by the parcel, she took another bus back to the west side to meet her homemaker’s group for coffee. The springs beneath her bounced rhythmically and she stared out of the window with quiet contentment. The buildings sandwiched together with pencil thin lines separating them. Delis next to barber shops, hardware stores next to diners. People walked about in their normal routine, never straying from the paths that had kept them comfortable for years. Never stopping to notice the world around them. Never questioning the choices they’d made, or the lives they resigned themselves to. Lydia closed her eyes and felt the gentle rocking of the bus beneath her.

The ladies were assembled at their normal table when she arrived. They greeted her easily and resumed their conversation. Their voices were muffled in Lydia’s ears, like a flock of birds twittering to one another. She smiled when they laughed, shook her head when they whispered conspiratorially. Jeanine, who sat next to her, placed a gentle hand on her knee and gave her a small smile.

“How are you fairing, dear?” she whispered. The other ladies stopped their other conversations and swung their well-pompadoured heads towards Lydia. She smiled small and cast her eyes downward. Jeanine had meant it to be between them, but the whole group had been dying to know.

“Fine, I’m just fine.” Lydia produced a tear, and wiped it away on a napkin. “The movers left yesterday. I’m doing alright,” said Lydia. Jeanine squeezed her around the shoulders warmly. The bit of affection warmed her more than anything he’d done for her in the last ten years.

“You’ll let us know if you need anything at all?” one said.

“I hope you got the house,” another chimed in.

“Serves him right,” continued an older woman. Lydia smiled and thanked them, then quickly turned the conversation to anywhere else. When the topic came to the alimony she wasn’t receiving, an awkward silence fell over the booth.

“But Lydia what will you do?”

“How will you make ends meet?”

“Why would you…”

The questions ranged from genuine concern to aghast disbelief. Lydia smiled outwardly while cringing inside.

“I don’t want him owing me anything.” Silence and staring faces responded. Jeanine held her hand firmly.

“Well, good for you then,” her warm eyes were honest. Lydia noted the raised eyebrows and gazes that said she’d lost her mind. Jeanine understood. She smiled into her coffee cup. With a calm knowledge behind her eyes, Lydia thought how much she would miss Jeanine. When coffee was over, her friend walked with her to Jeanine’s car.

“Can I give you a ride, Honey?” Jeanine had never understood why Ed had never let Lydia have a car. She didn’t even know if her friend could drive. Maybe that could change now.

“I think that I’ll take a little walk around town,” replied Lydia.

Jeanine studied the face that she’d known since high school. They’d raised their children alongside each other, exchanged recipes, tips and tricks. Occasionally they’d joke about their husbands over quiet cups of coffee in the kitchen. Lydia had been the only one to show true concern for her after the chemo two years ago. She’d bring her meals, take over her chores and errands with the efficiency of a military commander. She could see something now, ignited within her friend, that both frightened and intrigued her.

“May I join you?” Jeanine’s voice was small on the warm downtown sidewalk. Lydia thought for a moment. It would be wise to have someone with her.

They walked down the street, lined with shops, stopping to glance in windows, daydream or shake their heads.

“Are you really alright?” asked Jeanine as they both stared at a cherry-print sun dress.

“I will be.” Lydia smiled at her old friend. She nodded towards the store’s entrance.

“That?” she pointed disbelieving at the coquettish dress.

“I’m a free woman now,” Lydia shrugged dismissively and walked inside.  

Two hours later and a few packages heavier the friends walked along in silence. Jeanine insisted on giving her a ride home. With arms full of her celebratory packages, Lydia found no reason to protest. The drive was much faster without having to stop at every bus station. Lydia mused how much time in her life she’d wasted because he didn’t want her having a car.

As they rounded the corner of the sleepy suburban street, something was noticeably wrong. Smoke clouded the air and the bright flashes of emergency lights bounced around eerily in the sullied sky. Crowds were gathering.

“What on earth do you suppose…?” Jeanine stopped short as they looked down the street to where three large fire trucks were parked. Yellow mounds of men were putting out the last of the flames, muddying up the ashes with cautionary bursts of water. The smell was choking. The destruction complete.

“Oh, Lydia!”

They rolled to a stop and burst from the car. Lydia ran full-tilt, dropping her purse and packages along the street.

“Ma’am, please!  Stay back!” the shouts were too late as she careened towards the soggy, ashen lawn. The house. Her eyes filled with tears. Her throat choked with a release of sobs. Blackened tinder stood sharp and broken in odd places. A skeleton of burned bones was all that remained of her life.

Jeanine came up from behind, sobbing. “Oh, Lydia!” she said it again, at a loss for anything else. The firemen gently moved her back by her shaking shoulders. Gone. Gone away. All of it lay smoldering and wet. Lumps of charred wood, melted glass, nothing of what she’d closed up behind her this morning was left. She fell to her knees and cried. Tears she had held on to, tears she had kept to herself for so many years. Until she lay spent and free in the grass. Small ashes floated down onto her hair and cheeks. They merged with her tears and painted Lydia’s face with thirty years of nothingness.

The insurance adjuster came on the first day of summer to Jeanine’s house. Lydia had moved in temporarily while the paperwork had been filed and inspections had been made. The investigator determined that faulty wiring in the garage had ignited a pile of Ed’s oily rags.

“Why didn’t he take those damn things with him,” Jeanine seethed. Lydia remained silent. Her eyes were still red and swollen.

“We are very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Tremel. You will, of course be covered by your policy. This brings me to another, more positive note.” He shifted his paperwork more as a matter of building self-importance. Lydia studied the young man’s face and wondered if he’d ever known tragedy in all his short life. “This is quite the silver lining actually,” he paused pulling out another paper from his new briefcase. “It seems you and your former husband increased your fire insurance policy ten years ago.”

“Yes, when there were all of those fires on the east side of town,” nodded Lydia. She had insisted that Ed adjust their coverage. In case of a rainy day.

“With the current property values in your neighborhood, you’re actually coming out well ahead. If you chose to sell the property on top of this check, you’d have a nice little nest egg.”  Lydia glanced at him.

“How much ahead am I?” The young man cleared his throat and reached into his portfolio. He slid the check across the table. Jeanine grabbed it when Lydia seemed to be frozen in place.

“Oh, Lydia,” she gasped out. The young man offered his condolences again and left the stoic Lydia staring at the scrap of blue paper.1q           

The bright, autumn sunlight filtered down through the trees, settled on the rows and rows of vines that stretched out among the rolling hills. A youthful woman stood on her balcony, staring out at the pastoral haven. Her bright red nails shone in the light. Newly colored black locks curled around her face and were piled in a messy coif that elongated her neck.

“Boungiorno!” She waved to the neighboring children on their way to school. They smiled and returned her wave. The beautiful American woman always seemed to be smiling. The postman knocked on her door below the balcony. Barefooted, she ran down the stairs to open the door.

“Boungiorno, Signora,” a tip of his cap. “This parcel just arrived for you. It looks as though it has been around the world, no?” She smiled graciously at him and he blushed in return. He winked slyly at her, acknowledging the charm of her beauty and the power of her age. She filled out the cherry-print dress with curvy peach skin.

“Grazie, Signore.” She took the well-worn box from his grasp.

Later, alone in at the rustic kitchen table, where a coffee cup ring and crumbs still lay, she set the package down. With a large knife she tore through the tape, barely a whisper escaping her lips. Two photo albums, three baby’s hospital bracelets, wire sheath cutters, and a copy of her insurance policy lay beneath the divorce papers. She put the albums on her coffee table and shoved the box in her closet. She called her daughters to tell them goodnight, and not to worry, it never rained here.

Photo by Tim on Pexels.com

Going Back to School: How Writers Benefit from Classes, Conferences, and Trainings

It’s that time of year again, when the cold crisp air settles around and the light grows softer. The mornings are get-ups and lunch packing and full backpacks. The wind rustles drying leaves and the echo of everything Pumpkin Spice descends. Fall. Probably my favorite season (minus the Pumpkin Spiced everything). Fall signals the slowing down of the bustling summer, a cooling off (we hope), and a getting ready for the winter ahead. It also reminds us of new opportunities to learn, to gain intellectual ground, and to prepare for the prime writing months coming up.

There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last spring, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.

The Long Haul:

MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your Thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.

Online Writing Courses:

A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of softwaretestinghelp.com:

  1. Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
  2. Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
  3. Reedsy Learning Courses
  4. Udemy Creative Writing Courses
  5. edX Creative Writing Courses
  6. FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
  7. OpenLearn Creative Writing
  8. SkillShare Online Creative Writing Classes
  9. Emory Continuing Education Creative Writing
  10. Universal Class
  11. Writers.com Online Writing Courses
  12. Masterclass Creative Writing Classes

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

Feel free to refer back to my older post on conference (you can find it here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/04/01/a-word-or-several-about-writing-conferences/)

For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Northern Colorado Writers at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m funneling my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.

Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.

Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.

The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.

Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!

Poetry 9-2-2021

It’s been a month-long week. Here’s some poetry that boils it down. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever and whatever you’re spending your energy on–I hope it is worthy of your time and love. Take a breath…or seven-hundred.

Photo by Rodrigo Souza on Pexels.com
The Gift of Silence

What the silence gave me
was the horror
of having to sit with my own 
disasters
car-piled up in my head
like an apocalypse of trauma
each vying for attention
on the quiet stage 

I can’t whack-a-mole them down
without ten more sprouting up
the what about and
the have you forgotten when...
I'm the resistant owner
of a vice-gripped mind 
constantly expanding with 
unsettling pressure

What the silence gave me
was one full breath,
an ocean wave in and out
before the panic of being alone 
in the frayed mess of my life
took that air
in short, shallow gasps 
and suffocated my dopamine.

What the silence gave me
was the truth
that I’ve packed it all in 
too tightly
for too long 
and something
must give.
But I cannot ‘give’.
I was not built to throw away
I was not taught to let go.

I cannot sit in gifted silence 
because I cannot stand the sound
of my own shit show.
Raging its insecurities
its expectations 
like expandable insulation
in the cracks of my gray matter.
I cannot accept this gift
of silence
because my thoughts
are far too loud.

A Little Excerpt: Westbury Falls

Good morning, readers. I was puzzling over what to post about this week and in the middle of editing one series, formatting and finishing a first rough draft of the poetry anthology, and trying to adjust to new school schedules, I thought–what would I like to read? Sorry to say, nothing on editing. I live and breathe that stuff currently. Poetry was last week and again next…I’d like to read something light. Something fun and fantastical. So here we have it. A little book I started (and nearly completed) last November that’s beyond rough but one of my favorite new multi-genre experiments. Think Quantum Leap meets Jane Austen. It is, tentatively titled “Westbury Falls” and, if I have my way will be part of a loosely connected series someday. But only if I get my editing done (You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your veg).

So–without further ado, enjoy some “pudding” in the middle of your veg filled life.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

Westbury Falls

Chapter 1

Lillian Byrne fell face first down the stairs as was typical of her style. She never did anything by halves, be it her dramatic monologues explaining over the dinner table why her history paper had been only partially completed, or the hundred or so accidents she managed to survive in the span of a week.

So, when the toe of her converse caught the frayed carpet on the precipice, of what must have been the fiftieth English manor her mother had dragged her to in the course of a week, she almost expected the epic tumble down all four flights of the narrow and steep stairs. Her brother, no doubt, was laughing his ass off from the top, soon to call down that she was stupid and uncoordinated. Her mother would run to fuss for a few moments before she became engrossed in some placard explaining some little-known fact about Charlotte Bronte’s knickers or Jane Austen’s secret seaside romance.

It wasn’t really her mother’s fault. Being a wall street trade floor manager left very little romance in her mother’s post-marriage life. That’s why they were here now after all. That’s why she’d been on the “Footsteps Through the Past Literary Tour” of Westbury Manor. Why she was sharing a tiny hodgepodge room, filled with antiques and moth ball-ridden closets with her idiotic, ivy-league-bound brother who only feigned interest to gain their mother’s favor.

And this. This feeling of weightless abandon, was probably just a universal decree that she should fall, knees knocking like a leggy foal, tumbling and tangled, down the wooden steps, a mess of human limbs. She hadn’t been concerned until she felt a banister crack her temple rudely, then two balusters after that following suit, smashing against her ribs and back. Her unfocused gaze made out the lace-lined light from the window above her, before the light swelled to gray and an enormous pressure took over her skull. The world closed itself to her like a porthole getting smaller and smaller until a pinprick of light twinkled out and she was gone.

“Miss Byrne, Oh Heavens! Miss Byrne!”

Lillian heard through the suffocating clouds of fluff between her ears. Some attendant must have found her, but her head hurt far too much to try opening her eyes just yet.

“Mom,” she croaked.

“Oh, poor dear… she’s calling for her nursemaid.”

“No…nurses. I’m fine,” Lillian mumbled.

“Poor child, she’s had a right awful fall,” came a muffled cockney reply in the deep accent that Lil was sure was being over done on account of her being a tourist.

“It’s cool, I’m used to falling,” she groaned and tried to rise to her knees but the dress caught beneath her and pulled her back down.

The dress?

Lillian’s head swam with pain and she put her forehead to the cold wooden floor. Maybe she’d accidentally taken a curtain with her or some tapestry had come down and off the wall in her tumble. It certainly felt hot and uncomfortable wrapped around her. She tried kicking it off before steady hands stilled her and held her down.

“Easy now, easy Miss. Your head has a terrible bleed, you need to stay still. We’ve just now sent young Master Byrne to fetch the doctor.”

“Master Byrne?” Lil scoffed, hating but not surprised that her brother had somehow convinced the staff to call him by a title. The floor pressed against her forehead even harder and she felt blood slowly pooling in a warm ring around her cheek and ear.

Mom was going to be overly worried now and probably wouldn’t let her climb more towers any time soon, she thought, before slipping into the darkness.

Lillian was dreaming and woke in the groggy, underhaze of not knowing exactly where she was. She must have been in a hospital, but heard not the raucous machines.

Heard not?

Was she thinking in proper Elizabethan English? She must have cracked her skull harder than she’d thought to be dreaming in Austen-ese. Lillian chuckled and cool fingers came to touch her forehead gently. She closed her eyes and sat back into the pillows.

“Ah, there breathes the angel, in laugher she does beguile me further.” The deep voice was soothing as velvet in the dark room. She must be dreaming. No one ever called her an angel, and certainly no man. What could such a suitor look like? Surely divine in both nature and stature. Lil’s brow drew in. She tried to sort out the confusion of cotton and haze in her mind

Surely poetic musings were a definite sign of a brain bleed.

Fingers delicately touched her wounded temple, eliciting and incredible flash of pain that should have been dulled by the medication they would have given her. Her violet eyes sprung open and she expected them to be assaulted by the fluorescent lights of a hospital ICU, but only darkness surrounded her. Cool darkness, a canopied bed, and the outline of a golden-haired man coming into focus. He had a strong dimpled chin and beautifully full lips. His eyes searched hers; blue as a Whitby sea on a clear and bright day.

“Ah, the angel awakens. Such a shade of eyes I’ve never been more contented to fall into.” He whispered and his fingers traced her cheek. Lil’s mouth, dry and empty fumbled, lips moving but no words coming. She wasn’t in a hospital; she was surely dead and this heavenly being was sent to take her to the afterlife.

“You are surely mistaken, good sir, for no more a divine face have I ever gazed upon than that which lies before me now,” her voice was husky with sleep, and slipped into an accent that did not feel unnatural. She’d only been visiting the UK for a few weeks; how could her speech have altered so? Maybe she was dead.

“Miss Byrne,” he whispered and they gazed, in equal parts profound wonderment. His eyes closed and he shook his head as if to right his thoughts. “You must not speak,” he said more seriously with the morose dictate of a professional. As if her being awake had changed his whole demeanor. “You have succumbed to a terrible fainting spell, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I did no such thing! I’m not some wilting flower!” Her sudden and strong argument took him back and he sat straighter from her bedside from the surprise. “I tripped. I’m a bold and fumbling clod at best.”

The smallest of smiles pulled at the corner of his beautiful lips and she was determined that she needed nothing more in life than to kiss him.

“You fell.” He acquiesced a compromise.

“I think I’m still falling,” she whispered back and her eyes fell closed to the idea of his kiss against the subsequent throbbing of her head. When she tried to breath in, he whole rib cage felt tight and limited. She placed a hand to feel a secure bandage over the tender ribs. Surely, they had some kind of pain medication? As she fell back into the pillows, she tried to sort out the moment.

Why hadn’t they taken her to a hospital? Maybe the ambulance was still on its way out to the middle-of-nowhere estate they’d been visiting. This overzealous young actor was probably having a hard time getting out of character. She groaned again and put her fingers up to her head where she found a scratchy bandaged secured around it.

“Please. Miss Byrne, please do not touch it, we’ve just now managed to staunch the bleeding. And, I don’t like to praise my technique, but the stitching is quite delicate in order to save you the horror of a permanent scar.” His hands encircled her wrist, and it seemed small between his fingers. His hands were warm, as they paused, thumb to her pulse. She looked out from her lashes and watched him counting the time on his pocket watch to the beat of her heart. The horror of a permanent scar? As if that’s the worst thing that could happen to a girl? She tried to focus on the young actor more closely.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“I’m afraid, we have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I am Dr. Blackwell—Matthew Edward Blackwell,” he paused to clear his throat, “Junior, of course. My father insists while we practice within the same province that I remind every patient who is the senior, more experienced physician.”

“You’re a—“she paused and looked at the dimple in his youthful chin. “Aren’t you a little young to be a doctor?”

The quick twitch of smile threatened again at the corner of his mouth and she moved her hand to touch it, but he held her wrist fast.

“I am eight and twenty. I’m surprised you would think me youthful.” A new expression passed over his face, perturbed and confused.

“I beg your pardon, good sir,” she said as quietly as possible, falling into the ridiculous speech play that he seemed insistent to keep up. It somehow felt more natural for every moment she spent in what was she assumed was wakefulness.

“I’ve fallen and hit my head and am not to be trusted in my opinion or observations. I meant no disrespect of your position. Indeed, I am most grateful that you are here. It is your youthful and divine dimple that confuses my befuddled mind so.”

His thick throat swallowed as he looked back down to her eyes, falling into them in a way that seemed to cross the lines of good bedside manner into something much more akin to other activities in the bedroom. She sighed. He looked torn, his brow drawing together.

“Your compliments are ill placed, Miss Byrne. I certainly do not deserve such praise from such an—accomplished young lady such as yourself. One, who should, by all accounts and in her current state of mental confusion, should be cautious how complimentary she is. Especially given the promissory nature of your engagement to my cousin.”

Lillian sat up, far too quickly, and nearly startled the good doctor from his bedside perch. She took in a sharp breath and put both hands to her head.

“What the hell are you talking about? I’m not engaged to anyone!”

“Miss Byrne, please!” the use of her swear seemed to amuse him more than shock him, but he looked hither and to, all the same to see who else had witnessed her uncommon outburst. They were alone in the room as the maid had been sent to fetch water and clean cloth for her next change of bandage. “Such language from a young woman of your standing is most unbecoming.”

“Look, pal, I think you’ve taken this act far enough–” the world turned and tipped around her.

“Act? Pal?” the doctor’s voice receded as Lilian felt the world go black again.


Guest Poetry: Elliana Byrne

Good morning. Today’s poetry comes to us from a former and continuing contributor to The Beautiful Stuff’s Poetry Anthology. Ms. Byrne has a knack for gripping the guts with her poetry and, as an almost graduated student at the University of Boulder, she is finding her way with a powerful voice in the world.

Elliana spends her days reading (sometimes for fun…most times for class), daydreaming, and writing. She studies English Lit and dabbles in short stories and poetry when possible. She enjoys life best curled up with a good book and her cat, Gil. You can read her work in last year’s anthology “No Small Things” (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1692331558/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

And now this:

Photo by Sourav Mishra on Pexels.com
Clean Slate

I want to wipe away 
the grievances 
of your skin
and its heated strokes against mine
and darken the unforgiving universes 
of your eyes
that know and
do not know me.

But the treasonous mind
casts wayward glances,
over shoulders turned cold
and the love and ache of wounds
that should be healed over
resound in weakening heart beats.

The disloyal heart
casts out lines and currents that have 
battled the boards of my ship
and sunk it deep, now lies 
desolate and quiet a tomb
on the ocean floor
waiting, in vain,
for a tug of interest.

My dissonant soul vibrates in time
to the sound of yours
even when the harmonic waves
shake my teeth and
dislodge my brain
and seize my nerve endings
and tell me
to clean you off
close my eyes,
turn my back to
and cut the lines
cover ears and
regain
what once was
me.


Write What You Love

Today I’m talking about two pitfalls many writers fall into. First, the desperate search for the holy grail of what’s on fleek (do they say that anymore?) or ‘trending’. And secondly, the pursuit of higher literary fiction as the only respectable way to claim ‘writer’ status.

It’s no secret that trends play a big role in what kinds of books get produced and published. Like some kind of secret surfing spot, the waves that peak are often unpredictable and by the time you get your board out into the fray, the ride has already passed.

In the same manner, when writers take it upon themselves to invest in their education with an MFA program or something similar, they are put into a strange and high-walled box of what constitutes ‘worthwhile’ literary fiction.

When, as writers, we are so desperate for that publishing contract, agent, representation, royalty check—or whatever your goal may be—we often forgo our ‘pet projects’ to work on something that will sell or is more ‘meaningful’ aka digestible by a higher caliber of reader.

These are pitfalls and I’m going to tell you why.

  1. No one can predict trends. No one. In an excellent class, taught by Todd Mitchell, he talked about a controlled experiment wherein three groups were kept isolated (online) and given the same songs to listen to, vote on, dissect, and judge. In every group, a different song was chosen to be ‘best’. In every group, when one song started to get more votes, strange herd-like mentality propelled it further. Bottom line, people will choose at random and marketing departments of publishing companies don’t represent the whole palette of readers in the world. Writing to trends, especially if it’s not something you love or are invested in, is a waste of your talent and time.
  2. MFA programs are great at exposing you to a range of writers, styles, perspectives and technique. I highly recommend if you have the money and time, to pursue one. But you don’t need a higher degree to become a better writer. Also, having an advanced degree will not guarantee you will be published. The main focus of an MFA program is to get you to finish a novel, a whole project. In the process, it will look down its nose at genre fiction, light-reads, and non-literary fluff. Which may lead you to believe that kind of writing is not worth your time. Even if you enjoy it. Even if most readers prefer a lighter, easier book for at least some (if not all) of their reading time.

So what do we do? Well…I’m going to offer you the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

Write what YOU love.Trends can’t be trusted and you won’t write with heart and fire if the subject doesn’t drive you. The world only needed one Hemingway. What the world is severely lacking is your book. Written your way. I’m not saying you can throw out good writing, grammar, decent editing and the one-two punch of great plot and snappy characters. I’m saying if you love your pet project about ghosts on a mission to save their grandchildren from mutated vampire bats, but you try to write a theory-deep mind fuck about 21st century American Existentialism, because you think it will be more impressive—nothing will go well.

Writing without heart, without passion, will feel empty to readers. AND it will discourage and squelch your flame…and a writer without fire inside will sputter to ash.

So write what you love.

When it’s done, you’ll be excited about it, you will nurture it…it will be easier to promote and share because you believe in it. And it won’t matter who else picks it up or loves it, because it’s already loved. Even if it doesn’t ‘make it’ by industry standards, you win because you have created something that brought you joy. Approaching your project with love puts positivity into the universe and it tends to circle back around. With every project you do with maniacal joy and persistent love, you’ll build the confidence in your work and your purpose as a writer, which is the beauty of creating as a whole. And it leads to miraculous things.

So get out there…without worrying about the current trend or if you’ll hit the sweet spot of American capitalistic consumption. Create what you love to create. That’s success.

Poetry 8-5-21

Good morning, readers. Today, I’m about to head into my second night of pre-testing for my 2nd Degree Black Belt in Kenpo Karate. Odds are at the time this post runs, I will be brain deep in trying to prepare, sore from the previous night’s test, and blinking vacantly over my first cup of coffee. I would offer, to my future self and to all eyes reading this, a heart-felt reminder:

You are capable of things you can’t even imagine. You are brilliant and resilient. Don’t ever stop fighting for yourself and the things you want. Self doubt happens to us all, but it’s an insult to your capacity for achievement. So instead of reacting to challenge with doubt, ask yourself this instead: WHAT IF I CAN?

DO NOT SHRINK YOURSELF TO FIT INTO SMALL EXPECTATIONS.

also… take a nap, whenever you get a chance. You’re only as strong as the rest you give yourself

Good skill to all of you out there, in all of your endeavors.

And now, this:

Not Myself of Late

I am long away from the girl I once knew.
The embodiment of all that was light
and acquiescing 
Annihilated beneath weighted skies.
Mired in confused need,
heart floundering in dark embankments.

I dig it from the muck; 
calm it’s fluttering gasps.
brush away the silt
	It’s ok... It’s alright now
we know what we have to do.


I'd let the world upend me.
I let it through the open door
An idea, a hush of doubt
Embedded into my soil.
Tender but steadfast seedling.

I forgot 
myself.

Forgotten that its all just shadow
Borne from the reflections of hurt.
A chemical reaction, unchecked.
I was dry underbrush,
And it, just a catalytic match.

But now
I am the fire.
I am all heat and 
nothing less than utter devastation.
I don’t need suggestive darkness
to know that I am bright.




Guest Blog: Nina Naylor

Good morning! Today’s guest blog comes to us from the incomparable Nina (pronounced 9-uh) Naylor. She will be featured in the “Wilderness of Soul” anthology and I’m excited to share her work here with you. Nina has a beautiful approach to the world, writing, and how we all feel as wordsmiths with regards to calling ourselves ‘real writers’.

Here’s a little bit about her:

Nina Naylor is a writer, poet, and essayist.  She wrote her first poem at age 8.  She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers and the Academy of American Poets.  She has had poems, essays and articles published in organizational publications.  


Nina was able to take early retirement and has been focusing on her writing dream.  She is currently working on a poetry book, a book of prayers, and a memoir.  

The subject of her first poem?  A dancing pig!

I spent the last few days fretting about driving down to Denver alone to visit my
granddaughter. The address existed in an area my mind at once equated being outside my
comfort zone. The various degrees of fear rampantly invaded my rational thinking, and my
inner critic flooded my brain with negative outcomes and reasons why I should not go. But this
cannot be the individual I confidently relate to when I envision that person inside me in its
truest form! That woman who embraces all things new and enterprising…who still wants to
experience the exhilaration of adventure – the kind that excites and awakens my soul, that
allows me to explore new cultural diversities in an unbiased demeanor…who wants to see the Divine Light that shines throughout!

This same consternation relates to my internal dance of viewing myself as a writer and
not. To move past the wishing stage and be vulnerable enough in sharing myself with the
world. My writing engulfs me – it lives in my soul and to lay myself open to ridicule, critiques
and rejection seemed incredulous.

Nevertheless, my adventurous soul still burns – aches to be released and my lifelong
dream to write and be published flourishes! Friends and family encouraged my writing
throughout the years, but not until I found the fortitude to believe in myself along with the
willingness of mind, body and spirit did my journey come to fruition. Last year at Christmastime
a dear friend rewarded me with the ultimate gift of support: a poetry book by another woman
who recently found the courage to share her soul along with my friend’s accompanying
sentiment “I’ve been fortunate to hear some of your poems and stories. Now, I want others to
experience the joy of reading them.”

Each year I choose a word to live by and this year my word comes from Debbie Z.
Almstedt’s book Zibu: The Power of Angelic Symbology . My word Rakumi means “clarity of
purpose
” and the accompanying affirmation is “I continue to gain clarity as I listen within
knowing the answers unfold with ease.
” To fully embrace the adventure and accept myself as a
writer opens opportunities each day by being willing to believe and surround myself with
positive motivations. This entails positive friendships, writers’ groups, reading the genre l like to​
write, and sending my work for consideration. I encourage you to seek out what truly fulfills
your soul.

Just so you know, I still can have doubts, but they don’t last. The night before I found
out two of my poems would in the anthology, I had thought to myself, “who am I to think I can
write?!” Believe in yourself…put yourself out there…be willing.

I like to write acrostic poetry and I will leave you with one using my word for this year.

R eceiving
A nswers and
K nowledge.
U nfolding
M yself
I ntentionally.

By the way – the outing with my granddaughter and her boyfriend in Denver? Joyous!!

Guest Blog: Nathaniel Luscombe

Good morning! Today’s post comes to us from one of our lovely neighbors to the North. Nathaniel Luscombe is an up and coming writer from Canada who holds a deep love for all sorts of written things. He’s been featured in three anthologies “There is Us”, “Faces to The Sun”, and the sci-fi fantasy collection “Among Other Worlds”. He’s currently working on the release of his first novella along with other writing projects.

In today’s blog he’s exploring the journey he’s taken so far in his love of writing. His insights into the process, the highs and the lows are something we can all relate to. Look forward to his brilliant poetry being featured in this fall’s “Wilderness of Soul” poetry anthology. Enjoy!

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Hello writers! I am so excited to be writing to everyone who reads this blog. My name is Nathaniel Luscombe, and I have, as of being let into this anthology, been accepted for publishing four times. Well technically three, but that’s something we’ll talk about a little later on.

My focus for this blog is on writing and the fear of not succeeding. I think anyone who writes has faced fear of not being enough. Writing is such a personal experience. We’re taking our own experiences, thoughts, and ideas out of our minds and putting them down on paper for anyone to read. 

That is quite a startling reality.

It’s also an exciting process.  

This is my third poetry anthology. I consider myself to be a science fiction and fantasy writer, but somehow poetry always calls my name at some point. My first anthology was There is Us, run by the phenomenal poet SJ Blasko. My second one was Faces to the Sun, also run by her. The thing that drew me into these anthologies was the topics. There is Us was all about COVID-19 and our experiences during those first few months. Faces to the Sun covers topics of mental health. Both of them are, in my opinion, incredibly important anthologies. One of them documents one of the biggest events in recent history, while the other tackles stigma and opens up a conversation. 

In March of this year, I was able to publish the anthology that I ran. It was quite the experience, and sometimes I look back with bits of regret and disappointment at how it turned out, but it was an important first step for me. That anthology is Among Other Worlds, and it was split into science fiction and fantasy. It was terrifying to run my own project, but I was able to work with amazing authors. While I made mistakes, it’s still a tangible first step. 

Now with all this behind me, and so much hopefully ahead of me, I have to think about what some of my next steps are going to be. 

See… being published three times does not mean anything. I am still so full of doubt and fear. Every time someone mentions that they read one of my works, I want to hide under a pillow for fear of them not enjoying it. Writing is the process of baring one’s soul, and there would be nothing worse than rejection from the people around me. That’s why this anthology came in at a perfect time. 

 Wilderness of Soul is all about vulnerability, raw feelings, and openness. I think that is such an exciting and important theme for a poetry anthology. My prose is always quite light-hearted, following escapades through space or people using their magic to better their world. Poetry is my escape. It’s the darker side of me, where I pour out my feelings and emotions without letting anything hold me back. I truly believe that poetry is the most vulnerable form of writing. It is a window to the soul, a path to the wilderness of soul (heh, see what I did there?)

 So in some ways, publishing poetry is a lot more daunting than publishing a story. It’s not as filtered, and it connects directly to who I am. So now we have established the fear portion of writing. It’s a fear that everyone shares, but everyone wants to get over it. 

 So let’s work on that together. I want to talk about some things that I have come to terms with in my own journey of conquering the fear of sharing my writing. 

 First, people will enjoy your writing. When I read through my previous anthologies, there are obviously things I enjoy more than others… but I can appreciate and enjoy each piece as its own creation. Each author took a step into the unknown, not knowing whether they would be rejected or not, and it’s up to me as a reader to see what their vision was. So know that you have an audience. You have supporters. You have talent. 

 Second, let’s look at the logistics of it all. There is so much focus on writing something that will ‘make or break’ you. I disagree with this notion so strongly. The idea that my ‘debut’ is what represents me for the rest of my life is garbage. I am going to continue changing and growing as a person. My talent with writing will grow, my style will change, my ideas will blossom… and my debut will be a beginning, not an ending. You have more than one chance to make your mark. I am only eighteen. I used to pressure myself to become the best writer, thinking I had to be a published writer by the age of 20. I wanted to hit NYT Bestseller lists, go to writing conventions, have a crowd of adoring fans… I know what you’re thinking, “Umm, Nathaniel, that’s a bit unrealistic.” Yeah, it is. It’s unrealistic, but it’s something I felt pushed onto me because of the pressure to become ME by the time I was an adult and remain that person until I died. Obviously, with writing being such a big part of who I am, I thought that I had to have my writing fully developed by that time as well. Take your time, have some fun, and don’t turn your writing into a chore. Get rid of the fear that you only have one shot. I am on my fourth shot. These are not shots, these are opportunities. I am not here to make it big. I’m here to offer my voice for a project I believe in.

 My third and final point is watching the advice that you take. I have spent so much of my life taking advice from people I hold no respect for or who know nothing about what I’m doing. Advice is never a bad thing, but how seriously you take it should depend on the person it is coming from. How does this connect to fear? Well the fear of becoming a failure is rooted in people that give you a lot of self-doubt. There is a barrier between healthy confidence and being straight up cocky. I do not think the publishing world is going to bow at me and give me every opportunity I want. I also don’t think my journey is going to be rejectless. I expect a long, rough road… but I am excited and ready to get into it. For a while, I thought that I had no chances because I was listening to people that didn’t have my best interests and weren’t in a position in my life that should’ve allowed them to get to me. You need to realize that everyone has a chance at this. You might end up as a writer, you might not end up as a writer. Either way, at least you tried. 

 Writing this all out has been so freeing. Call it closure, call it the need to figure out my issues, but this is the most intimate piece of writing I have put out for a while. It’s not as detailed as it could be, but some things are better left inside. I just want to be the one to give you a boost of confidence. Let me encourage you as a writer, because I bet you have an amazing story to tell.

Finding Sanctuary in Times of Change

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Times of transition are like hurricanes. Confusing, loud, messy and intense. There is uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness that directly affects our peace and sanctuary. Some of us deal with the changes with decidedly more grace than others. Some are rocked off their foundations, never to be the same again.

The point is that no one is safe from change. And why the hell would you want to be?

Change is the great motivator. It is the one unequivocal trait of the progression of human life. Without it we are stagnant lumps. Change breeds invention and new ideas, it sparks, hopefully, encompassing understanding and empathy. Compassion even.

What happens though, when we have too much change? When we are in a constant state of upheaval. When everything in life is a transition?

It is proven that children who suffer chronic instability (experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes their norm) can suffer from toxic stress.  

Toxic stress increases the risks of several physical and social problems including but not limited to increased risk for cancer and diabetes, heart, lung, and liver disease, increased risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression.

While a normal amount of stress can be good (it stimulates healthy growth, promotes resilience, and helps us to learn coping mechanisms), constant stress and insecurity in our lives actually causes the body great physical and psychological harm.

The effects are more pronounced in children but adults are not immune. Just ask the millions of people living with high blood pressure, depression, cardiac disease etc. We are in over our heads.

So how do we balance the change and transition? How do we grow and push our boundaries without breaking apart our safety net?

Balance seems a cop-out idea. Of course balance (*eye roll*). That’s like asking “how do I write a novel” and some smart ass saying “Just sit down and write”.

True…but too general. Writing, like balance, is not a one size fits all idea. What is balanced for me is way too much for someone else. One woman’s six, 50,000 word romances a year is another’s one 38,0000 word novel every seven.

How do we find our balance? How do we find the right amount of change? I think the answer lies in retaining sanctuary in our lives. Now I’m not talking humpy-backed bell swingers walled up inside the cathedral, sanctuary. I’m speaking of it on a more personal and sometimes mental level.

Are you safe in your own mind? Do you have a place to go, in your brain, where you can let go, remember to breathe, where your shoulders can drop away from your ears and you can feel at peace? Or is it all hell-fire and disaster, 24/7 from the moment you wake from stress-induced nightmares to the moment you’re knocking yourself out with Melatonin just to escape?

We all need peace. We all need change. How much of each is dependent on who you are.

One person may be content taking 15 credit hours, while raising a family of six and working part time for the PTA. Another may be perfectly happy chiming into an online forum on bee-keeping once a week and counting her reading in hours not minutes. One person may be at home living from a suitcase, jet-setting to all parts of the world for a story and a perspective never gleaned. Another may never leave their childhood hometown and yet still maintain contentment in the smaller world around them.

I’m not here to tell you how much change to accept. I’m here to tell you to accept some change. Pursue some change. But if you find that all you do is change, and you can’t recognize yourself or the people you love anymore, then it’s time to come back home.

Use that one word…what is it? Shoot, I’m not very good at this word, though I’m learning to let my lips form it’s simple monosyllabic music…it’s… NO. The word is NO. If you’re genteel you may even tack on a “Thank You” at the end.

NO is a great place to start. No I do not want to go to that party. No, I do not want to volunteer sixteen hours a week when I’m barely getting my chapters written. No I don’t have time to bake seventy-two cupcakes for the basket-weaving club…would you take a donation instead?

Conversely…don’t forget your YES button in the gleeful mania of refusing. Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, it’s been too long! YES I would love to take a weekend class in basket weaving. YES, it would be an honor to help out for five hours a week. YES, I’ll go to Italy with you, tall-dark-and-handsome stranger…(*guffaw* still waiting for that one to come around).

You know you best. If you aren’t sleeping. if you’ve bitten your nails to the nubs and can feel the bonds of your family life deteriorating. If you’ve sacrificed what you’ve loved to do what you “should” for too long, then its time to take a long hard look at your hurricane and find a graceful exit from the storm.

If you’re still in a dead end job because you’re too afraid to throw caution to the winds of the hurricane blowing outside, do yourself and everyone who loves you a favor and chase that storm. Live a little for goodness sake. We only go get so much time! Don’t waste it wishing for something better, when you are perfectly capable of hunting down the something better and taking it back to your sanctuary.

Poetry 7-8-2021

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you an older work of mine for this week, refurbished and reworked. The process of poetry is one of constant motion. If you’re bored (as my children often claim they are in the hot months of summer) I encourage you to find an old work of your own and give it a refresh.

I will only be accepting submissions for a couple more months for The Beautiful Stuff’s 2021 Poetry Anthology. Send me your stuff and we’ll have an awesome little email chat.

Enjoy this little trip up a trail with a broken heart.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on Pexels.com
Exhale

Who knew? 
	(breathe in)
This sickening depth of damage you’d leave?
         (blow it out slow)
The hole so deep and wide
an ache so subtly gnawing
	(don’t forget to breathe again…)

Good riddance, I’d said
	(force air in)
Don’t let the fucking door hit you
        (fake bravado exhale)

I’m better off.

I don’t 
	(Gasp)
Need
        (Pant)
You

I don’t need you…

Air bounces around 
frantically looks for an exit,
erupts from the empty cavern of my chest
bursting its way out of my lungs. 

I don’t need…you
	(ragged breath) 
		
Hold still now.

Listen.

To the sound of hollowness inside,
Was it like this before?

Was my heart always a black hole?
it beats with the scrape of metal on glass,
leaves dry water rings in the bottom of a heat-baked pot.

Where is the air?


Dizzy
     Trees
 	whirl

The rumble of thunder but no relief of rain
The one shoe drop.

Your end of the phone
dead, weighted silence.

Good
	(shiver)

Finally, you’re gone!
	(breathe, damn it)

Finally…
Tears trace down dusty length of my neck

you’re
(Gasp, Gulp, Cough)

Gone.

Darkness drops and nothing but space grows
 	in the garden of a heart once so carefully tended.

I don’t need you.

(exhale)


Guest Post: Bethany Beeler “Mother Bend”

Mother Bend

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You pry out and
Bend my bones, hack off my hair to
Spend on whores of imagination,
Toil for bread and say,
“Fed!” to hollow eyes and shrunken
Bellies. The sweat of my
Breasts is dry, your new
Words lost to me, clipped
Tongue shorn of old
Speech, I beseech from you some answer, some
Will to less than power in this
Hour of your need.


In my previous guest-poet post on The Beautiful Stuff , I said that “the absorber of a poem
eavesdrops on the speaker’s liminal/threshold experience.” That is, poetry is eavesdropping on
an experience of the speaker unselfconsciously being themselves, unaware of being
watched/heard.


Poet and speaker are not necessarily one and the same. The poet creates a glimpse of another
soul’s thought or experience. The craft of poetry is like that of any other fiction, to suspend
disbelief—to so absorb the reader that the reader forgets that they’re “reading/hearing” anything
but rather are sharing in an inner experience that would otherwise be inaccessible.

In short, poetry is a mutually welcomed telepathy.
There’s a creepy factor to that eavesdropping but also a magik. In daily experience, we can’t read each other’s thoughts. Poetry invites us to a “sixth sense,” accessible to anyone.

We don’t need telepathic superpowers (unless, of course, poetry is that superpower).
The voice of “Mother Bend” is not my own. I attempt to telepathically grasp the inner world of
the speaker and reveal it to you. I’m not here going to say who that speaker is. After all, the poem
must speak for itself. I invite you to join in my attempt at telepathy, to widen both our souls. As
you listen/read, I ask you to frame your own questions. You can start with Who is “Mother
Bend”? To whom does she speak? Why is “Mother Bend”?
Enjoy finding out.

On Letting Go

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I can’t think of anything that’s been written about more when it comes to self-help topics, so, when I gave myself the challenge of writing another tome about the ability to let go, I was concerned. If humans keep writing about it, it must mean that letting go is a difficult path and one that is neither straight nor narrow.

Why do we have such a hard time letting go? Why do humans cling to thoughts, ideas, actions and people that do not serve our happiness and wellbeing? It starts, my friends, in the beginning…in the way, way back. Before we had cars. Before we domesticated horses. Before we had special shoes for date nights. Before we had shoes.

I’m a student of evolutionary biology, a science that says humans behave in the best interest of the survival of their genetic code. Above all else, we seek to carry on in the face of eminent dangers, perilous foes, and unpredictable habitats. So when we have trouble letting go of that grudge we developed against our former BFF, or of that co-dependent relationship that makes us a shell of a human, its because of something so fundamentally biological and deeply wired that its monumental to overcome it.

We no longer have to worry about remembering which berries caused us to vomit all of our mammoth steak out, or that lions tended to hide in that particular patch of grass, but our brains still cling to moments that have caused us pain, discomfort and ‘attacked’ us. It’s how we avoid that patch of grass. Its how we leave the berries on the bush. Its how we won’t let ourselves move on from the memories of things that have scarred us.

Modernity, of course, doesn’t give us the same enemies. It gives us the tattered shreds of relationships gone wrong; it gives us the slings and arrows of hurtful words, broken promises, and unsaid feelings. And by holding on to those, our brains believe that we’ll be saved from the next snake in the grass.

Conversely, our brains will fixate on the sweet moments of the past to the point of overshadowing the bad that went along with it. We do this because the pleasure of the good is less traumatic to remember than the negativity of the bad. We remember how sweet that guy was…not his narcissistic tendency. We remember how much we loved that job…except the mind-numbing monotony. We remember how awesome high school was…except for the nasty cliques that made our days an emotional train wreck. We cling to the bright, to the beautiful, to the often overblown memories of happiness that we miss…moments that never really happened that way.

On both accounts we are hanging on; whether to protect ourselves from pain, or to glean some long lost, and skewed version of happiness. If we are committed to cleaning our slate and letting go, the route is the same for both and has everything to do with being honest with our selves. We aren’t roaming savannahs anymore. We have shoes. We have knowledge. We are self-aware. We know why we behave certain ways and thus need to be more introspective about our behaviors.

Is that a poison berry? Or is it an archaic response that has thrown up walls around my heart to a person who could benefit from my forgiveness. Does hanging on to the memory of that person, place, or time, serve me today, and in my future? Does it serve to make me better, happier, more complete? Does what I’m clinging to make me a better person? Is it propelling me on my journey or dragging behind me like a chained weight shackled on? Mostly, it’s the later. 

The best response is to acknowledge those moments, be truly self aware in them, and deconstruct them. Peel back the layers and understand why your heart is clenched around them. Did that moment hurt? Are you afraid it will repeat itself? Do you have good cause to fear and is the fear worth staying stuck in the same pattern for the rest of your life?

Convincing yourself to let go of things that you fear could cause further pain might be made easier by consciously saving the lesson but letting go the memory. That break-up hurt, so learn why it went down so spectacularly in a fiery blast. Does it mean you can’t have another relationship? No…but be aware of your patterns, of your part in the failures. Forgive yourself for doing the best you could at the moment and promise your shiny new self-aware self, to do better next time.

Letting go starts with being honest with yourself, forgiving and understanding the damage that hanging on can do. You can’t open your hands to the world if you’re clinging pointlessly to the past. You can’t build new happiness in your life if you believe all of your happy days are behind you. Let that shit go. Drop it like it’s hot. Free up those hands for something better. Free up that heart for the next love. Free up that brain space for something useful; something that can benefit humankind, not just your own survival.

What would happen if we strived, in our new self-aware state, to not let the possibility of predator eyes in the tall grass keep us away from the sweetest berries? What happens when we chose to live without fear of hurt or failure? What happens when we chose to live our best life in this present instead of wallowing in regretful glances over our shoulder at the past?

Freedom happens. New and brilliant horizons. Bare and unfettered feet, untethered potential.

So let go. Let go the hate. Let go the pain. Let it down into the Earth (she’s a big and beautiful momma and she will take it for you) Put down your chains, and chose to move ahead a free human.