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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.

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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!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Andrew Beatson on Pexels.com

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 Blog: Liyona Cicone

Hello writers and readers! Today’s blog comes to us from a winning contributor of The Beautiful Stuff’s 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.

Liyona considers herself an “average joe” kind of writer who likes to think about ordinary things and then write them down. Ever since she can remember, she has been rhyming words and creating lyric poems. During her college years, she took a more serious bent toward writing and started to post on her blog, The Life and Times of a Quirky Character (https://liyonadancer100.wordpress.com/category/writing-2/). Currently, she resides on the East Coast of the United States just north of the country’s capital. Liyona’s prose have been published in Visual Verse, Flora Fiction and Spillwords. You can also find her commenting and collaborating as a Barista at the Go Dog Go Cafe.

As you read through this journey of one writer’s process, I urge you to think about your own methods, style, obstacles, and ‘safe’ spaces for writing.

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

Hello everyone, my name is Liyona. I am so excited to be sharing a bit about myself and my writing journey.

I have always enjoyed writing and creating stories. From a young age, I scribbled down notes and stories about fantasy worlds and characters. As I grew older, I found writing to be a cathartic way to transmit my thoughts and feelings and continued to write but through poems and short prose pieces.

My favorite and ‘safe’ space is found in free form poetry where there is no rhyme or meter. In this form, I love to create rhythms and beats that are evident if you read the poem out loud.

Over the past year, I have been challenging myself to submit to online magazines and weekly prompts. This has been an amazing challenge that has pushed my writing to the next level. I find that by working to time frames and prompts I am required to be intentional about word choice and decisive in editing. Usually, I take time mull over a prompt and let it sit in my subconscious for a while. Then, I take only a few minutes to respond to a prompt or to create a new poem. This allows me to release every idea onto the page. From there, I will re-read/edit my work by reading the poem out loud.

The rhythm is very important to me; during this stage I will make changes based on beats and measure, almost like a song. I tend to release a poem and post it soon after it is written. This allows me to keep creating, keep moving forward and continue stretching my writing so that I am able to create new and more interesting pieces. I am very happy to be part of this poetry anthology. It is such a wonderful opportunity to share my work and meet fellow writers!

Guest Post: Bethany Beeler “Mother Bend”

Mother Bend

Photo by Guillaume Hankenne on Pexels.com


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.

Poetry 6-10-21

Good morning, readers. Today’s poem comes from me. And all my dark, little underbelly areas. I hope you enjoy. Remember that I’m still accepting submissions for the “Wilderness of Soul” Anthology coming out this fall. Email me your name, a short bio, and up to three poems for consideration. Thanks!

And now, this:

Photo by Gareth Davies on Pexels.com
Maker’s Hill

We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
In the cold calm
Where quiet winds spoke our truth
Before we signed our names

Straight lines,
Blood ink.

We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
Your hand warm in mine
Nary a tremor, 
Showing the branches above

The strength of spirit
On first steps towards Home
Lightning our baggage
Before setting off.

We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
For to lay in a sea of damp grass
And share the sharp ticket 
First you, then I.
Then we.

Listening with fingertips
As your pulse beats into the dirt
And feeling the fading light
As flesh calmly goes cold.

We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
In the breaking heart of dawn
The resolution
The only thing we’ve ever 
Been sure of.

We t2wo climbed Maker’s Hill
We thre3 did not return.

 

Ah, Buckle This…A Pantser’s Guide to Buckling Down and Plotting

They say we are divided, us wily writers. Those creative fluffs that let the words burn through them and damn the story arc consequences until the laborious editing process. Those starched-collar spreadsheet architects that engineer the life out of a story until it can be laid out like a mathematical equation. Two ends of a long spectrum encompassing how we all go about writing our stories.

Whether you’re on your first novel, your seventieth short story, or your tenth attempt at nailing flash fiction, we all have a style that suits our particular intelligence. When I use that word, intelligence, I’m not talking IQ scores or any other accepted standardized measure of smarts. I’m talking about the way we each learn and create. Some of us are spacialists. Some of us are naturalists. Some of us are mathematicians. Some of us are socialis–uh…well not ‘socialists’ in the negative way that gets a bad wrap these days…social butterflies? We all have strengths in different areas of “smarts”. (pssst–check out the cool infographic from blog.adioma.com–based on Mark Vital’s work. If you have an extra minute, look through it and see where your head’s at)

HOWEVER, each one of us–and I’m making this assumption because you’re reading a writing blog–are gifted with some level of literary intelligence. Storytelling. Weaving words. Building worlds with letters. So let’s start on that common ground and get to know why plotting out your story, no matter how fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-writer you are, will help free up brain space for better writing and save you a literal shit ton of time in editing.

I’m a pantser. I’ve always been that way. It’s a creative deluge in my brain on many days. Hundreds of thousands of words, hundreds of characters, plots galore. ALSO– at least six unfinished nearly full length novels, countless ‘story-starts’ as I call them, and plots that have fizzled simply because the fire burned itself out when it hit the cliff of not having a plan.

If you are on my side of the spectrum, how do we avoid the graveyard of fizzled projects, laying stagnant on our lap tops?

Well, we simply need to learn to buckle down.

OK, OK, COME BACK!

No one shuts off Billy Idol

Jesus, I’m not some pastor dad from a bad 80’s movie, trying to tell you to shut off the Billy Idol and get a real job.

I’m just saying, as we mature as writers we can still have fun, and be responsible (I feel like a More You Know, after school special moment coming on) to our stories and characters.

When I say buckle down, I’m thinking more in terms of a roller coaster. The buckles keep you secure while the ride still thrills and delights.

Here’s how I balance out my willy-nilly need to write untethered and the reader’s need to have structure (yes–reader’s need structure…what happens on the roller coaster is fun, but they don’t want to fall to their deaths on the first loop-d-loop)

  1. When you get your idea (character, plot, situation etc): Write the hell out of it. I always think of them as scenes. I imagine situations or characters that play out in my head and I just write without self-editing the movie in my head. this can be a couple of pages, up to even 10-15 pages of material. Once I feel, like this story/character has potential and I want to know more about them, that I want to invest book-length time and effort into them, I then…
A River Sleeps Through It.
  1. Create a loose story-line. Usually on an informal notebook page, turned sideways. Some people use graphics and spreadsheets. I know myself. If I started doing that it would turn into flashbacks of Anthropological Research Methods and my only C paper…ever… ew, statistics David. That would take all the joy from it for me. Like strapping into a roller coaster with seven belts and having the cart inch along at a safe three-mile-an-hour speed. Don’t fence me in, Excel.
  2. The story line doesn’t have to be crazy detailed. But it should have an act structure. Sure, I could dictate (*snicker* dic-tate) that it be a hard-line three act structure with appropriate crises and resolution points. But some stories require more, (rarely less). If you went through step one above, chances are you have a pretty good idea of at least the beginning and end. You know what your character wants and if they get it or not. The tricky bit is in the center and that brings us to this…
  3. Plotting is important because it will help you get through the doldrums of the middle, where most novels go to die. Having some definite ideas about how crisis points build, where and when they come to a head, and how your character changes afterwards will help you know what to write next to keep the story moving in the right direction. Within that outline, is still a great abundance of wiggle room, so don’t get caught up in specifics when you draft your outline.

Well, I think that that’s all I’m going to torture you with today. You might find, by starting with this simple diagram you feel more comfortable elaborating on it, adding plot points, character transition moments, and secondary or series arcs into it. Good luck out there, pantser. Buckle up, writers. It’s one hell of a ride.

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Guest Poet: John Lipp

Hello poetry lovers. I realize I’ve given you three consecutive weeks of poems to read and dwell on, but in this increasingly busy season of end-of-school activities, and my own personal work schedule, I’m pleased to be able to offer something diverse, impactful and economical (aka isn’t monopolizing anyone’s limited time). So, with that, it is a great honor to introduce this next poet to you. I didn’t realize I’d put them so closely together, so if you recognize the name from a few weeks back, you are not wrong in assuming John is one half of a dynamic duo of poets.

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Ya’ll, I can’t be more excited to introduce his work here. He has a brevity and flow that feels like it needs a backbeat and could be something I’d belt out in my car when it comes on the radio. Take a minute with it, roll it round your brain. See if you feel the rhythm to his words and phrasing. It’s magical. I’m only offering one of his poems here but there are two more to be included in this Fall’s upcoming anthology.

Here’s a little bit about John:

John Lipp is firstly, a new father and lucky husband. He did what every 13 year old with a guitar would do, and played in blink-182 cover bands through adolescence, so most of his writing has been devoted to mediocre punk rock. He devoted last November to strengthening his skills in poetry, abstaining from his usual time-wasters. He is currently co-writing a book on the effects of the death of a father (funnier than it sounds), and writing a tandem novella/ concept album about a time traveling boy band from 1999. He’s sure it will work out.

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Eraser

Be it the end of a stick, the keys that you click, or a bottle of white slick liquid that sticks and affixes itself to fix what is inadequate; you have a purpose, to change.

Nature grows a branch that won’t stand a chance, but the pruner’s cut offers a contrary stance. Where torrential storm was once in control, the loss of one limb has strengthened the whole. 

But have you not changed what is to come? Do these mistakes constitute becoming undone? You change the words, you change what’s to pan. Once the name of the tool, now the name of the man.

Poetry 5-20-2021

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Lost Things

Of all the things

I miss the most

it must be the weightless

loss of care.

The summer’s days,

kicked out of walls

adventures lived

and dreams built

out of coffee cans

and warped two by fours.

Of all the things

I miss the most,

it’s the softness

of a first kiss

the anticipation and yearning

before politics

or power plays

muddled the field

and made every touch of passion

a pawn on a game board.

something to be won

something to be earned.

something lost.

Of all the things

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I miss the most,

It must have been their tiny hands

wrapped around my finger

and the sleepy warmth

of their heads tucked

into my shoulder

we were safe there,

just the three of us.

Before the world came down on them

with screens and images

of unreachable ideals

skipping meals and

pinching skin.

Of all the things

I miss the most

It was feeling

like the world was someplace

magical and filled

with potential for

the good

the better

the brighter future ahead.

Before the dark gray blanket

covered my eyes

and suffocated all

dawning hope

Poetry Guest Blog: Lauren Newman Lipp

Good morning, all. Today’s beautiful contribution comes to us from a tremendously talented, kind-hearted, and all-around stellar human being. I’ve known Lauren for over five years now and every single time I get to talk with her, she just makes me feel like the world is a better place to be in.

The poem below, as well as two other, equally moving pieces, will be featured in “Wilderness of Soul” later this year!

Here’s a little about her:

Lauren Newman Lipp is a typical millennial that loves Harry Potter, early 2000’s emo music, and writing passionate pieces that reflect everyday life and struggles. She’s been expressing herself through the written word since her favorite teacher, Ms. Cowdry, taught her how to write in Kindergarten. Since then, she’s explored many forms of writing and loves the mighty power a pen can hold (although she sometimes ditches the pen for a keyboard). She earned a Bachelor’s degree from CSU Fort Collins in English, and her claim to fame is writing an A paper only hours before it was due in class. She has read “Othello” more times than she can count and loves to discuss the many complexities of Iago’s character. She spent some time teaching Language Arts and trying to pass along her love for reading and writing to 6th graders. These days, Lauren spends her time trying to make her husband laugh, playing with and chasing her toddler, and working on a novel about werewolves.

And now, Ladies and Gents; the incomparable Ms. Lauren:

Glug-Glug Lullaby

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Staring into my pre-portioned glass of red wine,

5 ounces exactly,

I beg for a revelation to fall over top of me.

To crumble over my shoulders and open my eyes wider.

A light to burn out the dark.

But instead, 

I just feel my edges fuzz, and my insides warm

And I do realize something.

Only one thing:

That I could

Dump the rest of the bottle into my glass,

Indulging in the “glug-glug”

That plays while pouring

Too fast with no control, no remorse…

And then just sip away

Till my eyes grow heavier and my edges blur.

But the idea that I could, scares me

And brings me closer 

To the mother I don’t want.

I am also brought closer 

To  feeling empathy for her

Understanding, and now knowing 

How soothing

That “glug-glug” could sound

Inside my ringing ears. 

A Writer’s Summer Reading List

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Stephen King once mentioned that if you, as a writer, didn’t have time to read, then you didn’t have time to write. Even more recently, at the closing remarks of this year’s NCW writing conference (https://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/) I was reminded by the incomparable Teresa Funke (https://www.teresafunke.com/) that writers who read shouldn’t consider that time ‘wasted’ or a guilty pleasure. Every book we read teaches us something about the craft, our own voice as writers, and provides us with inspiration and information that will be useful in our own projects.

So, as the warmth of lazy days approaches (ha ha–just kidding, if you’re a parent, summers aren’t ever lazy), I’ve compiled a list of books that may be of interest to writers, as well as some good-ol-fashioned brain candy. Let’s be honest, no one wants to spend their summer vacation slogging through a MFA reading list–gag me. The books below should be helpful AND entertaining. Each has been selected because it offers insight to the craft of writing or has brilliant use of good writing…or it’s just plain fun to read.

  1. “On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft” Stephen King: I read this one every year. He’s down to earth, helpful, at times hard-assed, and others vulnerable. A beautiful book.
  2. “The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience” Chuck Wendig: Holy shit snacks… If you haven’t followed Chuck Wendig’s blog (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/blog/)or read ANY of his books, you need to rethink where your life is heading. Part heart-felt genius, part sacrilegious savant, “Kick-Ass” is a fun and mildly irreverent romp through the derelict world of writing and I can’t love the man’s sense of humor or talent more.
  3. “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” V.E. Schwab: I told you it wasn’t all about writing manuals. This book is poetically beautiful, curious and heart wrenching. It’s a little tragic, a little romantic, and has just enough magic realism to make you feel like you’re cheating on your homework by reading it. Schwab also does a beautiful job transitioning through time, space, and POV.
  4. “Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You” Ray Bradbury: I’d like to think, because we share a birthday, some of his playful brilliance will soak into my brain by some sort of weird Zodiac osmosis…hasn’t happened yet. This book is full of good advice, and assurances that the writing mind is not meant to be ‘normal’ and also that writing what we love, even if it’s labeled as low-brow or ‘not literary’ is more important than trying to get our books into an MFA program. As Bradbury says: “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”
  5. “Save The Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” Blake Snyder. Is it the last book on screenwriting I’ll ever need? Probably not. But even if you’re not a screenwriter this book has good information about story beats, plotting, character development and writing a story that audiences (your readers) will both love and be satisfied with. On a side note, if you’ve ever wanted to write a book that may someday transition to film, this is a great book to check out in understanding the process of writing a compelling story that live audiences will love.
  6. “Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life” Teresa R Funke. https://www.teresafunke.com/ This book is not just a boost of energy and inspiration, it’s a good ‘life skills’ book. We all need to know that our ideas matter, that it is possible to pursue our dreams and find the time to make them a reality, but this book offers helpful insights on how to do it and why it’s so imperative that we do. Teresa is not only a brilliant author but an amazing, down-to-earth, and kind human who has enough experience in the world of writing to know what she’s talking about.

Well, there you have it. I hope you get to read some of these this summer. If you don’t, I encourage you to pick up a few books in your genre and a few outside of it. See what you can learn. Even–try something out of your scope of practice (Non-fiction/Fiction) and see how the other half lives. Something is to be gained from every page we take in. Happy reading out there!

Guest Poet: Bethany Beeler

Good morning, Beautiful Readers! Today’s blog and poem come to us from the incredibly talented Bethany Beeler. https://www.bethanybeeler.com/. Please enjoy an in-depth look at why poetry offers us intense and true experience, in an angel’s breath of time and, as Beeler so eloquently says, “poems are your and my experience of a unique and intimate moment that can’t be replicated

I would love to see some discussion on this blog so shoot me your comments and questions. Also, look forward to enjoying some of Bethany’s poetry in The Beautiful Stuff’s new anthology “Wilderness of Soul“, out next Fall.

Here’s a little more about Bethany and where you can find her work:

Author of North Street Book Prize Finalist, How to NOT Know You’re Trans., and artist, Bethany A. Beeler was born and raised in the Pittsburgh, PA area. After college, she settled in Texas for the next 37 years with her wife Pamalyn, raising three children, and mayoring the city of Krum, TX. She’s been a professor, teacher, and tech writer. Her work has been published in The Twinbill.

Links

Website – https://www.bethanybeeler.com/

Amazon Author Page – http://amazon.com/author/bethanybeeler

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BeautifulBuddhaBethanyBeeler/

Medium – https://medium.com/@beautifulbuddha

Twitter – https://twitter.com/bethany_beeler

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/beautiful_buddha_bethany_b/

Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/

Another Kiss


Goddess fingernail moon over pines,
Crepe myrtle early
Bloom. Huntress
Belt, chaste and fair, Hekate
Gift and swoon. Thrush song’s
Dark, creeping
Cold
Grips my soul. Walk apace,
Venture, snap,
Brittle face, I
Take her lavender
Kiss, lips trembling. I
Sing silent, sibilant, unsated heart, hand in
Nest, breast aflame, this

(Nipple spark)
Touch too wet,
Soft. I
Hush, her hand awash in
Me, greet, guide, hold, caress, I
Burst, dripping
Star and comet, quasar and
Dust, fecund harvest,
Birdsong lush in night of
Morn and noon. She takes
Me home too soon to sleep in
Parted lips, hastening another
Kiss.

In The Alphabet Versus the Goddess , Leonard Shlain says that “written words and images are
entirely different ‘creatures.’ Each calls forth a complementary but opposing perceptual
strategy.” He’s wrong in two ways—words and images are not merely complementary but are
abstractions of a deeper reality, which, of course, also means they aren’t in opposition at all.
That deeper reality is experience, which is neither an abstraction nor a material thing but an
event that is life itself. Nowhere do we better see the wholeness of which image and word are but
facets than in poetry. Poems are liminal moments of experience. If novels can be likened to
movies and short stories to snapshots, poems are not even the camera flicking on; they’re the
threshold between “on” and “off,” an event that can’t be filmed or recorded but experienced only.
We don’t observe poems. We live them.

In poetry, words cease to be signifiers but image things themselves, and images cease to be
“like” anything but word experience itself. When I write a poem, I’m both aware of and
oblivious to being watched. The absorber of a poem is eavesdrops on the speaker’s
liminal/threshold experience. I am not the speaker of my poems, but we couldn’t eavesdrop on ​
that speaker without me as the poet and you the voyeur. I hope you feel the same about poems
you write and ones you take in. Whether composed or received, poems are your and my
experience of a unique and intimate moment that can’t be replicated. The quality of your and my
experience and the event you and I consummate is more unique than you and I are individually.
Here, in this moment, at this doorway, we meet in a way we’ll never meet again, even upon
repeat couplings. Ours forever, it can’t be taken away.

So what is “ours” about “Another Kiss”? I love words sounding to me without my thinking about
them. I want their thud, slither, or hiss to knell me and you without their having to “mean
something.” Simply put, I try to make words “image” experience for you and me.
That being said, consciously or not, I don’t choose just any words to thud, slither, or hiss us.
Those chosen words image a river of cultural and personal significance for you and me. In a
poem, we step into a river that was there before us, caresses us right now, and will tug us after.
But you and I change its course. For the better. In a way no one alone, nor any other pairing of
persons can recreate.

But I want us to recreate, too. And “Another Kiss” is as sensual a poem as they come. I
swallowed this night, wooed by plants, scents, breezes, stars. I invite you to seduce the event, as
the event. For you and I are the event. Enjoy.

Guest Poetry: Jennifer Lockwood George

Ya’ll, I’m super excited to feature this next artist. Not only is she a beautiful writer, and a wonderful person, but the poetry she sent me is some of the most sensual, melodic, and moving work I’ve read in a while (AND anyone who knows my novels, knows I have a particular longing in my heart for Mainers). Please enjoy and feel free to share!

Our beloved poet, Jennifer Lockwood George comes to us from the coast of Maine, where she teaches writing to college freshmen who live in little Zoom boxes with their names in the corners. She graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine in 2019. Her work has appeared in The Kankakee Daily Journal, Muse, Stonecoast Review, and The Ginger Collect. Her novella was published serially in The Silver Pen’s Youth Imagination online literary magazine. She has also been a guest writer on the Celebrities in Disgrace blog.





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And Then Nothing Happened

You pretended your English was terrible.
You asked me to stay
to sort out your syntax,
to smooth your eager consonants
and soften the accent
that told stories you would never pronounce.

I would not correct the music that came from your lips.

You wanted me to turn grammar into an aria.
You leaned closer as I sang each conjugation.

I pretended I wouldn’t give my right arm
to hear you play the piano,
but I could have spent forever watching you
coax desire from ivory and wood.

I wanted to hear you recite Lizst
with your eyes closed,
tilting your chin upward in rapture
tightening your jaw at the climax,
rosé wine tinting your cheeks at the final decrescendo.

You taught me scales and finger positions.

We were forbidden liquor; neither of us would drink.

You called my name as I left your studio.
My coat was on.

You offered me wine.
The notes you poured flowed over the piano keys
and onto the floor, flooding the room,
rising from my feet,
to my ankles, then my knees.

My vision blurred.
My coat became a drunkard’s snare,
my purse strap a bond I could not escape.

I fought against your concerto,
fought not to sway
fought not to dive into the flow
fought not to ask you to pour more.

I could not reach the door;
Music’s brazen kiss had backed me against the wall—

Until your fingers collapsed on themselves
and you forgot how the rest of the song went.

Your cheeks were pink.
I forgot to breathe.

I almost recited the entire thesaurus for you.

Dime Store Novel: Episode 4

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Ah, the plot thickens. Enjoy the latest installment and a shower scene…

(if you need a recap, Episodes 1-3 can be found here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/03/18/dime-store-novel-episode-three/


While Link set up the lines to refuel the ship, Rhea visited the great Hall of Books. Laria shed her outer layers with relish as if coming home and kicking her shoes off. She sighed and rolled the tension from her neck while Finn watched her from the corner of his spectacles. He never pressed, but she somehow felt compelled to speak in his presence. She watched Rhea gasp through the stacks of books, reaching out to touch only to pull her hand back in fear or reverence.

“I’m sorry to come here. I’m sorry to bring trouble,” Laria began and looked down at her dirty clothes. Finn was accustomed to seeing her disrobed to her under garments, as she tended to shed the extra weight of armor and weaponry shortly after entering The Library. He motioned for her to join him in her quarters at the end of the hall. He never offered her room to any other visitor or traveling scholar. It was Eularia’s room, even without her around. Some nights, when the desire of missing her was too great, and the Ring’s hold on her too strong, he slept there. 

“Rhea is no trouble.” He assured, glancing over his shoulder to where the young girl was cautiously exploring the section of biological texts.

“She’s—I don’t know what she is, Finn, but I gotta bad feeling about this. About her.”

“Because?”

“Because T’Elliot contacted me before his ship was blown to nothing-dust to tell me she needed to be protected. I feel like this could be—” she paused to scowl, “more important than I like to get involved with.”
Finn’s eyes settled on her thin, once-white camisole and shook himself into reality. 

“Well, we mustn’t place too much on our feelings about getting involved—” coldness tinged his words.

“Finn—” she whispered. “I can’t—You know why I can’t be here with you all the time. I’ve got too many enemies. I’ve got too much baggage. I don’t belong in one place for long. I don’t belong anywhere,” her voice cracked with the weight of the day.

“You could if you chose to! You could stay, here. You could stay with me,” he said suddenly and turned away; his whole body flushed with heated blood. “I mean here…in the book stacks. In the quiet. Aren’t you tired of fighting all the time?” he whispered and she felt his frustration in the space of the room.

Laria sighed. He wasn’t wrong.
 
“Kronos, yes,” she admitted and stared down at her scraped and bruised hands. “It’s just—Rhea. She’s different, Finn. She’s—she’s a map.”

“You mean she has a map? What kind of map?”
“
No. I think she is a map.”

“A map to what? Treasure?”

“She says it’s something called the Conduit.”
Finn’s brows drew in and he studied her. 

“The Conduit?”

“Yeah? Did I stutter?” 

He turned and raced up the ladder to the top shelf of books; the ones he’d kept away from public view in fear that they’d be destroyed or stolen. Books he hoped to read to her someday.
 He was instantly preoccupied with the search for whatever the word had inspired in him, and hunted through the rows with lingering fingers and soft words pressed between his lips; whispered names, dates, titles. For long minutes he went on.

“Okay…look, I’m gonna go clean up. You—” but Finn didn’t acknowledge her or even pretend to have heard in the midst of his fixation. “Right. Keep on, doing what bookies do.” She said, partly annoyed but mostly enamored with Finn’s singular focus. 

Link met up with her in the hall, olive eyes falling to her light camisole, before snapping to attention. 

“I’ll find the kid a place to stay, and I’ll hold off on calling my contact until we figure more out,” he said, resigned. Laria looked at him and sighed.

“Look, Link. I know it’s been a rough day.”

“And—how is that different from any other turn for us?” he smirked.

She reached out and dug a piece of shrapnel out of his leather vest. He watched her lithe fingers dislodge the shard. He heard her sigh.

“You’re not the worst partner a pirate could have.”

Link smiled and took the sharp piece from her hand, fingers grazing. “Why that might be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he smiled, dashingly. She rolled her eyes and headed for the shower room. 

The ability to wash up after the smoke-filled battle and the remnants of days without water was a decadence rarely afforded. Water was not something they had an abundance of on the ship. Though the moon of Titan was made almost purely of ice, the Royals found a way to market everything and could turn a profit from rock if it suited them. But The Library, once a rectory of power and the hubris of man’s infantile knowledge, had been equipped with running water, electricity, and quite a comfortable existence for something not directly controlled by the Royals. It was lucky for them at all that Link happened to be school-friends with Finn. It had certainly made the difference in her life. 

These thoughts and the strange history of her connection to Link and Finn played on her mind as she stripped off her underclothes and stood beneath the warm and indulgent spray. The grime of the Ring and ship life washed down the drain in rivulets of gray and left her skin, once again softly pink. The warmth seared the grazes of bullet wounds and shrapnel kisses and the caked-on blood slowly faded in ribbons down the drain. Her hair, less silt gray, her muscles less tense.

“What do you know about Saturn Rising?” The question cut the stillness as Finn rushed in, book in hand and glasses fogging from the bottom up. He tore them off and began flipping pages while steadily approaching the open tiled semicircle where she was unabashedly facing him beneath the spray. 

When he did look up, his throat contract in a hard swallow, the book softened in his hands. Eyes lingered; lips parted. She raised her eyebrows and thought of how many other men she would have killed in such a situation. 

“Saturn Rising? Is that what you call it?” she said and looked down below the heavy volume to his very unscholarly reaction. 

“I—apologies—” he fumbled and left the room with the stiff-legged pace of a man who’d encountered an immobile wall and was forced to go someplace else.

Laria stared after him and scowled. “Years alone in a monastery and that’s your response?” A pause from the 
dust-moted hallway.

“I’ll speak to you when you’re dressed.” 

“Men are stupid.” She grumbled and toweled off.
	
When she rejoined the group in the main hall, Link sat playing Druidroll with Rhea over the checkered octagon, both strategizing over the next three moves. Finn was at the table, a cup of tea going cold in front of him, his eyes cast deliberately down into the pages of the book.
	
“How was the shower?” Link asked with his eyebrow raised.
	
“It was wet,” she said, ignoring Finn.
	
“Good, I hope you used soap, you smelled.” Link smiled and made his move. Rhea’s eyes scanned the board.
	
“You’re not exactly a bed of roses yourself,” she retorted.
	
“Well, you could have asked me to join you—save some water.” Link sat back and looked at her. Finn cleared his throat. “Or was it too crowded in there already?”
	
“Don’t be a dick.” 
	
Rhea giggled and made a calculated move, taking three of Link’s pieces at once.
	
"So, what did you find out, bookie?” she asked with the sting of a woman rejected and sat in the farthest seat from him, legs folded, fingers combing through her wet hair. Finn watched her disinterested grooming over the top of his glasses and looked away, again his thoughts distracted by the memory of her water-warmed skin.
	
“Saturn Rising,” he began. 

Rhea looked up from the board and her post victory smile fell.
	
“You know about Saturn Rising?” she squeaked.
	
“What’s Saturn Rising?” Link asked and looked between Finn and Rhea.
	
“I know what it’s not,” Laria said and withdrew her moonblade to clean beneath her fingernails. Finn blushed and redirected. 

“Saturn Rising is a celestial event that happens once in a thirty-year cycle. Mostly it’s insignificant and passes without anyone knowing. While the event usually has epicenters, the locations are usually out of reach for our traveling tech. But this cycle, this Saturn Rising, is happening within the next few days. Here, inside of The Rings.”

“Uh, OK? But what is Saturn Rising? Like a solar flare? A reversal of poles?” Link asked.

Finn shook his head, “It’s hard to explain. Imagine a shift…a sort of—gathering of space and time.”

“I don’t follow.”

“It provides possible doorways, to other worlds. Sometimes even different times.”

“Ugh, could we talk about this after food?” Laria said and threw back her head. Finn scowled at her, knowing she was downplaying his intellect out of retribution, so he ignored her.

“Here,” Finn said and stood up. He took the table cloth and gathered it. “Imagine this is space—”

“Can we imagine some food to put on it?” Laria countered.

Finn went on without acknowledging her hangry fit. 
“Now, space and time sort of—undulate.” The word was sensual as his long fingers played with the silken material in soft waves. Laria watched them with entirely different thoughts in her head than space portals. “During a Saturn Rising, the fabric folds over itself. It’s believed that in these moments, people are closest to their true selves, and that we solidify into who we are in these moments of fold—”

“Ferking astrology,” Laria scoffed.

“When Saturn was first being colonized, Prophetics postulated that during one of these folds, A Conduit could be used to open a sort of slit in the fabric, and a person or ship could hop across the fold into the other place in the universe. Rhea, your father was the leading Prophetic in the study of Saturn Rising. I’ve read that he may have even been present the last one.”

Rhea blushed and her dark eyes sank into Finn’s.

“Hop into another place in the universe?” Laria chided. “Sure. I’ll just pop on over a billion light years to the neighbors for a spot of tea—” 

With an ease that should have been impossible, Finn took the knife from her hand, pickpocket speed. 

“Hey!”

He spun it in his long fingers with an agility she hadn’t know he’d possessed. Holding up the folded fabric, he gently perforated the two layers. 

“One side is our world,” he looked around the fabric to where the knife protruded. “The other side is a different one.”

All eyes stared at him. The room fell eerily silent. 

“So, Rhea knows how to find the…well the knife in this case? The Conduit?” Link said.

“If D’Sol’s theory could be believed, yes,” Finn said and laid the table cloth back down, the holes now spread wide from one another. “In the same way he found the last one. I think it’s in her genetic code to be drawn to the anomalies surrounding a fold.”

“Why in Kronos’ name would anyone want to jump across time to some place they knew nothing about?” Laria asked.

Finn held up his finger and an excited glow lit his eyes. “Ah! Beautiful question!” Laria blushed inadvertently. “D’Sol believed that on this particular rising, the cloth would fold back to Earth. He writes here that an anomaly occurred last time, thirty years ago, wherein something came through the fold and that the universe would naturally seek to fix the balance by repeating the fold on the next Saturn Rising.”

“Uh—” Laria’s disbelief hung on the air. “Earth was destroyed thousands of years ago.”

“Well, technically it still exists, it was just—uninhabitable. Or it was when humans left it. D’Sol argued that it could be a much-recovered planet and due to the difference in Saturn’s years versus the Earth’s, it would have had time to recover.”

“Wait, are you saying the Earth could be livable, again?” Link abandoned the game.

“What would that matter if it was? We can’t get possibly get back there. It took people thousands of years just to get to Saturn, to set up operations…to start over. You’d never have enough fuel to make it there, let alone the life span to survive the trip.” Laria injected harsh reality into the hopeful glow.

“Unless the trip only took a few minutes,” Finn whispered, leveling his eyes on her “Across a fold of space.”

Poetry 4-8-21

Today is my mom, (Christine Wickstrom’s) birthday, so before I get all poetic on your asses, let us take a moment:

Dear Mom:

Here’s to another trip around the sun with the woman who loved, fed, raised, and let me survive my teenage-hood. You’re a spiritual whirlwind, a passionate crusader, the raucous laughter I hear in my own voice, and the sturdy rock on which I was built. Also, sorry for using the word ‘asses’ up there…and again just now. Have a lovely day, take naps, eat good food, enjoy the sunshine and the new dawn of spring. I love you to the moon and back again.

And now, this:

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com
Old Soul

They used to say, 
over coffee cups
behind her turned back
that she was an old soul

Even at six
when she struggled to sit pious
in pews too hard for anything
but retribution

Or dreamed beside lazy rivers
in tall, cool grass
feet barefoot and setting roots
in worship of the bigger gods

An old soul, she thought, was
used, misused, tarnished
and dented
worn thin like soles 
on the bottom of shoes

She thought her soul 
looked like beaten leather
unfairly pocketed
and scarred with use

Everyone else got a new one
right out of the box
the day they were born
the 'new soul' smell still clinging 
smooth, shiny, glowing 
with kinetic possibility

But what choice did she have?
Old was far better than none.

Six turned to sixteen
and all the years blended 
in hues of decisions
and roads taken

the ones where she felt,
memories walked beside her
and footsteps recalled 
and every where felt like home
in far off rooms of her old soul.

Sixteen to thirty
and on to forty
and on, and on
and her dented soul carried
tears and laughter 
just as well as any other

better

Because new souls, she learned,
were breakable and brittle
they faltered in storms and
dented at the slightest strike

In the same span of years
the glittering glow of the new
was thin like a grocery store bag, 
plastic urban jellyfish, aimless 
and at the whim of every breeze that blew

But old souls
are stalwart souls

They grounded roots
feet in dirt and 
sturdy branches rising.
Fingers tasting every flavor of life
without being swayed to break.

Old souls have lived it all before
and are wise to the ways
of errant breezes and
the fickle affections of years.

Old souls, she learned, came back
loved and experienced once more,
into only those vessels 
strong enough to carry them.





A Word (or Several) About Writing Conferences

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
I’m not going to lie, I’m a lazy bastard some days. And I’ve got plenty on my plate to make me feel justified when I rehash an old blog, especially if it still fits with what I’d like to talk about.

This, being April and the start of the Writing Conference Season (I’m not sure if that should be a capitalized title, but it seems like an event so…I’m going with it) I thought it would useful to budding writers out there to go over some conference basics as well as some advice that has really helped me get the most out of them. This also being a totally new era, I’ve added some modifications to reflect our new Zoom/Teams lifestyles (not NEARLY as cool as a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle).

So, let’s get into the meaty goodness of writer’s conferences and why you should strive to attend at least one a year.


How do you choose which one to attend? 
 
•	Firstly, most conferences, at least since last year, have had to switch to some type of online format or perhaps online-in person hybrid to make accommodations for safety during the pandemic. So, the good news is, you may not have to shell out so much for travel expenses as they can be taken from the comfort of your home. Bad news is that you’ll still be at home and all the challenges that can go along with it. I’ll touch more on that later on. 

•	If you are anything like me, you’re wealthy in creativity but strapped for cash. One of the biggest deciding factors, for me, is the cost of the conference, along with which classes, speakers, and agents will be there. Getting to pitch to an agent, or multiple agents for publishers specific to your genre is a boon. Classes that are not just interesting but will help expand your craft are also good factors to consider.
 
•	Some conferences are genre specific and if you are a comfort-hugging archetype who doesn’t flirt around outside your style and subject matter, then definitely consider something specifically geared to your genre. The Romance Writers of America used to host in fun and far-off lands like…San Diego and…New York City…*le sigh* remember travel? Now things have changed. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s Wordsmith Institute’s Romance Writing Conference online and it was simply amazing. (they are offering the conference again this year and here is the linkhttps://www.wordsmith.institute/writing-events—totally worthwhile. In the fall they host a Sci-Fi conference that is equally engaging and informative). Genre specific conferences are awesome if you’re looking to polish skills or start out in a new genre that you don’t normally write in. Don’t be afraid to flirt a bit (outside of your genre, that is *wink)
 
•	If you’re stuck deciding between two, look at the courses offered, the speakers presenting, and if they are offering pitch sessions, especially agents suited to your work. Pick the one that gives you the most opportunity for growth and stretches your creative and ambitious goals.
 
How do I get the most out of my conference?
 
•	Here’s what I’ve learned. Plan ahead but be flexible. Conferences don’t just start the minute you pin that snazzy name badge on your seldom-used dress clothes (or, via online conferences, log in with only dress clothes on your upper half). They start the year before, during writing when you self-reflect on the issues you have with your WIP, your style, your grammar, or even the steps you want to take next. If you have trouble with dialogue but are a whiz at plotting out the perfect story arc, then use your conference to build up your weak points. Even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Which leads me to my next point:
 
•	Sit it on at least one session that is outside of your genre, comfort zone, or even interest. Look, conferences can be amazing experiences but if you’ve been through sixteen hours of various takes on the query letter or trying to perfect your memoir pitches, you’re not growing as much as you could be. Why do athletes cross train? Why does an engineering major still have to take social science classes? Because learning about the realm outside yourself will make you better in all aspects of your work. Try a sci-fi world-building class or screenwriting. I guarantee, you will get something new out of it that will help your project and your craft.
 
•	Push your limits. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally, share your story, your success, and your pitfalls. This is an awesome opportunity (I’m talking to you little introvert) to commiserate, vent, and rejoice in the craft you love so much. Pitch your novel, article, or story. Talk to the larger-than-life keynote speaker (here’s a hint: every single one of them I’ve had the pleasure to meet has been the kindest, most down-to-Earth and supportive writer). Come away feeling like the weekend/day was an experience that has changed you in some fundamental way.
 
How do I not get overwhelmed?
 
•	For goddess’ sake, take a break in the midst of it all. I’m the worst at this. I’m a classic victim of; “I paid the money and I’m going to hit every single class. I will volunteer, pitch, hit up the speakers at the dinner table, and stuff every bit of information into my head until explodes!” Then by day two, nothing makes sense in my mind, words are blurry, I’m not sure what my name is, and I’m crying into a self-made mashed-potato tower, while wearing Underoos on my head that clearly are not my own. 

Take the breaks between sessions or even forgo a session and find a quiet corner or go for a walk outside. You need it to recharge, allow time to absorb the information and be refreshed for the next round. This is especially true for online conferences! Take the computer to different rooms (if they’re still quiet) or outside if available, take walks in between sessions, take eye and body breaks (look far off for a spell, or ‘rest’ your eyes away from the screen, get up and stretch as often as available). Its’ almost like interval training—the space between, the recovery is what sets you up for the next round, so take it.
 

 
•	If you are pitching to an agent or editor, polish the shit out of that thing beforehand. Take your pitch to your critique group, your friends, random people on the street before the conference and learn how to deliver it with confidence and clarity. Know your story, your characters, and your plot, inside and out. That first page should sing the sweetest siren’s song anyone has ever heart and lure the tepid agent from the afternoon lunch lull into something exciting they want to read more of. The more you practice your pitch, the more it will feel like a conversation with a good friend instead of an interview.
 
•	If you are pitching, don’t be intimidated by the agent or editor. Remember they are people. They are there, specifically, to talk to you. To hear your story. To find the next big thing. Most of them are also just like you…they may even be wearing Underoos and like mashed potatoes. The point is, it’s okay to be nervous, but don’t go in assuming they relish the idea of shooting you down. Be polite and always thank them for their time and any advice they have to give.
 
•	Sleep before. Sleep after. Eat nutritious food, take walks outside whenever you can, and watch the caffeine and the booze. Free coffee stations are like crack for me (or conversely at home for online conferences—having my own espresso machine) and cash bars are a tempting mistress at the end of a long, people-filled day. But you’ll have things to do the next day and Underoos will stay safely tucked in if you can avoid that third cocktail. 
To conclude, I’d like to share one of the best lessons I’ve learned from conferences.

For every conference I attend, I add a layer to the writer in me. That is to say, through the people I meet, the classes I take, and the lectures I attend, I learn more about the craft. How, and when, and why, and what and all the technical attributes that come along with the delicate balance of creativity and grammatical science. But more than just the sum of these limitless parts, I learn a greater whole.

The whole that is me as a writer. 

And in doing so, I’ve learned how to enjoy myself more at these kinds of functions by listening to my body, my brain, and my growing years of experience. 

Back in the day, I would be hand-cramping from the steady stream of notes at each session. I would be tumbling from one to the next, chugging down coffee between in hopes to keep my energy up so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I would strategically place myself at the agent’s table who I wanted to garner the literary affections of. I would, in essence, be the adult version of my grade-school brown-nosing self. 

Something happened one year, while at the meet and greet “networking” event. I found myself long past my emotional and mental boundary and crossing all lines of my introvert nature, to garner the attention of at least a few more experts in the field. I was mentally exhausted, untethered and I felt like I was on emotionally shaky ground. I realized after a long day of learning and being ‘on’ that I didn’t want to be there. 

I didn’t understand my limits or that honoring them was at the core to being successful at a conference (and let’s face it, in life)

I thought I could talk it all day, learn it all day, do it all day. Nerding on a pro-level is a quintessential part of who I am. I loved hearing about other projects much more than I like talking about my own and reveled in the creativity and ingenuity of my fellow conference goers.

But…the more stories I heard, the more classes I took, the more advice I tried to apply—the less sure I became of my ability. The more tired I got, the more flustered I became, the wearier my mind, the less information I could process.

Until everything was just noise and words.


Then I learned a secret. 

You don’t have to throw yourself under a bus to catch it. 

Knowing your limits is not just useful in this particular scene. Knowing your limits is useful for all humans. And it comes with age and the ability to let go of unrealistic expectations.

During a few of my sessions, even as I listened to the speaker, I listened to myself. If I was inspired to write; I let myself write.

If \the iron was hot, I struck while in the moment, abandoning the mad scribble of notes.

Did I miss a little of the presentations? Sure, but in the midst of other brilliant minds and the energy they impart, in the middle of shutting out the rest of the world, the heart and brain start to do this funny little dance and learn to play again.
 
Inspiration doesn’t always happen at the opportune times. You have to write when the words are ready and when the heart is open. Conferences have given my heart a doorway, an acceptance into writing what often builds up behind all my carefully constructed walls. 

In years past, I’ve forced myself to jump the hurdles of social interaction and witty conversation until late hours, when all I really wanted was to wander off to a quiet room and take a nap.

I had to make it OK for myself to listen to that want, in order to get the most out of my time at conferences. These events open pathways, but only when we’re not too busy to see them. If we are embroiled in getting the most out of every single planned moment of the time, then we may miss the real lesson. 

Creativity is like a river and if you fully submerged you’ll easily drown. You’ll miss the beauty of the ride, the view, and the sounds. 

So, know yourself, Writer. Do the things that you know work for you. Let the river of creativity, carry you, but always leave yourself plenty of breathing room to be inspired. 


Guest Poetry: Sourav Sarkar 3-25-21

Good morning!

Today, I am pleased to feature the work of a stunning poet from India, Sourav Sakar. Sourav is a graduate of University B.T. & Evening College and received his post graduate from St. Josephs College in Darjeeling. His poems have been published in England, India, Bangladesh, America, Canada, and Trinidad. He is the author and creator of the Dead End Poetry Movement which you can follow here: https://www.facebook.com/Sourav-sarkar-poetry-794116610755710

Also, a gentle reminder that I will be reading my short story “Rinse, Reincarnate, Repeat” at CopperMuse Distillery this Sunday (March 28th) from 4-6. If you are in the Fort Collins or Northern Colorado area, I’d love to see you there. Along with a fun little story about God, Love, Stardust, Split-Aparts, and dogs, this incredible distillery will be featuring a special cocktail to go along with the story.

And now, this beautiful selection from our friend, Mr. Sakar:

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

Take over

Your presence is a gift to the world

You have two options here to live

Whether you be a slave of a follower of your own

Suppose you are a young bird travelling light years through time

And spreading magical sprinkles

To acquire living

Suppose yourself  also to be cloud

 Wallowing forest fires;

You motive will determine to move towards

Deserted roads or to a new destination

Then you will hear the sound of winds clashing together violently

You will be detached and  secluded

Having no sense of organ

You may think about aesthetics

Or animism

You have to take over the state of being alive

You have to break that metallic surface that is self made

By hoax.

Photo by Bhavesh Jain on Pexels.com

Faithful

Shut the doors

shouted master for a while

there were no passers by

on the road,

Indian summer had come,

thirsty water lands had been dried up

coconut sellers were showing pride

weather was clumsy and tight

and lazy boys were not there

might be sleeping in the schools

they took help of books

ice cream pedlars were looking dull

roaming about for hours

but a doggy was sitting still

his eyes were at the door

master took him and shut the door.

Dime Store Novel: Episode Three

Quick announcement in today’s blog: If you are in the Fort Collins or Northern Colorado area, I will be doing a live reading of my short story “Rinse, Reincarnate, Repeat” in partnership with CopperMuse Distillery (https://www.coppermuse.com/) on March 28th from 4-6pm. Along with a fun little story about God, Love, Stardust, Split-Aparts and Dogs, this incredible distillery will be featuring a special cocktail to go along with the story.

And now, this:

Part three in the continuing saga. Today’s excerpt is a bit longer… Because, I couldn’t not introduce Finn O’Toole. If you need help catching up, here are the first two installments.

1.) https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/01/21/dime-store-novel-episode-one/

2.) https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/02/18/dime-store-novel-episode-two/

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com
“Have you any idea what you’ve just done?” T’Elliot’s voice snapped onto the com before Laria had a chance to change Walt’s course. 
“Look, Telly, if you didn’t want those men to get shot—”
“And stabbed,” Link added, unhelpfully.
“—they shouldn’t have shot first. This ain’t no sandbox on Iapetus, you had a bounty—” Laria's throat constricted. “We took her.”
“What you did is put this whole solar system in jeopardy, maybe the whole universe, you worthless Mutt!”
“Ease up, Telly. I gotta long memory and I’m likely to see you again before those kinds of words get forgotten.”
“She isn’t just some map! That girl is incredibly important!”
“So says the payment,” Link spoke now.
“And did you ever stop to wonder who was paying for her?” T’Elliot’s voice got quieter. “Or why so much was offered?”
“I dunno,” Laria scowled at Link. “Did we think about that?” 
“The men, I can forgive you for. They were idiots and shoddy pirates at best, but if you bring her back, I’ll forgive the debt you owe.”
“I don’t owe you a kronosdamn thing,” Laria said and swung the ship across two vectors to reach the adjacent ring, slightly off course for Titan. She needed to think.
“What are you doing?” Link covered the com with his hand and looked at her. 
“What are we doing? Who’s paying for this girl?” she whispered back.
“I am not a man to beg,” T’Elliot interrupted their conversation, more calmly than before. Laria could picture him putting his bald forehead to steepled hands and sighing into the holy space of what usually amounted to a hypocritical prayer. “But, please, Eularia Longfellow, bring her back. We have to keep her safe.”
“Safe from who exactly?” Laria said. Silence filled the space between the orbiting ships. “Who is she, Telly?”
“She’s the map.”
“Yeah, well that means about gorseshit to me right now. I don’t need—”
“To the Conduit.”
“Could somebody please tell me what the ferk that means?” Laria yelled. Link shrugged. Rhea smiled at her from her bound position in the back chair. A knowing smile. A map at peace with herself and her silence. T’Elliot broke the confusion first.
“The Conduit is the tool that opens the portal—” 
Static. Silence. A slight tremor in The Ring. Laria looked behind them to see a ripple in space from where they’d just flown. A blossom of orange in the dark sky. A ship, snuffed out, leaving only the burning ember of wreckage. 
“Holy Ferk,” Link said, staring with wide eyes. 
“Kronos,” Laria breathed and immediately hit the cloaking button, bathing her ship, Walt, in the soft blue glow that hid them from sight and enveloped them in a forcefield. She redirected course immediately, causing the ship to swerve down and below the ring-way. 
“What are you doing?” Link yelled, not buckled and tumbling around the cabin until she righted the ship in its new course. “You put us in cloak and we’ll never have enough fuel to make it to Titan!”
“We’re not going to Titan,” Laria said.
“What? But the paycheck!”
“Somebody wants her, or wants to kill her, bad enough that they blew up a whole ship in the broad light of space. And I’m not getting blown up today, Link, so sit down and shut up.” She programmed in new coordinates, factoring in the tremendous cost of energy and fuel to the cloaking apparatus which wasn’t exactly sanction. They had a two-hour range, and only a few ports that might be safe. Once word got out that T’Elliot’s ship had been destroyed and they were the last ones in contact with it, those few ports dwindled to one, and Laria’s cheeks warmed at the last option.
“Mimas,” she whispered. 
“Mimas? Why Mimas?” Link said buckling up and settling in to help run the diagnostics that would keep their cloak from burning up too much fuel.
“The Library is on Mimas,” she said simply.
“Finn O’Toole is on Mimas.”
She scowled at Link.
“Does she ever smile?” Rhea sang from behind them.
“If she ever did, it was probably on Mimas,” Link chuckled.
“Mimas is overlooked and out of the way. It’s an orbital sanctuary, has a re-fueling station, and The Library will have information on what in the hades a Conduit is, and why it’s worth so much money and death.”
“And Mimas has Finn O’Toole.”
“Shut up, Link.”

*	*	*	*

“My old friend!” Link shouted and raised his arms, as if it were his home that Finn O’Toole had just walked into, and not the other way around. “It’s been too many turns!”
“Has it?” Finn said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s not enough.” He searched the sky to assess any danger his loud-mouthed, former school mate might have brought with him. 
When Link came to town, it was usually followed or preceded by some sort of mayhem, and usually in the form of blaster fire. Of course, it also meant that Eularia would be with him. And that’s where he directed his attention next; to the ship’s loading bay, opened wide like a great yawning mouth. A small, dark-haired girl walked a pace behind Link, absorbing the sky and surroundings like someone who’d been too long in space. Or someone who’s mind was not completely in this orbit. Her small feet took heavy steps as though they were her first. Interesting as this girl’s clandestine and tranquil manner was, he was really hoping for a scowl, from someone more uniquely beautiful and rough.
Finn had been kept away, at Eularia’s blaster length, for their first few years. It wasn’t a surprise; she trusted so few. But he’d discovered her soft fondness for the written word and through books, had been able to bring an unguarded smile to her face on more than one occasion. Since then, he’d judged his worth on how often he could make her smile. It meant bringing out some of his rarest books, or reading to her while she pretended to be asleep in his dilapidated hammock by the high window of The Library. 
He still recalled the last time they’d visited him for Sanctuary. He sat below her, reading. And as his persuasive words drifted up, followed by his gaze to light on her resplendent form, she draped one long arm over the side, a beautiful wide smile on her lips and his heart fell. Her fingers gently tugged on his curls and she pulled him in for a warm kiss before retreating back into the woven cocoon.
“I love when you read to me,” she whispered.
The destruction of his heart was complete in that moment. Finn stood no chance at ever living through her. Only five or so times they’d met in the last few cycles, and he looked forward to each and every one. Did she ever feel this way? The heart pounding anticipation of just being in the same room?
Link roused him with a knowing shove.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be here. She’s powering the decelerators down. We had to ride the last six orbits in cloak and Walt’s a bit hot.”
“Why in hades were you in cloak?” Romantic thoughts of Laria drained from Finn’s mind as quickly as they’d spread. He examined the sky again.
“Oh, am I supposed to ignore that sad puppy face you were just making when you thought I came alone?”
“I don’t—I don’t know what you’re—who’s this?” Finn asked, sidestepping Link and offering his hand to the young girl who held up her metal-clamped wrists in response. “Why’s she bound?”
“She is our bounty—least that’s what I thought she was this morning, but Longfellow is having inner turmoil over the matter. So naturally, she’s come looking for comfort.” Link said with a wry grin and wiggled his dark eyebrows in Finn’s perplexed direction. 
“Bounty? But she’s just a child—and what do you mean by comfort—”
“My name is Rhea D’Sol,” Rhea cut in and beamed up at Finn. She had to look quite a way up. He stood taller than most, lanky and in possession of a wild mop of curly hair, glasses and a regimented bow tie, Finn wasn’t the kind of man women sought comfort in. Least of all women like Eularia Longfellow 
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he tried to shake her hand again and turned back to Link. “Really? Are the binds necessary? We are not barbarians here. You’ve stepped off of your ship and onto my grounds. And I don’t hold with detaining prisoners in The Library. You know the rules,” Finn said, quiet but stern, and Link merely shrugged his shoulders. 
“Hey, bookie, take it up with the Captain. I’m sure she’d love to have you boss her around.”
Finn swallowed hard and looked to where Eularia had finished camouflaging the ship from overhead view and now strode across the flight deck, Walt’s hull door steaming closed behind her. The evening Mimas winds blew her hair across her heart-shaped face and the light of the setting star lit her skin in a warm golden glow.
“Pull your thoughts outta your groin and back into your head, bookie, and try breathing with your mouth closed,” Link whispered up to his ear. 
“My thoughts—”
“She’s like an angel,” Rhea whispered in reverence.
“She’s no angel,” Link answered though similarly heart struck at the sight of his captain and her determined gait. 
“What the ferk are you all standin’ around for?” she scowled. Finn smiled goofily at her before composing himself with a serious throat clearing.
“Captain Longfellow, I don’t think I should have to remind you that The Library es expiabat sanctuarium ab nocere.”
“’S that how we’re starting? Latin? After the kronosdamn day I’ve had?” she snapped.
“Apologies, but the rule still stands,” he said. The quiet velvet of his voice offered more reprimand than she knew how to handle. She cleared her throat, shifted a bag over her shoulder, and looked at her scuffed boots.
“I—know, I’m sorry. You’re right. She’s not really a prisoner. She’s just…a huge pain in my ass.” Laria cut away the weak bonds with her moonglass knife and Rhea rubbed at the swollen skin.
“How do you do that?” Link whispered and nudged Finn in the ribs, hard. “She’s never apologized to me!”
“You don’t deserve any apologies!” Laria yelled back at Link. “Sanctuary from Harm has saved our asses more than once, and I think there should be some honor amongst thieves. Even poor excuses for them like you! Fuel the ship, laser brain.” She brushed past the group and stepped through the carved stone door before the blush on her cheeks could incriminate her further.
“I like the Captain when she blushes. She’s very pretty.” Rhea skipped along behind her.
“In a cut-your-digit-off-for-touching-her-thigh kinda way.” Link muttered. 
“There’s nothing wrong with having boundaries.” Finn smiled; secretly happy he’d never suffered that fate.
“I’ve worked with her for eight cycles and not once has she ever taken my advice, Finn.”
“And we thank the stars for that, or you’d both be dead by now,” Finn said, matter-of-factly and followed Rhea inside.

Poetry 3-11-21

Good Thursday to you, Beautiful writers and readers. I’m still accepting submissions for this year’s Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”. Please send me your work (up to 3 poems, no more than 80 lines, with a short bio) to be considered for publication in the fall of this year as well as promoted on this site.

I’m so impressed and happy at the poems and writers who’ve been sending in their work and I will begin featuring them here on this blog beginning at the end of this month. For today though, you’re stuck with me.

Enjoy, and happy writing.

 
 Things I Love, Great and Small
  
 I buried my children’s fish today
 in the frozen ground
 where I had to chip through
 the hardened clay 
 for a hole just big enough,
 a palm’s worth
 of dirt
 to lay the spine twisted body
 of a once vibrant and
 complex machine
 who flowed with grace and ease 
 for miles around his five-gallon domain.
  
 I scraped my knuckles,
 the ground was so hard 
 in late February
 while birds sung above me anxiously 
 jumping the gun on spring
 singing of life
 of rebirth
 While the cold air bit the tip of my nose
and melted frost
seeped into the knees of my pajamas
where I knelt in dead grass.
  
 Why not just the toilet? 
 one easy handle pull in the warmth
 and comfort
 of the inside?
  
 Because things I love,
 those I cared for and looked after
 lives I've nurtured
 don’t belong in the toilet
 or the sewer
 or the river of waste and unwanted.
 Things I love,
 now still and soul departed
 belong in the arms of a mother
 the nurturing life of soil beside
 highways of roots

 they belong to the body
 of life and the circle 
 of growth and decay.
 Things I love
 great or small
 deserve the care and effort
 of kneeling and toiling
 of cold knees and watering tears.
  
 Things I love
 are not waste…
 are not forgotten.
 no matter how great
 or small.
  
  
   

Submissions, Rejections, and Moving On

I feel like this is a post I’ve probably written before, in one manner or another. But the truth is, that if you’re a writer, actively seeking to publish your work and/or build up your resume (let’s call it a ‘platform’), you’re going to have to deal, at some point in your process, with rejection. Hell, humans in general have to deal with it in all facets of our lives, and as we mature and gain experience we learn (or don’t learn) how to cope with it and move on.

*I should add a disclaimer: I’ve seen it happen, on the rare occasion that someone’s first draft of their first novel gets picked up by a publisher, right away. I’m happy for those few among us, but they are very rare outliers. The exceptions. The kid that blew the curve in class. And since they’re probably not in ‘need’ of writing advice–they can go on with their charmed lives. This post is for the rest of us*

A rejection letter for our artistic work (the meat of our souls if you will) is often harder to take than getting passed over for a promotion or shot down by that guy at the club (or wherever a person tries to pick up someone–I’ve been out of that game for many moons). Writing is, in many cases, a work of heart. And it takes guts and faith, and an ounce of reckless stupidity to throw it out into the world for other people to read (judge, pick apart, mock, etc.) So when we put our (he)art on the line and it’s returned with a swift and almost cutting “thanks but no thanks” it can often feel like we’re getting a red pen mark right through our soul. They didn’t like it. They don’t like me.

So here’s where I tell you the few things I’ve learned. Not just about in dealing with rejection but also how to submit in ways that will expand your confidence and the chances that your work will be seen and appreciated.

I could pound out a bunch of statistics on how many times major publishers rejected some of our favorite and prolific authors. I could tell you that some of those authors when into their thirties and forties (even fifties) without ever finding success in the industry, and I could give you a sunshine-up-your bottom pep talk about not giving in.

But I’m here to help. And I don’t believe in false praise, false hope, or anything false when it comes to finding the system that works for you. What I will tell you is this:

1.) Rejection is important to our growth and the quality of our work.

And there’s a blade thin line artists walk. Where the sting and wound of rejection can, in fact, topple us over and we may never rise again. It happens. All the time. So, when you think about being a writer—I want you to think hard about this one truth—

Your work will be rejected. Your words and ideas, your stories and the depths of your heart on page, will be thrown back at your feet and declared unwanted. But here’s the secret. It does not matter if they believe in your work. It doesn’t matter if they find it worthy. All that matters, is that you believe.

Your work is not you. So your novel was rejected and, if you were lucky (yes—lucky I said) they gave you some scathing or tepid advice about why. I’m willing to bet the editors did not say “You’re shoes are dumb and your breath smells like coffee farts. Oh, and your momma was a Clydesdale.” And if they did—that editor was having a really shitty day and you should send them some flowers—back on point. You are not your work. Rejection of your work is not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Everything in life that we want to get better at, takes practice, and the best practice includes mistakes and their inherent lessons. Your work is not perfect, but it is changeable. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Rejection of your work means you are out there, in the business building a better story and standing behind it. Don’t take it personally.

If they do offer you any advice, cutting or kind, PLEASE respond with a heartfelt thank you for their time in helping you become better. Assure them that you’ll consider their input and try again as guidelines allow.

And your mother doesn’t look like a Clydesdale.

But she’s a pretty momma.

2.) Submitting your work gets easier.

I remember the first few poems, short stories, and novels that I submitted, and it felt like sending my babies out into a wild cavern full of hungry wolves. It was heart wrenching to wait and equally devastating to hear that they’d been torn apart and spit out. But, with the aforementioned advice on rejection I’ve learned that a rejection notice isn’t a ticket to give up and stop trying. It’s one opinion, it’s one grade, it’s one lesson. And there are too many more to try to waste the time fretting over the one.

So, keep trying–submit like a goddamn machine. Schedule it, prioritize it, research possible avenues for your work. Put aside time each week to find the right places for your voice. Record where you’ve submitted, when, the cost, the call-back date, and the work (this is especially important if no simultaneous submissions are part of the rules *see #3 below*). The more you submit, the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to catch something. Don’t keep submitting to the same publisher/agent/journal/paper, with the same story/novel/poem/essay and expect different results.

3.) Read the Damn Guidelines and Follow Them As Though Your Life Depended On It.

Seriously, my pen pals, I cannot stress it enough. It irks the hell out of me to have a beautifully written story in a waste pile because you didn’t take the time to read the requirements, word count, genre, or editor’s rules. Sometimes one of the biggest filters any job/class/test/editor uses is the simple test of if the candidate can follow directions. So don’t be the douche that thinks you’re above jumping all the hoops. Show them respect by following the details. Then wow them with your work.

4.) Take the small wins

I don’t care if your local church newsletter published your tuna casserole recipe (how Minnesotan of you, Sarah!) or you had a haiku featured on a blog, or had a guest editorial in a nationally ran newspaper. Take it! Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back. These are the small steps that help you understand that your perseverance leads to good things and eventually, bigger things. Don’t go resting on your church cookbook laurels though. Celebrate and get back to work.

5.) Think about your endgame and plan accordingly

There are a lot of readers in the world (Hell, I’m one! I know you’re one!) which means there are eyes and minds out there for every story. Whatever your endgame is for your writing, decide early. Are you doing this to build a platform for future projects? Are you submitting because you love that particular journal? Is it for the love of your story? Or is it for profit or prestige. TO BE CLEAR: NEITHER OF THOSE ARE WRONG. But the path to each will be greatly different. So steer your submitting towards what you want to be when you grow up, whether that’s a world-wide best selling author, a respected indie poet, or someone who’s work affects even just one other person.

Well–That’s all I’ve got this month for advice on submitting. Do it prolifically. Don’t take rejection personally. Stay true to your voice and purpose as a writer and author.

Until next week. Happy Writing.

Poetry 2-25-21

Gentle reminder that I’m still accepting submissions for “Wilderness of Soul: The Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology 2021”. Check out the website for details and contact me with any questions.

And now… this.

The Poet

 Write me a poem about love
 that doesn’t end 
 in the breaking of hearts
 the rending of souls
 once sewn together in trust.
  
 Write me a sonnet
 where all affection
 is requited
 a balanced scale
 love gained and returned.
  
 Write me an ending
 not wrought with cages
 and dungeons of guilt
 and sharp glass
 and bloodlines on wrists.
  
 Write me a poem about love,
 that doesn’t end.
 Where every morning 
 breaks in brilliant hues of 
 hope, patience,
 passion divine.
  
 I cannot,
 I will not 
 replies the poet
 For I only write 
 in truths. 

Dime Store Novel: Episode Two

And now–a continuation of last month’s “Saturn Rising

(If you need to catch up, here’s the link to Episode One: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/01/21/dime-store-novel-episode-one/)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
 
 “Where in the hades are we taking this—thing?” she barely acknowledged the bound and now gagged girl in the seat next to him. The gag had been Laria’s idea. Though their ‘package’ had come willing with Link’s smooth and deep-voiced insistence that she had nothing to fear, Laria couldn’t have her sobbing out thanks or screaming in alarm. They had enough ferking problems. 
 
Getting off of T’Elliot’s ship hadn’t exactly been graceful and Laria suffered a deep gash when a lucky blaster shot had caught her arm as they’d tumbled through the airlock and activated the emergency escape course. Thank Kronos her ship was smarter than Link. The girl looked at Laria from beneath long, black lashes and a shiver ran beneath her suit. Those nebulous eyes, deep and trusting, reminded her of Edmund D’Sol. He had those eyes. Too soft for a place as hard as The Ring. Maybe this girl was a Prophetic also. Maybe she was just a girl that someone wanted.
 
“I’m not into flesh trafficking, Link, so you’d better have something else in mind.”
            
“Ugh, do you think me so crass?” Link placed his hand over the heart of his blue leather vest. Leather. Remnant of the creatures that had almost made a go of it in some of the settlements. Almost. Nothing survived out here. 
             
“I don’t know what to think of you anymore,” she shook her head.
             
“Now that hurts! Eight years we’ve been out here and you’ve never cut me so deep.”
             
“We both know that’s not true.”
           
“I forgive you my finger.” He said and held up the shortened digit in salute.
             
“Forgive me? Listen, you deserved that ounce. Probably more.” 
            
 “And to this day I’ve learned my lesson not to touch unless invited.” He smiled. She felt a small tickle in her cheeks, as though they were trying to mimic it. “Is that invitation still waylaid, or can I expect it soon—”
          
“The girl, Link. Focus.”
             
He rolled his eyes. “Someday, Eularia, you’ll see me for the catch I am.”
             
“I already know of at least three things I’d catch from you so, no thanks. The girl.” 
             
“Titan,” he said the word like a bitter taste in the back of his throat.
             
“No ferkin—”
             
“Titan, the far side,” he repeated.
             
“I—”
             
“Hate me?”
             
“Don’t like this. This whole thing. This isn’t Dolarian Chickens, Link! This is a kronosdamn human! Who pays for humans? No one good, I can tell you that much.”
             
“Do you want to get out of The Ring or not?”
           
Laria set the course to stay in the orbit of the second ring then spun her chair around to face the girl. Reluctantly, and with a scowl so fierce she might have been able to overthrow a government with it, Laria removed the gag from the small triangle of her face. The girl did not scream, only studied Laria, curiously.
             
“You are from a different people,” she said softly and in broken words. “Mismatched eyes, very rare. Are you alien?”
             
“Oh for…no! I’m a Mutt.” Laria shifted uncomfortably. 
             
“But you have old blood…something…before Royal even—” The girl’s face was in awe.
             
“I didn’t ungag you to talk about a lot of old people that I wouldn’t give two shits for. I wanna know who you are.”
             
“I am Rhea.”
            
 “Wow! The goddess? Funny, I imagined you taller.” Laria dismissed.
             
“Rhea D’Sol.” Rhea elongated the last name and stared at her pointedly. Laria cocked her head and shied away from the coincidence.
            
 “And?” she said, as if that was supposed to mean something.
             
“I am the map to the Conduit.”
             
“Like I said, a map.” Link said, a wave of his hand and everything explained.
             
“A map is a set of coordinates, laser brain, not a kronosdamn person.”
             
“I am the map to the Conduit,” the girl repeated, as if for the first time. The revelation meant nothing to Laria even on the second go around. She sighed, the line between her eyes deepening.
             
“Right. A map. Cool—” she rubbed the line inadvertently hoping the headache behind it would magically stop. “Link. I swear to the gods—”
             
“I promise, its nothing shady!”
             
“If we get there and its some drooling old Royal looking for his kicks with a fourteen—”
             
“I am fifteen—”
             
“Year old kid,” Laria interrupted. “I will tie you to a lanyard and drag The Ring with you.”
             
“I swear, Eularia—”
             
“I will hit e-ve-er-y ferking rock in The Ring, Link.”
             
“Understood, Captain,” he leveled his deep brown, olive eyes on hers and smiled. Laria buried her head in her hands and nodded. 
             
“I guess we’re headed to the dark side of Titan. Buckle up, ferkers. It’s gonna get rough.”
  
 *          *          *          *
  
 “God is a mean-spirited, pugnacious bully bent on revenge against His children for failing to live up to his impossible standards.”
  W. Whitman
  
 Evangeline A’Faust hated Saturn. Mostly, she hated Saturnians. But today she set into motion a plan that would allow her to leave this Kronos forsaken out-post, once and for all. Based on a prophecy she had intercepted in the grit of The Ring; she began planning the acquisition of an important map that would lead to a Conduit. A Conduit which, she hoped, would open a portal to a new planet. 
 
She had always been underestimated; the spoiled daughter of the Supreme Council Leader himself. But she had no desire to take control of this planet’s dying population. She wanted a new solar system to mine. More bountiful profits to gain. She could be the Supreme Goddess of a new world if she desired, unfettered by the laws of this one. Evangeline smirked at the turbulent and impassable rings outside her window. The key to her power was on a ship not six-marks from them. By the end of the moon rise in Titan, she’d have the map and soon the Conduit.

Evangeline looked down at her manicured nails and picked a bit of crusted blood from one corner; murdering the Prophetics who knew of the Conduit had proven to be nasty, bloody business. But one she took pleasure in. Bloodshed could only lead to a higher purpose, higher than any who had come before her. And, after all, Saturn’s Children were born to be sacrificed.
 
When the vastness of space began to close in on her, she turned away from the viewing deck and clasped her hands carefully in front of her robes. She’d sent that idiot, Janus A’verlink, for the map, having learned by removing a Prophetic’s organs, one at a time, that it was in the possession of T’Elliot’s pirating crew. The Ring Rats were also attempting to at gain control of the Conduit, it seemed. Her back-up, because where Janus ‘Link’ A’verlink was concerned one should always have a back-up, was to have her best and most viscous marksman go after them and clean up any Ring Rat interlopers that might try to take control of the map. 

It was a delicate balance to maintain. But Evangeline loved balance. 

Poetry 2/11/21

Good morning!

Just a quick reminder that the poetry anthology is accepting submissions until September of 2021. I’m already receiving some truly amazing work. In the next few months I will be featuring and promoting the poets who have submitted their work. I encourage you to support their work and check out their other writing endeavors. If you have something to contribute to the “Wilderness of Soul” please feel free to contact me at sereichert@comcast.net.

Today, I’m offering up a couple of poems in semi-celebration of this strange month of ‘love’. Enjoy the broad spectrum of heart.

 
SCARS
 Growing a scar is hard.
 The wound never stops throbbing
 It’s enough to keep you awake at night
 And irritated during the day.
 The thrashed skin, angry and red,
 Prying open at the slightest provocation
 So you wrap the bandage
 Good and tight,
 Until the rest of the limb
 Distal to the wound
 Throbs with its chokehold, 
 Gasping for blood. 
 No blood, 
 But no pain either
 And no dead skin, 
 Hanging to catch on your clothes.
 Reminding you
 At every minute
 Bump against door,
 Hair toss
 Or paper turn
 That someone,
 You love
 Cut you. 
 
 
 Lizzy
  
 We were girls in tall grass
 Running with scraped knees
 And dry throats.
  
 Disappearing into the past
 When things were simple
 When life was sunshine
 And big-dipper gazing
  
 We were the past 
 I can’t quite recall anymore
 But the whisper of memory I hold on to 
 Like the edge of a cliff
  
 What if I forget?
 Will we both stop existing?
 Will we snuff out 
 Without the constant loop playing 
 Over and over in my memory?
 Do I keep you alive?
 Or does your memory keep me?
  
 Your bike gears were gritty with sand
 and the vinyl on your seat was cracked
 so you never sat.
  
 You were never still.
 You were perpetual motion 
  
 And magic kept you aloft.
  
 How still and fallen you lay now.
 The earth is tender and cruel
 Around bones that once
 Commanded the rotation of the skies.
   

Romancing The Story

Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers these movies. I think, they may be partly to blame for my current profession (not the karate instructor—the other one, that pays even less). I loved the quirky, unrealistic way that the original frumpy romance novelist came upon adventure and began living the kinds of stories she only wrote about before. I also loved that by the second film we see her living this exotic and adventurous life and still suffering writers block brought on by lack of romance in her characters.

How I imagine I look as a tough-ass romance novelist
What I actually look like, flannel pjs and all.

Because no matter how much adventure, vine-swinging, sheik angering, and Jewel finding you do, if you’re not in love with your novel, no one else will be either.

Bam. Mic drop. Blog finished, I can go take a nap….

*sigh* ok, I’ll elaborate.

Romance isn’t just about what happens between the sheets in a typical Harlequin. Romance is about creating a smolder, a heat, an intrigue between your characters, and between your story and your readers.

When I titled this blog, I worried I would lose those writers who focus on different genres and have little need for ‘romance’. Suck that (respectfully), we all need romance. Humans are born to seek out connection. Now, the phases of it and levels of requirement are different. But the truth remains that if there isn’t chemistry between your characters…be it platonic, hate, or lust…the story will fall flat.

Well, gee whiz, Sarah, what do I do about my Scifi Cowboy Inter-dimensional six book series where no speaking women exist because I’m THAT kind of author.

how much talent, great story writing, and acting did we lose in this era from all the stereotypical, misogynistic bullshit? The world may never know.

First of all—ugh, way to cut out 50% of the entire thinking, capable, and amazing population and demote us to some hot object in a skimpy space suit, so 1960’s of you. Secondly, your ‘lone star’ lead has to have some connection to someone or something. A loyal side kick, his long-lost brother, his space ship, or *puke* if you must, even some hot object in a space suit.

Otherwise, he lacks a pathway for your reader to connect to him. Characters that ‘don’t need anybody’ are fine, but you may find that attitude extends to your readers. They won’t need him either. Characters, even the lone wolf, are better if they really do need people and are just too afraid to say something, until somewhere in act three.

“Hurrumph—well, I write non-fiction only. There is no romance. Its fact and common knowledge. I do not deal in fluff.”

Lady, (or mister?) listen. The numbers of readers you will get from a book that is all fact and no heart (i.e. romance) will be disappointing. I can’t think of a single person who goes back to their high school American history book and eats up 100 pages on the American Revolution (I’m sure they exist okay, there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ informative book). I can, however, name numerous people all salivating over Hamilton tickets. Why? Because THAT story, makes us fall in love with the characters. The writer found romance in the people, situation, and actions of the time. It created a bond by connecting us to common feelings, needs, and emotions. And that’s what romance is really about in writing. Appealing to the human divine in all of us.

So, in this made-up month of love, explore your current work in progress and ask yourself if you are in love with these characters, their story. Ask if your character is hell-bent and heart centered on someone or something three-dimensional to ground themselves to. Is it throwing spice into the reading? Or is the plot fizzling? Where and how can you use romance to draw in and maintain your reader’s attention?

After all, romance is not romance, if it doesn’t have an anchor of reality at its heart.

Poetry, Pasts, and Lessons Learned

One of the things I love most about poetry, especially the words you write in the heat or ache of intense emotion, is that even when you’ve healed up and haired over, reading those words makes that moment real and bright once again in your mind.

Hopefully, when those poems and words are the rock-bottom kind, we can look back, feel the gut-sting, and thank our lucky stars that we wrote the words down instead of burying them inside to fester. Because like trials and hardships, joys and celebrations, everything in life is in constant motion. We live in flux, and especially as writers, must catch the moments on their sharpest edge to be reminded, in the dull lulls between, that life is brilliant and biting, and every moment worth being present for.

I hope you all have some dark words out there, and by out there I mean on a page or in a journal and not sitting still inside your chest. I hope you all are walking in brightness now, with a touch of perspective and an appreciation for the battles that made us stronger.

And now, this:

Spectre

Dawn breaks
and the spectre of you
lives in my chest
ever-claiming, each cell of my useless heart

I wake and you softly stir
the creature in my rib-bone cage
a wooden spoon against an empty pot
you push my blood to move
to exist
and though I so desperately fight
against the notion,
I blink

I rise

If only you’d leave me in peace
I could go
stop fighting, stop pushing
stop throbbing heart beats against
this useless existence
and tissue paper flesh.

It goes on in this way
from the rise of the sun
cresting over head
to when it crashes back down
over the western sky

Still you stay

fighting to continue
determined to survive
against ribs that long to be still
and lungs aching to be emptied one last time

Night comes like false reprieve
bearing sleep, the closest I can come
to separating my soul from your memory
a little death where I can close my eyes and pretend
the uplifting will finally cut the tie
the chain of love, I so stubbornly tied.

But dawn breaks
And the spectre of you
still wakes in my chest.

Dime Store Novel: Episode One

Hey Kids! Do you know what time it is?

—–

That’s right! It’s the inaugural episode of The Beautiful Stuff’s Novella Series. Every third week of the month I’ll be running a small piece of one of my light-hearted sci-fi novellas for your mental break and enjoyment. Without further ado, enjoy!

Photo by Nicole Avagliano on Pexels.com

Saturn Rising
By Sarah Reichert

“You have not known what you are, you have slumber’d upon yourselves all your life.”
W. Whitman

“I’m getting pretty ferking tired of your great ideas, Link!” Laria shouted over the sound of blaster fire. She dodged away from the shrapnel exploding by her head and cursed beneath her breath. “Half-assed, brain-frozen, Royal snot rocket—”

            “Hey!” he yelled back from his crouch on the other side of the hallway. “Easy with the ‘Royal’. You’re gonna hurt my feelings!” he smiled the beautiful smile of someone who had an easier upbringing. She scowled back and yelled intelligibly as she emptied her cartridge into the hallway, leveling six of the ten armed men.

            “Kronos, Laria—” Link barely had a chance to look through the smoke to see the rain of death she’d served, before she’d reloaded with an angry shake of her head and charged down the hall in the moment of confusion. He didn’t want to be accused of being cowardly on top of her tirade, so like any reluctant partner, he followed, covering her charge with his blaster fire. He winged one, caught another in the neck, and she dispatched the other two with frightening speed and the two moonglass knives tucked into the sleeves of her suit.

            The gunfire ceased. The hall turned into a fog-covered graveyard and settled in eerie silence.

            “That wasn’t so bad.” Link looked around with a nod and an impressed smile.

            “You’re a ferking idiot.” She shoved his shoulder and moved passed him. “We’ll be lucky if that little welcoming party didn’t wake the whole kronodamned ship. ‘In and out, quiet as a couple of space rats!’ That’s what you said!” she swung her head to the left and right as she moved with stealth down the hall way.

            “Well, if we’re taking count, when have I ever been right about the ease of things?” he smiled to her back. She felt it, like a warm pocket of laughter trying to caress. She drew her shoulder blades back to ward it off.

            “Don’t try being cute, let’s just get the kronosdamned map and get out of here.”

            “You’ve got such a lovely mouth.”

            “I ferking hate you,” she said and ended the conversation by kicking in the door to the storage bay with the snapping cock of her recharged weapon.

            The bay was dark and unguarded. Not something she expected to be sure. Especially with the line of goons that T’Elliot had stationed outside. She opened the shield bag from her utility belt and her eyes swept the room, adjusting to the dark quicker than Link’s.

Royal genetics, she sniffed as he bumbled into a crate beside her; useless in The Ring. Royals liked to shit on the Ring Rats and Gassers, but every Saturnian, from the Titans to the smallest moon outliers knew that the Royals were a dying breed. Remnants of an inbred class system, and not a hard day’s work among them.

            “How big is this map?” she whispered, as Link reached for his light and swept it into the far corners of the crated room. A pair of eyes flashed back at them. Dark eyes…nebulous. The firelight inside them burned into Laria’s brain instantaneously. They belonged to a girl, small and buried in a ragged cloak, shaking and frightened and cowering into the corner. Her long, thin arms pulled into her chest as she tried to sink back into the darkness.

            “Human sized?” Link said looking back at Laria with that same smile.

            “I ferking hate you.”

*          *          *          *

            The power in the boosters of their small Titan port ship fired with a thrust ratio not available to most in The Rings. That was thanks to Link, unfortunately. Laria reasoned it was the least he could do, tinkering with her ship to make it faster, as it was always his fault they had to get away quickly.

But this. She clenched her teeth and her jaw popped. She didn’t even want to look over at him, sitting with that smug and stupid smile, arms above his head like he was just taking in the scenery on a space cruise.

He had no right looking like a cat that caught a canary. The phrase her mother had used was still stuck in Laria’s head. Kronos knew where she’d gotten it. Probably from the strange and rare set of books she’d had. Laria didn’t even know what a cat was. Or a canary. But it was probably what the Royal Council would look like if they caught them.

She’d be crucified as a pirate, even though it was the Royals’ practices that kept The Ring on the edge of the law with excessive taxes and ridiculous rules. Regulating the Ring Rats and Gassers to death while they reaped the profits of the planet. Preaching from pulpits that it was their honor, as Saturn’s Children, to be consumed by the planet for the survival of the species.

Link wouldn’t suffer if they were caught. He had Royal blood. Untouched blood. They’d just throw him back into his father’s compound and he would be forced to shape up and stop playing smuggler. Laria snorted; get a real job.

Everything and everyone in The Rings had its place to keep the balance. The rich stayed rich. The poor marched steadily towards death with Rasp Lung, or by Fiersprout when hydrogen leaked from inadequate equipment. Like her mother and countless friends, Saturn’s Children were destined to be consumed by their father.

            Laria took a deep sigh; dropped her shoulders away from her ears and loosened her hold on the controls. All that lot; The Royals, the Gassers, Ring Rats, rules, regulations, and operations, wasn’t her fight and she didn’t want any part of it.  She just wanted to earn enough to leave this Kronos-forsaken planet, all its jumbled-up masses of moons, and the kronosdamn endless nothing beyond. Where she’d go, she wasn’t sure; but she knew there was something else she was supposed to be moving on to.

She maneuvered passed the rocky streams of the innermost rings, undetectable through the murky atmosphere and untraceable in the orbit of Saturn. Her mother’s last words ran through her mind, sudden and uninvited.

You have to go back, Eularia. You have to lead them back, back to Janus. Listen to Whitman: This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, stand up for the stupid and crazy, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, re-examine all you have been told and dismiss whatever insults your own soul. You don’t belong here; you have to go back.

The words returned her to the dusty yellow light, the small, hovelled quarters of her mother who coughed up blue spittle from Rasp Lung and insisted she was all right even as she gasped between expunges. And the faded copy of verse, barely kept together with tape and glue. “spit and the grace of Kronos” her adopted father, a man named Edmund D’Sol, would say. He would visit on rare occasions and talk about mystical things and far off futures, always instilling his own stories of The Ring and the great Kronos.

Her mother would scoff; “Blaspheme…one god, one planet, many moons…gorseshit.”

“Don’t you believe in Kronos, ma?” Laria had once asked. Her mother spit on the ground, blue and oozing, and pulled the book from the shelf, one in a small mining community that knew nothing of books.

“I believe in Whitman.”

            “But ma—”

            “Shhh! Listen—To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls—” and so she would go on. Expunging on how the desperate and sad, fond and sick, would go towards the best. Towards something great. Her eyes blurred against the endless darkness beyond, and the world that she hoped her daughter would make.

            Look where it had ferking got them? Her mother’s stories of Earth were mirror images of Saturn’s plight. Greed and power. Powerless and death. Same ferking story, different planet.

Join me in a few weeks for the next exciting chapter. See you then!

2021 Beautiful Stuff Poetry Anthology Submissions

From now until September 30th I will be accepting poetry submissions to be considered for The Beautiful Stuff 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.

This anthology will loosely follow the themes of nature, growth, transformation, self-awareness and personal resilience.

Poems may not exceed 80 lines, must be previously unpublished (unless it was on author’s website), and must be the original work of the author. Please send all submissions to: sereichert@comcast.net, or via The Beautiful Stuff website: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/contact/) with the subject line “Wilderness of Soul Submission”

In the body of your email, please include the title; your poetry, your name, and a short bio. You may submit up to three poems for every entry. You may submit as many times as you would like, but please ensure that each submission includes different work. If your work is a simultaneous submission please let me know.

There is no fee for submitting.

Every submission will be read and, if selected, the author will be notified by October 15th, 2021 via the contact information provided.

Winners will receive 2 free copies of the anthology, promotion through The Beautiful Stuff Blog, and a chance to have the book entered into the Colorado Book Awards for 2021. Authors will also have the option to purchase more copies at a discounted rate.

You may email me or message me via Facebook with any questions or concerns you have about the contest rules and submissions. As usual, I welcome poetry along the entire spectrum of creativity (from the traditional to the strange, from the sparkly-sunshine to the darkly macabre) but will reject any work that glorifies or promotes extreme violence, racism, sexual degradation, or harm against another human being.

That’s the long and the short of it. So send me something good. Give me guts and heart, all the dark and light of your thoughts. I look forward to reading your poems and giving you a chance to showcase your work!

Have a little poetry:

CONNECTION

Photo by Martin Lopez on Pexels.com

Beats the rhythm

Inside my chest,

Shaking the tender bones of my ear

Arousing the eternal chorus

The human heart beat,

The womb of sound and voice

That speaks in vibrations to

The celestial mathematician

Caged inside my cells

How we dance,

Humans

How we shake our heads and hips

Filling up the empty dark

With the pulsing light-magic of sound

Pouring warm caramel voices

over triplet beat

Reaching into the inner primordial

Tying strings to our bones

Weaving stories through our

Muscle fibers,

Puppeteering our

hip locks and drops

In the same wave of motion

Connecting us

Without color or god.

Resonating with all

That is

Our divine.

2021: The Master Plan (Also Known As: “Isn’t she cute when she gets all ambitious?”)

First and foremost, I’m rarely, if never, cute.

Secondly, I’m often falsely and overwhelmingly ambitious. Like my brain fails to conceptualize how much time 24 hours actually is, or that I’m a fallible human, or that I don’t live in a vacuum where I can do everything I only want to do every day. Still, consider this my “feeling cute, started as ambitious, I’ll probably delete it later” selfie.

(Thirdly: I hate selfies and actually, most pictures of myself. They’re too–static and flat–I prefer the reality of curves).

So, without further mumbling on my part, here’s the *tentative* plan for The Beautiful Stuff this year.

  • I will be opening up calls for submissions at the end of this month (January 21st to be exact) for the next Poetry Anthology, tentatively titled “Wilderness of The Soul”. Last time it was pretty much all willy-nilly and I broke book up by ‘like’ poems. This year, I picked a theme–well, because I’m all grown up and shit.
  • This year’s Anthology theme focuses on the aspects of Nature, Self-Discovery, Internal Conversations, Growth, Change, and Resilience through Hardship. I’ll be offering the exact details (length, format, bio information and all the fun legal small print) later this month so stay tuned for that.
  • Also beginning this year (also on the 21st–Jesus did I not realize there were twenty nine other days in this month?) I’ll be running a fun little slice of a novella I’ve written on every third Thursday, sort of like the serial stories one would follow in the ancient days of magazine subscriptions. I labeled it Dime Store Novel because the features are campy, light, fun and adventurous. If you are interested in contributing to this experiment, reach out and lets taco about it. Yep. I meant taco.
  • I am entertaining the idea of having guests bloggers (I have a limited number of posts available for those interested and with something Beautiful-Stuff-esq to contribute). More on that to come in February.
  • Lastly, I will be running a poem or two every month and I encourage your feedback, sharing, and comments on those. Other than that, I’m still reserving one slot a week for a writer-writing-about-writing essay to offer advice, tips, and tricks that have helped me.

And that’s my Blog Plan–I won’t bore you with the other list plastered to my wall at my desk about finishing three novels, earning my 2nd degree black belt, continuing to learn two languages, revisiting piano, and 6 to 8 14ers I’d like to climb. Like I said, ambitious to a goddamn fault.

Take care out there kiddies, start dusting off some of your poetry so we can get it published.

Comment, email questions, or contact me anytime through this site. I look forward to a not-too-cute-but-hella-ambitious-year ahead.

Happy Writing.

The Brink…

The eve of the New Year feels different this year.

We’re standing on the precipice of a deranged, hurtful, hateful, fearful time of existence, wishing that the turn of the calendar will somehow magically allow us all to step into a new world, free of the worries and trials nipping at our heels. The hope that a new vaccine, a new administration, a new awareness, a new number on the end of the date will lead to a year that won’t be a complete and total shit show is riding on our shoulders and settling into our veins, like a bandage to a too-deep wound.

Picture a six inch gash that needs hundreds of stitches, antibiotics, and physical therapy. We’re talking muscle deep. And the change from the 31st to the 1st is the Curious George band aid you got from the elementary school nurse.

I’m not saying this to be a Debbie Downer.

I’m saying this to be cautious (Cautious Kate?) that a socially constructed but otherwise meaningless mark of ‘time’ doesn’t determine a great paradigm and brink-of-destruction shift.

I’m saying this to tell you—if you need that date to start a different way of doing things, then Hu-fucking-zzah to you and get on it, Girl (or Bro?) but don’t think that the minute shift to a new year is going to change the world itself.

That calendar flip won’t do anything until we change.

Until we start giving a damn about other human beings.

Until we start understanding if our environment dies, so do we.

Until we start to understand that science seeks truth and power corrupts.

Until we stand on our own, think for ourselves, and treat everything we touch (physically, mentally and emotionally) with the same care, empathy, and love as we would our own child (or cat if you’re a fur momma) our world will never improve.

I’ve thought often of ending this blog in the past year. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing. One voice shouting into a vast expanse of darkness. One voice raised against so many overpowering facets of corruption. One voice aching for connection.

But I know I’m not the only one. And as long as our collective lights continue to shine, there will never be complete darkness. So I will stand for another year. For another day. For as long as it takes until love overpowers hate, for as long as it takes for humans to wake up to the gift of their existence.

For as long as I draw breath, I’ll write. I’ll shine.

This next year will bring about more poetry as well as a new request for submissions from readers and poets for a second anthology from The Beautiful Stuff. There will probably be some ranting, some raving, and some venting. I can’t help that—and I’m not going to try or even apologize for it.

I’m also planning on running a ‘dime novel’ series that will include some weekly submissions of short stories (a la novella style) ranging from sci-fi/fantasy, to romance, to speculative fiction.

Stay in touch, and I’ll announce submission dates for not only guest blog pieces, poetry, and anthology submissions, but also for “dime novel” contributions.

Until then…keep shining.

If you must make New Year’s resolutions, don’t think about a smaller pair of pants, but how you can make your voice and your power bigger in this world. Don’t think so much about an organized closet, but an organized movement towards social justice.

Let’s aim our sights on living large of heart in this new year.

Poetry

Today was not my best

I woke up with

Heart palpitations

A panicked bird in my chest

Crushed with loneliness

Aching just to be touched

To be reassured

that my own body was real

And beneath that,

Behind the pounding of my brain

The incessant ache in my temples

I felt this burden.

the world’s sadness

all of it,

pressing out from behind my eyes.

None of it mine

To fix.

Not even if I tried.

I woke and debated with myself

The rational side whispering

Don’t wake them.

Though you’re lonely

And sad

And shaking

Don’t let them bear witness

To the crazed cacophony of terror

That pounds in your veins

That sends shivers rolling through you

Marching to the song:

You’re not enough

Nothing will be enough

We’re all going to burn

The world is ending and

You’ve brought

your own children here

To die.

I wrapped my arms around your body

To touch something real

To be grounded

To hold on

And help me feel

Not so alone.

Not so much pain.

But still this feeling follows me

In the daylight

While I set the table

And type the words

And bend to fit

What needs to fit.

A panic hangover

Like a shadow behind my eyes

Dulling everything with shades

Of impending hopelessness.

Today I’m not my best.

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

The Moment of Pay Off

Every year I learn something new from participating in National Novel Writing Month. This year was no different. This year, I learned that sometimes, the project you think is a total loss, is reborn into something amazing with a little time and added experience.

The story idea that I began the month with was an old short story I wrote before my children were born. That’s probably 14 years ago people. Nearly a generation. I don’t know what drove me to pick it up again. I actually don’t know what drove me to keep it. But there it was on my computer—converted from an older version of Word, ratty and thin, barely holding ink on a page.

I’d seen the file, hanging on the end of my groupings of files like an unwanted 41st wheel, always in my peripheral. There’s that really odd one. Yeah, the one I wrote when I was in massage school? All about the herbalist turned witch. The one where I was still clinging to my Anthropology degree and geeking out over the prehistory of Scotland and Norse invasions? The one with the Mary Sue characters that fell flat on the page and fit too perfectly into every stereotype a 20-something inexperienced writer would believe?

Some of you may be asking why I didn’t just start a new project. Some of you are probably wishing I’d just get to the point, since you’re reading this out of a strange sense of obligation.

Well, when I went into a blank document for this year’s challenge, with 2020 hanging like a wet and heavy blanket over my body, squelching (yeah, I used the word squelching—don’t judge me—that’s the kind of word that needs to be brought back into the vernacular) any creative fire that might ignite, I just didn’t feel like I could accomplish the goal. I needed a buffer. A little boost. Something I wasn’t tired of working on, something not always shouting in my face to finish it…

Something in my peripheral.

And there it was—over there in that file innocuously labeled “Scot1”.

On to my point—

Knowing it was a shitty short story didn’t dissuade me. Because, somewhere in my brain, I knew there was potential. And the only reason I knew that, was because (and here’s the point) in 14 years of writing I’ve learned stuff.

Ah, here reposes the introverted house slave–bereft of even her rodent companions.

Since I wrote the story, I’ve taken numerous classes, conferences, and workshops, on everything from plotting and character development, to crossing genres and writing fight scenes. I’ve taken classes on editing and how not to write. I’ve written some novels. I’ve done a lot of hard cutting. I’ve explored different genres and played around with suspense techniques and “aha” moments. So when I saw this shabby little house-maid in the cinders of the proverbial fireplace, I looked past the soot and rags and saw the potential beneath, not because I’m all-knowing about what would work, but because I had learned, through investing in my craft, what didn’t work about it.

And maybe more importantly, that it could be changed.

So, what was lesson number one? Trust in the process of investing in yourself as a writer. Admit you don’t know it all, and that others have good advice to give. Soak all the information in, approaching each class or workshop as a beginner, no matter how many years you’ve been writing.

With knowledge, even the worst story can be made better. Knowledge also loosens the hold of fear that sometimes keeps us from progressing. Knowing how to cut and change becomes less heart-wrenching with the perspective of a better finished product. Knowing what makes a more interesting character, learning to take some of the polish off the Mary Sue, and turn her into more of a Jess Jones.

You can take a Snidely Whiplash and turn him more into…well…

When you give yourself the gift of knowledge, the list of what you can do breaks the boundaries of what you can’t.

Sometimes…you may even discover doorways that will bring over characters from other beloved series you’ve written…

Ladies and Gents–have a little Faith.

So there you go—look forward to a future magical realism/Norse mythology mix up with a delicious little love triangle, and the potential for a new generation of crooked smiles and bouncy red curls.

The Best Gift

As we move away from November, closer to the shortest and darkest day of the year, I can feel a collective sigh round the country. This year has been unlike any other, and although some of the turmoil is behind us, a mountain still looms in front of us. We aren’t even out of the proverbial woods on many of the disruptive and soul-shaking happenings of 2020.

COVID is still raging, probably more so because of the holiday season.

Racial Injustice is still scarring and poisoning our society.

The rich are getting richer (glad to see the stock market is so healthy while 1 in 3 American school-age children are suffering from food insecurity—are we still calling that kind of shit a ‘win’ for the economy?) The poorer are falling into depths of poverty they can’t begin to rise from.

The world’s still burning and flooding. Freezing and drying up in ever intensifying waves, destroying entire habitats and species within shortening periods of time.

Did I come here to remind you of the dumpster fire caught in a tornadic shit storm that is our world? No, I did not.

I came here to remind you that you are a vessel of light.

I came here to remind you of your potential to shine even in the face of unsurmountable difficulty and hardship.

I came here to remind you that your attitude, actions, and struggles matter and can make a difference.

Am I preaching to go forth and be a Pollyanna, ray-of-delight-and-positivity, spreading goodness and sunshine to the masses so that they can catch your optimism like gonorrhea on spring break?

No. Jesus Christ, no. Certainly not.

Look, we’re all reeling. We’re all coming up out of the dark of our own prisons. We’re all trying to find balance.

I’m just asking you, in the gloom and confusion of your current state, to get out of your own head for a goddamn minute. Get out of your own misery and extend your hand. Haven’t we been marinading in our own suffering long enough? I’m saying take a break—go marinate in someone else’s—(ew David, that’s gross).

Here—let me try that again—

Do something for someone else. Donate a little more if you can (be it time, money, or resources). Bring your elderly neighbor groceries or offer to put up their holiday lights. Send care packages or thank you notes to your local hospital for the doctors and nurses who are worn thin. Call your mom. Call your best friend. Hell, call your best friend from high school. (Just–don’t call your ex—nobody needs extra shit in an already rampant shit storm). Patronize your local businesses for the holidays and take out.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

None of that appealing? Not feeling THAT altruistic? Ok, feed the birds outside, especially on cold days. Spend ten extra minutes playing with your dog (but don’t break your foot—Christ Joe, do I need to pack you in bubble wrap?) or be ignored by your cat, more often…perhaps at a closer distance. Read your kids an extra story. Hug them twice as long as you normally do.

Still not ‘up’ for that challenge?

Then at least wear your goddamn mask, wash your hands, and give people space. Stay home if you’re sick. Respect people’s level of comfort—do not call it unfounded or fearful if they choose to be cautious. Call it a civic duty to keep others safe and to not create more hardship to our front-line workers and medical professionals. Being a good citizen, respecting others, and  thinking about the well-being of our fellow humans should never be seen as fearful.

That’s what being a light is about. Thinking about someone other than yourself. And that, my friends is the best gift you can give.

If you can do that…just one or two of those things, I guarantee something amazing will happen. The world won’t just look a little brighter. It will BE brighter. You will feel it in the center of your chest. You’ll start to see the world as a series of choices, opportunities, to glow a little warmer. To spread more joy. And I can’t think of a world more in need of the simple, small acts of kindness. No Pollyanna pigtails and sunshine yellow dress required. (Unless you already have the outfit and bitch you look fine in it—then rock that shit).

Go on now—get out of here and do something with your codger-ly, huff-ly, badger-ly self. Be a reluctant light if you have to. But be one.

Giving Thanks

This is a little piece I wrote many moons ago for my gig at The Northern Colorado Writers Writing Bug. I’ve elaborated because (well–it’s my blog here and I can write beyond 400 words if I damn well want)

I can’t think of a better day and year to re-run it. My parents are pretty amazing people, and having a third and unexpected mouth to feed didn’t make their life any easier. But I am eternally beholden to them for the sacrifices they made to raise my siblings and me. I’m thankful for the love and laughter they built our home around, and for constantly working towards a better life for all of us through perseverance, patience, and honesty. Even when it meant welcoming their unexpected third (ahem–that’s me) into the world with open arms.

So today, whether you are thankful for your family, your friends, or for the simple fact you have a roof over your head, don’t be afraid to send those feelings of gratitude out into the universe. Thank the health care workers and essential medical personnel who are wearing thin on an every burgeoning front line. Thank your veterans and firefighters, hell–thank your postal worker because–fucking elections right before the craziest season of the year am I right?

Thank the grocery store staff who spend hours and days on their feet with the public in a time of crisis, the countless other souls who’ve made do through insurmountable odds to keep us fed and with power, and educated our kids with a host of new and difficult challenges. Thank your neighbor for raking your leaves or rake theirs as an act of good will. Thank the food bank for taking care of people who, despite working as hard as they can, still need help, by donating your time, your food, or your money.

Though we cannot be together today, (and this goes for thousands of families across all states) our hearts are never far apart.

And for that, I am grateful.

Making Do and Giving Thanks

One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes.  I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.

My father is, and always has been, a hard worker.  He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. Their amazing resilience makes me tearful with pride now, as a parent myself. 

Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything. 

We were always fed.  We were always clothed.  We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer.  We made do.  When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do.  When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do.  When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.

I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books.  I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away.  It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind.  Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons.  My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes.  They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen.  They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time.  I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything. 

Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.

We made more than just meals from small staples.  We made worlds out of our love and support of one another.  My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us.  And we made do.

Validation

Good Thursday to you, writers and readers. Apologies for missing last week’s blog. I could leave it at that. I could lie and say I was too busy. I could pad the truth and say I was feeling a ‘bit down’. But part of the problem with mental health awareness in this country is that we too often lie or lie by omission about it.

Last week I didn’t post a blog because I was recovering from an anxiety attack and suffering a depressive episode.

Wednesday, I couldn’t hold a solid thought in my head. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t predict when or how the next overwhelming wave of worry and tears would hit me. By Thursday, I felt like I had the emotional hangover of the century. The kind that leaves you with a raging headache. The kind that leaves you feeling empty and raw. Like you couldn’t bear to be touched, or spoken to, or even think of stringing together two sentences.

My anxiety was at a peak when I tried to voice my concerns and fears about the current state of our world. Some friends stepped all over themselves to shout out unsolicited advice, barrage me with guilt for not having hope and a sunny disposition. Tsk-ing their tongues at me for not being happy.

“Just smile” and “We’re all in this together” and all that bullshit.

If I had said I had cancer no one would tell me to take an Advil to cure it. No one would say I needed to re-examine my perspective to stop it’s growth. Yet, there it was, my virtual conclave shouting back all the answers I never asked for, simply because it helped assuage their own consciences. So that they’d feel as if they’d done their part to ‘help’ a friend in need.

And it got me thinking. About social media. About our current world. About what we do in our lives these days, as people, but also as artists, to find validation. See, I wasn’t looking for validation or rainbows or sunshine. I was looking for someone who was really listening, who was overthinking as deeply as I was. Who wanted more than a sound byte or click bait. Someone looking for a real conversation about our current addiction to opinions like ours. To admit that we’ve become so divisive that people are threatening others with guns, and running others over with cars, and all manner of horrible things because our individual perceptions of the ‘truth’ have been spoon fed to us by opposing sides in a virtual (read: NOT REAL) buffet of horseshit.

I’m not saying the truth doesn’t exist. I’m saying if you really want it, you have to make a concerted effort to seek it out. Know the perils of conspiracy theories and understand how to spot them, understand why they work on the delicate human psyche. Know that if something reads as degrading or judgmental of one side or the other, that it’s probably more opinion than fact and you need to get to the basic source of that pile of horseshit, not just take it at face value.

Where was I?

Validation.

Yep. So we get on the FaceBook and the Twitters and we read the sites and clips that these super-smart algorithms have determined make us salivate the most, and they keep feeding us the sugary Captain Crunch of news until we’re so assured of our ‘rightness’ that anyone not complying with our view is a contagious carrier of the ‘wrongness’. Then its only a matter of time before someone is whipped up into a frenzy and runs their car through a crowd of peaceful protesters or shoots someone with a MAGA hat, or shuts themselves into an oval-shaped office, a la totalitarian coup style, crying like a toddler about voter fraud.

Sounds like we’re ALL just a bunch of sheep. But why?

Well, darlin’, these systems are smart as fuck. These systems are designed to be addictive. They’re designed to validate our existence, our beliefs, our lives and choices. My God that like button is a sweet hit of virtual cocaine. The ‘heart’ and ‘care’ emojis? Ecstasy, baby. Someone out there LOVES you.

What in God’s name does it have to do with the writers and artists among us?

Well, as you know I’d left all that bullshit for awhile and was actually more calm and centered for it. I only recently returned because I wanted to have a space for my author platform. Because, and this is the professional side of this post, you HAVE TO have an online presence to write. Or at least that’s what we’re told. You HAVE TO build up an audience. You HAVE TO market yourself. Sell yourself. Get a following, if you ever hope to ‘make it’ as a writer. This is a new world. If you can’t roll with the changes, you’re destined to be left behind. You’ll never sell any books the old way, idiot!

What do you want to do? Just write?

Just write.

Just write?

Because you love it. Because you…never…started writing for the profit…you just liked to write….

Wait…you liked to write?

See it’s all a big system. We spend so much of our energy, our time, our lives, our hearts, trying to forge these connections in a world that–by all intents and purposes, DOESN’T REALLY EXIST. We base our worth on likes. On followers. On the number of hits our website gets. And then wonder why we feel so empty and disconnected and never quite enough.

I’m off social media; for reals. You may still see a profile pic pop up across the Internet-o-sphere, but you won’t find my content behind it. My website contract ends in February. I’m not sure I’ll renew it. I started my platform because I was told I had to, in order to reach more readers.

Do I want people to read my work? Sure, if they enjoy it…if it feeds their soul and serves their happiness, absolutely.

Do I want to expose too-big-for-its-own-good heart and threaten my well being to do that? No. Not anymore. I want to write. My time is finite. I will not be around forever. When I’m gone, my books, my poetry, my writing, will all remain. My Facebook account will be deactivated. I will stop being worthwhile to their algorithm when I’m dead. But what I write, what I put on paper will carry on (if anyone still reads books by then).

I urge you to examine your life. Examine your addictions. Do you control the content of your life, or is it being controlled for you? Is that content controlling how you live your life? What you believe?

Blog posts here will continue until February. I’ll be re-running old favorites as well as interjecting some poetry here and there. I already paid for the year, I might as well use it to share the things I love.

Take care. Really…I mean that. Take care of yourself. Your real-life, human self. You are one of one. You’re more than just 1’s and 0’s in a giant marketing scheme. Go be a real-life human. Do real-life human things. Walk outside, go for a run, read a book, write something, nap, work, make love, eat amazing food–and don’t post a goddamn thing about it to anyone else. I assure you, it still happens even if your social media sites don’t hear about it.

Happy living.

Poetry, Humanity, Gravel and Gold.

Listen Kids. We’ve been going hard at it now for the past few months all about writing theory, types of writing, how to write, what to write, and on and on and on and on…

Today is the last Thursday before the election and it has been a crazy past few months. To that end, I would like to offer you a little bit more of the Beautiful portion of The Beautiful Stuff.

There are no exercises to do, no work-in-progress to compare and tweak.

No Bullet Lists

Just a poem or two I wrote while camped out in the Rocky Mountains for a few days, re-evaluating my writing and, in part, my life.

I hope you find repose in the next week or two. I hope you weigh what is good, and just, and right for all of our citizens. I hope you vote with the conscience of someone who cares for their fellow human beings and all of our quality of life. I hope you vote.

When it’s done I hope you can let the last few years of hatred and divisiveness go. Put it down. Reach across the chasm that was created by small-minded men seeking to destroy unity and human decency. Those who grew their power by pitting us against one another.

I hope you can find rest. I hope you can find beauty. I hope you find your voice and you use it to stand up against injustice, stand up for your fellow human beings, and stand together against hatred.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Here it is. Poetry

More Gravel Than Gold

I hope that heaven’s streets,

are more gravel than gold.

That the armaments are granite peaks

and the angels’ song,

quaking aspen.

I hope that heaven’s throng is more full

of friends than the righteous.

That the memories of Grandma’s hands

will be photos regained in focus.

I hope that heaven is made of home

more porch swing and creek than opulent spire.

That they’re waiting to hear my tires in the driveway

and they’ll rush out with soapy hands

warm hugs

and how was the drive?

I hope that heaven’s streets

are more gravel than gold

And we’ll meet there together

on the porch, beside the hush of river,

telling tales of the journey in.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #8–Talk To Me Goose…or Dialogue

All right, listen. Top Gun did not have the best dialogue. At all. Like…not even remotely. BUT… I liked the headline so deal with it.

Today in the blog we’re talking about…well, your characters talk. Affectionally known as Dialogue. Writing dialogue like any aspect of your novel is an art, and one that will allow you to not only reveal character traits and all of those ‘shown’ details, it will also drive your plot. If you’re good at it, it will help your reader to know your character better and *gasp* if you have a flair for it, will provide extra entertainment. I’m a HUGE fan of witty banter when it’s appropriate. I’m a HUGE fan of letting dialogue tell the reader how two characters feel about each other.

Take this little gem from “Finding Destiny”: Hank and Daniel are two of my favorite characters to create a scene with. They’re brothers and love each other deeply. But they’re brothers, so that love is shown in obnoxious teasing. Take a gander–

“Everything OK?” Hank asked after an uncomfortable amount of silence.

“Yeah, I just… I just have this gala thing to go to for the university in a couple of days and, I… I’m supposed to bring someone.” Daniel paused and looked at Hank.

Hank took a moment to swallow. Then he batted his eyelashes and waved his hand in front of his face.

“Oh! I’m just so thrilled you’d ask!” he shrieked in a falsetto voice. “Oh! You’re so dreamy!”

Daniel threw a piece of bacon at him and laughed. “Not you, jackass.”

“What about Maggie?”

Daniel shook his head.  “Maggie and I don’t really—”

“Do anything that requires clothes and public places?” Hank raised his eyebrow.

“We sort of haven’t seen each other since the once…” Daniel’s voice trailed off. He still didn’t feel exactly right about what had happened between him and Maggie, or how Destiny had witnessed the start of their one-night stand.

“No wonder she’s been shooting nasty glances at me the last few weeks,” Hank chuckled into his coffee.

Daniel sighed in exasperation. “I was going to ask you…if you’d mind…if I took Destiny.”

Hank inhaled his biscuit and started coughing. His face turned red and his eyes welled up. He looked sideways at his brother as he pounded his chest with his fist.

“Destiny?” Hank wheezed.

“Yeah.”

“Destiny Harrison?”

“Yes,” Daniel said, annoyed.

“Red hair, tall, drawly, hates-your-guts Destiny Harrison?” Hank took a drink of coffee to clear his throat.

“Yes, Henry! That Destiny.”

Hank held up his hand.

“First of all, there’s no need to call me Henry. Second, I thought you hated her, too. But mostly, why in the hell do you think I’d mind? She and I aren’t…like that.”

“Well, I didn’t know! You spend a lot of time with her. And I don’t exactly hate her. I just—” Daniel sat forward in his frustration and loss for words and looked out the window.

“Well, we only spend so much time together because neither one of us has a life outside of the shop.” Hank stopped with his coffee halfway to his mouth. “How embarrassing is it that I just admitted that?”

“It was pretty pathetic.”

“Yeah.”

“So?  Do you think she’ll go with me?”

Hank shook his head in bewilderment. “I don’t know, Danny. What about that ‘hating you’ part?”

Daniel remained silent and watched out the window. What about that?  He thought of her warm body pressed to his in the fervent moment of thanks. He thought of her shapely breasts beneath the nightgown, and the smell of her. The shyness of her kiss. The way she had gotten snippy when Maggie had stayed over. Hank paused at the unusual look of self-doubt on his big brother’s face.

“I think if you could get her in a dress, she’d do all right. Assuming she did say yes,” Hank said.

“Yeah,” Daniel said, displaced.

“Maybe if you ask her nicely…you know, not like you?” Hank said.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Well, you know…come down off of your high horse. Just a bit. And stop being such a surly son-of-a-bitch!”

“You sound like her now.”

“I’m just saying that a little honest humility and admiration goes a long way.”

Daniel stayed quiet. Humility wasn’t really his thing. He wasn’t very good at admiration, either.

Hank continued. “And if she says no, I can rock a strapless like you would not believe, girlfriend.” Hank snapped in the air and winked.

Daniel threw his biscuit at his brother with a laugh. “Shut up.”

So, we get to see some deeper dimension here, with Daniel’s secret insecurities, his blossoming interest in Destiny as well as Hank’s affection for them both. We set up for a minor climax (asking Destiny on the date) as well as establish the risk involved. All while doing it with a sense of humor.

The import aspects to remember in writing dialogue are below (been a while since I bullet listed for you)

  1. Dialogue needs to be real. By that I mean if it is forced (for the purpose of info-dumping), contrived (how convenient to drop that info into conversation even though they had no other reason to talk…), or sounds like an outside narrator suddenly taking over your character’s body (Hey! Where did their drawl and/or British accent go?) your reader is gonna know. So make it a conversation.
  2. As mentioned above, keep your character’s in their character. If they don’t normally say much, save the monologuing for others or some big reveal moment. Many a time I’ve had to edit a dialogue because I saw too much of me in there. Tricky me, trying to steal the conversation. This comes with knowing your character and what they would or would not say.
  3. If the dialogue doesn’t do any of the magical things listed, (furthering plot, character development, information snacks etc) and its just in there to fill space or act as a buffer don’t be afraid to cut it.
  4. Read your dialogues out loud! It’s the only way you’ll know for sure that they sound real and authentic to your characters and to the story. This is also a great way to catch mistakes and to ensure dialect and vernaculars are in place.
  5. Don’t be afraid to use abbreviations and slang if it’s true to how your character talks. Destiny Harrison said “ain’t” a lot. Spell check hates “ain’t”. Doesn’t matter what the spell checker wanted, she ain’t changing for it.
  6. I could give you a spiel here about dialogue tags (ie ‘he said’, ‘she yelled’) after your character’s speak. I’ve heard both sides. In my kids’ writing classes they are encouraged to use something other than ‘said’ to liven the action, express the tone, etc. In my adult-y writing classes, I’ve been told to cut the flowery bullshit and stick with ‘said’. The idea being that if your writing is good enough, the tone and character already established, the reader will read the dialogue in the feeling intended. My advice? I don’t like either of these approaches. Sometimes a simple ‘he said’ works, sometimes, I get bored as shit with that and when my characters talk in my head, they rarely just ‘say’ stuff. I may err more on the side of the flowery therefore, but I don’t do it so much that very ‘please pass the butter’ moment is fraught with tension.

Okay. That’s it for dialogue today.

I think…(she said with a gasp), that might even be the end of our writing series on the Novel! (she yelled?) I’ll check in on that and get back to you next week. Until then, go over your dialogues, check their authenticity and tone. How can you make them better? More real human-like? Read them aloud, don’t ALWAYS listen to your spell checker. Write. Write Write. Good luck out there. See you soon.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #7– Setting

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Good morning! So, here we are. Working our way through the bulleted list on Novel Writing. Today is about setting, but before I build up that world, I would like to remind you:

Keep in mind, there are many intricacies to writing a novel. It can’t all be learned in 7 points. Or 25. Or even 100. Most novelists have one or two ‘starter’ novels that never see the light of day. Because the process of writing a complete novel is, in itself, the real lesson of what does and doesn’t work. Until you do it, write it, fight through it, you won’t truly grasp which elements are most important, and how to get through the problems that you will inevitably face.

Now–on to Setting.

Setting is the world where your characters live, where the plot takes place and what influences those major themes. Setting includes physical space (mountains, city, country, house, street, etc), time period (modern day, future, Elizabethan England), multiplied by fiction and non-fiction (3050 space opera set on a distant planet versus 1944 Italy during the Second World War).

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am a firm and staunch believer that setting is, itself, integral as a character in your story. Setting will dictate so much of your novel. The physical and temporal surroundings of your characters limit or promote certain behaviors, patterns of speech, choices, and opportunities. The setting, say a creepy old house on the coast of Maine, can even be a character itself, lending an influential factor to the events that play out. (Wouldn’t be the same if Destiny Harrison had moved into a swanky new apartment in L.A.)

My first piece of advice for setting is that if it is someplace or some time you aren’t personally familiar with, do a shit-ton (yes, that’s a real measurement) of research. If you can (time-machines not withstanding) visit the place, the area. Get a feel for it. Even better, do it in the season or hour that takes place in your novel.

If you have a scene on the harbor at dawn, your description will be more apt if you’ve been on a harbor at dawn. If you’ve never seen the bursting yellow of aspens in October, it’s hard to capture the exact shade of gold against the pinion green.

Secondly, when building the world of your novel, utilize all the senses. How does the sunlight break over the mountain? In dusty, slow waves or in a brilliant flash? Does the air feel crisp on the tongue or heavy with heat? What do you hear? This all goes hand in hand with showing the audience, not telling. Jack didn’t feel the heat of the fire. The fire seeped beneath his skin.

Thirdly, when you approach setting it is VITAL to find the balance between description and information dump. A common mistake (in my humble opinion) in even the most prolific writer, is to go on a little too long building the “world moment” to the point the reader is bogged down or the pace slows. Now, I understand, that some novels require a good solid understanding of their worlds (often if it’s unfamiliar to the reader– ie a sci-fi/fantasy or historical fiction). But, if you can manage, feed these tidbits to the reader throughout. Think snacking not gorging. Offer what is relevant, what moves or enhances the scene, or gives hints or important clues for later on in the book, then draw back and let the audience digest it.

Setting is a great place to build imagery, be a little poetic, and really put your reader in the middle of your novel. Similarly, sometimes the most simple of descriptions can be effective so don’t overwhelm with too long or heavy paragraphs.

Make it a living, breathing entity of the book, something that becomes part of the whole in a way that is inseparable from the action, characters, dialogue and voice.

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This week, look at your work in progress, pick out a particularly rough scene and ask yourself what’s going on with the setting. How can it influence or help your characters actions? Look at your longer paragraphs, are there moments where your readers might be caught in a deluge of description? Boil it down to the instrumental aspects of setting. What tone does it overlay? Does that enhance the other pieces?

Okay. Good luck out there. Let me know how it goes.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop Novelty #6: “The Kid’s Got Style”

Good evening, my little writing gnomes. This evening I’m writing from the NCW’s writing fall writing retreat in Estes Park, Colorado. Firstly, if you’ve never taken a weekend, or a few days, to do nothing but devote time to your craft, I highly recommend you give it a try. When you aren’t weighed down by laundry, school emails, or cat’s randomly vomiting out food that they didn’t apparently feel like chewing, you can actually get a lot of things done.

We’ll talk more about that in a later blog. Today…it’s all about STYLE.

Style isn’t regaled to only novel writing. Every author has a voice. This is not the Point of View, as we discussed last week. A voice is an author’s particular way of writing. If you want to look at the extremes, you could compare the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald to those of Ernest Hemingway. Contemporaries and acquaintances (it’s argued if they were actually friends) they shared a propensity for two things, drinking and good writing. Beyond that, they had incredibly different voices. Hemingway was a man’s man, bull-fighting, womanizer. Fitzgerald was more introspective, a romantic, one might say. And their voices showed it and affected readers differently.

This quote hangs above my desk:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

― Francis Scott Fitzgerald

Before you move on…read that again. Can’t you feel him speaking to you? Can’t you feel a hand on your shoulder or even a hand on your back (as one of my favorite inspirational women says: https://www.christinedercole.com/s/) encouraging you to take action, to not be dissuaded?

In contrast:

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”

― Ernest Hemingway

First–did anyone else notice what POV he just used? Come on…it was only a week ago. The dreaded 2nd and he, as always, did an amazing job. Listen, in my humble opinion, Hemingway was kind of a giant misogynistic ass, but he could write a fine damn sentence, and his work cut through your skin like wind on a cold February day. But notice the colder, darker tone. The harshness.

The difference between those two is not in their brilliance. It’s in the feeling they evoke, and to me, that’s what your voice is. A writer cannot help but leave a trace of themself on the page. It’s probably why my heroines curse, or why setting to me feels like it always needs a bit of poetry–utilizing the senses to accentuate.

I’m a bit more Fitzgerald than I am Hemingway…But I’m all Sarah. And you are all you.

STYLE is what makes your story, even if it fits a trope or a formula, unique. Because no one is you. No one has your experiences, your vernacular (why you might say wa-r-sh instead of wash, or creek instead of cr-ic-k), your vocabulary, your turn of phrase, your tone.

I’ve tried to read ‘popular’ authors that I just couldn’t stand because they made a point to turn every sentence into a dictionary-induced game of look-up-the-word or strayed too far from the point. I’ve read simple shorts that didn’t use a word over 15 letters long that left me with chills and turning the page hungrily.

It’s not in the size, its in your style (remember I said that fellas).

So… I don’t have much to elaborate on here. I can’t train you to write in your own voice. You just have to write and see what comes of it. Are you poetic? Are you straightforward? Are you humorous? Do you tend to sink into the gray dark, or do you lift up towards the light? When you write are you telling the story to an audience, or to a friend? Every day may be different for each of us, but in total, your ‘voice’, your STYLE, is the way you tell a story.

So, look over your work in progress, short stories or poems you’ve written, and try to feel out what your voice sounds like. It’s hard to do this, so feel free to enlist the help of outsiders (friends, family, book groups, critique groups).

You will know your voice when you hear it.

Stay true to it, because if you ever try to write in someone else’s, your story–your work, will suffer.

We can’t all be Hemingway. Please, God…don’t let us all be Hemingway. We need Plaths and Fitzgeralds. We need Rowlings and Brookses. We need it all. The whole spectrum of style.

So get out there and write true to yours.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Novelty #5: Point of View

Thank you to the beautiful people at Grammarly for this awesome little image of Point of View.

Whilst (I love using that word) typing up the title today I realized, that all of these blogs on novel writing can also be used in other aspects of your writing. Short stories, flash fiction, non fiction, and even poetry all contain aspects of plot, character, and point of view. In a novel, however, consistency of your point of view is crucial for keeping your reader snuggly in your world. Shifts in POV can cause confusion or jar them out of the story.

So today, we’re going to briefly discuss the typical types of POV as well as which ones are most effective to use.

For the budding writer, I’ll lay down some foundation.

Point of View is basically who is telling the story.

In First-Person POV, then the action is happening to the person telling the story (the narrator is the main character). Here, a writer uses “I/We” mostly while only using “he/she/they” as outward observations. They can tell you what they see, feel, hear, know, etc, but they can’t tell you what anyone else sees, feels, hears, or knows. The best way to show those things are through action and dialogue AND by having faith in the reader to understand by your clues the general idea.

Second-Person is the red-headed step child of writing POV. I’m sorry. I said it. Second person uses “you” and “your” and they narrator speaks directly to the reader. “You were amazed. You’d never seen a chicken with five legs.” They make you part of the story. I suppose some of my blogs have been in 2nd person, non-fiction informative may utilize this POV. I’ve never used this in a short story or my fiction but occasionally it creeps into my poetry. In fiction, it’s very difficult to do well. (“Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerey, “The Sweetheart” by Angelina Mirabella, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern)

Third-person is an outside narrator telling the story from a distance (she/he/they). When it gets closer in (think into the characters’ heads) it’s called third-person omniscient. Third-person is popular with light fiction, serial romance, cozies, beach reads, sci-fi, fantasy etc. The tricky part of this POV is being able to stay focused on one character at a time. If the story dictates it (two or three main characters) I will switch POV in Third by chapter, possibly by section, but never by paragraph or within the same scene.

We discussed each typical type, but how do you know which one is best for you? Well, part of this comes down to your writing style. When you write, are you the character? Are you in their mind, in the arena, in the pilot’s seat? Or are you observing them, building the world around them and telling them what you see from above? Are you walking them through the story, a sort-of inward conscience to their journey? Which genre is your story? What’s the purpose of the story?

All of these factors can make writing in the right POV harrier than my old math teacher at the swimming pool (Hey! Take the sweater off before you get in–oh…wait…sorry!) Some genres are more lenient as to how much you can change or shift the point of view. Some genres really do best when one specific POV is used.

Take memoir for example. This type of storytelling should be first person, past-tense. Period. That’s your story, it happened to you. You are telling it.

Now, romance novels can dance on the edge of third-person, third-person omniscient, or first-person.

Most contemporary fiction these days is first-person (think Hunger Games) or if you’re feeling fancy, 2-person, first-person (look at Gone Girl–a book told in first by two different main characters–very clever)

I am wont to say that sci-fi and fantasy tend to be third person, due to the world building that has to occur. But it can be done marvelously in first as well (check out “The Martian” which tickles both first and third).

The important part about POV (especially when working with third) is that you stick to a strong, non-passive-voiced point of view that stays in its lane.

Check this out:

“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled and slammed her fist into the table upsetting the spoons. She’d had enough of his late nights at the track and the dwindling bank account.

Bob jumped back at the sound. His heart fell to his gut and he felt like crying. He couldn’t believe he’d lost their honeymoon money. He was only trying to double up on the winnings so they could have a bigger trip.

Jill paced the room in a fury. How could he? After she had been saving for months and months so they could go away…

Yowza. For one–this is a lot of information dumping out on your reader. You can’t describe your main character’s (Jill) thoughts and feelings about Bob and then in the next paragraph have Bob spring into an inner dialogue on his thoughts and feelings about her. It’s called head hopping and it confuses the readers. Only a few really talented authors can make this happen and not lose the reader (I’m looking at you Nora Roberts).

Don’t cause a ruckus. If the character you are writing for (be it third or first) isn’t a goddamn mind reader then don’t describe things they wouldn’t know.

If you want the reader to have the information, you show through body language and dialogue.

“You’re such a selfish prick!” Jill yelled. “I can’t believe you blew our savings at the tables!” She slammed her fist into the table and knocked over the cup of spoons.

Bob hung his head and swallowed. His voice trembled. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry doesn’t even begin–“
“I was only trying to–” Bob started.

“It doesn’t matter!” she yelled. “You don’t get another chance to make this better!”

Here, the reader has enough information to gather how Bob feels without dropping us into his head.

Ok. Whew! Speaking of info dumps, huh? Take a minute to absorb all of that. Think about your story, what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to follow, and how you want to bring the reader along. If you’re writing short stories, experiment with all the types of POV. I’ve only written a few things in first and its very powerful, but for some reason, it’s very hard for me. My comfort is in Third-Omniscient, but as in all things in life, we have to push our comfort zones to be better. So…push your zones, get uncomfortable.

Pick a POV per project and stick with it.

Until next week. Happy writing!