All posts by Alex McGilvery

Guest Blog by Simone Salmon author of Camille and the Bears of Beisa-Drafnel

One of the things that I’m working on in the next while is to bring more authors and unique stories to my author page. There is a world full of very talented and fascinating people out there. My goal is to introduce you to a few. The first is Simone Salmon with a book that looks like a very good read. I have it on my list and it will be reviewed in the not too distant future on Celticfrogreviews.com

Drafnel-1

Drafnel-2

 

Years of deception and suppressed trauma do not prevent secrets from unraveling when
parallel worlds clash, intertwining families and exposing hidden agendas.  An unwanted romance mirrored in an alternate universe has devastating consequences for an unsuspecting young woman and a mysterious stranger.

“There is a vast literary intellect behind Camille and The Bears of Beisa – Drafnel, and it belongs to author Simone Salmon. The language is transfixing, bewitching, erupting into that realm between an epic poem of breakneck pace, and the clarity and rigor of an after-action report meant only for a general’s eyes. 

This story operates in many rich dimensions. It reads like a graphic novel, but without need of illustrations, as the events explode like fireworks in the mind’s eye. What an amazing piece of writing!”

Robert Blake Whitehill, Screenwriter, Author
The Ben Blackshaw Series,
www.RobertBlakeWhitehill.com

Here’s what the critics are saying about Drafnel:

“The structure and some of the themes of the book reminded me of the movie The Fountain, which I adored. This idea of the same person persisting in different forms across time and space, mostly through the power of deep emotional connection to other people, really connected the two pieces in my mind.”

“Salmon’s use of folktales and specific stories to build out the structure of this unfamiliar world, and to link it back to Camille’s story, was a brilliant narrative device.”

“Drafnel is Dune-like in the grandiose sweep of its worldbuilding. The sci-fi universe Salmon creates, Narvina, with its eight ruling clans and ornate power structures was intriguing. It was also refreshing to read a great space opera like this where the people in charge are people of color, and where the universe is a matriarchy.”

BR Sanders, Clatter and Clank

“The scene’s describing Catherine’s sojourn in Jamaica are the strongest section(s) of the book…”

“The writing in this section is very contemporary and accurately reflects the self-confidence of young urban women who feel they’re on the cusp of great things and fully in control of their personal destinies.”

“…a bit of writing that stays with you a long time.”

Merrill Chapman, Rule-Set

Excerpt 1

Narvina, Nu-century 2055 

Aknanka clamps down with all her might. Her teeth tear into Sephia’s wrinkled skin, digging for chunks of flesh. They only grind against bone. A fist smashes into her cheek, jerking her head sideways. Sephia yanks her hand away right before Aknanka chomps down again. Blood gushes everywhere.

“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Aknanka’s scream rages through the interior, punching a small dent into the door. It slams shut.

Any experimenting she needs to conduct today will be done right here. And without blindfolds. The metal restraints chafe Aknanka’s wrists as she wriggles around for freedom.

“Stop fighting, Dreamer. You make this harder than it has to be.”

“Bet you’ll think before trying that again, oh Wise One!” Aknanka’s aim is accurate. Bloody sputum soils the middle of Sephia’s tunic.

A med-bot enters the room and stitches the bandages over Sephia’s wound. The pale Elder clenches her fists. Her eyes blaze to match the blood staining the floor. The med-bot’s front panel flashes, absorbing the charge from Sephia’s quelled anger. Sparks bounce across the overloaded circuits. The bot spins over to the sealed porthole and then powers down.

“These gene markers will soon confirm our suspicions, Dreamer.” Sephia’s shoulders stiffen, tugging at the hood to expose her protruding frontal lobe. Her white skull magnifies in the dimness. Her lips never move.

Na-mum Camille warned Aknanka that the Elders would spare no sympathy once they discover her true kinsatah. She followed every painstaking instruction: the implants are undetectable, even from their host.

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Of3lw5XxmKM

Author Bio:

Drafnel-3Simone Salmon, a Jamaican born New Yorker, is the mother of two sons and a jack Russell terrier.

Simone is still working on her exit strategy from Corporate America, but in the meantime she writes novels, poetry and expands her multisensory perceptions.

She is a spiritual truth seeker who appreciates psychic phenomena and timelessness.

Music of all kinds, warm weather, lounging on the beach, and experiencing the unknown are just a few of her most favorite things.

Excerpt 2

Jamaica, 20th Century

The food on display and the brilliant dyes of the hand-loomed textiles hanging at the market made me homesick. The marketplace crowded with vendors selling varied crafts and wares. The frenzied pitch of the hagglers echoed under the tin roofs. Voluptuous women wearing multi-colored wraps balanced huge straw baskets on cornbraided heads, while children darted through stalls with jaws stuffed of toffee candy or juggled melting snow cones with syrup-stained hands. Fruits ripening in the heat sweetened the layer of jerk pork and chicken charring over coals inside huge metal drums.

At first Miss Mattie kept me close, but as the market became more crowded her clenched fingers slackened. I searched the aisles, worried about returning home empty-handed. Failing to find any spices, I started making my way back to Miss Mattie and then noticed a young woman with a basket tucked between her knees. Loose braids stuck out from under her head scarf. Kind hazel eyes invited me forward. Curious, I bent over to check out the samples. The woman pulled me closer and stuffed a piece of cloth into my waistband.

“A gift from the Goling family, Miss. Put it in safe-keeping. This has been my honor.”

Miss Mattie swooped in at my heels in a matter of seconds. She sniffed the air several times and shoved me away from the vendor’s stall. We left thirty minutes later, my impatience to unwrap the cloth’s contents shielded.

Unpacking the supplies, I started dinner. Then, while the meal simmered, I sneaked to my room and pulled out the puffed packet. Wrapped inside were five cinnamon sticks. My smile must have been a mile wide. I decided to add them to my hideaway after Miss Mattie left for church that Sunday.

As my guardian angel instructed, I wrapped a small piece under the ribbon tied around my braid. I noticed Miss Mattie’s immediate reaction. Her harsh tone gentled and she even allowed me to eat with her at the dining table. A welcomed change, my nerves were still on guard, unsure of how long Miss Mattie’s tolerance would last. Against my better judgment, I decided to ask about Caleb and Cassandra.

“Miss Mattie, do you think I can visit with my sister and brother sometime soon?”

Growling, Miss Mattie cocked her head and then swung around to face the door. Her eyes rolled back into their sockets. Her head snapped back as she sniffed the air.

“Why are you sitting at this table?”

I warned you, Grandmother. Leave the table now!

Miss Mattie’s neck protruded as her limbs extended. Fingers mutated into claws and hind legs ripped through her lower extremities. Wiry tufts of hair sprouted all over her body. Her face contorted and elongated as saliva slimed down enlarged jowls. My hand stifled the scream roaring through my head.

Get up and walk away slowly. Do not turn your back on it. Now!

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drafnel

Twitter: @miraclemindcoac

Blog: Origisims

Website: www.ssalmonauthor.com

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/simsalmon/

Preorder Links:

Amazon: http://getbook.at/ssalmon-drafnel
Bookgoodies: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B013TAU6AG

Cover Reveal for: The Bookminder

I am fortunate enough to have been pulled into the ‘X Team’ which is the fond term Xchyler has for the authors and contributors of their books. In the hopes of broadening my blog beyond the occasional post about what I’m writing I agreed to take part in several of their exciting cover reveals over the next couple of months. Xchyler is a publishing house currently focused on paranormal, fantasy and steampunk with some fantastic books to check out. Xchyler Publishing.

Here is the cover and blurb for The Bookminder by M.K. Wiseman

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To learn more about the author check out these links:

Website – www.mkwisemanauthor.com

Goodreads – www.goodreads.com/MKWiseman

Twitter – @FaublesFables

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/FaublesFables

Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/faublesfables/

January 31 Day Photo Challenge

Day One

Goose and Crow by Rick Bedwash
Goose and Crow by Rick Bedwash

Day Two

Cabin by my grandmother Mulholland
Cabin by my grandmother Mulholland

Day Three

Great Spirit carving by Steve Powless
Great Spirit carving by Steve Powless

Day Four

At the Bottom of the Sea,  Marsha Wade-Charlebois
At the Bottom of the Sea, Marsha Wade-Charlebois

Day Five

Night Song on Spirity Cove by filliea
Night Song on Spirity Cove by filliea

Day Six

Miniature of leaves by Elizabeth VanderBrock
Miniature of leaves by Elizabeth VanderBrock

Day Seven

Island Sunrise Quilt, design by Judy Neimeyer. Colours and quilt top  by Alexandra Beasse, quilting by Kathy Schwartz
Island Sunrise Quilt, design by Judy Neimeyer. Colours and quilt top by Alexandra Beasse, quilting by Kathy Schwartz

Day Eight

8-Feathered-Dog
Feathered Dog, unknown carver

Day Nine

Polar Bear by Lessia Anna
Polar Bear by Lessia Anna

Day Ten

Birches unknown artist
Birches unknown artist

Day Eleven

Bluegill Carving by Rick Upthegrove
Bluegill Carving by Rick Upthegrove

Day Twelve

Cougar by J. Chester
Cougar by J. Chester

Day Thirteen

Raku Vase
Raku Vase

Day Fourteen

The Unenchanted Princess by Christina Castro Santiago
The Unenchanted Princess by Christina Castro Santiago

Day Fifteen

Moored boat by Alex McGilvery
Moored boat by Alex McGilvery

 

Day 16

Eagle by Vance Bomberry
Eagle by Vance Bomberry

Day Seventeen

Puffin #5 unknown artist
Puffin #5 unknown artist

Day Eighteen

Grandma unknown artist
Grandma unknown artist

Day Nineteen

Frog and Raven Ring, unknown artist
Frog and Raven Ring, unknown artist

Day Twenty

Welsh Glass Vase, unknown artist
Welsh Glass Vase, unknown artist

Day Twenty One

Stained Glass by Brigitte Wolf
Stained Glass by Brigitte Wolf

Day Twenty-two

Frog Tea Pot unknown artist
Frog Tea Pot unknown artist

Day Twenty-three

23-Austrian-Frog

Day Twenty-four

25th Anniversary Wood Scroll Work by Glen Mickelsen
25th Anniversary Wood Scroll Work by Glen Mickelsen

Day Twenty-five

Iron Bird, by Nick McGilvery
Iron Bird, by Nick McGilvery

Day Twenty-six

26-Cedar-Owl
Cedar Owl by Robin Studer

Day Twenty-Seven

Flin Flon Water Tower by Chad Plamondon
Flin Flon Water Tower by Chad Plamondon

Day Twenty-eight

Caribou Tufting Owl
Caribou Tufting Owl

Day Twenty-nine

The Unenchanted Princess Box, by Suedre
The Unenchanted Princess Box, by Suedre

Day Thirty

Inuit Hunter, unknown artist
Inuit Hunter, unknown artist

Day Thirty-one

Beaded Frog by Kelli June
Beaded Frog by Kelli June

Expectation and the Flight of Time

The idea of a blog is to update it consistently enough to make the blog useful. I’ve never been very good at that and so I find myself posting photos from another 30 Day Photo Challenge. Before I give the site over to pictures again I wanted to update a little about what I’ve been doing since September. I brought out Sarcasm is my Superpower and survived another NaNoWriMo. I write a sequel to a book that I hope to bring out in the next year. In the meantime I’m continuing with my novellas publishing a collection of horror stories at the end of January or early February.

I’ve been putting a lot of my energy into my editing work and having a blast working with a diverse collection of writers. There are some terrific books that are in the process of being released.

Here is a story that plays with expectations, both the reader’s and the character’s. Enjoy.


The End of Snow White

Snoring filled the cottage. Even with her hands tight against her ears Snow White couldn’t block out the cacophony of wheezes and snorts. Chubby was worst; not because he was loudest, but because he would stop breathing for a while and, counting the seconds, she would wait until he grunted and started breathing once more.

Snow White didn’t know how her grandmother had managed with seven. Maybe they hadn’t snored. Maybe pigs had flown too. The only thing that had changed about the little men was their names. Snow White got up and went downstairs to clean. She might be called Snow White after her grandmother and but she didn’t feel much like Snow White, more like Dingy Grey.

The truth was the little men were slobs. She used a stick to pick up the laundry. They insisted on throwing down their clothes where ever they happened to be standing when the notion took them to change from one horrifically dirty outfit to another. The sight of naked little men stomping through the cottage was seared into Snow White’s mind. Nothing she said would change their behaviour. As they pointed out each time she complained, it was their cottage.

“Hey Snow,” a raspy voice floated down the stairs, “You want some help getting to sleep?”

“You forget, Sleazy,” Snow White said without turning around, “I’ve seen what you’ve got, and it doesn’t give a girl any confidence. There’s a good reason people call you ‘little men’.”

There was a harrumph and the banging of boots as whichever little man it was returned to his bed. None of them were really called Sleazy, but it was the name she used whenever one of them made advances. She had learned not to turn around. She could never keep from laughing and it made them even more cantankerous than usual.

The last bit of clothing went into the huge pot she used for laundry and with a bit of soap it would do until morning. Snow White put on a cloak and went out into the night to breathe. She walked away from the cottage so none of the little men could see her. She was tired of their eyes always following her. It was cold, but the air was fresh. She amused herself by catching some of the snow that fell from the trees and comparing it with her skin. Definitely more grey than white, she thought.

“It’s dangerous for a young girl to be out in the night like this.” Snow White shrugged and turned to where the huntsman was stepping out of the shadows.

“It’s dangerous to be me,” she said, “it doesn’t matter the place or time.”

“Someone might come upon you and ravish you.”

“Right,” Snow White flipped him a hand sign that her dear departed father would have told her no self-respecting princess should know never mind employ. Sorry, Pops, she thought, I’ve got no respect left, for myself or anyone else.

The huntsman frowned and gripped her shoulder.

“I have the power of life and death over you, Princess,” he said.

“Sure,” Snow White said, “You could go running to your Queen and tell her that you accidentally didn’t really kill me, and sort of accidentally brought her a deer heart instead.”

The huntsman growled and gripped her tighter, he put a hand on the collar of her dress and Snow White stopped him.

“Don’t you dare rip my dress.” She pushed him away, “This is the last bit of comfortable clothing I have left.”

“But…” The huntsman pouted.

“Oh, alright,” Snow White said, and let her dress fall to the snow, “Just pretend my cloak is my dress. But can we please at least go somewhere dry? There’s a cave this way.” She picked up the dress and led the Huntsman deeper into the woods.

In the morning Snow White watched the little men stagger off toward the mine that gave them just enough iron ore to eek out a living. Adding her full sized appetite to the mix really stretched their resources. That was why she pretended that she didn’t know that they doubled back to watch her take her bath and wash her clothes. For people who made so much noise the rest of the time, they were remarkably quiet.

As punishment for the come-on the night before, Snow White cut short her washing and wrapped up in a towel that felt like burlap. She boiled some water and tossed in some mint for flavour. She sat in the kitchen and waited for her clothes to dry enough to get dressed. It was a once a week ritual that no one talked about. One of these days they would make the connection between the midnight propositions and the length of her bath. She snorted, probably not. Little they were, but they were still men.

Snow White sipped her mint tea and considered her life. The huntsman was mildly amusing, but his obsession with her was going to cause trouble. It was the same with all of them. They all thought that they were beyond the sight of the Queen. The end was always the same. At least her father had just thrown them in the dungeons. The Queen apparently was infuriated by the ease with which Snow White ensnared the boys and men around her. The men in Snow White’s life tended to die. It was depressing.

The Queen wanted Snow White dead, and Snow White didn’t really blame her. But she wasn’t going to lie down and die for anyone. She wasn’t enjoying her life much, but she wasn’t ready to give it up just yet.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Chubby looked up at Snow White. “I’ll stay here and take care of you while the others go to town.”

“Sure,” said Handy, “and we all know what you’ll be about while we’re gone.” He glowered at the other four little men. “We all go. She’ll be just fine.” He looked up at her through his eyebrows. Snow White nodded and that was that. The little men clambered up on the wagon, and their one wretched mule pulled them away down the trail away from the cottage. Snow White watched long enough to be sure that they were gone. She could count on their jealously to keep them all together to town and back.

Snow White heated the water and luxuriated in the first long, private bath in months. She almost wished the huntsman would come by.

Snow White washed all the linens and scrubbed what she could of the cottage. She hated cleaning, but she hated dirt worse. The days passed and she found herself missing the company. They were pigs and perverts and whatever else, but they surrounded her with life. Snow White wasn’t very good company for herself.

The huntsman never showed and when the little men came home she learned why.

“The Queen had him him tied to a stake and then choked him with his own organ.”

“How could she choke him with his heart?” she said.

“It wasn’t his heart,” Handy said, “It was a different organ.”

“Right,” Snow White said, “so what did you buy for food?”

“The usual,” Chubby said. Snow White rolled her eyes. “If we bought anything different the Queen would suspect something.

“Why would she care about a few grubby miners?”

“She cared about the huntsman sure enough,” Pinky said.

Snow White shrugged.

“You don’t seem too upset that a man who saved your life is dead.” Handy said.

“Every man in my life ends up dead,” Snow White said, “It’s like a curse.” She laughed as the little men all backed away from her. “Dinner isn’t going to cook itself.” She walked into the cottage. “I’ll call you when it’s ready,” she said over her shoulder.

The little men kept their distance for a day or two, but habit and inclination were too strong and soon they were ogling her again and strutting naked through the cottage. Their raspy voices called from the top of the stairs at night. Snow White went from feeling dingy grey to feeling very dark indeed.

Their snores still kept her awake; but something was different tonight. The sound didn’t have its full richness. A small man climbed into her bed and grabbed at her flesh.

“Don’t pretend you don’t like it,” the little man said, “You went off quick enough with your precious huntsman.” Snow White made a noise of disgust and pushed the little man away. She pulled her legs up to her chest. “So now you go all shy and virtuous,” the man sneered and tried to push her legs aside. Snow White kicked out and launched the little man out of the bed. He bounced across the floor and down the stairs.

The snores of the other little men didn’t change. Snow White didn’t feel like going and dealing with whoever was at the bottom of the stairs. With any luck he would just go back to bed and try to forget his humiliation.

When the men got up in the morning, they found Handy lying at the bottom of the stairs with his neck broken. They looked at him, then Snow White who was standing at the top of the stairs.

“Well, damn,” Chubby said, “How are we going to survive with just four of us running the mine?” They all turned and looked at Snow White.

“No,” she said, “no way. I’m no miner.”

“You’re going to earn your keep one way or another,” Chubby said. “You choose.”

“If I bang my head,” she said, “I’m going to burn your supper.”

Pinky went up the stairs and fetched Handy’s work bag. He handed her the dead man’s helmet and pick axe. The four little men picked up their comrade and slung him on the wagon. Snow White followed them to the mine.

They tossed the body into a dead end tunnel and piled some rocks to block it. One of them spat on the rocks then they led Snow White deeper into the mine. She saw a glint in the rock from one of their lamps. She turned her own lamp on the rock.

“Is this gold?” she said.

“Yup,” Chubby said, “Leave it alone.”

“Why?”

“What would happen if someone learned we had gold up here? They’d come and kill us and take our mine, that’s what would happen. Gold is trouble. Stick to the iron ore.”

Snow White shook her head, but the little men didn’t look so ridiculous with their hammers and axes. They led her deep into the mountain. She banged her head several times and muttered curses that bounced off the little men. They were in their element now. The cottage was only where they lived. The mine was where they were alive.

She hated it. Even with the helmet her head ached. Soon, her shoulders and back ached too. The little men cracked the rock with hard, rhythmic strokes. Snow White’s hands vibrated from hitting the rock and she barely scratched the surface.

“OK,” Chubby said after an eternity, “Go and make us supper.”

The walk back to the cottage was long and excruciating. It was worse than the night that she had followed the huntsman into the woods knowing that she would have to seduce him to save her life. She couldn’t face the idea of seducing the little men. The very idea made her ill.

Even the snoring didn’t keep her awake that night or for the rest of the week. She slept exhausted until morning. The men glared at each other jealously. Snow White knew it was only a matter of time before they came up with a solution that would make them happy and complete her fall from being Snow White.

It didn’t take as long as she had hoped.

“I got the short straw,” Pinky said and leered at her.

“Short straw,” said Snow White, “how appropriate.” His leer slipped a little, but only a little. The work day passed as slowly as all the others. Snow White walked back to the cottage as quickly as she could. She could pack up and move on. She didn’t know where, but she would find a place.

The berries were lit by a beam of golden sunlight. The huntsman had pointed them out once.

“Eat one of those and you’ll never wake up,” he’d said.

Snow White looked at them. Here was her solution. She thought of sleeping and never waking up. After picking every berry there she hurried back to the cottage. She crushed the berries and added them to the rough stew that was all they ate. It smelled as vile as it always did. Her cooking was only marginally better than the little men’s.

The little men arrived home. They came to the table with their filthy hands and filthier grins. They were all looking forward to this night. The stew vanished from their plates and Snow White dished out seconds. Finally Pinky sighed and let out a huge belch.

“Well boys,” he said, “I’m for bed.” He winked at them and leered at Snow White. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

“I’ll just clean up some,” Snow White said.

“Don’t keep me waiting,” Pinky said again and let his hand rest on her shoulder possessively. Snow White nodded.

She heard them stomping around upstairs. She took as long as she could clearing up.

“Get up here, girl,” the raspy voice of a little man came down the stairs. Snow White took a deep breath and slowly climbed the stairs. The four men were staring at her.

“Well,” Pinky said as he stood naked and eager, “it’s time.” Then he fell flat on his face and started snoring. The others fell back on their beds and began snoring too.

Snow White stood there and listened to the snores. She listened until one by one the snores stopped.

In the morning she took the wagon and the old mule. She left the bodies in the beds. It took her all day to load the loose gold at the mine into the wagon.

“Let’s go,” she said to the mule. “One last trip and you can retire.” She drove the mule away from the mine and the cottage and the last of the Kingdom that knew her as Princess Snow White.

She looked at her arms that were black with rock dust, maybe some day she would feel clean again.

Writing and Pain

The idea of the suffering artist is embedded in our culture and literature. Everywhere you turn there is the notion the creative person goes through a process of pain and agony to put what they are doing, be it painting, poetry or music out there for the world. In some cases suffering is essential in the discipline, anyone beginning to play guitar knows the pain of practice. Yet I think when people talk of the suffering artist, I think they are meaning some kind of psychic suffering that must happen to enable creation.

I went to a workshop where we talked about the need to balance anxiety and creativity. That we can’t create unless we embrace the anxiety. There is some truth to it for me, but one of our people shared that she can’t write unless she is happy and free of care. She goes through a process to shed the world in order to write. She proves that we have to be careful with generalizations. The pain I experience on a daily basis does nothing for my art but get in the way. Like my companion at that workshop I need to shed any focus on pain in order to write.

Still even if writing doesn’t cause us pain, at some point we need to write about pain. How do we do that in an authentic way if we have never experienced agony of body or spirit? I don’t know the answer to that question. I also don’t know many people old enough to be serious writers who have never felt an earache or toothache. We, as writers, need to extrapolate that pain into our characters, because whether or not we need to suffer for our art, it is essential that our characters suffer.

There are no great books in which the characters coast through their days with nothing to get in the way of their desires. If there were such books, few people would read them. Conflict is the heart of the story. The characters have to deal with one thing after another that keeps them from the thing they desire most. In a great book even that thing is a lie and cheat and by the end they must turn away to find something worthy of them.

So writing isn’t created by pain, but rather is about pain. I think the other disciplines are similar. Pain is secondary to the passion to create. The guitar player doesn’t focus on the aching fingers, but the joy of losing herself in the music. Painters seek to put themselves onto the canvass, but when they paint, they are only conscious of the process of painting. Art is not about suffering, but about life. That there is pain in life is unarguable, but we put that into our art to transform it and transcend it – as in the end our characters must.


 

The following story is a combination of one person’s setting and another person’s character. I blended them into this story. It starts abruptly since it picks up on the other authors stories. You can read the setting here, and the character sketch here. Please take the time to read them, not just because the story will make more sense, but because they are worth reading in their own right.

 

The glacier didn’t stay thawed long.

The woman’s cheery “Lovely day. Makes one glad to be alive, doesn’t it?” only reminded me that I had failed to keep that old man alive. He couldn’t enjoy this life. Here I was shovelling snow and complaining and he couldn’t do that. Maybe if I was faster, if I had seen him earlier in the day? I shook the thoughts out of my head. It was a waste of energy. I started counting my blessings. I had this new home to share with my new wife and soon a baby. She loved me and even tried to understand this greyness that descended on my mind when I wasn’t paying attention.

I couldn’t blame the woman. She didn’t know that being alive was the source of my grief. My life was my failure.

I shovelled snow and counted blessings until I could go into the house and smile at the woman who was sure I loved her. I patted her growing belly and made all the right noises as inside I danced on the edge of despair. I held her all night and held the wall of blessing up between me and the darkness.

She didn’t know that I went for lunch to that same neighbourhood. I talked to the men and women on the street. I listened to their stories. They told me about Jeremiah. He was old, they said, and lucky that he found someone to care at the end. I heard stories about people who lain frozen for days before anyone missed them. It was strange, but the more we talked, the less they wanted my money. I knew from what I’d heard that there was nothing I could have done to save that old man. My problem was that I couldn’t find anyway to save myself.

I was shovelling snow again, and wondering if I wanted to spend the rest of my life shovelling snow. The old woman came by she still dressed in the old coat and scarf, but she’d added a pair of hockey socks over her pants.

“Great day to be alive!” she said.

“Why?” I said, before I could catch the words and keep their bitter taste within my mouth.

“I woke up this morning,” she said. She planted her feet firmly on the sidewalk. “I nearly didn’t one morning. My daughter just happened to call and next thing I was in the hospital with tubes coming out of everything.” She laughed. “I was never so surprised. Now every day is a new adventure. No matter the weather, it is a good to be alive.”

“What if your daughter hadn’t called? What if they couldn’t save you?” My words poured out. I almost put my hands over my mouth to stop them.

“If is a very powerful word for being so little,” the woman said. “If can create worlds or tear them apart. You have be careful with it.” She poked my chest with her finger. “Be glad to be alive, because it is so sad if you are not.” She started herself into motion again and I watched her walk down the street to her home.

I went inside and made supper for us. My wife was at a doctor’s appointment. I still had to shake my head in wonder. Four months ago a wild night was a few drinks then a TV show. If she’d caught the bus, we’d never have met, but we did and a ride became a supper to say thanks. Supper turned into two and then into breakfast. The baby was a shock, but also a delight. Suddenly I was a married father to be and all because of a missed bus.

Except it went back further. I was driving because of Jeremiah. I didn’t want to be without my car if someone needed me. Jeremiah was the reason I’d met Gracie. If it weren’t for the old man, I’d never have had a family. No, if it weren’t for Jeremiah dying. I scribbled a note and went out for a walk. Gracie had the car.

My feet took me to my old neighbourhood. It was getting dark. Even this late in the winter it was cold. I waved at a couple of my friends, but they were busy finding warm places to sleep. None of them wanted to die like Jeremiah, but all of them expected to. The store was still empty, so I sat in the doorway and wondered why life had to be so complicated. I couldn’t imagine life without Gracie, but I couldn’t imagine not wanting to save Jeremiah. Were the choices really so stark? An old man’s death to bring me such joy as I allowed myself to feel?

I felt someone sit down beside me.

“You sent me home,” Jeremiah said, “You cared enough to stay with me.”

“But you died,” I said.

“Of course I died,” Jeremiah said, “It was my time to die. You made sure I didn’t die alone.”

“Does that matter?”

“You tell me.”

I pushed the tears away from my face. How much of my grief was for me and how much for Jeremiah?

“I’m sorry I wasn’t enough to save that man,” I said to myself.

“I forgive you,” I said back.

A little while later my car pulled up.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Gracie said. She came and sat down beside me and snuggled up to me. “Have I ever told you how much I love you?” she said. “You care so much about people.”

“No one more than you,” I said and wrapped my arm around her shoulder. I started counting my blessings; I was alive to care about Gracie, I was alive to care about Jeremiah’s friends. I was alive.

“You know,” I said, “it really is a good day to be alive.”

Writing Live

Writing is not just something that is accomplished in a lonely (read isolated) room alone. While it is important to have a space to write and to do the work needed to seperate good writing from bad, it is just as important for me to interact with people. Whether it is a pleasant arguement over a beer, or a less than pleasant discussion in the snow with a young person who apparently understands law better than ethics, being with people is how stories are created. I, at least, write live at least part of the time.

Musicians have studio time in which they polish and record their music. Each track is laid down separately and the best is chosen to be blended together into the final song. It is long exhausting work. I have my studio time in writing where I edit and rewrork a story until it shines exactly the way that I want it to.

Musicians also have live performances. They show up on stage with a play list and let it happen. They don’t get there without a lot of practice and knowing their craft, but once they start, anything can happen. Writers need that equivalent kind of space. It isn’t an excuse to be sloppy, but rather a chance to have less distance between them and their audience. Blogs and quick stories posted on challenge web sites are the live performances for writers. It isn’t extemporaneous, but it is raw. There are more opportunities to make mistakes, or wonderful discoveries.

This web site will be a vehicle for you to access some of the final work that came from years of obsessing over a single story, but it will also be a chance to read work that was written quickly for a certain situation in response to a particular challege.

So, having made you read three hundred words to get here. I should show you what I mean by a piece that was written ‘live’. This story was written because the challenge was to write a story about a hole.

 

The Vacant Lot

The pit in the vacant lot was blocked off with steel fencing and yellow police tape. Frankie could just see a small patch of the bottom of the hole. It was muddy. Even with all the police and rescue people that had been down there there were no footprints. Just the mud that covered everything and everyone that had come out of the pit.

The vacant lot had been their playground. Sure, the grass was mostly weeds and anthills and the broken brick and concrete made their baseball games potentially lethal, but there was no other place for them to play. The sere grass and dust were the essence of summer for the gang.

Frankie had always lived on the street with the vacant lot. Ralph and Chrissy had moved in so long ago that he couldn’t remember them not being there, though he could remember the big truck parked in front of their house. Others in the gang came and went as their parents’ fortunes ebbed and flowed. They weren’t so much a gang as driftwood cast on the beach of lost jobs and messy divorces.

It started changing when Joseph moved in with his parents. They both had jobs, they were still in love with each other. Joseph stayed Joseph, not Joe. A contractor’s trailer pulled up in front of his house and workmen carried tools and lumber into the house. A few months later they carried their tools and paychecks out. Frankie’s ma was curious about what they’d done, but no one was ever invited in.

Chelsea’s parents had their house gutted and rebuilt before the moving trucks arrived with endless amounts of furniture and boxes. A couple of the neighbours went by with pies, but they weren’t let into the house.

Frankie thought of the little apartment he and his ma lived in. He could count all the furniture they owned on his two hands. The Feingardens upstairs didn’t have much more. He knew because Mr. Feingarden invited Frankie up to watch baseball on an ancient television. Frankie would much rather play baseball than watch, but Mrs. Feingarden made amazing cookies.

Once the changes started, they just kept coming faster. One by one members of the gang vanished as homes and apartment buildings were sold and made into fancy houses. By the time Fall came and school started it was only Frankie, Ralph and Chrissy.

School was OK, Frankie thought. His ma always kept on him about how he needed an education to get anywhere in life. Problem was that Frankie couldn’t think of anywhere else he’d want to go. He went to class and did his homework because it made his ma happy, and life was just easier when Ma was happy.

This year it was different, just like everything in the neighbourhood. There were a bunch of new kids, but they didn’t act like new kids. There was no shyness or wondering how to fit in. They wore new clothes and carried new pencils and books. They only talked to each other too. By the time the bell rang at the end of the day, Frankie was feeling like he was the new kid. He met Ralph at the doors and watched as shiny new cars came and collected the new kids.

“It ain’t right” Ralph said. “Chrissy went to talk to that girl who moved in next door and the girl laughed at her. Chrissy’s been sniffling all day.”

“We’re like new kids in our own school,” Frankie said, “Everything’s changed while we weren’t looking.”

“I never thought I’d live anywhere else,” Ralph said, “but there’s a ‘For Sale’ sign on our lawn.”

Frankie didn’t say anything. Chrissy came out as the last sleek vehicle glided away from the curb.

“I hate them,” she said, “I hope Dad sells the house soon and we can leave.”

“But then we’ll be new kids in a new school,” Ralph said.

“It won’t be any worse than this,” she said and ran down the steps and away toward her home. Ralph picked up her books and headed off after her.

“Get on home, Frankie,” Mr. Colomb said, “I’m locking up now.” He pulled a key from the huge bunch that he carried and twisted it in the lock.

Frankie shrugged and headed home. He walked on past his apartment to see if there really was a ‘For Sale’ sign on Ralph’s house. There was. He kicked at it until it fell down on the uncut grass.

“Hey there!” Ralph’s dad yelled from the porch. “You stop that.”

“Why do you have to move anyway?” Frankie said. “Isn’t this place good enough for you?”

“It’s gotten to be too good for the likes of us,” Ralph’s dad said. “I can get a good price for this dump and find a new home somewhere. It’s easier to be poor when you have money.”

That didn’t make any sense to Frankie, but he thought of Chrissy so he hoisted the sign up and stuck it back in the ground. It was crooked, but he didn’t care. Whoever bought the place wouldn’t care either. They would tear up the house and flatten the lawn. It would be one more step in making Frankie a stranger in his own neighbourhood.

He saw Ralph come up behind his dad, but Frankie didn’t want to talk to him. He didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. He ran down the street until he reached his home. The door was locked so he went up to the Feingarden’s.

“You look like you lost in the ninth,” Mr. Feingarden said. Frankie didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure that his voice wouldn’t betray him. He was in sixth grade. He was too old to cry over something like a stupid house being for sale. Fortunately Mr. Feingarden was quite happy to do the talking for the both of them.

School didn’t get any better. Frankie went to class and tried to learn, but even the teachers were changing. They wore shirts and ties or dresses instead of golf shirts and slacks. Frankie was moved from the front seat to the back. Mac the bully was his desk partner.

Last year Frankie would have been terrified. This year he just sat and listened as Mac complained how he had to work in the family store now. His mom wanted a new kitchen; so they fired the girl who worked for them and Mac did her job.

Frankie listened to Mac’s endless complaints all through September and into October. Ralph’s house sold and the moving van collected their furniture and drove away. There was no one to meet at the vacant lot, so Frankie hadn’t gone by it for a few weeks.

He didn’t know why he decided to go to the vacant lot. None of the new kids ever went there. He didn’t recognize the lot when he go there. All of the grass and rubble had been scraped away and a snow fence wound in a ragged circle around the deep hole in the middle of the lot. A ‘Sold’ sign stood at a tilt in front of the fence. Frankie kicked and pulled at the sign until he got it loose. Then he threw it over the fence into the hole.

At school the next day Frankie overheard some girls talking.

“This really rich guy has bought the vacant lot.”

“It’s about time, that place was an eyesore.”

“You sound just like your mom.”

“Well, my mom said the man who bought the lot plans to build a mansion there.”

“A mansion, on that dinky lot?”

“It will be the fanciest house on the street.”

“Oh great, Mom will want to redo the kitchen again.”

“Why? It’s isn’t like she cooks or anything.”

“Like your mom does?”

“No, the maid does the cooking.”

Frankie felt sick to his stomach. Maids? Mansions? He didn’t know the place he grew up anymore. He thought about the worn linoleum on their countertop and the kitchen table with the folded paper under one leg to keep it from wobbling. He tried to imagine a different kitchen, but he couldn’t do it. Even though the girls didn’t even care that he existed, he turned red with shame.

After school, he walked home dragging his feet. Mr. Feingarden was sitting on the step reading a letter. He looked like he did the time he had the heart attack and Frankie’s mom called the ambulance. He stared at Frankie like he didn’t recognize him then slowly climbed the stairs without saying a word.

Frankie found his ma sitting at the table looking at a letter. He could see the tracks of tears running down her face. When she saw him she folded up the letter and dried her face on her apron.

“What’s wrong?” Frankie asked.

His mother let out a long sigh and just looked at him.

“They sold the apartments, Frankie,” she said finally, “We have to move in a month.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “There’s nothing in the papers. Nothing we can afford anyway.”

Frankie felt like smashing something, but suddenly everything in his home looked incredibly precious. Instead he went to the stove and turned the heat on under the kettle.

“I’ll make you some tea,” he said.

His ma half laughed and half cried before she smothered him in a hug. He thought that he was too old to be hugged by his ma, but no one was watching so stood there and let her hug him. He even put his arms around her and hugged her back. Maybe he wasn’t so old after all.

He went downstairs later with the garbage to throw in the dumpster. It had started raining so he ran around the building and tossed the bag on top. When he turned to go back inside he saw a light by the vacant lot. Frankie turned up his collar and walked over to the lot.

A man in a suit had pulled the fence apart and was standing with an umbrella in one hand and a roll of papers in the other.

“Hey, kid,” The man shouted and waved at Frankie. Frankie slipped through the gap in the fence. “Here, hold the umbrella,” the man said and pushed it at Frankie. He held the umbrella over the man and his papers.

“You see this hole?” the man talked loudly like he thought Frankie was stupid. “I was going to build my house here, but the lot is too small.” He pointed back toward Frankie’s home. “So I bought up those old apartments. I’ll tear them down and build there.”

“What about the people who live there?” Frankie said.

“Not my problem,” The man shrugged. A gust of wind caught the papers and blew them toward the hole. The man tried to catch them but slipped on the edge and fell to the bottom. Frankie heard the splash then a shout of pain.

“Kid,” the man shouted, “Go get help, I think I broke my back. Hurry! The water’s getting deeper.”

“Not my problem,” Frankie shouted at him, then he let the umbrella go and watched the wind blow it away.

By the time he reached the road, he couldn’t hear the man’s shouts anymore.