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Westbury Falls: Episode #5

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

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doctor,” Lillian croaked in correction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

Good morning!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can.

You can.

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

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

NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

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

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

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westbury Falls: Episode #4

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

Photo by Matthew Badsey on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

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

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

OR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good skill, Writer.

Writing to Frighten: The Art of Suspense and Tension

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing!

Westbury Falls: Episode #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking it down:

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

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

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

Thanks, and Happy Writing!

In the Dark and Light

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

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

And now: Poetry:

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

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

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

Humans are Assholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wants to live with a bunch of assholes?

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Westbury Falls (Episode 2)

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

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

And now: Part Deux (edited for length)

Westbury Falls (continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can do it myse—”

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

“I am not delicate—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rainy Day

Good morning, readers.

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

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on Pexels.com

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.

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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

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You pry out and
Bend my bones, hack off my hair to
Spend on whores of imagination,
Toil for bread and say,
“Fed!” to hollow eyes and shrunken
Bellies. The sweat of my
Breasts is dry, your new
Words lost to me, clipped
Tongue shorn of old
Speech, I beseech from you some answer, some
Will to less than power in this
Hour of your need.


In my previous guest-poet post on The Beautiful Stuff , I said that “the absorber of a poem
eavesdrops on the speaker’s liminal/threshold experience.” That is, poetry is eavesdropping on
an experience of the speaker unselfconsciously being themselves, unaware of being
watched/heard.


Poet and speaker are not necessarily one and the same. The poet creates a glimpse of another
soul’s thought or experience. The craft of poetry is like that of any other fiction, to suspend
disbelief—to so absorb the reader that the reader forgets that they’re “reading/hearing” anything
but rather are sharing in an inner experience that would otherwise be inaccessible.

In short, poetry is a mutually welcomed telepathy.
There’s a creepy factor to that eavesdropping but also a magik. In daily experience, we can’t read each other’s thoughts. Poetry invites us to a “sixth sense,” accessible to anyone.

We don’t need telepathic superpowers (unless, of course, poetry is that superpower).
The voice of “Mother Bend” is not my own. I attempt to telepathically grasp the inner world of
the speaker and reveal it to you. I’m not here going to say who that speaker is. After all, the poem
must speak for itself. I invite you to join in my attempt at telepathy, to widen both our souls. As
you listen/read, I ask you to frame your own questions. You can start with Who is “Mother
Bend”? To whom does she speak? Why is “Mother Bend”?
Enjoy finding out.

On Letting Go

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I can’t think of anything that’s been written about more when it comes to self-help topics, so, when I gave myself the challenge of writing another tome about the ability to let go, I was concerned. If humans keep writing about it, it must mean that letting go is a difficult path and one that is neither straight nor narrow.

Why do we have such a hard time letting go? Why do humans cling to thoughts, ideas, actions and people that do not serve our happiness and wellbeing? It starts, my friends, in the beginning…in the way, way back. Before we had cars. Before we domesticated horses. Before we had special shoes for date nights. Before we had shoes.

I’m a student of evolutionary biology, a science that says humans behave in the best interest of the survival of their genetic code. Above all else, we seek to carry on in the face of eminent dangers, perilous foes, and unpredictable habitats. So when we have trouble letting go of that grudge we developed against our former BFF, or of that co-dependent relationship that makes us a shell of a human, its because of something so fundamentally biological and deeply wired that its monumental to overcome it.

We no longer have to worry about remembering which berries caused us to vomit all of our mammoth steak out, or that lions tended to hide in that particular patch of grass, but our brains still cling to moments that have caused us pain, discomfort and ‘attacked’ us. It’s how we avoid that patch of grass. Its how we leave the berries on the bush. Its how we won’t let ourselves move on from the memories of things that have scarred us.

Modernity, of course, doesn’t give us the same enemies. It gives us the tattered shreds of relationships gone wrong; it gives us the slings and arrows of hurtful words, broken promises, and unsaid feelings. And by holding on to those, our brains believe that we’ll be saved from the next snake in the grass.

Conversely, our brains will fixate on the sweet moments of the past to the point of overshadowing the bad that went along with it. We do this because the pleasure of the good is less traumatic to remember than the negativity of the bad. We remember how sweet that guy was…not his narcissistic tendency. We remember how much we loved that job…except the mind-numbing monotony. We remember how awesome high school was…except for the nasty cliques that made our days an emotional train wreck. We cling to the bright, to the beautiful, to the often overblown memories of happiness that we miss…moments that never really happened that way.

On both accounts we are hanging on; whether to protect ourselves from pain, or to glean some long lost, and skewed version of happiness. If we are committed to cleaning our slate and letting go, the route is the same for both and has everything to do with being honest with our selves. We aren’t roaming savannahs anymore. We have shoes. We have knowledge. We are self-aware. We know why we behave certain ways and thus need to be more introspective about our behaviors.

Is that a poison berry? Or is it an archaic response that has thrown up walls around my heart to a person who could benefit from my forgiveness. Does hanging on to the memory of that person, place, or time, serve me today, and in my future? Does it serve to make me better, happier, more complete? Does what I’m clinging to make me a better person? Is it propelling me on my journey or dragging behind me like a chained weight shackled on? Mostly, it’s the later. 

The best response is to acknowledge those moments, be truly self aware in them, and deconstruct them. Peel back the layers and understand why your heart is clenched around them. Did that moment hurt? Are you afraid it will repeat itself? Do you have good cause to fear and is the fear worth staying stuck in the same pattern for the rest of your life?

Convincing yourself to let go of things that you fear could cause further pain might be made easier by consciously saving the lesson but letting go the memory. That break-up hurt, so learn why it went down so spectacularly in a fiery blast. Does it mean you can’t have another relationship? No…but be aware of your patterns, of your part in the failures. Forgive yourself for doing the best you could at the moment and promise your shiny new self-aware self, to do better next time.

Letting go starts with being honest with yourself, forgiving and understanding the damage that hanging on can do. You can’t open your hands to the world if you’re clinging pointlessly to the past. You can’t build new happiness in your life if you believe all of your happy days are behind you. Let that shit go. Drop it like it’s hot. Free up those hands for something better. Free up that heart for the next love. Free up that brain space for something useful; something that can benefit humankind, not just your own survival.

What would happen if we strived, in our new self-aware state, to not let the possibility of predator eyes in the tall grass keep us away from the sweetest berries? What happens when we chose to live without fear of hurt or failure? What happens when we chose to live our best life in this present instead of wallowing in regretful glances over our shoulder at the past?

Freedom happens. New and brilliant horizons. Bare and unfettered feet, untethered potential.

So let go. Let go the hate. Let go the pain. Let it down into the Earth (she’s a big and beautiful momma and she will take it for you) Put down your chains, and chose to move ahead a free human.

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.

Photo by Dana Cetojevic on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

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

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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.