"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Saturday, October 31, 2020

A tale for Halloween

Earlier this evening, I participated in HalloReads, an online gathering of some of the folks from the Southern California Writers Conference, a most unusual group. We have no official organization, no monthly meetings or dues or secret handshake--all we have are two conferences a year that form lifetime friendships. 

Everything my writer friends read was weepingly fabulous. Some horrific, some spiritual, some atmospheric, all leaving me to wonder what happens next. Such good writers. Such good friends.

I wrote a piece specifically for tonight's event. I didn't give it a title, but here it is:

* * * * *

Gillian poked her friend Catherine, jabbing her shoulder with one of her well-manicured nails. “Don’t mess this up for me.”

Catherine flinched but continued to wash her hands at the sink, watching in the mirror as young girls entered and exited the restroom. She splashed cold water on her face, patting around her eyes in an attempt to lessen the redness and swelling.

“I can’t help it, Gillie,” she said, retying her dark ponytail. “I don’t like horror movies. They scare me.”

“They’re supposed to scare you, ya big baby. That’s the whole point.” Gillian turned toward the mirror and applied an extra coat of lipstick. “It’s bad enough you still dress like you’re in grade school. Do you have to act like it?”

Catherine tugged at the hem of her Wakanda tee-shirt. “Sorry.”

Gillian rolled her eyes and pulled her friend outside to join the group. The pack of teens had gathered in an inconvenient clump in front of the theater door. Patrons pushed and excused their way in and around the traffic jam, but no one in the bunch saw any need to move.

“Sorry it took us so long,” Gillian said as she bounced up. “Cat had a hair in her eye. Took me forever to get it out.”

“Yeah, right,” Kyle said. “More like Scaredy Cat was having a meltdown.”

“God, Gillian, let’s go.” Allyson, a coltish blond, grabbed Kyle’s hand and dragged him down the street.

Everyone else peeled off and followed the pair, laughing, shouting, and jostling each other for space on the sidewalk. Gillian scurried to stay in their midst, while Catherine walked behind the crew, rubbing her hands. One of the boys, a tall gangly brunette, slowed to hang back with her.

“How’d you like the movie?” he asked. “Wasn’t it lit when the guy sliced that girl’s head off and she kept blinking and trying to talk?”

“Yeah, it was…lit.” Catherine looked up at him, thinking it was not lit at all. She glanced around, noticing the street for the first time. “Wait, we’re on Ash.”

“So?”

“So we’re going past the cemetery.” Her eyes rounded and her hands squeezed tighter.

“Yeah?” The boy called up ahead, bounding forward. “Hey, we’re going past the cemetery. We should totally take a detour.”

“No!” Catherine shouted, then quieted her voice. “I mean, it’s dark in there. We’ll get in trouble.”

The rest of the group ignored her, except for Gillian, who turned around and gave her an evil glare. They ran ahead, shouting, while Gillian dragged her reluctant friend to keep up.

“Don’t embarrass me,” Gillian hissed.

“We can’t go that way.” Catherine stood, refusing to move. “I…I can’t protect you there.”

“Protect me?” Gillian dropped Catherine’s arm and pushed her away. “What kind of weirdo are you? Go home!”

“Hey, Gillian!” A short, dark-haired boy walked backward, laughing. “Ditch the loser and let’s go.”

The graveyard stretched out to their right, bordered by wrought-iron fencing with an entrance of arched stone. The primary path ran up to a single mausoleum, a Romanesque structure with the name Pantera across the front in large letters. Auxiliary paths sprouted left and right, leading past the tombstones and grave markers throughout the green grass that blanketed the space.

This was the largest cemetery in town, and the oldest. Dates on tombstones went back three centuries, and there was an entire section in the back where the stones were all etched in Cyrillic characters.

On overcast days, Catherine enjoyed strolling around the grounds and reading the inscriptions. But not tonight.

Six teenagers ran into the darkened cemetery. Laughter rang from the tombstones, flashes of light marking the selfies being taken.

Gillian took a step to follow and was grabbed by her shoulder.

“Please, Gillie-Bear.” Catherine hadn’t called her best friend that since they were six. “I’m begging you. Don’t go.”

Gillian wrenched her body away. “Forget it, Kitty-Cat. Go back to your childhood.” She ran into the cemetery, calling to the others.

Catherine stood under the arched entry, staring after her ex-best friend. Rubbing her face with the back of her hand, she strolled to the mausoleum, expectant. Soon she felt her skin grow thick with fur, and she licked at her paw with a rough tongue to smooth her cheek. Her spine curved and limbs bent, and her sacrum stretched into a long twitching tail. She always screamed when that happened.

“What was that?” Kyle’s voice was faint. The group was moving further into the cemetery. Further away from the entrance.

Yawning, Cat sharpened her claws on a tall silver-barked tree. Her long white fangs glowed in the moonlight. It was a pity about those teenagers, but she tried to warn them.

Now it was time to go hunting.

* * * * *

PS, This is what I get for watching a double-feature of HOCUS POCUS and THE CAT PEOPLE.


Friday, October 23, 2020

When you need a little motivation

 I'm currently writing the sequel to my fantasy that's already been written and edited and is being queried to agents far and wide. I've been writing this sequel for a long time--it seriously seems like I started it sometime in the Jurassic Age. I'll spare you the horrid details of starting, stopping, outlining, throwing out the outlining, making copious notes, yadda yadda and just say this:

You can't edit a blank page.


via GIPHY

I decided to treat it like the first book, the one that I sat down and made up and followed wherever it took me. By August, I had a decent chunk of it. And then I had an idea...


via GIPHY

November is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Seriously, it has its own website and gift shop. You sign up and promise to write 50,000 words in 30 days. You are encouraged to buddy up with other writers and keep each other pumped up and full throttle forward. Kind of like AA. 

"Hi, I'm Gayle and I'm a write-aholic."

I tried NaNoWriMo once before. Let's just say I did not finish and do not want to look back. But this time is different! This time I'm going to keep my promise! It feels like the only way to finish this book, so I'm motivated.

In preparation, I've been writing several days a week, to get my book into enough shape to get to "The End" by November 30th. I've been managing a little over 6,000 words per week so far, although November will require about 12,000 words in the same time frame. By the way, please send Advil and Aspercreme. 

I'm almost at the halfway point in the book (I did plan for about 100,000 words) and although the story is progressing and the writing is trotting forward, I feel like it doesn't look like I'm almost at the halfway point. It looks like I could either finish the story within two chapters, or write about 200,000 more words and still be wrapping things up.

This worried me A. LOT. Am I spending too much time in the mundane? Is this too simplistic? Should I toss it and start over?


via GIPHY

Today I had a head-slapping realization: the story is fine, it's just not the story I thought I was telling. The characters are on the journey I put them on, but they are on their own path. My job is to keep up.


via GIPHY

I'm both committed to and excited by NaNoWriMo. I'll have something at the end of November. I'll let you know what it is.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Acceptable loss

I had another topic in mind when I sat down to update this blog, all about writing the fantasy and querying agents and blah-di-blah-blah. But, hell, another of my writerly friends, Jean has died and she's the second one this year, along with my dearest Chrissie, and my childhood friend Mike, and 2020 sucks and I don't quite know what to do with all the feelings sometimes.

I need a room with a lot of pottery that I can throw against the wall.

Lacking that, I was reading through my writing prompts and happened upon this one that I know I wrote but don't remember picking out these words. It's like that sometimes--writing. You're scribbling along with great purpose and then you step into a dream.

Prompt: Write about acceptable loss.

What is acceptable about loss?

I lose my car keys--

   Unacceptable if I want to drive my car.

I lose my way along a road--

  Unacceptable if I want to reach my destination.

I lose a loved one--

  NO. Not acceptable, to never hear their laugh

  or feel their touch

  or inhale the scent that is only theirs.

  To be left with photos, things that are vulnerable to flood and fire and deletion from a cloud.

And yet--

Maybe one trip made on foot saves one piece of the planet.

Maybe the wrong road leads to new adventure.

And maybe the memories of loved ones ingrain themselves in my heart,

  my soul, so that I pick up where that one left off and make them a piece of me,

  like a beautiful patchwork quilt.

Loss is not acceptable. But I accept it.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Flash Fiction Prompt: After midnight

Flash fiction is a complete story that is super short. I think, in general, less than 1000 words (which would make it a picture, yes?) and just enough words to give it a beginning, a middle and an end. Hemingway's "For sale: baby shoes, never worn," comes to mind.

When given the prompt "After midnight," here's what I thought of:

* * * * *

She sat in Pete's recliner, a plaid and frayed and faded remnant of their years together. Pete had left her six years ago, not by choice but by a heart attack.

A cigarette sat smoldering in the heavy glass ashtray on her right, along with a glass of Cardhu. She didn't smoke and she hated Scotch, but sometimes she took a puff and a small sip and sat in Pete's chair, hoping he'd show up.

If he did, he wouldn't come by until after midnight. Pete was a night owl. Death had not changed him. She liked to rise with the dawn. They were mismatched, but managed to spend 40 years together, playing hide and seek with whatever they had in common, unburying their sameness like a treasure hunt, and disregarding whatever didn't fit.

Her eyes were as heavy as the ashtray and she felt them close with one comfortable sigh.

"Dollface, you waiting up for me again?" Pete asked.

She opened her eyes. "You know me--some nights I need a smoke and a drink."

His laugh was small, barely a chuckle, but she treasured it. She so rarely got that response.

"I been thinking, Hon," she said. "Maybe it's time I joined you."

He smiled and held out his hand.

* * * * *

Your turn. Hope you have as much fun as I did.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The wonder of putting pen to paper


A long, long time ago, I purchased a copy of A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves (my friend from the Southern California Writers Conference). It's a lovely collection of writing advice, along with a writing prompt for each day. I read the book, loved the advice, but couldn't bring myself to tackle the prompts.

Until now.

Judy has released a new edition of the WBoD, which got a great review in O.C. Writers*, so I dug out my old original, turned to January 1 and thought, eh, why not try these prompts? And why wait until January? 

So on August 17, I began with "Write about a Sunday afternoon."

I'm now almost through January and it is nothing like I thought it would be. I believed I'd turn every prompt into some kind of "Dear Diary" entry, where I would make each session about me and my life. That would bore me to tears and I probably could not finish the prompts under those conditions.

Instead, it feels like magic.

via GIPHY


When I open the book in the morning, I look at the prompt, nestle into the pillows on the daybed in my office, and set the tip of my pen onto the paper. And I never know what's going to come out until it appears. Sometimes I am writing a diary entry. Some prompts end up as essays on life, spirituality, whatever. Fiction, both flash and pieces of the book I'm writing, come along. What surprises me most are the poems.


Who knew?

None of them are perfect, and they're not meant to be. They're the motor oil to my engine, the grease in my cogs, the lubricant that energizes my creative soul. They are my reminder that I write because it is a joy and a privilege to do so. 

Here's a link to Judy's book, via Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (because we should support our indies): https://www.mystgalaxy.com/book/9781577319368

And here's a poem. The prompt is "Write about leaving."

It is spring and
    the tree puts out leaves.
It is leaving.
In the fall, the leaves turn color, turn brown
   They leave the tree.
I do not have leaves,
   But I extend the tender shoots
      Of who I am,
        Kindness and cruelty,
           Healing and pain,
             Creativity and sloth.
I watch the tree and do not kid myself.
My shoots are not infinite,
   And someday, I too, shall be leaving.

*Link to the review at OC Writers: https://oc-writers.com/2020/08/17/marissas-take-on-a-writers-book-of-days-a-spirited-companion-lively-muse-for-the-writing-life-revised-edition-by-judy-reeves/

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