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.

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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The Rainy Day

Good morning, readers.

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

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The Rainy Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But Lydia what will you do?”

“How will you make ends meet?”

“Why would you…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, Lydia!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Haul:

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

Online Writing Courses:

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

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

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry 9-2-2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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.