Tag Archives: creative writing

Feed Your Head with SPAM

One morning as I grimly clicked DELETE, DELETE, DELETE, DELETE ALL, I came to a realization. Yes, SPAM is infernally annoying, but it won’t make me sick, homeless, or fat and only if I let it control me will it alter my personality. Instead of being annoyed at the SPAM in my inbox, what if I use the weirder subject lines to inspire, to nourish my creativity?

So, here are five of the best lines from my inbox, collected over a period of ten days and listed randomly. All grammar, punctuation and spelling oddities have been preserved. When the sender isn’t detailed below, the name wasn’t particularly notable. Oh, and I did not open any of these so my ideas of their content is pure speculation. After you read this, should you be similarly inspired, please leave a comment and share some favorites of your own.

Hello! I gotta something to say…
My first thought here is Godfather, or at least a mid to senior level fella from New Jersey. If I open this one  I’m thinking it’s friendly advice about a great investment opportunity—one I can’t refuse. Waste removal and processing is very profitable these days.  Maybe this is an offer for cut-rate burial services. I seem to get ten of those a week. In this case, only the very best concrete used. Or, perhaps some public-minded group wants to give me the real scoop on candidates running in the next election. With that folksy, down to earth wording, I can tell whatever it says in the email would be the solid truth.
Bare your legs with confidence.
The sender here was identified as Right to Bare Legs Ad. I commend the sender for outright telling me this is an ad, but I have to take off points because the honesty decreased the anticipation. Plain old Right to Bare Legs could have gone so many interesting ways. Before I saw the sender was merely an advertisement, my imagination whisked me to a beach where scantily clad, older women pirouette at the water’s edge, boldly exhibiting all their veins and spots while horrified adolescent grandchildren look on. From that scene, I am riding in a convertible down Sunset Boulevard and I look up to see a billboard of a very hairy, Russian women sunning herself on lawn chair in front of the Berlin Wall. She wears a bikini in a style popular circa 1963. She’s being guarded by two KGB types. In huge print, the billboard announces, “They hate us for our shaving!” Dear Spammers, don’t ruin my fun with too much information up front!

Buy Nice Medicines Today
This one made me want to whip out my credit card and buy every single one of their pills and potions. After all, wouldn’t a nice medicine make me feel, well, nice? Don’t I want to feel like that? Don’t you? Wow, if I took some maybe I’d even become nice. That is one description seldom given me. No, wait, the subject line doesn’t actually say anything about what the medicines do when you take them. It only says they possess the quality of being nice.  I bet they remind you to take them and then thank you afterward.

I have found you by accident…you look catching…
This email came from Emmie Longhorne. A curious name, I’m not sure whether it makes me think of a stripper or a character from Little House on the Prairie. She didn’t just find me, she has found me, indicating to me she put extra work into the search. How flattering! Anyway, how does Emmie know what I look like? And how can I look “catching”–unless I’m catching a cold? Is she trying to sell me some nice medicines? All those ellipses, maybe she’s a stutterer, In any event she certainly has a difficult time expressing herself. Although a name like Emmie sounds English, I doubt the sender is a native speaker. Perhaps Emmie would like to get some personalized English lessons.  If she uses catching to mean fetching, alluring, captivating, what x-rated activities might Emmie want to discuss with me? Does she know what sex I am and does she care? I think not.

Change Your Spots
The sender is From High Speed Internet. Yes, in case they believe I didn’t understand that the SENDER is who is listed inside the email’s SENDER box, they went to extra trouble to tell me they, the sender entity, is on the FROM end of the transaction. Perhaps, in their very high speed system, they’re using a quantum computer where one can send things and, if anyone’s watching, the email might simultaneously sit at the destination point. To avoid confusion, they felt it necessary to let me know they didn’t receive it, I did. Wow, the Spots could be electrons or photons! Casting aside such ideas, on a macro level, what do Spots have to do with my internet connection? Spotty connection? Spots to plug in a modem? I know one thing for sure; at times I’ve been so angry with AT&T I’ve seen spots.

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the Kendra Desola mysteries, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic published by Second Wind Publishing. www.mickeyhoffman.com

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What Writers Can Learn From Playwrights by Noah Baird

I was recently invited to sit in a local playwright group. They were working on an original comedic play, and asked me to help polish some of the humor. While sitting in was great fun; something occurred to me- all writers should sit with playwrights. Why? I’ll tell you why:

  • They make every scene count. Playwrights don’t have time to waste describing how the grass feels under a character’s toes. They get to the point.
  • It’s dialogue driven. While most of the dialogue comes in the form of monologues; the story moves along through characters speaking to each other. Because of this, they tend to have a great ear for how people speak.
  • The group includes actors. If you want to see how your dialogue flows, have the actors read it. Most are happy to help, and you get a sense of how a reader may interpret your words by hearing it spoken. I thought differently about the dialogue I had written after hearing how the actors said my words. I began to think of dialogue in lyrical terms- focusing not on just was said, but how it flowed.
  • They use visuals to describe the characters. Pat Bertram wrote a great blog on using color to symbolize and describe a character. Playwrights use costumes, gestures, tics, etc. to define their characters. They don’t have time to say how a character grew up in a conservative, middle-class background. They need to show those character attributes through dress and mannerisms.
  • They are aware of how the characters occupy space. I read an article once on how we should allow children to build forts because it helped them see how they fit in the world. They learned – sometimes the hard way – that they couldn’t use cardboard for the floor of their tree house, or that they couldn’t fit through a six inch hole. Playwrights also have to be aware of how each character fits into the scene. Characters aren’t just talking in the kitchen- they write where each character is in the room.
  • They aren’t afraid to let the audience tell the story. Mark Twain said “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but of what is left out of it”. In a one act play, the background and motivations cannot be developed enough to tell the story. It’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, and has no intention of writing a play.

http://www.amazon.com/Donations-Clarity-Noah-Baird/dp/1935171445/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311518859&sr=8-1/

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SHORT STORY IDEAS ARE EVERYWHERE by Calvin Davis

Looking for an idea for a short story? Or, better still, a short story already written, not only written but edited and told in the most efficient way? Try scanning the classified section of a newspaper.

 Below is an example of a “short story” – a really short story – discovered in a classified ad in a local press. I gave it a title and added a few words. Otherwise, it’s exactly as written. Read it and smile – or weep.

 

Title:

You Are Cordially Invited…

(the world’s shortest short story)

Classified ad (with one or two modifications) recently appearing in a metropolitan weekly newspaper

4 Sale

Wedding Dress – Size 6, pink, flowered slip; garment never worn, still in box ($500 when new; sell for $10). If customer buys gown, a man’s 14 karat gold wedding band is included at a give-away price; it, too, never worn. If interested, call 406-789 and leave a message. Will return call upon regaining balance or when able to smile again. Be patient.

 

 

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Not Seen in Bookstores by Noah Baird

I recently read an article on the plight of the independent bookstore. The point of this particular article, similar to other articles I’ve read, was independent bookstores were having difficulty competing with Amazon.com. Our local bookstores are turning into Amazon showrooms. People (I’m not referring to them as ‘customers’ on purpose) are going into bookstores, browsing books, and then buying the books off of Amazon at a lower price.

I have to admit I am guilty of this also. However, I usually make a point to buy a book in the store; partly because I feel guilty, but mostly because I won’t get the book from Amazon for another week and Daddy needs his fix.

As a first time author, a counterpoint to the fall of the independent bookstore is it is often difficult for new writers to get their book on the shelves of an independent bookstore. The explanation I’m given usually covers one of the following reasons:

  • There is not enough shelf space for every new author. Translation: “We are only going to carry books we think are going to sell.” Which means they are going to carry the same books Barnes and Noble sells, but don’t have a Starbucks.
  • New authors don’t have a large enough fan base to warrant carrying the book or hosting an author event. This is a b.s. excuse. People pick up books from authors they’ve never heard of. Most people don’t care if it’s the writer’s first book or fifteenth; if the book looks interesting, then they will buy it. Secondly, I realize a very small percentage of a bookstore’s customers are writers. But there is a larger percentage of customers who want to be writers. People who are interested in writing will go and listen to writers, regardless of genre or popularity.
  • They won’t carry books from a particular publishing company because of return policies. I don’t know enough about return policies between booksellers and publishers to write anything intelligent. However, it seems like the bookseller knows which publishers have return policies they like. Usually, if your book wasn’t published by one of them, then you are out of luck. In my experience, they won’t investigate what your publisher’s return policy is; they just deal with the one they know about. I am not a publisher nor a bookstore owner, but this seems like a navigable obstacle. Both parties are in the business of selling books. It seems logical that a compromise could be made to aid in that goal.
  • Sometimes they are willing to take the books on consignment in return for a larger percentage of the purchase price. Translation: “I want you to write the book, get it published, haul it over to my store, and give me a larger portion of your royalties for your work.” This is always my favorite.

I have to admit, I was surprised by the responses I was getting from my local, independent bookstores. I wasn’t deluded enough to think they were waiting for me, but I assumed there was more of a symbiotic relationship between the stores and the writers. In hindsight, I was under the impression bookstores liked writers. And I think most of them do, but they are more interested in making a profit than establishing relationships with local writers.

I realized my impression that independent bookstores were kindred spirits to independent writers and musicians was wrong. I’ve been to countless indy music stores, and they were full of music by artists you’ve never heard on the radio. This is an interesting parallel; discovering an indy musician not heard on the radio, or before they became big (aka – sold out) is considered a testament to your taste. The same is not true for indy or small press writers. If a writer is not carried by one of the big publishers, then you aren’t truly vetted, and therefor aren’t worth reading. Regardless of the fact that there are countless books by independent writers which are excellent, as well as some really crap books published by the large presses. The reality of it is, some independent bookstores have become arbitrary gatekeepers; Saint Peters of Nightstands. My issue with this attitude is our work isn’t measured for quality, but weighed for the popularity of the writer and the size of the publisher.

The irony of this attitude is studies indicate the reason potential customers pick up a book is the cover. Most people decide if they are interested in a book within 10 seconds of picking up the book. Within those 10 seconds, a customer decides to make a purchase based on two pieces of information: the cover and the synopsis. Reviews and blurbs are also influential, but really confirm the customer’s impulse to buy the book. The price of the book is a distant 4th. The author’s name does influence the decision if the author is well-known; a Stephen King fan will pick up a new Stephen King book. Otherwise, an author’s popularity or the publishing company are not considered. Interestingly, when asked after making a purchase, a customer often does not know the name of the author of the book they just purchased. It isn’t until they have read the book that they commit the author to memory. Yet bookstores behaving like high school girls ordaining popularity based on factors transparent to the customer remains pervasive.

I think this the wrong attitude for bookstores to have. Several years ago, I went to Florida for a business trip. My flight had a long delay in Philadelphia, so I finished the book I brought with me faster than I anticipated. After I checked into my hotel, I wandered out to grab a bite to eat and pick up a new book. The hotel was in a funky beach town with several shops across the street. As I cruised around enjoying the sights, I noticed one street had two little bookstores. One bookstore was hosting an event for a local writer I’d never heard of. I went into the bookstore hosting the author event only because it had something more interesting going on than the other store. I bought three books- two by the author the event was being held for.

I was going to buy a book that day. I bought more books than I planned (which isn’t unusual), but I bought them from the store that had something going on that day. All things being equal, one of those stores was going to make a profit that day. The store with the author event got it. I would like to reiterate I had not heard of the author before that day. He was local author with a regional following. Since then, I have bought every book that writer has published to date, several from a small bookstore that will order books for me. A sale, is a sale, is a sale. A win for the writer translated to a win for the bookstore. That win transferred to another bookstore who made sales on books it didn’t carry.

I’m a bibliophile: I love books, I love bookstores, and I love writers. As a reader, I am concerned with what is happening to local bookstores. As a writer, I’ve embraced Amazon. I may be just a number at Amazon, but at least I’m acknowledged there. And for a first time author, that gives me a fighting chance.

By the way, the author in Florida was Tim Dorsey. If you’ve never heard of Tim Dorsey; mix Carl Hiaassen with the TV show Dexter and give it a bunch of Red Bulls and vodka.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity, which often is not found in an independent bookstore.

Donations to Clarity

Donations to Clarity

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NaNoWrite – Tips to Help You Focus by Deborah J Ledford

Okay, so you’ve made the decision to join thousands of other writers for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2011 project. I thought some tips to help you focus might be helpful.

1) STAY FOCUSED:  Nothing is more frustrating than losing focus and veering from your original story idea. In an effort to eliminate any confusion, write a Logline that merely answers: WHAT IS MY STORY ABOUT? 24-30 words maximum. Think of it as a TV Guide blurb. Print the description out in bold font and keep it close at hand. This description should be fused in your memory so that you may respond to the often dreaded request: “Tell me what your story’s about.” By committing these lines to memory, you fuse their reality and make your works an achievable goal. At the start of each writing day, read the Logline so that you may focus your thoughts on what you originally intended to achieve.

For example, here is the logline for my latest novel SNARE: One rock star sensation. Two men from her past want her dead. Three others will risk everything to keep her safe. Who will be caught in a trap?

This is the logline that kept me focused while writing the first book in my Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series STACCATO: Three world-class pianists. Two possible killers. One dead woman. Who is her murderer? Who will be next?

2) KEEP MOVING:  If you’re stuck on a chapter—move on to the next one. Make notations as to where you are stuck to remind yourself where stumbling blocks raised their wicked head, dismiss them for now and start another chapter. Keep moving!

3) VISUALIZE REAL PEOPLE:  It often helps to visualize performers speaking your lines of dialogue. It will also help you “see” these actors employ mannerisms and quirks which make your characters come to life. www.imdb.com will help you research performers you have in mind. Take a look at their films or TV programs and put them in your scenes.

4) CHARACTER SKETCHES:  Even minor characters should be thought out fully. Create a character breakdown indicating what each character in your piece is about. Quirks, hobbies, downfalls, character flaws, likes/dislikes are all instrumental in creating “real people”.  Create a breakdown of each of your characters. One paragraph is sufficient for minor characters, but major players should be detailed to the extreme. You will find that by writing two pages of text about these people you will know them better and be able to convey their reality to the reader.

5) BRING EACHCHAPTER FULL CIRCLE:  Each chapter should be a short story within itself. Consider if all elements you have included are necessary to advance the plot. Do you really need a flashback within the chapter?  If flashbacks are too long you risk tricking the reader into believing the flashback is playing in real time.  Do you really need to throw in that extra character?  Focus the scene (chapter) where you want to lead the reader.

6) CREATE A HOOK:  One of the most important elements to integrate is a hook at the end of each chapter—no matter the genre. Your main goal is to get the reader to NOT quit reading. If you reveal a cunning chapter end, chances are, they’ll be compelled to turn the page.

7) AVOID EXTRANEOUS TAGS:  If it’s evident who is speaking, cut the HE/SHE SAID tag at end of your sentences. Chances are the reader is going to skip this qualifier anyway.  If you stay true to what your character is saying, their dialogue (in many cases) will reveal their identity. Instead, throw in a bit of action—what he/she is doing or reacting to in order to keep the scene active.

8 ) KEEP A DAILY RECORD OF WHAT YOU HAVE WORKED ON:  Use a Daily Planner to notate word count you have composed at the end of your day’s writing. This is also great to notate details pertinent to your work. Keep this “journal” for your professional output only. Be sure to do a word count when you finish writing and notate this on your planner—think of it as your cookie at the end of the day.

9) TELL PEOPLE YOU’RE “WORKING”, NOT “WRITING”:  Laypeople don’t understand writers or what we actually do. They do however understand “work” and can process this delineation much better. If a family member or friend calls and asks what you’re doing, merely state: “I’m working.” That usually does the trick.

Congratulations on making the commitment to complete an entire manuscript this month.

Deborah J Ledford’s latest suspense thriller novel SNARE, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, is book two of her Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series. STACCATO, book one of the serial, is also available. Both novels are published by Second Wind Publishing.

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Genre And Your Swim Lane by Noah Baird

My publisher asked me what project I was working on. I replied I was working on two children’s books. After some discussion, he suggested I may want to publish the books under a pseudonym. A pseudonym is publisher code for “You’re a foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass, and no parent will read a book to their children written by you”. If I wasn’t such a “foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass”, I may have been insulted.

I started to write a children’s book because my two half-werewolf children asked me to write a book they could read. If you haven’t read my book, Donations to Clarity, it is a comedic fiction/satire which isn’t appropriate for children (It’s full of foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass-ness!). Trying to write a children’s book taught me something: It’s really hard to write outside of your genre. Writers are told to write what we know. A key component of writing what you know is to read works of your genre. The main idea is, as a writer, you will begin to intuitively know what works for your chosen genre.

The problem is, I don’t want to just read humor and satire. I also like to read nonfiction and thrillers. We need to explore and to test the boundaries of our comfort zones. Think of what of what you watch on TV. You probably don’t just watch comedies or thrillers. You probably have a fairly wide range of interests from history, to sitcoms, to documentaries, to sci-fi. My reading also reflects my interests.

When I was trying to find a publisher, I submitted several articles of flash fiction to different literary magazines. If you aren’t familiar with flash fiction, it’s extremely short fiction. Typical word count can range from 55 to 500 words. What flash fiction teaches is to write concisely and with brevity. It can make your writing very muscular by forcing you to chop out the fluff. As part of my research into writing flash fiction, I turned to an unlikely source: songwriters. Makes sense, right? Songwriters paint stories and pictures in very few words that resonate with the audience. Think of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle. The song is a cautionary tale which has left an indelible impression on millions, and it’s only 440 words long if you include all of the choruses. It’s 314 words long with only one chorus. This is a great example of making a powerful impression with relatively few words.

As I was writing flash fiction and sending out query letters for my manuscript, I read Cormic McCarthy’s The Road. The novel inspired me and influenced much of my writing at the time. I didn’t realize it then, but writing outside of my genre was challenging me. As writers, we develop plots, characters, and themes, but writing in another genre forced you to pay attention to the subtle tones and textures of your writing.

The next time you are at a crossroads in your manuscript, try writing some flash fiction in another genre. If you write science fiction; try to write a romantic scene. If you write romance, try writing a satire which doesn’t include a saucy sex-pot rolling in the hay with a dark rogue with a sculpted chest. For me, it was trying not to be a foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass; which is harder than you might think.

Here’s an example of a short thriller I wrote:

Uncle

I woke with a start; disoriented in the darkness.  My hand tightened around the grip of the .45 pistol, and I thumbed the safety.  I strained to hear beyond my tent.  Tinnitus irritated me and I cursed myself for listening to my headphone volume too high when I was a teenager.

A twig snapped behind me; a bad position.  I was on my back so an attack on that side would be hard to defend.  I slid the pistol to rest on my chest; finger on the trigger guard.

Every movement caused a rustling sound against my canvas sleeping bag.  The wind was blowing through the trees, masking sounds.  If whoever was out there kept their noise below the ambient noise level, I wouldn’t hear the attack until it was too late.

I couldn’t tell if it was animal or human.  I hadn’t made a fire or used a light after dusk.  I was careful to make sure I wasn’t being followed; circling back off trail several times.  I could’ve been seen by lookouts. Getting water was always dangerous. I could’ve been seen by the small stream filling my water jugs.  Some tribes placed lookouts near water to catch the stragglers. Like me.

All my precautions wouldn’t add up to much with animals on the hunt.  They could follow my scent long after I passed.  I didn’t have any food so it wasn’t poor housekeeping.  It was the smell of flesh.  Me.

Something was moving through the brush to my right.  I switched the pistol to my left hand; tracking the barrel along with the sound.  A smooth brush of fur against leaves.  No self-conscious pause.  Animal.

Then came the sniffing at the tent flap.  I was surprised at how quiet the animal was.  Able to approach the tent without making a sound.  The sniffing moved left to right.  Not the same animal I heard to my right.  A pack.  Wolf?  Coyote? Not stray dogs.  Formerly domesticated dogs weren’t this quiet.  They hadn’t been raised in the wild so their stalking lacked finesse.

I aimed at the sniffer while sitting up quickly.  I pulled the KA-BAR from its sheath.  The sniffer snorted at the sound, then a guttural growl.  My left index finger moved to the trigger.  I slowed my breathing and tried to hear where the rest of the pack was.  I didn’t want to shoot.  The sound would let others know I was here.  A tribe might come looking for me.  I hadn’t eaten in . . . how long had it been?  I needed the protein.  The sniffer would do.  Not if I shot him.  I would have to pack and run before someone came looking for me.  Before the rest of the pack regained their nerve and came after me again.  I wouldn’t eat it raw on the run.  The blood scent was too attractive. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The sniffing started again. The night was cloudy, moonless.  No shadows to help my aim.  A nose pressed up against the tent wall.  Protruding inward in the shape of the snout. An obscene image.  A phallus growing out of nylon.

I struck fast, sinking the blade directly into the snout.  I dropped the pistol and grabbed the snout with my left hand; removing the blade from the struggling animal.  I pulled the snout towards me and sank the blade into the base of its skull.  It twitched momentarily and then all struggling stopped.

Picking the pistol back up, I went for the tent flap.  I climbed out and circled the tent to defend my kill.  I knew the rest of the pack was there but I couldn’t hear them.  I pulled the rope from my pack and went back to the kill.  Coyote.  Big one.  I tied the back feet together and pulled out the flashlight.  Scanning for a suitable tree limb and eye shine of the pack.  I found them.  They’d moved back from the tent; cautiously observing.  I found a suitable tree limb and returned to my pack.  I pulled out the baseball. The one I had drilled a hole into.  I fed the end of the rope through the hole and tied a knot in the end.  I tossed the baseball over a branch and hoisted the kill out of reach of the pack.

I used to say I preferred animals to people.  Animals were more trustworthy than people.  People were unpredictable.  Animals were unpredictable in a predictable sort of way.  Animals attacked and we were always surprised, but it happened predictably enough for multiple television shows to be made which captured this unpredictable nature every week.    Mother Nature is a stern teacher.  You could bet on it.  You just couldn’t bet on when.

That was naive of me. The noble predator.  The majestic prey.  The fierce beauty of the kill.  The idea that somehow those animals were somehow better than us.  Living wild and free.  Eating where the food was and mating where the mate was.  More in tune with the earth.  Moved by primordial urges. Guided by diurnal variations and seasonal migrations.

What I preferred were animals that were controlled by people. I was fully comfortable with our position of dominance over the animals.  The earth was ours to do with as we pleased.  Oh yes, we would look out for the dumb animals.  Fight for tracks of habitat for them to play in.  Even better if we could do it and make a profit at it.  Do the evolution, baby.

That was until they rose up against us.  Not in the Orwellian sense.  When we lost the technology, we were faced with the harsh reality of our own weakness.  We buffered ourselves with our own consumption and the latest celebrity gossip.  Technology became a moat separating us from them.

When we lost the energy crisis.  We lost the technology.  We lost the moat.  Finally we lost our humanity.

The animals we were shepherds over had waited for centuries.  Their wait was over.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.
http://www.amazon.com/Donations-Clarity-Noah-Baird/dp/1935171445/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311518859&sr=8-1/

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Live out loud

Life is too deep for words, so don’t try to describe it, just live it. -C.S. Lewis

Today started out like any other.  I was up and at the computer before anyone else in the house had even opened an eye.  There was stuff I needed to do, stuff I really should do, stuff I wanted to do, and the other stuff.

I started with the first two categories.  Since I am self-employed and work from home, by 6 a.m. I had updated a client’s web site, checked my work e-mail, and started a blog post.  I finished off my pot of coffee and showered once I knew I would be able to tell the body soap from the hair conditioner.  I even considered taking the dog for a walk before it got too dang hot outside.

That’s when it happened.  That’s when things got goofy.

“Psst.  Got a minute?”  It was a male voice, whispering.

Looking around, I didn’t see anyone.  And since the voice lacked a distinct Texas-drawl, I could safely assume my husband wasn’t the owner of voice.  The voice being male, I could also safely assume the voice didn’t belong to either of my children, them both being daughters and all.

“Pssst.  Over here,” the voice repeated.

“Um, God?  Is that you?”

“Yep.  Nice of you to remember.”

I grimaced.  “What can I do for you?”

“We need to talk.”

Gulp.  “We do?”

“Yep.”

“I’m a little busy.  Is this going to take along time.  I have to have this blog post done today you see. . . .”

“And I have a Universe to see to, so I promise to make it quick.”

Gulp.

“You’re seriously forgetting some things.  I know you don’t much care for change, but really, Nichole.  You’re taking it a little far.”

“What do you mean I don’t like change?  I’ve been considering a new hairstyle.”

“And those boxes in your living room?”

“Oh, those aren’t mine.  The kid is going to college next month.  But you probably know that, don’t you?”

“Yep.  But you aren’t taking it very well.”

“She’s my baby!  Do you know what’s like to lose your baby?  Oh, yeah, I guess you do.”

“I never said it would be easy.”

“It’s just that, well, she’s going to leave on her adventure.  She’s growing up and will be starting a life, an adventure, a journey, all on her own.  I want her to be happy and healthy and successful in whatever she decides to do.”

“Yep.”

“I’m so proud of her.  And so worried about her.”

“Did you tell her that?”

“Tell her?”

“Yep.  Tell her.”

“Okay, I promise to tell her just as soon as she wakes up.”

“Good.  Now about that shirt.”

“My shirt?  It says ‘Live Out Loud.’  I got it when I went to visit my parents.”

“Yep.  But are you doing it?”

“Visiting my parents?  No, I’m at home.  Oh!  You mean living out loud.  Well, I’m a bit shy you know.”

“There’s plenty of ways to be loud.  And plenty of ways to live.”

“Yeah, I suppose there are. . .”

“She knew that.”

“She?  Knew?  My kiddo is just sleep . . . .  Oh, you mean Jolee.  Did you have to take her?”

“It was her time.  She was tired of fighting.”

“Lung cancer.  She didn’t deserve that.”

“You know better?”

“Sorry.  But I will miss her.  I already miss her.  Her celebration of life is this afternoon.”

“I know.”

“God, I’m not sure I can go.  I really don’t like funerals.”

“Celebration.  Of.  Life.  It’s BYOB, remember.”

“Yeah, but. . . .”

“Her family should know you love her.  Her family should know they aren’t the only ones who will miss her.”

“I suppose.  It’s hard, though.  I’m about to cry just thinking about it.”

“I know.  Jolee understands.”

“Of course she does.  She was one of the most understanding people I even met.”

“Learn from her.”

“Excuse me?  Learn from her?  You took her, remember?”

“Live out loud.  Learn from Jolee. What do you admire about her?”

“Her humor.  Her ability to laugh at herself.  The way she always looked on the bright side of everything.”

“So do it.  Honor her by emulating those things you admire in her.”

“I’m not sure I can be as easy going as she was.  You just didn’t give me that skill.”

“Work on it.  But didn’t you also admire the way she told people how important they were?”

“Well, yes, but I’m not very mushy.  I get embarrassed when people thank me in public.”

“Work on it.”

“Yeah, but—”

“No buts.  Do it.  Besides, it’s better to give those messages in person rather than have to go through Me.”

“True.  I promise I’ll work on it.”

“Good.  Start now.  Remember those things you thought you needed to accomplish today?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t.  Move those to the ‘should do’ list.  Every day there needs to be one thing on your ‘must do’ list.  Just one.”

“Just one?”

“Just one.  Live out loud.  Tell people how much they mean to you.  Make the world a better place.  Laugh.  Don’t worry about being embarrassed.  Make sure the people you love know that you love them.  Live.  Out.  Loud.  The rest is icing on the cake.”

“Live out loud.  Got it.”

“And, Nichole?”

“Yes, God?”

“Start now.”

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MY RECENT PHONE CONVERSATION WITH GOD ABOUT MY BOOK

My hotline to God...Dial 1-800-... A few days ago I phoned God to talk to him about my novel, The Phantom Lady of Paris.

Upon hearing my voice, he sighed, “Well… well…well, it’s about time, Calvin. This is Calvin Davis I’m talking to, isn’t it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good to hear your voice again. For a long while, Cal’, I thought you’d lost my number.”

“Well, to be honest, sir, I did misplace it a couple of times. But you know how that goes.”

“Indeed I do. I’ve certainly heard that story often enough. Fact is, I’ve heard it more time than even I can count, and I can count beyond infinity. Anyway, it has been a long while.”

“‘It really doesn’t seem that long.”

“Oh? You don’t call a ten year unexplained intermission in our conversation a long while?”

“Well, that all depends on what yardstick you use in measuring time.”

“Meaning?”

“If you use the universal clock, the one that calculates the age of the cosmos and beyond, then ten years is a mere speck. But if you use the clock of the earth as your measuring tool, a decade is indeed a sizeable chunk. So, when you say I haven’t contacted you in ‘a long while,’ it’s all relative, isn’t it?”

“Cal’?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re quite good at flipping words upside down and pulling verbal rabbits out of hats, aren’t you?”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Never mind. Look, Cal’, I’m sorta busy right now so if you could get to the point. I’d appreciate it. You see, running a universe keeps me jumping, especially dealing with some of the problems of Earth. Seems my tenants there are constantly trying to tear up my property – blow it up, poison it, you name it. As the landlord, I may be forced to evict them, and without the usual thirty day notice, I might add. I’m at my wits end. What do you do with tenants who are either destroying your property or inventing new ways of killing each other, then dreaming up excuses for using their newly discovered inventions? Anyway, tell me, why’d you call?”

“It’s kind of a long story.”

“Long, you say? Long by universal time, Cal’, long by Mars’ time, Jupiter time, terra time, Saturn ti–”

“I…I…I got your point, sir. You don’t have to go on with that.”

“Good…good. I’m glad we’re over the time hurdle. So, how can I help you? What’s on your mind?”

“Well, you remember many years ago I came to you and told you I had a dream. It was a dream that would define my life, the thing I wanted to do more than anything on the planet, no, more than anything in…the universe.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“I told you I wanted to write a novel. And I gave you the reason why: I hoped to pen a work that would resonant with that mysterious something, whatever it is, which resides in the human heart. I wanted to pen a work that would enrich the reader’s life and make him or her more compassionate and a better human. “

“Yes, Cal’, I remember…in fact, I remember it as if it were yesterday. And do you recall what I said to you then?”

“You told me you would make the creation of my novel my life’s assignment…the sole reason for my being on Planet Earth.”

“And was it?”

“After that conversation with you, yes, it was. In fact, I lived for the writing of my book, and, often, almost died for it: working constantly on it, night and day, before I went to my job, after I returned, laboring into the loneliness of dawn, losing sleep, almost ruining my health – writing and rewriting until I was convinced that certain passages would flow like word sonatas.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Proud of me for doing what? Almost killing myself?”

“No, for doing what a lot of men never learn to do…l-i-v-e, live.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“Look, until a man discovers something noble beyond the restricting strait jackets of self and ego, something he is willing to die for, he has not learned to live and will never live until he makes that discovery.”

“Oh…I catch your drift. Anyway, I finished the novel, and a woman in New York bought an e-book version of it, read it and e-mailed me. In her e-mail she cataloged the things she found in the volume. She said my book had touched her heart and changed her life. In a word, The Phantom Lady did for her everything I set out for it to do. I was elated. Later, a Maryland reader placed a review of the novel on Amazon in which she said, in part, that after reading The Lady she now questioned many assumptions she once gladly accepted. Getting a reader to begin asking questions, what writer could wish for more? Oh, happy day.”

“I’m proud of you, Cal’. Good job. So, if everything is going so well, why are you calling me?”

“Well, you remember our original agreement, don’t you? You said you’d allow me to live until I finished the book and then to find just one reader who saw in it what I was trying to do and told me I had done it successfully.”

“Sure, I remember.”

“What I’m trying to say is, you’ve kept your part of the contract and I do understand that now you’re within your legal rights to…you know…pull the plug on me.”

“That’s true. So, what’s your point?”

“Well, I was wondering if it were possible for you to extend the terms of our agreement so I could stick around long enough to see if The Lady will touch hundreds, thousands, even millions of lives and change them for the better.”

“Look, Cal’, this is a most unusual request. Nobody in all the millions of years I’ve had this job asked ME to alter the terms of a celestial agreement. It’s unprecedented. I’m going to have run this past the lawyers in my legal department. And to be honest, I’m a little short handed in the number of lawyers in Paradise. I think we have only two out of the thousands who’ve been in that profession on earth. You see, most lawyers when they die go to – how can I put this delicately? – they go to a legal jurisdiction where barbecuing humans has become an art form, if you get my meaning.”

“I get it and let me commend you: you phrased it quite delicately.”

“Thank you. Anyway, with my lawyer shortage up here being what it is, I think I’m going to go ahead and grant you the extension you requested.”

“Thank you, sir. An extension for how long?”

“Well, I’ll get back to you on that.”

“Are you going to send me some kind of sign, you know, some…some indicator?”

“Well, let’s play it this way. You go on living your life as usual, and if you don’t hear from me, my answer is a positive one, but if you wake up one morning with a sudden chest pain you’ll know I’m getting ready to flip your switch.”

“Fair enough.”

“Oh, incidentally, there is one way you, on your own, can delay the time I pull your plug.”

“How’s that?”

“Stop gulping down so many of those Big Macs. And swear off pigs’ feet and chicken drowned in bubbling lard.”

“What about McDonald’s French fries?”

“Well, a small order is OK.”

“Small? How do you define ‘small,’ God?”

“Cal’, don’t play those word games with me again. As I told you I’m busy: I have a universe to run.”

“Of course, right…sorry, sir. Oh, by the way, I wanted to say that up to this point my life has been a struggle.

It’s had its…ups and downs.”

“You’ve just described the life of everyone, from a king to a clown. The secret is…”

“Yes, sir. What’s the secret?”

“The secret is, see the darkness, yes, but always, Cal’, always think the light.”

“Yeah, good advice. that works.”

“Anyway, glad you called, Cal’. And ah…goodbye.”

“Goodbye? I…I wish you wouldn’t phrase it quite that way, sir.”

“Oh, I see what you mean. So, until the next time we talk, OK?”

“Much better.”

“And try not to misplace my number again, Cal’.”

“I won’t. I got it memorized. Oh, by the way…I see the last three digits of your number are 8-9-0. Would you mind if I played that number in the lotto tomorrow?”

“Wait a minute, Cal’. Let me see if I got this right. You want me to give my blessing to your taking part of my telephone number to use in your gambling active –”

“Click.”

“Hello…God…God, are…are you still there? That’s strange; we got cut off. Wonder how that happened. Ah, hello…hello.”

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The End Is Near – by Deborah J Ledford

So we’re coming up on the end of 2009 and I’ve been going down the list of everything to be grateful for.

First and foremost, professionally, is that my debut suspense thriller Staccato was picked up and published by Second Wind Publishing. This has been a decade-old dream and I am so proud of the finished product.

Three short stories were acquired for publication as well. The literary short “Sighted Brother” now appears in the Gulf Coast Writers Association anthology “Sweet Tea and Afternoon Tales,” my one and only humorous story “A Christmas Tail” was published by the Sisters in Crime chapter Desert Sleuths for their anthology “How NOT to Survive the Holidays,” and “The Spot” will soon be featured in the Second Wind Publishing anthology “Mystery on the Wind.”

Most of all, I am grateful for all the readers who have found my work, the reviewers who have showered Staccato with praise, and the other authors I have met during my seemingly endless online promotions.

A BIG thanks to Pat Bertram for her tireless and awe-inspiring efforts in promoting all the Second Wind authors. And, of course, to Mike Simpson for making my wish to become a published novelist come true.

What were your accomplishments this year? Let us know what you have to be grateful for.

Wishing you all a fabulous 2010! Hang on, it’s going to be a wild, exciting ride for all of us.

Deborah J Ledford is the author of the debut suspense thriller novel Staccato, now available from Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, Kindle, and independent book stores.

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Writers Write

In her Introduction to Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott writes that seeing oneself in print “provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore you exist.” How nice to know I’m not the only writer seeking verification.

I’ve learned, over the past few years, to enjoy more the process of writing, even if I still look for “verification” or approval for my work. Part of the creative process is validation for one’s work―even God seeks approval of his creation. If a publisher offers to publish me, they are saying they see merit in my work, even it that merit, from their perspective, is monetary.

If a writer wins an award for his or her work, he or she is receiving approval―not so different than a ballplayer who receives a standing ovation from the home crowd for hitting a walk-off homerun. More than one ballplayer has said they’d play for nothing for the chance to stand in Yankee Stadium, baseball’s biggest stage. If a ballplayer doesn’t aspire to the major leagues, he will settle for the minors or find another career. If a writer doesn’t write for publication, chances are they will never see their work in print, or they will settle for self-publication.

When I finished Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, I embarked on a journey to find a home for it. When I commenced this project in June 2007, I never considered that I’d have a third draft of a 75,000 word novel in eight months. But here I am, 20 months later, looking forward to launching this new work (my best to date) with Second Wind Publishing, even as I continue laying down words for my current novel―perhaps my most ambitious to date. I’m enjoying the creative process of this new endeavor―but I never forgot Backstop. He agreed to tell me his story only after I promised him I’d do my best to see his story in print. So I continued to submit, even continued to revise from time to time the result of feedback I’d gotten from a variety of sources.

Writers fall into two categories: artists and mercenaries. The latter write with the idea of profit, and indeed, the publishing industry (yes, it’s a serious business, but so is baseball when you look at the bottom line―and fiction, like sports, is but entertainment) seems to reward the mundane formulaic while eschewing literary art.

Science fiction writer Piers Anthony won’t start a project unless it has first been sold by proposal (he can afford to―most publishers and agents won’t accept a proposal from an unknown; they usually require a completed manuscript). Romance writers know their formula and write as if by rote.

Writing magazines abound and tomes have been written to help writers achieve publication; most advise “know your audience.” In other words, identify a market and write to it. But what about those of us who read a novel to learn something of the author, not just to learn what he knows about us as part of a demographic?

And what of the art of writing?

Former major leaguer and sports journalist Red Smith once said, “Writing is easy. I just open a vein and bleed.” In If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland writes of author authenticity: the type of book that rarely graces the bookshelves of bookstores today because the writer listens to the experts, and so they’re put off, defeated before they even start, by the fear that no one will publish it. How dismal the literary world would be today had Tolstoy considered that his audience might be put off by all those Russian names.

My own work has been lauded by more than one critic for having a distinctive voice as well as for richness of language. It has also been turned down by more than one publisher and agent for those very same reasons. Still, I wish to hold onto that “voice.” I will never write formula just to see my name in print. I don’t write for an audience; I write with the hope an audience may find me. I may never be a best seller or receive great acclaim; I may never win a Pulitzer or a Nebula, or any other award, but I take great pleasure in Second Wind’s recognition of my work, enjoying (as Anne Lamott writes) the primal verification, or approval.

What I am (DNA) never changes. Who I am (a writer) never stops changing. Therefore, at the end of my life I want to look back at my body of work and recognize who I was at individual moments in my life. To write any other way would be to write merely for publication, which in a sense is, I suppose, approval of a different kind. Call me maudlin, but that’s not who I am.

―J. Conrad Guest, author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine Innings

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