Long time, no write! Another birthday and road trip plans…

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Cheers! Celebrating turning another year older and wiser (?)

I realize it’s been a long time since I wrote and posted anything—April 25th to be exact—and I’m guilty of preferring early-morning reading over writing as of late. I know that doesn’t help with finishing the Work-in-Progress, but there just hasn’t been that drive or sense of urgency to regain that much-needed discipline. Be that as it may, I have been busy with other things as well.

We’ve been piling up the miles since spring, with trips to Omaha, Nebraska, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and Canton, Ohio. In Wisconsin and Ohio we successfully indulged in genealogy research in libraries and historical societies and visited some obscure cemeteries to locate and say hello to some ancestors.

Plus, June is the month when I turn another year older on the 11th. Happy to say that I had a wonderful and relaxing time quietly “celebrating” that annual occurrence last weekend at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Marblehead, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. My mom even had a cherry pie—my favorite! And it seemed altogether appropriate to spend my birthday with her. Happy to report that she’s doing quite well for an 88-year-old lady.

As for those highway miles, we’re just getting warmed up! In mid-September, we’re going to “head out on the highway” (Route 66, that is!) from home here in Illinois and drive to the other end of the Mother Road that is Santa Monica, California. We’re allowing over two weeks for the drive that has been on my “wish list” for a long, long time. The return trip will find us skirting up to Colorado for a few days and then on to Omaha once again for the annual Walk for the Cure cancer walk in early October.

But, before all of that, we’re going on an Alaska cruise in August. Flying from O’Hare, we’ll head to Vancouver for a two-day/night stay before boarding the MS Noordam that will take us through the Inside Passage, Ketchican, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and on to the Denali National Park via rail. Then we’ll fly back home from Anchorage. This will, no doubt, be a memorable adventure for the ages. As the summer begins to roll along, I’m getting thoroughly excited about what lies ahead.

To say the very least, I certainly won’t be stumped for things to write about as this summer and fall get going. My plan is to thoroughly enjoy every minute of our trips and capture as many wonderful memories as possible and to share as many as I possibly can. Perhaps there will even be further inspiration for getting back to serious writing to complete that obstinate Work-in-Progress!

 

I write because…?

Why do I write?

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(peanuts.wikia.com)

I write because a very long time ago, I discovered the hidden worlds of stories I’d feign illness to stay home from school to immerse myself in. As I read their words, I wanted to someday be like those authors who took me places I could only imagine existed.

Arthur Conan Doyle, Hammond Innes, Alistair Maclean, Franklin W. Dixon, Clair Bee, and Carolyn Keene were responsible for my faking that sore throat so many times. And I’ve often rationalized my dishonesty by telling myself that I probably learned more at home, cuddled up with a Hardy Boys book, then in that dreaded math class at school!

I write because there has always been a desire within to create some of my own stories—ones that others would like to read. And I would like to think that there might be, somewhere, an impressionable young person who’d rather skip school and stay home because he/she simply couldn’t wait to see how my tale would all turn out!

I write because there’s the need to shape and mold things with this strange and wonderful language of ours. I find many rewards when I’m able to piece together some thoughts that stretch my mind, my memories, and my path ahead.

I write because I also believe that all of the experiences I’ve accumulated through my many years are waiting to be shared through writing about them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve romanticized about sitting at a keyboard and pounding out my thoughts and ideas and bringing to life all of the things I’ve been through—from young days to the present.

I often question just how many of these experiences are of interest only to me, the writer, and not to others out there who couldn’t care less about any of it? I suppose that’s the chance all writers take when they sit down and begin the journey that is writing.

I write because that journey is not an easy one, either, but well worth all of the ups and downs and pitfalls endured along the way once the end is reached.

I doubt, though, that the end is really ever reached. Once we think we’re done, we’re really only beginning. It’s on to the next thing. And because there’s always that chance to start something that will turn out OK, I relish the challenges and the ups and downs and pitfalls once more. I like beginnings!

My foray into flash fiction, oh my!

My blogging friend Luanne over at Writer Site posted about a free online program that generates writing prompts for flash fiction. It’s called The Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator.

Curious, I checked it out and found it to be pretty cool. And the fact that it’s free doesn’t hurt, either!

How it works

When one presses the “Generate” button, five things pop up: Genre, Character, Material, a Sentence to Use, and Word Count.

Like Luanne, I like some basic “constraints” on getting my writing started, and this appears to be the perfect tool for doing just that.

Yes! I thought I would like to tackle this head on for my first blast into flash fiction.

I tried it out, and the first one that popped up was as follows: Romance, Fat Baker, A Painting, “He can change” & 600 words.

What follows is my first effort into flash fiction and using Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator’s criteria. It was fun, and I plan to hit that “Generator” button frequently each week.

What kinds of “constraints” (if any) do you prefer when beginning a writing project? If you try Story Shack, let me know your opinion of it. Happy writing, all!

The Baker’s Tale

 He was slowly steering a tall cart of pastries on their way to the glass showcase in the front of the bakery when he saw her after so many years. He was overcome with a sort of panic. God, what if she recognized him?

Sweating, something he did frequently, he stopped. Was it nerves? Morbid obesity? A combination of both? All he knew was that the pastry cart wasn’t tall or wide enough to shield him from her view as she waited nonchalantly, browsing the baked items.

Cringing behind the aluminum cart, he recalled how they’d once loved and shared and just how lovely she was—her smile, especially—and never an unkind word toward anyone—especially to him!

Life had been good, dreaming young dreams and promising young promises. He, the debonaire and handsome guy in her life, had dropped out of college to pursue his love of painting. But a severe lack of confidence in his own efforts had been the great barrier.

The manager was busily serving customers and would soon spot him in the middle of the place, like a stranded shipwreck victim, clinging desperately to the last bit of flotsam. He had to do something.

He’d tried like hell to be the person she’d first thought him to be—the one she’d fallen in love with one rainy summer weekend at an old cottage in Michigan, where he’d gone to paint rustic scenes in watercolors.

She’d loved his first creation at once, even wanted to buy it from him. But he didn’t feel it was very good at all.

Trying to hide now, sweat stinging his eyes, he mentally kicked himself. If she hadn’t been so nice to me and hooked me right off, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

He glanced her way again and saw that she was blithely scoping out the peach coffee cake, another of his creations he’d finished baking less than an hour before. Great!

Worse, he still didn’t know how to proceed without causing an obvious scene. He’d been hiding behind his cart much too long, and he had to get the baked goods to the front as the bakery was filling with hungry, early-morning customers.

Having no other option, he heaved himself up from his bent over posture and felt his heart nearly jump out of his thick chest. The exertion was killing him, he knew, but he had to move forward, unload the baked items onto the empty shelves, and get back to his baking. 

If only she’d pick something and leave! He knew that wouldn’t happen before it was too late. Karma is about to rear its ugly head. He sighed, resigned to his fate, and resumed his cart-pushing directly toward where she was standing, his heart hammering wildly. A 350-pound person isn’t designed for this sort of thing!

Just then, her number was called and she pleasantly asked for two cherry-filled crescent rolls. A quick exchange of money for the white bakery bag the manager handed across the showcase, and she smiled that smile. He saw this and felt like running to her (as if he could!) and taking her in his arms again.

But he didn’t. He watched her step out onto the busy sidewalk, carrying her white bag of crescent rolls, and disappearing from his life all over again.

He then remembered what she’d told a friend once who wondered what she saw in him: “Not much, but he can change.”

But he really hadn’t.

The Day the Heat Came

One Good Thing…

It’s time for the weekly  post of a feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week. 
(Note: Yesterday, I posted part one of a story I’d written back in the 80s titled “The Day the Heat Came.” Here is the conclusion of the tale that was a lot of fun to write.) 

The old, shady maple-lined street was now a river of pitch-black sludge, tar, asphalt, and crushed stone—now liquefied beyond belief!

Good old Maple Street had seen its share of weird things, but this was the doozy to top all doozies! Not even the rain of bowling balls a few years back, or the monsters coming to Maple Street out of the Twilight Zone, could top this.

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Photo courtesy of  olmparish.org

A minute later, Mr. Beasley, the mailman, floated by in his mail truck as though he had set sail on a voyage on the rushing torrent of black goo.

Florid faced and hair wild, Mr. Beasley was desperately trying to get the truck into gear, but there was no more street left on which to maneuver. He was losing the battle quickly as the vehicle of the United States Postal Service began to cant and tilt and was soon swallowed up by the roiling river that had been Maple Street.

Not far behind was patrolman Nace Wimbish, frantically trying to extricate himself from his police cruiser that had begun its river-like journey. Seconds later, he and the blue and white squad car met the same fate as Mr. Beasley and were suddenly sucked under the whirling and swirling flow of asphalt and tar–gone for good.

As this was happening, all of the trees that lined the once-peaceful street began to droop and wilt and turn to sodden piles of vegetation.

Boz Corndexter, the town drunk, was next! All that remained of his 400 pound self was oozing and sloshing around in Mable Froom’s rain barrel, into which he had stumbled when the heat came.  Ol’ Boz’d had the misfortune to be sleeping off one of his mean drunks in the shade of the old widow’s back porch. Wrong place, right time!

Witnessing all of this, Eve and Tommy began to feel trapped and afraid and alone. Aunt Gert had gone off to her weekly poker game at the Ladies League of Elkville, so chances were pretty good that she wouldn’t be home soon–if at all–as things were developing.

“Do you think we’ll die like them?” Eve was trembling now, more worried than before, staring out at the chaotic scene outside.

“Let’s hope not,” Tommy said, moving closer to his little sister. “I have big plans for my life.” He glanced at his book of Jack London stories he’d been reading on the porch and imagined that he’d be able to overcome whatever this evil force of nature was that was causing all of this mayhem.

Tommy and Eve stayed at the window for the rest of the afternoon, looking out at more and more of the craziness enveloping everything about the place. The thermometer on the porch had reached its highest calibrated marking and then, without any warning, burst and cracked and splashed itself into oblivion. Almost at once, the pungent odor of burning wires and metal crept through the vents. The temperature outside was now beyond measurement!

At that exact moment, the porch swing that had hung on the same rusty chain for forty years, suddenly screeched and screamed, seemingly in agony, and then crumpled and gushed into a puddle on the battleship gray porch floor.

Eve and Tommy were stunned as they stood and watched things melting all around them, realizing that it had been only a short time ago that they had been reading Jack London stories and playing make-believe with dolls and otherwise whiling away a summer’s day on that same swing. Now it was no more!

There was silence in the house now, except for the grinding and throbbing of the air conditioner that still seemed to be trying to right itself, and Aunt Gert’s tiny fan that kept at it like The Little Engine That Could.

Despite the terror that was going on outside, the air inside was strangely fresh and very comfortable. The curtains fluttered ever so slightly as the coolness wafted up from the floor vents below. The acrid hint of smoke that had been drifting in moments before had as quickly disappeared without a trace.

Outside, the sky was a fierce red, and the steam and heat all around their neighborhood continued to take its toll on things. A few houses like Tommy and Eve’s had managed to avoid whatever miserable force the deadly heat had brought, but most of the others were gone or soon would be.

Tommy realized at that moment that life as everyone had known it had quickly descended into the furnaces of hell and would probably never be the same again. He wondered, too, if others were watching in horror behind their windows? 

Nothing was moving out there now, other than the flowing Nile that had been Maple Street just a short time before.

Poor Boz Corndexter! Going out in a rain barrel was no one’s idea of a classic exit from the here and now. And Nace Wimpish would be hard to replace as the town’s best cop–that is, if there would ever be a need for a cop again! Whatever was happening, a future in this town seemed pretty bleak.

Tommy could see something lying on the far corner of the next door neighbor’s steaming yard near the flowing street. It was Mr. Beasley’s mail pouch, which at that moment exploded and hurled its contents soaring, scattering them high into the heated atmosphere where they immediately became engulfed in flames.

Tommy and Eve felt as though they couldn’t watch any more; they’d seen enough of the horror that had come their way. But despite their efforts to turn away from the morbid scene, they couldn’t force themselves to look away from the nightmare outside their window. 

After a time, though, and after they’d seen all they cared to see, the two young people turned away from the window and slumped down to the floor and knew that life as they knew it would never be the same again. The whole apocalyptic inferno had pushed them both past any sort of rational sanity.

The air conditioner, finally having worked the kinks and gremlins out of its system, steadily hummed away now. Aunt Gert’s tiny fan whirred gently on and on. And the heat kept on coming and the river that was Maple Street oozed and slurped its way forward, intent on swallowing the rest of the town.

Until next time, that’s one good thing!

My vault of forgotten short stories

One Good Thing…

It’s time for the weekly  post of a feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week. 

Earlier this week, as I was delving into various cabinets, file boxes, and folders (with the intention of “cleaning house”) I happened upon a thick and worn notebook that I hadn’t seen for years. Inside were bits and pieces of things I had written a long time ago.

Looking through them squelched any thought of “cleaning house,” and, instead, I spent a good portion of the morning reading—and remembering—the time of my life when I first wondered what all it would take to become a writer.

Once in a while we come upon unexpected remnants of our past, and they often serve as reminders of dreams and goals we’d once had. For this weekly feature of One Good Thing, I thought it might be a fun thing to share one of those “first efforts” from my “forgotten archives.”

One such lost “treasure” was written sometime in the early 80s for a short story writing class I was taking. Because it is a bit lengthy, I’ll break it into two parts. Part two will be posted tomorrow.

The story, based on a prompt we were given, was lots of fun and whetted my appetite to write some more. I’d like to think I’ve grown as a writer since those “early days” when I thought seriously of being a writer. Regardless, I had an extremely good time writing this one.

The prompt: Write about a day that begins in typical fashion but for some reason takes a very different direction.

Without further ado, from my vault of forgotten short stories, never before seen by anyone else, here is…

THE DAY THE HEAT CAME

July 23—The day the heat came…

Tommy Edgeworth and his sister Eve sat rocking gently back and forth on the weathered swing that hung on the wide front porch of the old white clapboard house, where they lived with their Aunt Gert, when it came.

Tommy, reading Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” and Eve, carrying on a conversation with her Barbie doll, never saw it coming. Until that very moment, nothing was unusual about this typical summer day.

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photo courtesy of weather examiner

It was exactly 11:53 a.m. when the mild, gentle morning breeze ceased completely, replaced by an oven-like atmosphere. Exactly one minute later, the neighbors’ chimney melted.

The orange-red bricks all ran together and oozed down the steep pitch of the eighty-year-old house and plopped over the edge to the ground far below, as though some careless kid had spilled a super-sized ice cream sundae all over the driveway.

Tommy and his ten-year-old sister were spellbound! She began to whimper a little but stopped because that caused too much discomfort in the increasing heat. Tommy took off his shirt and used it to wipe the sweat from his body, which by now was beginning to look like he had just stepped out of the shower.

“I think we better go inside and crank up the air conditioner,” he said, his voice weak and drained from the rising heat that was  now radiating all around them.

In they went, just as the Wupperman’s TV tower across the street suddenly bent limp like some wilted iris in the garden out back. There wasn’t any crashing or rending of metal, merely a quick squishy sound—like molding clay would make…or silly putty…in a kid’s clenched fist.

Tommy and Eve raced through the house, slamming windows shut and drawing shades and curtains closed for added “protection.”

Precisely two minutes later, Tommy clicked the thermostat on the living room wall to start the air conditioning unit that had reposed quietly out behind the lilacs alongside the house for most of the pleasant summer—until now. The old A/C compressor seemed to awaken with a startled, wrenching groan.

“Eve, run quick, up to Aunt Gert’s room and bring her little fan down!” 

Beginning to worry just a bit more, but without saying anything, the young freckle-faced girl dropped her doll and chuffed up the eighteen steps to the second floor.

By the time his sister had come back down with the small General Electric table fan, its cord trailing off behind, Tommy had established his lookout post at the front window directly above a floor vent, which was trying mightily to crank out cool air.

He grabbed the small fan from his sister and set it on the highboy chest next to the window and plugged it in and turned it on. The little fan whirred gently but didn’t do much to provide any real relief, other than moving the air about.

Looking out and down the street, beyond the melted burnt orange steaming pile that had been the chimney of the house next door, Tommy could see Mr. Cloon’s Buick crumble into mega zillions of dust particles on the street in front of his house.

No one was in the car, thank goodness, but what startled Tommy most of all was that there wasn’t a trace of oil, gas, or any other motor fluid of any kind—anywhere! A once healthy automobile had now heated to the extent that it had simply turned to dust.

A split second later, old Mrs. Clechmeyer, who was out for her late-morning stroll, suddenly became a boiling mass of goop and glop. For one brief, desperate moment, she tried to shout, but no sooner had she opened her mouth when her face completely melted away. One second she had been walking upright; the next she was diminishing into a non-human puddle of muck and mire!

In a most bizarre sort of way, this wretched scene reminded Tommy of his favorite moment from The Wizard of Oz. He could almost imagine Mrs. Clechmeyer’s words—had they been able to be vocalized just before she melted away—to be, “I’m melting, my little pretty!”

“Tommy, do you think we’ll be ok?” The fright in his sister’s voice drew Tommy’s attention away from the morbid scene outside.

“I don’t know, Eve, but it sure is weird. Nothing this strange has happened since the time it rained bowling balls for three days. Remember?”

Eve thought for a moment, continuing to stare at the wicked tableau outside.  “Yeah, I remember that. Uncle Mavis really got nailed when that happened.”

Tommy said, “And we would’ve gotten nailed, too, if we hadn’t ‘ve been down in the root cellar with Aunt Gert, helping put up canned tomatoes and pickles.”

Eve shook her head and said, “At least this time it isn’t so loud—just way too hot!” She had moved over beside her older brother at the window. The air conditioner and the whirring of the little fan were the only sounds they could hear, and, fortunately, the house seemed to be holding its own against the inferno outside. 

Neither spoke for a long time, each wondering when their house would meet a furious, fiery fate. Nothing much happened for the next few minutes, until a loud, gurgling sound out in the street erupted, sounding like a giant drain being unclogged. What they saw, as they peered once more out the window, was that the gurgling from the street was the street itself!

To be continued…

Until next time, that’s one good thing!

 

When an old friend asks…

One Good Thing…

It’s time for the weekly  post of a feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week. 
Scrivener talk

Earlier this week, a writer friend asked me what I thought about the writing program Scrivener and if I thought she should try it out or not. And since I enjoy sharing things about Scrivener, I realized that I had my One Good Thing to share with everyone.

Yes, I have written about Scrivener in the past, and about how much I really feel comfortable using it to do all of my writing (blog posts, short stories, novels). Although in the beginning I wasn’t too sure about it due to my comfort level in using Word for all things writing.

Plus, like anything else that is vast and complex, there is a pretty fair amount of time required to invest in understanding Scrivener. Like so many others who became frustrated and overwhelmed by it, I thought I had to know everything about it in order to make it work for me.

Consequently, because I was unsure about most things about it, my grasp of the powerful writing program was nearly nonexistent, even though there’s a pretty good tutorial built into the program. In short, I was ready to forget the whole idea and scurry back to the familiar world of Word.

Fortunately, before giving up completely, I found Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies, followed by her online courses in Scrivener “basics,” and things began to look less daunting and frightening! A simple truth revealed itself, finally: One need not use every feature of the program to accomplish one’s writing goals! 

After using Scrivener for four years now, I still use very few of the wide array of wonderful features or parts of it. What’s good for me, may not be good for another. And various things others find useful in their writing may not be good for my needs.

And that’s one of the real strengths of Literature & Latte’s Scrivener: One can pick and choose and put to use any parts that make writing work for him or her.

Here are some of the Scrivener features I like and use most often:

  • “Compose mode”-Allows me to write without distractions.
  • Binder organization-I can move scenes or chapters around as I see fit.Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 12.50.39 PM.png
  • Writing Progress Targets-I can set a desired word count “target” and will be notified whenever the word count is reached.
  • Compiling-Although it’s a bit tricky to understand and fully use without some really good guidance from folks like Gwen Hernandez, it’s a very powerful way to get my work formatted and “out there” in the form I want to publish. (E-book, paperback, etc.)

I learned a long time ago that whatever makes one comfortable in the creative process is the best regimen to follow. Some like to write things out longhand or use an old typewriter or voice their words or type away using one of the zillions of writing programs available.

Whatever mode best helps one get to the finish line of a piece of writing is the best mode for that person. As for me, I’m most comfortable with Scrivener, and I’m always happy to have the opportunity to talk about things I like. Glad my old friend asked me about it this week!

Until next time, that’s one good thing!

 

Empty bird feeders & the writing life

IMG_1393.jpgThe bird feeders are empty again, and the little creatures are pecking around hoping to find some stray remnants on the ground below. Sorry, friends. I was gone all day yesterday and not back until late in the evening. I’ll re-supply the feeders later after I attempt to catch up with my Blogging 101 work. In the meantime, my feathered friends, keep looking for those forgotten seeds.

The previous assignment (“Be a Good Neighbor”) where we were to leave comments on four other blogs we’ve never commented on before, was interesting and rewarding, mainly because it forced me to carefully read the blogger’s post. By doing this, I am not short-changing the writer with some quick glib comment, rather offering my thoughts on what it was she had to share.

One post I enjoyed was titled “Managing my time as a writer” from the Flotsam & Jetsam blog. I think the author, maryruth, expresses the same feelings I have been battling for a long time:

My never-ending problem has always been how to organise myself.

She nails it, too, when mentioning all of the “non-writing stuff” that crops up and drains our time. It would be so wonderful to be able to just write and ignore all of the clutter that keeps us from doing so! Somehow life tends to get in the way.

After considering what she wrote, and leaving a comment, I began to realize that the empty bird feeder outside my window is like the writing life itself: Full for a time but soon empty, with so many dependent winged creatures scratching about in the snow below.

They hunt and peck for a while and then fly off in search of seeds elsewhere. And the feeder stands empty, still.

But then they’re back! Once again they forage and rummage about, and I can almost hear them grumbling among themselves, throwing angry and disappointed glares my way as I write and watch them scrabbling away, laying the guilt trip on me.

Blogging 101’s Day Nine: Get Inspired By the Neighbors has led me to realize, once again, that there is so much more to being a disciplined writer than just writing. We do our best to write when we can…and also make sure the bird feeders get refilled!

On to Day 10.