Spotlight Sunday

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Lauren Lola

Hometown/Location: San Francisco Bay Area, CA.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? 
To be honest, not really. I don’t know if there was ever really a moment in time where I made the decision that writing was what I was meant to do. I think I’ve always known, since day one. My great aunt met me when I was six months old during her final trip to the United States (she was from the Philippines), and my dad recalled how she said that I am “a real Lola” and that I have “the hand of an artist.” I guess the art she was referring to was the art of storytelling.

Why do you write?
I write to speak; to tell stories. I’ve never been that big of an oral talker, and so writing has been more so my strength of expressing communication from an internal place; whether in the matters of telling a very real story, or something completely fictional. My brain has always tended to work a little differently in terms of putting together a story to tell, and with writing, you can take the time to tell it.

What is your favorite genre or style to write in?
I don’t know if I have a favorite genre. I have a wide collection of books, spreading across all sorts of genres. What I can say is that within the last year, I’ve really gotten into magical realism and fairytales. I’ve been reading a lot of books that incorporate one or the other element/genre into it and I’ve found it a very enjoyable education. I’ve even managed to incorporate influences such as these into my debut novel.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have a number of favorite authors, but one of them is definitely New Zealand author, Witi Ihimaera. Many Western audiences may be familiar with his novel The Whale Rider, especially since it was adapted for film about 12 years ago. However, he’s written many other books as well, and my collection of his works is consistently growing. I like learning about different countries and cultures, and he does my thirst justice by setting most of his books in the Maori community. Also, the way he’s able to incorporate a sense of humor into his stories- even those that have generally heavy content- makes his books all the more enjoyable to read.

What books have most influenced your life most?
As it is with a number of my favorite authors, I’ve noticed how many of the books that have influenced my life are international publications. That’s not to say that none of the books from here in the U.S. haven’t had any direct influence on me at all. There’s just something about books from other parts of the world, written by people hailing from different cultural environments and different upbringings than I have, that make them more “tick” in my eyes. From Witi Ihimaera, to David Mitchell, to Haruki Murakami, I can’t help but get lost their works, along with others.

Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to share with us?
In Haruki Murakami’s collection, The Elephant Vanishes, there’s this one short story from there that I really like called “A Window,” and it focuses on the interaction and eventual meeting of two people who are part of a letter-writing society. There’s a quote from there that I see as a standout piece of advice, and it is:
“Don’t try so hard to be the penetrating observer. Writing is, after all, a makeshift thing.”

Do you have any advice for other writers?
My advice is to keep writing and write every day. It doesn’t have to be a five-page piece or anything; it could something as short as a sentence. Just as long as you keep the pen- or fingers on the keyboard- moving with your words often, everything else should fall into place.

Can you tell us a little background or anything special on the piece you composed?
I’m never the one to write flash fiction on a regular basis, but this is a concept that I’ve wanted to explore for a while; the moment where you learn that your significant other is in the hospital. This short piece follows a gay man as he goes through just that, and how his roommate comforts him in the most unorthodox yet best way he knows how.

The Waiting Game

Nathan’s hearing seemed to have vanished upon hearing the news no boyfriend ever wants to hear…
“… has been brought in a while ago… was found unconscious in an alleyway… believed to have been involved in a mugging…”
Apparently his voice was retained from being dissolved in his shock, as he was somehow able to utter the words that his one true love was lying unconscious in the hospital. Immediately, his roommate Conner called up a taxi.
Aside from Conner instructing the taxi driver on where to take them, no words were uttered from either of the two roommates as the taxi made its way down the street in the busy, New York City night. Nathan stared out the window, eyes glassy with tears threatening to burst forth, not really looking at the outside world passing by him at all. All that occupied the space in his mind were thoughts about the gap between when his love was… mugged- he could hardly think, let alone say, the word- and the current situation in that moment. Was he taken to ER when they brought him in? Was he breathing? Did they have to use a defibrillator on him? Did they have to put him on a respirator at all? Will he make it?
In a brief moment from his subconscious ramblings, Nathan blinked twice and looked over at Conner, perhaps to say something or to seek some reassurance of sorts- he didn’t know. Rather than a concerned look returning his gaze, Conner was looking straight ahead at the road before him from the backseat, bobbing his head slightly. Nathan was almost annoyed by the sight. It was no secret that Conner aspires to be a big-named rapper, and somehow even in a time like this, he had a beat going on in his head.
They eventually arrived at the hospital and Nathan dashed to the front desk, asking for his love’s condition. A quick computer search and a phone call later, the receptionist told him and his friend to take a seat in the waiting area, informing them both that the doctor will be down with a report.
With the exception of a few stragglers and other late night drop-ins, it was basically Nathan and Conner seated together, waiting the time away. The receptionist said that the doctor would be there in about five minutes from the time she called him up, but unless if Nathan was mistaken, time felt like it was passing by a lot slower than 300 seconds. Nathan never bothered checking the time on his phone or on the clock on the waiting room, for none of that mattered when all he wanted was to see his love, right then and there.
Even still in the waiting room, Conner remained silent as his head continued to gently bob to the rap song forming in his head. Nathan made it visibly evident this time around that he was getting annoyed and irritated by that, when his head was already spinning with stress from the present situation.
“Digging the nighttime in the downtown hospital
Where paramedics and surgeons chill like it’s a 5-star hotel”
Conner had started rapping, and often when it’s a free verse, there’s no telling as to where he can go.
“Conner, not now,” Nathan said to him as urgently as possible. “This is not the time for this.”
Conner merely brushed his comments aside.
“You best be patient, for there’s no telling on what the patient can tell
As you’re stuck in the waiting room, waiting for them to get well”
Nathan held his head in distress as the rap continued. He was annoyed and stressed out all at the same time.
“I’d pull the cards, to get his ass released
But that’s outta my jurisdiction, it’s doctor’s orders, you see?”
Nathan’s eyes softened as he lifted his clutched hands away from his head as he continued to listen to the rap. He realized then that Conner was rapping about their present situation, and perhaps in the most thoughtful way possible.
“You may be wondering:
‘Is he there? Is he staying alive?’
Well let me tell you something brotha
You’re strong-ass lova is gonna be just fine”
And with that, Conner gave Nathan a comforting pat on the back. Nathan smiled a small smile at him, grateful for his words of comfort.
A few minutes later, the doctor finally showed up, and Nathan leaped from his seat with Conner accompanying him.
“How is he?” he immediately asked.
“Well, he has a minor concussion, a bruised rib, and other cuts and bruises as well,” the doctor said while glancing at his clipboard. “Other than that though, he is expected to make a full recovery and will be alright. We gave him a dose of painkillers and he’s sleeping it off now, but if you want, you can see him.”
Nathan sighed out of relief, thankful that his boyfriend is not on the brink of death after all. Conner smiled from behind and patted him on the shoulder.

To read more from Lauren visit:
Blog: http://lolabythebay.wordpress.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/akolaurenlola
Book Links: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KL6T310
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8294989.Lauren_Lola
Other: (Instagram) http://instagram.com/akolaurenlola

 

 

 

 

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Spotlight Sunday

 

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 Emma Pierce

Hometown/Location:   Hometown – Michigan, USA, Current location – Tokyo, Japan
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
From a young age I always kept a journal.  Whenever significant events occurred in my childhood, I turned to writing.  I am an adventurous person; I like to travel, experience new things, and take many risks.  My lifestyle has always provided me with inspiration for writing.
Why do you write?
I write because I am fascinated with written language as a medium for communication.  There is always something lost between the author and the reader, depending on a multitude of factors: background, culture, education, etc.  By experimenting with different styles and audiences I can strive to refine the gap between writer and recipient.  Sometimes, however, it is this gap – the slight misinterpretations or mutations – that gives way to new ideas.
What is your favorite genre or style to write in?
I enjoy experimenting with a number of different styles.  If I had to pick, my favorite genre would probably be memoirs of travel or adventure experiences.  Poetry is also high on my list.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Herman Hesse has always moved me with his themes that unify the pure versus dark forces in the world – and his perspective on the topics like desire, self-discipline, and coincidence.
What books have most influenced your life most? 
- Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers
- Demian by Herman Hesse
- Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
- Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to share with us?
Favorite quote:
“If you need something desperately and find it, this is not an accident; your own craving and compulsion leads you to it.” – Demain (Herman Hesse)
Do you have any advice for other writers? 
Writing for a difficult audience can sometimes surprise.  Now and then I catch myself enjoying the frustration.
Can you tell us a little background or anything special on the piece you composed?
I originally wrote it as a submission for a small English e-magazine produced by fellow JET-Program (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) participants in Nagano prefecture, Japan (just a publication for our work community).  The theme of the issue was ‘temptation’.  Some changes have been made.

Grooves in the Granite

Subtle Temptation, deceptive bravery

The word ‘temptation’ brings to mind images of seduction much too obvious: cake with poison icing, a siren’s song beckoning inevitable and anticipated doom.  Real temptation is subtler.  The danger is unrecognizable, the reins still in our hands, it starts out safe. Reasonable.  A small bite of cake, a harmless night stroll, lunch with a coworker.

I stare at the crack in a boulder, chalk dusts the thickest edges: handholds.  With two feet still planted on the ground, I feel the granite, the chalk smoothed between the grooves.  Harmless.  I’m not courageous, anyhow.  For most climbs – even easy pitches on rope – head-game hits me like a brick.  I buckle at my own lack of confidence to reach for the next clip, yelling “tension!”  Eventually, my belayer lowers me to the ground, relieving the discomfort caused by a taught harness bunching up fabric between the legs.

So this – a few moves in on a boulder, only feet above my portable cushion – is nothing.  Children risk more on jungle gyms.  A few more holds and I’ll surely fall to the crash-pad. Just see how it feels.

I shift my frame, move my left hand to match my right, and then wedge that hand against an edge.  Interesting… I feel my weight fall onto my arm beneath me now, mantling.  This frees up my other hand.  It’s getting creative now.  I see a ledge farther up and reach for it, but it surpasses my fingertips by several inches.  Bump.  I bump my right hand up, keeping my weight low.  Slowly I move my foot up with careful balance, expecting to slip any moment now.  My knee is at my chest, but it needs to go higher.  Finally my toe feels an edge.  I shift my weight, step-up, bam! Breathe, I’ve got it.

New confidence bursts from me like a bubble popping.  I see the way, a line on the rock’s surface as easy as a stroll down the sidewalk.  Rarely used adrenaline pours through me as I surge three power-moves in a row, seizing the chance inertia provides.  Act before your mind, my friend had told me once.    I push up again, reaching for what looks like a deep pocket, a chance to hang and shake-out, a chance to rest and breathe.  My hand glides over the small bump of chalk-covered rock.  No pocket….

I look down. Oops.

Self preservation kicks in. Too high for no rope.  I get violent ‘Elvis-leg’ and my friends below can see me shaking.  Cowards aren’t supposed to climb themselves out of this predicament.  I’m supposed to fall.  I fall and it’s all over; it can’t be helped. The natural consequence makes perfect sense.  I feel the burn in my forearms, the strain.  I’m just putting off the inevitable until muscle failure kicks in.

“I’m gonna fall!” I whine between panicky breaths, “ Is it clear? “

“We’ve got you!” yells my spotter, “Just keep going!”  In my gut I know it’s a lie, but I convince myself I’m insane with fear.  A good spotter would say nothing different, even at death-drop heights.  But he’s laughing at my panic over mere inches, I tell myself.  My depth perception is broken.

Fine, then.  I’m dreaming.  I can fly if I want.  I spring up on my left leg with force, my hand soaring aimlessly for the top ledge.  An uncontrollable drive for survival makes my hand clamp-down hard, because there’s no other way I’d let my body snap against that face otherwise.

“Nice, you got it – now TOP OUT!” The tone below has just changed to serious, yet I’m frozen in bewilderment.  I’m still on the wall; I’m still here!  I half-scramble, half-flop myself over the top ledge and collapse into nervous laughter.

Sounds of relief also come from below as I peer over the edge.

“I’m not going to lie, you had me a little worried,” the confessions pour out now. I just stare downward in shock. Amazing.

The rock led me on.  I was lured into proving myself against my mind today.  Deceptive bravery; this is how temptation becomes addiction.  

To read more from Emma visit:

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The Disease of Being Busy

 Although this is not necessarily a direct topic related to writing, often I like to share articles that apply to our lives in general.  I found this to be a particularly compelling look at a life that some of us live daily.   The original article  written by BY OMID SAFI (@OSTADJAAN),  WEEKLY COLUMNIST can be found HERE .


I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time it’s gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smart phones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different for others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is yourhaal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and face-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Spotlight Sunday

 

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Anna Costello

Hometown/Location: Upstate New York

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Actually, I remember when I was young, I hated writing. I hated getting
assignments in school that involved writing long essays. However, when
I grew older, I realized that writing creatively was much more
enjoyable for me that writing school assignments. And when I took a
creative writing class during my senior year of high school, I knew
that creative writing was my thing.

Why do you write?

I write because I love to create stories and
characters. I’m a big daydreamer, and writing is the best way to
record my thoughts and creations.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I’ll have to go with Edgar Allen Poe. I find his
works to be delightfully creepy and morbid.

What books have most influenced your life?

A book that immediately comes to mind is “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Particularly, the last two
lines: “But now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave
rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we
may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery
ink on paper.” It reminded me that no matter what bad occurs in my
life, it will eventually pass. And in the end, they are all just
memories, blended together. It gives me comfort.

Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to
share?

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often
we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which
has been opened for us.” – Hellen Keller

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Don’t stop writing. Aim to write every day. You don’t have to create a masterpiece each and every
time. Just write.

Can you tell us a little background or anything special on the piece you composed?

I wrote this story back in Spring 2008 for my creative
writing class during my senior year of high school. It’s based on a
true story, when I had to finish an English test in 8th grade.

The English Test

            It all began when the bell rung. The bell had rung with a
mocking dull tone. While for most of the class it meant that the time
had come to devour their lunches, for me it meant I was missing my
lunch to finish my English test. The stupid English test. The long and
tedious English test.

            Still, I was not the only one. There were a few people in
the classroom, rapidly writing away, their stomachs growling like
lions and tigers and bears. But one by one, they got up and left.
Soon, it was just me, Bryan, and that substitute teacher. That
mysterious sub. I had never had that substitute, nor had I ever seen
her before. Where did she come from? She wasn’t looking too happy at
Bryan and I. Were we taking too long? But alas, it did not matter to
me. As long as Bryan was here, I had nothing to fear.

            Then, Bryan put his pen down and got up to hand in his
test. My heart sank. Bryan was leaving me alone in the room with the
substitute teacher. That mysterious substitute teacher. Now, I had to
work faster. I was almost done. Just a few more sentences, and my test
would be complete. It would only be a matter of what exactly I wanted
to put in my answer. However, that substitute teacher changed
everything.

            Before my thirteen-year-old mind could process it, the
substitute stood in front of my desk, glaring down at me with glowing
blue eyes. Even as I looked down, I could feel her eyes penetrate into
the back of my head. Why was she doing this? Was she angry? Was I
cutting into her lunch time? I muttered sorry and gave an awkward
giggle. But she didn’t give any form of response. She just glared.

            It was nerve-racking. Here I was trying to finish a test
and someone was hovering over me, giving me the evil eyes. I could
barely concentrate on my test. I wrote furiously, not even knowing
exactly what I was doing.

            Finally, she spoke.

            “I’ll give you one more minute.”

            Such a fearsome voice. I had never a voice with such cold
irritation before. It was as though icicles had pierced through my
body. Was this substitute really human?

            Lucky for me, I had just finished my last sentence. In a
fury, I got up and gave her my test. Once again, I told her I was
sorry for taking so long and gave a small chuckle. However, she turned
around, un-amused. And so I raced out of the classroom, putting my
fears of the sub behind me and thinking about my delicious yogurt
parfait.

            Never in my life that I been so scared during an English test.

To read more from Anna visit:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anna.c.costello
WordPress: http://ramblesofasquigglesmurf.wordpress.com/
Tumblr: http://squiggle-smurf.tumblr.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=105909993&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5784943-anna-costello

Recognition

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Just sharing something very cool that happened to me this week! Any time I am published in any kind of medium I am always excited and grateful. This week my school published my poem “Texts After 3pm”  in the school’s newspaper! I love that the newspaper is supporting creative writers and going outside of the traditional, because as writers we love to see crossovers and of course we love to see our work being recognized!  I have to give a special shout out to Paul who is the blogger of our University’s blog  www.creativewritingcenter.wordpress.com ( which you should definitely go follow!)  . If you received any special recognition lately let me know in the comments below!  

Happy Writing Friends!

Weekly Prompt: Earshot

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Originally posted on Creative Writing Center @Ship:

Each week we’ll post a “pitch,” a writing prompt designed to grant maximum freedom for those who respond. Send what your write to creativewriting@ship.edu, with the subject line “Weekly Writing: Earshot,” and we’ll compile it into a sample of campus writing to publish around the end of each month. 

EARSHOT

In a single day, we might overhear hundreds of conversations. The snippets of conversations of those who are walking past you, and who sits behind you in the cafe. The collective murmur of the words you hear will create the sense of world as you understand it, will reveal the worldview through the overheard. 

Sit in a public place. Write down the things that you hear that strike you as strange. Do it several times, in different areas, or the same, just write everything down. Then, put them all together and do some editorial playing. Let these be nearly nonsensical, let them…

View original 40 more words

“Literary fiction, aspires to art. It attempts to illuminate the human condition, and uncover universal truths. It applies itself to questions rather than answers. It attends to complexity of character and employs evocative language to uncover layers of story…Literary fiction aims to enlighten, provoke,connect and entertain.”

– Monica Wood, Learning from Goldilocks

A little morning inspiration for those of you participating in NanoWrimo!

Spotlight Sunday

 

Writer's Notebook

 Kate Loveton

Location: A little town in Southern Pennsylvania, United States

 Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

My interest in writing grew out of my love of reading. I’ve experienced many enjoyable hours in the worlds created by some fine authors. It’s amazing when you stop to consider it – how communication between minds can span centuries through the written word. I can open a book by Charles Dickens, and I’m immediately transported back to Victorian England, viewing the times and conditions of that era through Dickens’ eyes. On another day, I might pick up Seutonius’s ‘The Twelve Caesars’ and experience the early Roman Empire as witnessed and perceived by him.

Where else can you experience this but through the written word?

The idea that I might entertain or move a reader, or cause of flicker of an idea to cross the mind of someone years from now, is mighty engaging. In fact, it’s exciting.

 Why do you write?

Because, at heart, I’m a spinner of tales. I like to think how people might act in any given situation – and then I want to take you along for the ride.

For example, I see a room. A beautiful woman holding a bloody dagger enters it. Her long, dark hair is mussed and hanging over one eye, preventing us from seeing her expression. She is wearing a tight, yellow dress which is torn and stained with blood spray. Can you see it? I hope so. But more important, I now want you to wonder what happened to her, and I want to create in you a need to know the rest of the story. Why is the dagger bloody? Was someone only injured or murdered? Does the knife belong to the woman? Were her actions in self-defense or something more? What expression is she hiding beneath the heavy hair? What will she do now?

I write because I like to make up my own worlds and people them with characters of my own imagining. In the end, I’m nothing more than another teller of tales, much like the old men who used to gather on back porches, passing around a shared bottle of whiskey, exchanging made-up stories, trying to ‘tell you a good one.’

What is your favorite genre or style to write in?

The honest answer is whichever one I’m currently attempting! I’m not sure I can define my genre. The closest label might be suspense. I like a bit of horror, but like it to be subtle. I think there is a lot of subtle horror in life. True horror isn’t vampires and werewolves, perhaps. It might be the kid down the street who says hello to you every morning – and then takes a small arsenal into school one day. Or it might be the fellow who silently works a 9 to 5 job, the guy everyone thinks is just swell, and who secretly sends a packet of anthrax through the mail to a government representative. Or it may be of a more mundane nature, such as the horror a mother experiences as she wonders how she’ll go on, now that a beloved child is dead.

I think we try to explain away the horror in life, seeking reasons for it. I think horror is just a byproduct of life. It’s all around us, but often we don’t recognize it. I deal with this in the piece I’ve provided for your readers.

 

 Who is your favorite author and what is it that strikes you about his work?

John Steinbeck is my favorite author. What strikes me about his work is how clearly and compassionately he views humanity. He sees the good and evil, and he never whitewashes it or tries to explain it away. Evil exists, and humanity must acknowledge its presence – only then can we answer it. To Steinbeck, evil is a choice, as is goodness. He brings great heart to his writing. If I could spend an hour with a writer, past or present, Steinbeck would be my choice.

What books have most influenced your life?

The Bible, of course – it’s a collection of stories that depicts the human condition brilliantly. We see the bravery, the folly, the greed and jealousy, the hope and despair of countless generations, and the longing for something more than just ourselves. The Bible shows our loneliness, how we long for something greater than man to take notice of us… to love us. To find us worthy. It’s a pretty scary thing, stuck out here on this rock, orbiting around our small star, while the immensity of the universe seems unaware of our existence. The Bible brings the universe a little closer and tells us we are not alone. Someone once told me that every story ever written finds its basis somewhere in the Bible. I think that may be true; humanity and its condition hasn’t changed much through millennia, in spite of our burgeoning technology.

Another influence is Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden.’ The book’s exploration of good and evil, of human motivation still stands up. He reworks the story of Cain and Abel on a grander, modern scale. He reminds us that while our emotions profoundly affect who we are, we can ‘choose’ whether we shall rule over them or whether they shall rule over us. Pretty heady stuff, that! Such a hopeful message, I think: we can choose to rise above our emotions.

Another thing Steinbeck shows us is that sometimes there is no rationale for evil. It just IS. In our modern-day quest to try to diagnose and cure all things, I think we sometimes forget that evil just often IS. It isn’t always environmental; it isn’t always genetic; it isn’t always psychological. Sometimes, it just IS. And who can explain why? No one, not even after all these centuries.

One last thing about Steinbeck: he teaches us that evil is sly. It often masquerades in pretty packages, and looks anything but ugly or dangerous. There’s a horror-filled idea for you!

Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to share with us?

William Stafford, a twentieth century American poet, advised writers to “Lower your standards and keep writing.” I have that quote scribbled on a 3×5 card and propped up on my writing desk where I can always see it. Too often, we have these extraordinary ideas that we can suddenly write prose like the most admired writers down through the centuries, and we’re stopped dead in our tracks by the realization that we probably can’t. And we stop writing.

I don’t think you have to be Shakespeare to tell a compelling story. And so, I’ve learned to lower my standards and I keep writing, always in the hope that someone will find something of merit in my stories.

“Lower your standards and keep writing” – that’s the best advice I have to share. Especially, the ‘keep writing’ portion. Everyday. Even when you’re tired. Even if it’s just a paragraph. Do it.

Is there any background you can give us on your this piece?

The story I’d like to share is called ‘Monsters Under The Bed.’ It is the second installment of a flash fiction trilogy I’ve written that is part of a series entitled “Schuyler Falls Stories.” These short pieces explore the lives of a group of people living in that community. The tales are sometimes fantastical; at other times, the horror arises out of more natural, explainable scenarios, one being the modern day psychological illness of Menchausen’s by Proxy, for example. ‘Monsters Under the Bed’ introduces readers to Isabel Perkins, who sees monsters but learns to keep quiet about them – at least for a time. I hope your readers enjoy it. If so, they may wish to visit the first story in the trilogy, ‘The Good Mother,’ and the third, ‘Signs.’

Monsters Under the Bed

Ever since she was a little girl, Isabel Perkins worried there were monsters under her bed.

It didn’t matter that Mama and Papa would get down on their knees, peek beneath the ruffled edge of the flowered bedspread, and assure her everything was fine. It didn’t matter that the tiny light Mama placed in her room gave off a soft warm blush that alleviated the darkness. Nor did it matter that Papa kept the bedroom door slightly ajar so Isabel could call out if she became frightened.

No, none of that mattered.

Because Isabel was convinced there were monsters under the bed. She might not be able to see them, but she knew they were there.

As decades passed, so did the fears of childhood. The monsters receded from Isabel’s memory.

Until Joe died.

After nearly fifty years of marriage, it was hard being on her own again. The loneliness was something awful, and she had trouble sleeping nights. Worse, she began to worry about things.

Like monsters.

It began innocently enough.

Two months ago, she was having her hair done at Bea Edwards’ beauty shop. Everyone said Bea’s was the best place in town for a color and cut. It was also the best place to find out what was happening in Schuyler Falls. Every woman between the ages of fifteen and seventy came to Bea for their beauty needs, and each brought with her a bit of gossip.

That particular morning, Isabel overheard a conversation between two women sitting under hair dryers. It seemed a fellow in a neighboring county, working for the Water Authority, slipped a little something into the water supply, making a rash of people sick. It ended up killing a few of the older citizens – all because they took a drink of water!

Isabel didn’t join the conversation, but thoughts about the possible doings of county employees preyed on her mind. She started worrying about the people in charge of Schuyler Falls’ water supply – and whether a psychological profile ought to be required for county employees.

She said as much to her son, Sam, when he came to visit the next day. Sam just laughed. “Ma, you’re such a card!”

It wasn’t the response Isabel wanted, but she let it pass. Folks said she had an active imagination about things.

Especially since Joe died.

It was like that flat screen TV Sam had given her for Mother’s Day.

He placed it atop the old oak chest sitting across from the foot of her bed. “This way, Ma, you can lay in bed at night and watch TV, snuggled under the covers.”

Sam worried about her. “You know what, Ma? You oughta get a dog. Everybody needs company. Maybe one of those little frou-frou dogs. He could snuggle up against you when you watch JEOPARDY at night.”

Isabel didn’t want any damned dog, frou-frou or otherwise. She also didn’t like the idea of that big TV monitor watching her all night long. Still, she didn’t tell Sam; he looked too pleased with himself.

That TV bothered Isabel, though, especially at night. Emblazoned on the rim of the monitor was its brand name, VIZIO. Even turned off, the name continued to cast a ghostly light into the room. VIZIO seemed too close to the word ‘vision,’ and that unsettled her. She got to wondering if the TV people were watching her while she slept, wondered if those cable people had an arrangement whereby they could spy on citizens as they slept in their beds.

She’d noticed their trucks in the neighborhood. They always seemed to be around. Who knew what they were capable of? Isabel thought someone should do a psychological profile on people who worked for the cable company.

She finally figured out how to hide the TV’s brand name; she placed a large piece of duct tape over the glowing letters. When Sam asked her about the tape, she didn’t tell him about the cable people; she just said the light bothered her.

But that duct tape made everything fine. For a time.

Then the Shadow People started coming to visit.

One night, unable to sleep, Isabel watched a TV show about fleeting, shadowy images, and reports that these shadows might be ghosts or time-travelers – maybe even space aliens!

Chuckling at the gullibility of some folks, Isabel turned off the TV and went to sleep.

But in the days and nights that followed, she’d be making tea or doing a bit of ironing in her dimly lit kitchen and suddenly take notice of a fleeting shadow. First time it happened, she dismissed it as a trick played by the light. But the shadows began to appear with increasing frequency. That scared Isabel.

Scared her enough to bring it up with Sam.

“Ma, I got you the TV so you could watch JEOPARDY, not listen to kooks jibber-jabbering about ghosts and UFOs. Jesus! You keep this stuff up, and people will think you belong on the Funny Farm. You oughta get a dog! Maybe it would take your mind off all this crazy stuff.”

She could see Sam was angry. He was also something more. Something that made Isabel uneasy. Did he think she was nuts? She’d heard of sons placing their mothers in nursing homes for less. Isabel didn’t want to wind up in a nursing home.

That was when she decided silence was a virtue. She’d keep her monsters to herself.

And it was why she kept quiet about Polly Andrews.

Everyone in Shuyler Falls loved Polly, including Isabel. A fine lady who’d been through a lot when she lost her little girl, everyone respected Polly. She’d been such a caring mother.

Becki had died almost a year ago. Toward the end, she’d been skin and bones, and hollow-eyed. It had been a terrible thing to witness Polly’s grief afterward.

But she was a strong woman, and after a few months, Polly pulled herself together and concentrated on the child she still had living. Isabel had admired her for it.

Yet… just a week ago, Isabel had been in Lynette Monroe’s bakery when Polly walked through the door with her picture-pretty little girl, Cindy.

Except she wasn’t quite so picture-pretty that day. She looked tired. Hollow-eyed.

They were there to pick up some chocolate chip muffins. Isabel watched as Cindy said she didn’t like them, that they tasted funny.

Isabel saw Polly frown. “Lower your voice ‘fore Miss Lynette overhears you talking so evil about her muffins. You don’t like chocolate chip? All little girls like chocolate chips. Your sister liked those muffins.”

Isabel strained to catch Cindy’s reply. “No ma’am, she didn’t. Said they tasted funny. She only ate ‘em to please you.”

A look come over Polly’s face at that, one that brought a chill to Isabel’s heart. She suddenly didn’t recognize Polly, and found herself thinking of things that go bump in the night. Dark things.

Then Polly smiled and the look was gone, and Isabel wondered if she’d imagined it.

“Okay, sugar, you don’t like chocolate chip muffins, we’ll get something else, okay?” Polly caressed the girl’s hair. “After all, it’s all the same. Anything will do.”

And then she winked at Isabel.

Isabel wasn’t sure why that wink bothered her, but it did. The thought of it stayed with her long after she left the bakery.

It made her think of the monsters who used to hide under her bed. Monsters that everyone said weren’t there.

She thought of Sam suddenly. She thought of his face when he mentioned the Funny Farm.

Maybe people were right and there weren’t any monsters. Maybe it was her overactive imagination. After all, everyone knew there really weren’t such things as monsters.

Right?

Isabel decided to get a dog.

To read more from Kate visit:

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“Fantasy play…gets children to enlarge their mental frameworks, get outside their
own minds, practice language, and gain information about other values and points
of view. …This level of learning separates human thought from that of all other
species. Play, in this sense, is the gateway to metaphor, to scientific insight, and to
invention. … Encourage children to open this gate before expecting them to
perform advanced mental operations.”
 Dr. Jane M. Healy,Your Child’s Growing Mind 

Spotlight Sunday

 

Write Edge pic

Ekta R. Garg

Hometown/Location:  Central Illinois, USA
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? 
My grandfather was a journalist and wrote and reported in four different languages. My father loves to read, and my mother can turn even a simple grocery run into a lively anecdote. Stories and love of the written word have always functioned as a necessary part of my life, and I think I got my talent and drive to write from my grandfather.
Why do you write?
Because it’s how I make sense of the world, and because writing is where my heart beats the loudest.
What is your favorite genre or style to write in?
I love fiction. On my parenting blog I’m writing about real experiences, of course, and that has its own charm and advantages, but the magic of fiction lures me every time. What occurs in life often surprises us, and we turn around and say, “Wow, I never thought that could happen.” But in fiction writers have carte blanche to make those things happen. It’s wonderful!
I don’t know if I can yet classify my writing in one particular genre, however. I feel like it has a little bit of a literary bent, because I’m deeply interested in the characters, what happens to them, and what influences their decisions and lives. But I also like a really good story. I strive to maintain a good pace and keep the action moving. Is there a twenty-first-century hybrid term for literary fiction that also balances a good story?
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Do I really have to pick one? I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s lyrical writing, the fact that she can take novels composed mostly of narrative and make them sumptuous, like a good meal at a high-end restaurant. I can sink into the work of Robert Jordan in his series “The Wheel of Time” that some might dismiss as fantasy but really is about a group of kids trying to figure out who they are and whether their destinies are taking them where they really want to go. John Grisham can keep me up at nights with his twists and turns in the courtroom, and I usually finish his books shaking my head in disbelief and grinning.
Because I also review books I spend a lot of time reading new novels, and recently I’ve read some great ones. My main goal is to learn something from every book I read and try to incorporate a small piece of it in my own work.
What books have influenced your life most?
Hmm. Another tough one. I’ve mentioned Robert Jordan’s series. The entire thing took about twenty years to complete, but I love his dedication to his characters and storyline. At some point — around book 8 or 9 — fans started turning against him, saying he was just milking the series for money, that he had gone crazy, that he was torturing them just for kicks. What he’d originally stated would be six books just kept going. Many people may not have realized as the books came out that he got really sick at one point, and I feel like his writing and storylines reflect that real-life change.
But he didn’t quit. He didn’t bow to pressure. He didn’t wrap things up just to satisfy people (and if he had, they wouldn’t have been satisfied anyway.) He kept working, patiently, sometimes even ploddingly. Eventually he died, but he left detailed notes and even some recordings and partial scenes and chapters. His wife and main editor, Harriet, hired Brandon Sanderson to finish the series, and Sanderson did a great job. Sanderson stayed true to the vision Jordan had because Jordan cared that much about the story.
When I think about it, my goal is to give every story I wrote that much care and dedication.
Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to share with us?
Find something you’re passionate about, and keep tremendously interested in it–Julia Child
Do you have any advice for other writers? 
Keep your head down, and build a nest. If you’re serious about being a writer — as in, you spend your time running dialogue in your head when you’re doing the dishes and carry around a little notebook to jot down bits of scene inspiration no matter where you are — then be prepared. The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and it’s wonderful and frightening and only the greatest upheaval it has experienced in a long time. Maybe ever.
So get ready. It’s going to be a crazy ride. Strap yourself in tight, and don’t give up. Never, ever, ever give up.
Can you tell us a little background or anything special on the piece you composed? 
There’s this great blog called The One-Minute Writer, which encourages writers to spend sixty seconds a day writing. The site offers daily prompts, and at one point the site administrators held a weekly flash fiction contest. I began entering it as often as I could and even won a few. This piece was my last win before they eventually folded the contest. I miss the contest — some people came up with some pretty good entries, and you even won prizes — but I’m glad the site still encourages writers to exercise the craft. Sometimes we need that jolt of inspiration.
During the contest, we would receive a writing prompt and have to create a story under 1000 words based on that prompt. When I saw the prompt for this one, I instantly thought of a painting. It’s a pretty common conversation starter, but I didn’t want the painting to be an ordinary one. So this is what I wrote. Enjoy!
Dr. Grant stared at the painting critically. His receptionist, Lois, waited for his verdict.

“I’m not sure, Lois. Do you think it’s tilting too far to the right?”

“I can adjust it for you, Doctor, if you’d like.”

She stepped forward, pushed up the lower right-hand corner of the painting more for show than anything else, and then stepped back.

“How’s that?”

Dr. Grant narrowed his eyes in thought, and after a few moments his face relaxed.

“Yes, that’s fine. I think this is going to make a distinct addition to the waiting room, don’t you?”

Lois nodded. “I agree. Your patients will certainly think so too, I’m sure.”

“Speaking of which, who is my first patient today?”

She went to her desk and ran her finger down the patient list for that day. Lois had managed her boss’ schedule since he launched his private solo practice 15 years earlier, and they had fallen into an easy working rhythm. That rhythm had given Dr. Grant the idea to employ Lois’ help with the painting when he’d decided to purchase it and place it in the waiting room. It hung facing the sofas where patients sat and pressed their knees together in mild anxiety before they saw him.

“It’s Mrs. Barnes, Doctor. She should be here in 30 minutes.”

“Fine. I’ll just go into my office and get my files in order.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

She sat down and logged on to the computer, opening her web browser and then minimizing it when Dr. Grant walked past her. She didn’t want him to see the home page she’d chosen. True, it was just a silly celebrity gossip page, but Lois felt like Dr. Grant would have thought less of her if he’d known just how closely she followed the pursuits of Brad, Angelina, Miley, and the rest of their ilk.

Following her daily routine, Lois spent about 10 minutes surfing the site and catching up on the previous night’s celebrity exploits. Then she checked her email, and after hopping up to start the first pot of coffee for the morning, Lois opened the electronic version of the patient schedule and waited.

Right on cue, Mrs. Barnes walked in at 9:00 a.m. Five minutes before she walked in the phone rang, so when Mrs. Barnes finally arrived Lois waved her to the sofa with a friendly smile and continued discussing with the party on the phone the process of paperwork involved when becoming Dr. Grant’s patient for the first time. As Lois talked she noticed Mrs. Barnes’ reaction to the painting.

She looked taken aback at first, and then she tried to act casual while she waited on the sofa across from it. After waiting for about seven or eight minutes, however, the painting had forced her into some serious introspection. By the time Lois greeted her and told her Dr. Grant was ready, Mrs. Barnes clearly had the painting on her mind.

As per her instructions, Lois made a note of the reaction in the electronic chart.

Mr. Harper came in next, and he did a double take too. While he sat and waited his turn, however, something about the painting seemed to bother him. By the time Dr. Grant asked Lois to lead him in, Mr. Harper almost seemed angry. Lois calmly walked to her computer, sat down, and typed in her observations of his reaction.

The most interesting reaction that morning came from Ms. Baxter. She saw the painting and stared at it for a few moments. She backed into the sofa, and it interrupted her train of thought as she sat down hard on it. The quick bounce on the sofa jolted Ms. Baxter for a moment, but then she blinked and stared at the painting again. Something akin to remorse seemed to cross her face when Lois led her back. Once again, Lois made sure to record the reaction.

The parade of patients continued throughout the day, and while a couple of them sharply drew in their breath at seeing the painting—one actually gasped—no one asked Lois about it. No one asked her why Dr. Grant had wanted it hung or where it came from. And certainly no one asked what it meant.

***

Two years later Arthur Grant, M.D., practicing psychiatrist, instructed his receptionist that the time had come to take the painting down.

“I believe I’ve gathered enough material for my paper,” he told Lois. “We won’t need it anymore.”

Lois nodded calmly. “Will you be replacing it with anything, Doctor?”

“I’m not sure,” Dr. Grant mused aloud. He stared at the spot, trying to picture it with another wall hanging. “Maybe this time we should record their reactions to a blank space. It’s possible that the power of suggestion in this piece will fill in the white wall in their minds.”

Doctor and receptionist shared a long last look at the large canvas. The 3’x5’ plain white board had a single word on it, and Dr. Grant felt incredibly pleased with his results. Who knew that a simple word could turn into a suggestion on its own in people’s minds and that they would enrich his research with so much material?

“By the way, Lois,” Dr. Grant said, suddenly turning to her, “I never asked you whether the painting had any effect on you whatsoever.”

She glanced back at her computer but then smiled and shook her head. “Not at all, Doctor, although I have to say I’ve found it interesting to watch people react to it.”

He nodded as if in agreement but doubted that she had told him the full truth. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he’d felt a slight twinge every time he’d walked by it. After all who could sit across from the word “Guilty” on the wall and not feel a little of the accusation in the word?

To read more from Ekta visit:
Blog: The Write Edge, thewriteedge.wordpress.com
(I actually run four blogs, but The Write Edge is the main one and the other three offshoots of it.)
Twitter: @EktaRGarg
Other: aois21.com (freelance editor for new writing projects); Bookpleasures.com (reviewer)

Please leave your feedback, comments and encouraging words. We want to uplift and engage with our Spotlight writers! If you like what you read , please share with your fellow writers!