Saturday, February 27, 2010

Night Fears (the conclusion)

She stopped and looked behind her.

Should I turn back? No. I’ve already covered half a mile. There’s only a quarter left to go, and then I’ll be snug in my apartment.

Memorial Park lay directly ahead. It contained a series of rectangular grassy planes adorned with the weatherworn statues of bygone university presidents. Narrow wrought-iron benches stood at attention on either side of the pathway. Lillie passed by the sculptures, feeling as if she were in an abandoned cathedral.

Stop being fanciful. This isn’t a church or a graveyard, and those statues aren’t real people no matter how lifelike they look. They’re molded copper over steel frames. She smiled grimly. See? There’s no mystery science can’t explain.

With the flat parkland behind her, Lillie followed the sidewalk as it sloped down toward the maintenance building. It’s incinerator made a loud hissing noise through the brick chimney.

Don’t be afraid, silly. Inanimate objects aren’t threatening. Good heavens. If your professors were here, they’d laugh.

Lillie felt something brush against her hand, like a rough, bristling pelt. Her heart froze as she looked down. Dark eyes gazed back at her. Instantly, she thought of a cougar, but her analytical nature reminded her at once that Blackhurst didn’t have mountain cats. It was a dog, a huge German shepherd, its back ending at the middle of her thigh. Lillie had never seen this breed outside of a newsreel at the cinema.

“Go away. Get!” Lillie cried, trying to sound braver than she felt. She yelled, threw pebbles, and kicked at it, but the animal refused to leave.

So occupied was she with the dog, Lillie didn’t notice the shadow as it detached itself from the darkness and moved toward her. A man stepped forward, causing Lillie to jump and cry out. His neck was thick where it grew out of wide shoulders and when he smiled, the white teeth were barely visible among his night-blurred features.

Lillie exhaled with relief. “You shouldn’t go around scaring people, Calvin! It’s not funny.”

He laughed softly, and the low, raspy sound was unfamiliar.

“Sorry. Calvin’s not my name. Guess again, little girl.”

Skin clammy, fear clawed at Lillie, making its way up her spine a vertebra at a time. She stepped back as the dog circled around, putting itself between her and the stranger.

“He yours?”

Eyes watering, she nodded, tentatively resting her hand on the animal’s back.

The man waited a beat, as though assessing the situation. “It can be dangerous out here,” he finally said. “Things happen to ladies on their own. Maybe I should help you.”

His hand shot out to grasp Lillie’s arm, but the dog lunged, its teeth connecting with the man’s flesh. As obscene oaths spewed from his mouth, Lillie fled.

She heard branches sway and crack. He was following her.

“Don’t go,” the voice in the blackness called. “We were just getting acquainted.”

The dog snapped at Lillie’s ankle, as though it wanted her to move faster. She doubled her speed, heedless of the slippery terrain and the burning in her lungs. Main Street was just a furlong away. 220 yards. Lillie knew she was almost safe.

Frantically shifting from one side to the other, the shepherd drove Lillie on. Tears poured down her face, as she thought of herding the livestock in the Carolina meadows of her childhood. Lillie sprinted until she broke through the shrubs edging Main. The man’s voice cursed at a distance beyond the trees.

Hot, canine breath on her leg, Lillie stumbled up the front stairs of her building. She clutched the door handle wildly and turned, expecting to see the iridescent eyes of the dog. What Lillie saw couldn’t be scientifically explained.

She saw nothing.

Okay, that's the end! At times, truth can be stranger than fiction. In 1946, my mother really did stay at her friends apartment too late one day in October. She crossed the campus in the dark and a German shepherd really did appear and began walking with her. It was a huge animal and she was afraid. The dog wouldn't leave, even when my mom threw rocks at it, and a man came out of the shadows from behind the maintenance building. (There had been a string of rapes on the campus that year, although no women had disappeared as I wrote in my version) The dog snarled and barked at the stranger. The man asked my mother if the shepherd belonged to her, and she replied automatically, "Yes, he does." Mom turned and hurried for home. She heard noises behind her as though she were being followed and the dog stayed right with her until she crossed the street in front of her apartment. One moment it was there, the next it went back into the trees and she never saw it again.

Have you ever had an experience that is too fantastic or odd that you knew no one would believe it in story form? I'd love to hear about those. Life is filled with the unexpected!

Oh, and by the way, when my mother was ten, she had to herd her family's cows out of the meadow at night. Alone. She could hear the mountain lion's call in the darkness and said it did sound like a babies cry. To this day, that distinctive noise sends a shiver up her spine.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Night Fears

This story is based on a true event. It happened to my mother when she was going to college in 1946. Disclaimer! Lillie Scott is nothing like my mother, and I selected the names of the towns because I liked the way they sounded. This was my first attempt at a suspenseful short-shorty. Have you tried new styles or categories of writing? Was it challenging and fun or did you find that your usual nitch fit you better?

Night Fears

Lillie Scott was afraid of the dark. Even when there was no cause for alarm, even when she was safe, it made her uncomfortable, as though a hidden foe waited just beyond sight until the lights went out. Perhaps it stemmed from living in the mountains as a child, when her stomach clenched as she brought the stray calves in at night from grazing in the meadow and heard the mountain lions cry, sounding strangely like mournful infants calling out for help. Whatever the cause, her aversion to shadow made things harder because it was October, and dusk came earlier in autumn.

I shouldn’t have stayed so long, she thought. I lost track of time. How unlike me…

In the Western North Carolina hamlet of Hidden Oaks, population 427, Lillie was a regional hero. She was the brainy one, the plain, quiet girl who spent most of her time in the Carnegie library just off the town green in order to earn a scholarship to Blackhurst University.

The day her college acceptance papers came in, Lillie’s grandfather broke the old china bank, handing her the crumpled, dust-coated bills.

His $600 gift was her pocket money for the entire year of 1946. Lillie didn’t mind scrimping. She dreamed of earning a PhD in biology, of being a research scientist. Not many women in post-World War II America entered her field, but Lillie knew that such splendid ambitions as hers were worth a little sacrifice.

“It’s after six,” Edith said, jarring Lillie from her thoughts. “The sun’s gone down.”

Lillie went to the window. The streetlamps were lit, and the sidewalks gleamed black and wet from the rain.

The world is no different at night, she reassured herself. It’s the same, only harder to see. There’s really nothing to fear.

Edith patted her shoulder. “Why don’t you wait for Cal? He usually stops by at eight. He could walk you home.”

Lillie frowned and sat down on Edith’s bed, trying to decide which was worse: the darkness or her friend’s fianc√©. Cal was a handsome football player with a muscular body and cool, grey eyes. Whenever he looked at her, he wore a puzzled expression, as though she were an irritating riddle. Lillie felt the diamond-patterned crocheted spread printing marks against the back of her knees.

“No. If I leave now, I’ll be home before Cal even gets here.”

Her decision made, Lillie kissed Edith on the cheek, and walked out the door. She established a fast pace, hoping to give the impression she was late for a crucial appointment. Lillie felt reassured by the large crowds of people standing near the fine arts building and the student union. Moving away from the campus epicenter toward its periphery, she eventually found herself alone. Her heart began to thud, outracing the muffled tapping of her heels.

It’s a normal reaction, Lillie told herself. Scientifically speaking, the brain senses possible danger and the body responds. Thus, my heart is beating faster than it would if I were sitting at home reading a book or listening to music on the radio.

The rain had turned the red leaves blanketing the sidewalk into a slimy hazard.

Acer rubrum. Common red maple, found throughout eastern North America. No cause for alarm. I’ll slow down a bit so I don’t fall.

Lillie hated to admit it, but there was more to fear in Blackhurst than the dark. Two local girls had gone missing over the last six months. Warnings had been posted liberally throughout the university, cautioning female students to beware. She stopped and looked behind her.

End of part 1..... Part 2 tomorrow!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

They're delusions I say, not lies. Delusions. Yeah, that's the ticket...

This award is perfect for me since I am fairly delusional about certain things. Take exercise, for example. No, really, take it. I'm trying to convince myself it isn't necessary.

The incomparable Christine at Christine's Journey bestowed this little beauty on me. The Pinocchio face is pretty sweet and that nose! Now, there's a wooden puppet after my own heart. Thank you, Christine. When I visit your blog, I realize how cool and talented you are each time you post. (And that's no lie!)

Here's the tricky part. Below, I have listed seven things about me. Many of them are delusions, er, I mean lies. One of them is true. (Or, are there two truths? Hmmm. You decide.)

1. My favorite meal is a plate of steamed veggies! (Okay, that was an obvious freebie.)
2. My husband and I saw each other across a crowded used-car lot, and it was love at first sight.
3. I'm Irish. Cead mile failte everybody!
4. I despise cheese. Especially when it's all hot and melty on a New York style pizza. Disgusting!
5. I don't like ice cream at all. It's just that the Haagen-Dazs has magnetic properties due to the iron supplements they feed the milk cows and it is attracted to my spoon. Simple physics.
6. My lawyer told me not to mention this, but I'm Neil Gaiman. (There, I said it. It's out.)
7. I write Women's Fiction only because there is no Men's Fiction category. (If there was, I'd be all over that.)

There you have it, in all it's creative glory!

I have chosen the next Pinocchio/Creative Writer winners because they do beautiful things with their blogs. They honestly amaze me. I can hardly wait for their list of seven! (Bask in this opportunity to invent, babies!)

Stefany and Lynniece at 2713 Mornings
VR at VR Barkowski
Catherine at Winged Writer-Catherine Denton
Tina at Sweet Niblets
Jenny at
Elaine at Still Writing

Well done, awesome writers, I applaud you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

And the Award Goes To... Some Great Bloggers!

I woke up at five this morning to find that I was clinging to the side of my mattress like an African tree frog. My fingers were all splayed out, and I was hanging on for dear life. Why? Because my side of the bed was filled up with my fleecy-pajama-clad six-year-old and the snoring family dog.

I staggered to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and found a new wrinkle on my face. It wasn't a smile line by my eye either. It was a cheek wrinkle. A wrinkle on my cheek. Not a pretty sight, people! Nobody, but nobody, wants one of those.

This was not a good morning. Probably, because it had not been a good night. I was awakened, gasping and disoriented, three times by three different children looming over me while shaking my arm. One wanted to know if she could sleep on the couch in the family room. Another said he had a bad dream. The last, my 13-year-old ballerina, told me I had to get up and drive her to a company dance practice.

Scenarios like these are pretty standard when you're a mom, and actually, my day hasn't been awful at all. The cheek wrinkle even subsided a bit. Do you find adding ordinary experiences to your writing beneficial? Do those real, relatable happenings make the story seem more true?

I received a great award from Shelley at Stories In the Ordinary. I love reading her posts and comments. She has a unique way of looking at things and her blog is always interesting and insightful. Visit and see for yourself!

Without further adieu, I'll pass this award on to a group of remarkable people. These blogs are recent discoveries for me, and I know you'll enjoy them...(in fact, you may already be following these gems).

Emily at A Heart On A Wire
Aubrie at Author, Flutist, Teacher
Carolina at Carol's Prints
Rebecca at Rebecca Knight: Writer in Progress
E. Elle at The Writer's Funhouse
Theresa at Substitute Teacher's Saga

Congratulations, you are victims of your own excellence! You deserve some praise!
Now pass this cute kitty along to bloggers you admire.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

About that conga line...

Ah, conga lines. Who doesn't love them? Me, for one.

Let's journey back, shall we, to when I was living in England... What? You didn't know that England was the Conga-ing capital of Great Britain and Europe? Well, of course it is! (Iceland comes in a close second.) Don't you all know that the Highland dancing of the Scots is merely a variation on the conga theme? Really, that's common knowledge.

Anyway, one day I was hanging out with a bunch of my friends at a church activity, and some brilliant high-brow decided that a conga line would be just the thing to break up the monotony. Let me tell you, it did that! I don't think anyone was bored after my skirt hit the ground.

Unbeknown to the high-brow, the button on that skirt had popped off only a few moments before his announcement. I went into the Ladies, used a small safety pin-- this pin was not safe!-- and attached one side of the silky material I was wearing to the other. When I came out of the restroom, the dancing was in full sway. One of my friends pushed me into the line, and for a few seconds it was fun. Herein lies the rub. The conga-ers who joined behind me were far slower than the ones in front of me so the guy dancing at my back grabbed onto my waist for all he was worth.

You can guess what happened next. The faulty pin gave way, and my skirt dropped faster than a house of cards hit by a brisk Nor'easter. I happened to be shimmying by an exit when the unthinkable happened, and I picked up my skirt--luckily I was also wearing a long granny slip-- and congaed out the door. One of my pals came into the bathroom laughing so hard she started snorting and got the hiccups. The whole thing was so ridiculous, I couldn't even be mortified.

So there you have it. Now, I think turnabout is fair play, don't you?

C'mon, readers. I want every juicy, minute detail of your favorite embarrassing moment. (Let's try and keep it cleanish though.)

Don't be afraid! Nothing you say can be worse than when I fell off a bar stool on the stage into the orchestra pit during a talent show in Middle school. Or when I dropped all my sheet music, piece by piece, on my way up the aisle to perform a musical number in church... The list could go on and on..

Remember, sharing is a good thing!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Awards for You! (Many, many of you...)

Why am I giving out three awards at once? Because I am incompetent, that's why. My brain is like the Bermuda Triangle of technological information, one moment a glimmer of understanding is there and then it's gone. Let's here it for the inept!

It took me forever to catch on to this whole awarding process. Not a good thing if you are trying to establish yourself in the blogging world. Please forgive the stockpiling. I'm learning, albeit slowly...

Look!! The Happy 101 Award. The Honest Scrap. The Picasso or From Me To You... (Thank you, thank you, thank you, mac computer for cooperating at last.) I have a nervous tick and gallstones, but I finally got them on the page. Aren't they beautiful? Tell me they're beautiful. (Lie if you have to.) Maybe my presentation isn't perfect with the awards all crowded at the top, but it's the content that's important. Right? Right?!

(Sorry. I'm hanging on by a very thin thread here.)

I love the Happy 101 award. I received it from the awesome Kristen at Take It As It Comes. Thank you, Kristen. You are a blooger-extraordinaire!

Here are 10 quick things that make me happy.

1. The fact I got the Happy 101 Award on my screen correctly. A small victory, I know, but I'm proud of it.
2. Blogging. I am constantly impressed by the creative, talented, gracious people that I've met here at Blogger.
3. Anytime my husband laughs. (I love this man something fierce.)
4. Good books.
5. The Pacific Northwest... I am and will always be a Portland girl at heart.
6. Libraries.
7. People who like me. I'm usually surprised and delighted when they do.
8. My beautiful kids.
9. The beach. Any beach.
10. Daniel Craig.

Okay, here's the excellent part of receiving an award. Passing it on. This Happy 101 Award goes to some of the bloggers who make me happy. Thanks for your consistently outstanding posts!!

Shelley at Stories In the Ordinary
Christine at Christine's Journey
Stephanie at Chronicles of a Novice Writer
Kristin Rae at Kristin Creative - A Writer's Journey To Becoming An Author
Courtney at Southern Princess
Crystal at Art By Crystal Cook
Lindsey at Dangerous With A Pen

Anne at Piedmont Writer gave me the Picasso Award. She has a way with words. Not only is Anne an outstanding writer, she leaves the best comments. You need to visit her blog. It's well worth the trip!

My 7 random facts-
1. I'm not a fan of the dark.
2. I have four boys, two girls.
3. I enjoy historical novels set in Scotland.
4. I need glasses, but my dog broke mine.
5. I love outgoing people.
6. Flying scares the crap out of me.
7. I like baseball.

The new recipients of the cheerful flowers are:

Corra at From the Desk Of A Writer
Christi at A Torch In the Tempest
Kristen at Take It As It Comes
Julie at Silver Linings
Sarah at Falen Formulates Fiction
Nicole at One Significant Moment At A Time
Anissa at Anissa Off the Record

Last, but not least, in the award philobuster... The revered and beloved Honest Scrap. I received this award from Christine at Christine's Journey, Nicole at One Significant Moment At A Time, and Kristen at Take It As It Comes. If I were more demented than I am, I would stalk these ladies, but as things stand, I only follow them on a daily basis at their blogs. Join me and be amazed by their greatness.

(But first, Ten Truths about me)

1. I have issues with fear.
2. I'm shy.
3. Spring is my favorite season.
4. My kids are smarter than I am.
5. I play a mean game of Boggle.
6. I don't handle stress well.
7. I lost my skirt once in a conga line.
8. I love Italian opera.
9. I'm sentimental.
10. I don't like being alone.

Now here are some really interesting people! I'm eager to learn more about them so I'm sending The Honest Scrap their way.

Lisa Marie at Confessions Of A Writing Mama
Jenn Chandler at Woolgatherings
Elle at Elle Strauss
Karyn at Karyn's Blog
Jemi Fraser at Just Jemi
Denise at Denise Grover Swank
Anne at Piedmont Writer

I'm going to burn up my keyboard visiting all these blogs!

But first, I think I'll take a nap. I'm exhausted and my frontal lobe hurts. Thanks for wading through this post. My next challenge is linking the sites I mention in my blog so my readers can just click and go... (Linking, linking, you are an impressive opponent, but you will not prevail!)

Thanks for the patience and encouragement!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Message To My Agent...

Hello. It's just me, your future client. I've been looking for you everywhere. Are you taking good care of yourself? Being careful when you cross the street? I certainly hope so. How's your diet? Are you getting the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals? Yes? Excellent. You'll need your strength. We have a bright future ahead of us.

Except you don't know that yet.

Maybe you're in an important meeting, or you might be answering one of the many messages on your cellphone. You are a success, future agent, because you love your job, in spite of the long hours and hard work. Right now, you're out there, somewhere, living your life, completely unaware that I exist.

Ask my children where their mother is and they'll roll their eyes and tell you, I'm here. In my office. At the computer. I'm thinking, writing, and revising. I'm dreaming of the day my work crosses your desk, the day you read it over and hear the story I'm trying to tell. Then, you'll have enough faith in me to take a chance on my talent. You will fight battles on my behalf and never stop until we win.

In that case, I'll stay up late again tonight and polish this manuscript a bit more.

Here's to us, agent of mine. I'll see you when I see you.

Your Favorite Five

As I was on my knees washing baseboards today, my 6-year-old stopped by to pat my head and say hello. I had Metallica and AC/DC playing on my iPod. (It was that kind of morning, plus I hate doing baseboards.) The little guy took the earbud out of my ear, listened for a moment, smiled, and said, "You're so old-school." Kid you not, that's what he said. The youngest of six, he's always been a precocious one and absorbs things like a sponge. He's way beyond where I was at his age. At six, I was still writing my name backwards and tripping over my untied shoe laces.

He's right, I am the old-school type. I'll admit it. I was surrounded by a family of English Majors in my childhood, and they always read and discussed classical literature within my hearing. As a teenager, I loved poetry. Especially Tennyson and Longfellow. Tennyson was my first literary crush. I girlishly dreamed that if I had but lived 140 years earlier, Alfred and I would have seen each other across a crowded Victorian drawing room... Lightening bolts! The meeting of soul mates. Sigh.

On another note, it really makes me mad when I hear Charles Dickens dissed at writing conferences. Authors today think they can write better, and that's fine, maybe they do in some ways. I have heard several speakers make fun of the immortal line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I want to raise my hand and say, "Dude, don't insult A Tale of Two Cities. Will people be quoting you a hundred years from now? Probably not." A Tale is written in an older style and requires a little effort from the reader, but it is a glorious, inspiring work.

I know, I know. I'm on an old-school rant, and I'll stop.

When I grew up, there wasn't any YA genre that I knew of. Really. I don't remember anything back then like the books available now. (Cue Dana Carvey's SNL character, Grumpy Old Man.) "Back in my either read The Little Princess, Little House On the Prairie, Nancy Drew, and Charlotte's Web or you snuck a peek at your mother's books when she wasn't looking. And we liked it, we loved it, we wouldn't have had it any other way."

Kids today are smart, savvy people. They have driven a whole new genre forward and made it grow into a huge industry. YA is mostly uncharted territory for me. Right now, I am reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, (adult fiction), but I have a stack of YA books just waiting on my night stand. The stack includes: City of Bones, hush, hush, Catching Fire, Beautiful Creatures, and Wings. Plus, I have Shiver on order. Exciting, creative things are being written in this ever-expanding category, and I'm looking forward to discovering them.

Are you trying out another genre? What are you looking forward to reading? What's in the stack of books on your night stand? Can you give me a list of your "favorite five" books? I can't wait to hear...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Makes You Write?

Roxy's TMI moment:

After being sick for several months, I went to the emergency room at a local hospital. A wonderful, Harvard-educated surgeon admitted me. He arranged for a few tests and then, with the help of two other doctors, performed an eight hour surgery which saved my life. At one point, these gifted men held some of my organs in their hands, cleaning them of infection. (Ewww, I know.) My doctor said that he had never performed a more difficult procedure and had no idea why I was still alive.
Thankfully, I woke up from the anesthesia and Nurse Hatchett-- or rather, her meaner, more cantankerous older sister-- made me get out of my bed and walk. And so I did, with great effort. But I wasn't alone, I had my trusty, stylish IV pole with me and at least five or six bags of mysterious fluids. I walked all around the hospital floor like this every few hours, day and night. When it was light outside, I'd watch people through the large windows as they went about their lives and wish I was them. Fervently. I wanted to be anyone else right then.

There was a water-stain on the ceiling tile above me (yes, just like Madeline), and one night, I thought of how nice it would be if I could just climb up into that black space and disappear. The pity party eventually grew old. I grabbed my unwieldy IV-pole dance partner and began my journey around the dimly lit halls. It was here that I learned something. Other patients had it far worse than I did. As I walked by those rooms, I had a brief glimpse into another's suffering, and for a moment, I put myself into their situation.

Of course I wrote before I got sick, but I believe I'm a better writer now. I'd like to think I have more resources to offer the fictitious characters I create. Writing makes use of my experiences-- the good, the bad, and the medical. It helps life make sense somehow.

I write because I have to, because my brain is so filled with ideas and feelings, it won't let me not write. I love the freedom to be and create anything I like. I love to tell a good story, and let's face it, few things compare with sudden inspiration flowing from you to the page... These are some of the reasons I keep trying to learn the craft.

Now, more importantly, what makes you write?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If You Could Choose Your Family Like You Choose A Book

Don't get me wrong. I love my family. I wouldn't change a thing about them. No really, I wouldn't. They are all smart, lovable, and funny. For some reason, I'm the family power-ball lottery winner, and I have the lucky privilege of hanging around these people each day.

What I'm talking about in this blog is a family of the non-human variety. That's right. I mean the leather, paper, and ink relationships we rely on when our souls feel a little empty. I have a small circle of literary kin, each member as brilliant as they are diverse.

Take Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for instance. When my life is too complicated and I'm in need of comfort, I turn to The Day Is Done or The Bridge. These poems are most effective when spoken aloud, and in the moment I read them, I love Longfellow. Like a kind, wise grandfather, he belongs only to me. There isn't another person, living or dead, who understands me as he does, and with sweet reunion, his healing words meet my troubled mind. I can turn them to suit my mood and put them away in my heart. And Longfellow has saved me yet again.

Harper Lee and Jane Austen are my bold, brave sisters. When I'm in need of courage, I look to them. Steven King is my cousin with the spicy speech and the wild creativity. He inspires me to write when the world of writing hates my voice, my run-on sentences, and my character driven stories. My cousin does not "come lightly to the page" and neither do I.

Uncle Dickens wrote my first literary crush in A Tale of Two Cities. He didn't know who he had when he created Sidney Carton, but as I read between the lines, I see a tortured being, a reluctant hero who redeems himself through sacrifice. I'd choose Sidney over the stuffy Charles Darnay anytime. You get my point, I'm sure. I could go on about Tennyson or Pauletta Giles or Tracy Chevalier... all writers within my little group.

But we can't have our heads in a book all the time, can we? Hopefully though, we can take some of the book into our heads and move on with life a bit stronger. Or until the next time we need some family bonding.