Deadly Ever After

Archive for the tag “new writers”

ALL MY OPINIONS ON WRITING by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: So much water, all the water I can find except toilet water

By Julie

Oh, some people probably won’t like this.

I’m seeing on Twitter lately an awful lot of writers feeling down on themselves for a variety of reasons. This is probably as ranty as you’ll ever see me. PREPARE FOR THE ALL CAPS. Were you ready?

A lot of people say, “Stop putting it off. Stop looking for the right time. Just do it.” Then a lot of other people say, “So if I can’t write every day I’m not a real writer? Stop telling me what to do. I have REASONS.”

FIRST OF ALL, WRITING ADVICE IS LIKE PARENTING ADVICE. LISTEN TO SOME, BLOW OFF WHAT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU. THERE IS NO NEED TO DEFEND YOURSELF. THERE IS NO NEED TO LIST YOUR REASONS. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO PROVE TO ANYONE BUT YOU. NOBODY IS SAYING YOU HAVE TO DO IT X WAY.

Next, I see a lot of people skulking in the shadows about a certain pitch contest IT’S CALLED PITCH WARS. I HAVE OPINIONS. (shocking)

First, I have a problem with pitch contests in general. Publishing is a beast. You’re the tiny wave in the big ocean no matter what you do. It’s a fact. You’re one of thousands doing exactly what you’re doing, fighting to be heard, to be represented, to see your book on shelves, to just FINISH YOUR BOOK sometimes. Adding to that a peer-driven contest in a fight that we’re all TOGETHER in adds a layer of stress that just doesn’t need to be there. There are lots of success stories, lots of them, I’m sure. But I find that the people entering are scared to death more often than not, if they don’t get picked they feel like failures, and it’s all over Twitter constantly, in a positive way consistently, but if you’re one of the folks not entering? IT IS ALL YOU SEE. It creates this behind-the-eight-ball feeling at best. For me, it’s a struggle to see mentors talking about all their likes and dislikes personally while everyone else waits to see if it’s them they’re talking about. We are each other’s peers. Support comes in many ways, and I find adding competition to it to be the exact opposite of how I feel: that writing isn’t a competition. There’s room for everyone to write.

Which brings me to my next THING TO RANT ABOUT. Writers worry about failure. We worry about failure constantly, then put ourselves out there in a world where failure is fairly inevitable much of the time. You can feel to finish the book. You can fail to start it. You can fail at querying, at self-publishing, at traditional publishing, at NaNo, at revising, at getting agented, at your own goals every day. AND YET WE DO IT.

In regards to pitch contests, this works against us. Because there are a lot of folks that worked their asses off that didn’t get picked to be on the dodgeball team. They took a lot of hits, and still didn’t make it. Two things about this:

  • WHY IN HELL WOULD WE PUT EACH OTHER IN THIS POSITION WHEN WE GODDAMN LIVE IN THIS POSITION??
  • YES, MANY OF US WILL NOT BE CHOSEN ONES. BUT WE DID NOT START WRITING TO GET A TROPHY FOR PARTICIPATION.

Failure is in the eye of the write-holder. (I made up “write-holder.” *jazz hands*). Did you start writing because you wanted a trophy? Because you wanted to prove yourself to a bunch of people you met online? Because you thought it would make you rich? Because you thought it was easy? Because you were looking for an award for just showing up? NO. YOU DIDN’T. YOU WRITE BECAUSE YOU NEED TO WRITE. YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT, I’M SAYING “YOU,” BECAUSE I AM NOT JUST SPEAKING FOR MYSELF. SHOW ME THE WRITER THAT DOES IT FOR ANY OTHER REASON THAN THAT THEY NEED TO, AND I WILL SHOW YOU A PERSON THAT HAS SPENT TOO LONG OUTSIDE THEIR OWN HEADS.

Do NOT let other writers and mentors, or agents and editors or ANYBODY ELSE make you feel like a failure. WRITE THE BOOK YOU WANT TO WRITE. IT MAY NOT BE AN AWARD WINNER, IT MAY NOT BE SOCIALLY RELEVANT, IT MAY NOT BE AN AMERICAN CLASSIC BUT IF IT IS THE BOOK YOU WANTED TO WRITE, COMING ACROSS THE WAY YOU WANTED IT TO IN THE END, THEN NO AMOUNT OF AGENTS, PEERS, REVIEWS, ANYTHING CAN MAKE YOU FEEL LESSER ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE CREATED.

YOU WRITE BECAUSE YOU HAVE YOUR OWN VIEW OF THE WORLD AND IT’S ONE THAT HASN’T BEEN SEEN YET. DON’T LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

AND ANOTHER THING. *YOU* CAN CONTROL THIS FEELING. NOBODY ON THE OUTSIDE IS GOING TO MAKE ME FEEL LIKE THE THING I CREATED ISN’T GOOD. NO CREATION IS BAD. NO. CREATION. IS. BAD.

*breathes deeply* *coughs*

So, I would also like to say that no matter what stage you’re in of writing, you are no less a writer than published ones, famous ones, self-pubbers, traditional pubbers, none of them. You’re a writer if you write. Every writer has moments of self-doubt. That’s good. Self-doubt makes us work harder. I had the conversation earlier today with a writer that said she was starting a book that was so ambitious it was inconceivable even to her. I said that’s the work that’s always best because we worry over it so much that there’s no chance of anything slipping by. But you do have to write it to find out.

And we come full circle. Telling writers that they have to write is like saying you’re not a student unless you go to school. You’re not an architect unless you build. You’re not a Subway employee, especially if you just go behind the counter and start making sandwiches and get removed from the building. What.

It is a fact. TO BE A WRITER YOU HAVE TO WRITE. Nobody is trying to make you feel bad about yourself when they say it. They’re trying to encourage you to create the thing you want to create, even if maybe you don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like going to the gym a lot but I always feel better after I did it. Unless I didn’t eat first, and then I mostly pass out. But anyway, don’t fail yourself by looking for ways out of writing. Whether it be every day, every week, only on Christmas, whatever. Coincidentally, if anyone tries to tell you that your process of writing is the wrong one? They suck. We are writers because we suck at sticking to rules. Because we were tired of looking for approval. Because we create, and do it our own way.

THE ONLY STEADFAST RULE THAT CAN’T BE BROKEN BECAUSE IT IS GODDAMN SCIENCE IS THAT TO BE A WRITER YOU HAVE TO WRITE.

No one is better than you at telling your story. Nobody else can do it like you do. Write it for you, not for anyone else’s approval, and you’ll shrug when even the most disappointing of “rejections” or bad reviews roll in. Above and beyond anything else, writing doesn’t have to be solitary, but it starts there. Trust yourself, writers. You know what to do.

Advertisements

What I Read When I Write: A Guest Post from Christi Frey

TODAY’S BREW: I have no water due to PIPE ISSUES so anything I can get OUT.

By Julie

After I wrote my post on what I read when I’m writing a buddy of mine wanted to do one, too, and lo and behold, it gives me new ideas on writing. So you should read it too.

What I Read When I Write, and Why 

Okay. So, I’ll try and make this the quick n dirty version (I’m a long-winded windbag some days). The little guy’s almost two now, and over the past couple years I’ve found that (surprise, surprise) kids really drop a time-bomb into your reading habits, and I’ve had to adapt a more targeted strategy: when I’m having writing problems, I want to see what other writers have done in the same situation. I’ve also started using the local library a lot. God bless libraries. I look up a book online, put in a request, walk five blocks to the library, and pick it up off the shelf. So, while I can’t read as much as I used to, I read a really wide variety of stuff – because it’s free, so if something seems even vaguely interesting, why not have a look at it?

I’ve written non-fiction semi-professionally for several years now, mostly niche magazine articles of the educational type, and have also edited a small regional magazine. I tell you this because, in the world of fiction, I’m almost barely qualified to be speaking at you – I have two novels on the go, one in the “shows some semblance to words” stage and the other, Harthorn, in the “nearly ready for an editor to tear it apart” stage.

When I write, I have an idea of the start and the end, but I pretty much pants the middle. This means I write scenes, see if they work, and yank them if they don’t. Sometimes I get stuck. After I’ve been banging my head against the wall for a while, I go looking for inspiration.

I can divide the type of inspiration I find into two categories: overall philosophical, and scene nuts-n-bolts. The philosophical bits are usually things I find by chance that happen to shed some clarity on the overall WHY of the piece. For instance, I came across this quote on Twitter the other day by Ralph Waldo Emmerson: “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” And I thought, man, THAT right there is the essence of Harthorn. I saved it in my manuscript inspiration file so that when I’m re-drafting I can tighten up all the parts of the story that support that theme, polish them, so to speak, really have them sing within the overall text.

Another philosophical bit I came across that I think I’ll be digesting for a while is in Robert Greene’s book MASTERY. Chapter IV talks about social intelligence – the ability to put yourself inside someone else’s head, to imagine their feelings and motivations. Granted, in the book, it’s assumed you’re reading for some type of ulterior world-domination motives (MU HA HA HA *twirls mustache* this is, after all, the guy who wrote the 48 Laws of Power, which is also fascinating reading if you’re crafting bad guys). Ahem. Anyway, anything that helps you get in someone else’s head is a great exercise for a writer.

When I find something useful, whether it’s a few pages in a book or an article on the internet, I make a copy, annotate where it came from, and put it into my writing binder. It’s kind of like a build-your-own-writing-course binder. I highlight relevant bits or make notes for WIPs as appropriate.

The other kind of inspiration I go looking for is scene nuts-n-bolts. For instance, I was recently stuck on a scene where my MC wakes up in a strange place. I’d re-written it two or three times, and it was feeling really flat. Hello, I’ve just woken up and I’m in a strange place – oh gee, there’s a window over there. Ugh. Kill me now.

So I asked myself, what similar scenes can I recall from other books? Well, there’s Frodo waking up in Rivendell in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, one with Hannah near the end of Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road, and there are at least a couple of scenes the beginning of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods where Shadow wakes up disoriented and in a strange place. After reading those scenes, I had a good triangulation on how three other writers had handled the same kind of scene, and was able to go back to my WIP with fresh eyes. And I decided that I needed to write another character into the scene if I was going to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, as all three of the other writers had done.

Obviously, we’re not talking about plagiarism here. PLAGIARISM = BAD. I’d never advise taking another’s writing, changing some words here and there, and passing it off as your own. People who do that deserve to be eternally tortured by Vogons.

But all the best teachers say the way to learn to WRITE fiction is to READ fiction. And what I’ve found is, for me, going back to re-read a scene in a novel I’ve already read is more efficient than diving into a whole new novel – because I tend to lose myself in the story really quickly, and completely forget to dissect the writing.

So now that I’ve babbled long enough, here’s a short list of a few other books I’ve read lately that might be useful to writers:

  • The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley – this book’s a little grimdark for my normal reading habits, but wow, the gender-role-swapping that she does with some of her characters (because that’s what’s normal in their society) is amazing. I’d recommend it for that reason alone. Really well thought out, deliberate character building. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is on my radar for the same reason but I haven’t read it yet.
  • The Horse and His Boy by CS Lewis. Yep, I’ve read this one before. Many times, in fact. But Lewis’ narrator’s voice is just so darn personable. I wanted that quality of being able to explain things to the reader, without being patronizing. It also helped me determine that I wanted to write Harthorn in third person, since I wanted an old-fashioned feel to the story (rather than contemporary YA, which is mostly told in first person).
  • WHY Did I Do That? Psychological Defence Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways they Shape our Lives, by Joseph Burgo, PhD. Interesting insights into motivations for less-than-heroic actions. I tend to turn to stuff like this when I need a character to go off the rails in a realistic way – to figure out why someone would be ashamed or scared or angry in certain situations.
  • The Isles of Many Gods: An A to Z of the Pagan Gods & Goddesses worshipped in Ancient Britain during the First Millenium CE through to the Middle Ages by David Rakine & Sorita D’Este. Basic background research for Harthorn. I didn’t want to follow Celtic mythology exactly, but wanted sort of a similar flavor in how the non-human characters flow from the natural world.
  • Vanity Fair’s How a Book is Born: The Making of the Art of Fielding by Keith Gessen Some people may not find this worth reading, depending on your tastes and aspirations, and I totally get that, but it’s my favourite “how I got published” tale. I love reading about other people’s success stories, even if I ultimately end up taking a different path to publication. A girl can dream, right?

Find Christi on Twitter @ChristiFreyCA or follow her blog at http://www.christifrey.ca

The first three chapters of Harthorn can be read here: http://www.harthornstory.com

If you’re interested in reading more Harthorn, please sign up to be a beta reader!

March Madness Flash Fiction: BREAKING POINTE by Jamie Adams

TODAY’S BREW: Diner coffee. BECAUSE IT’S KRISTEN’S BIRTHDAY AND WE’RE GOING TO BREAKFAST. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MY HETEROSEXUAL LIFE PARTNER!

By Julie

Jamie Adams is very special to me. She’s a ferociously loveable friend, one whose love I can feel from across the internet. She’s been there for me when I needed her most, and to top off what a selfless, utterly wonderful person she is, she wrote this story that tore me in half. I could not love it more. You need to follow Jamie https://twitter.com/Jamie_Adams22 and find her blog at http://t.co/d47wADtG3O. She’s also a contributor https://twitter.com/yagabonds because she has nothing to do.

BREAKING POINTE

by Jamie Adams

The bruises are forming fast today, dark constellations like stars of blue and gray across her pale skin. A cluster of them is angled behind her knee and a bouquet sits lengthwise on the inside of her upper right arm, but it’s the spatter of darkness coagulating over the ridges of her flat torso that concerns her.

They’re so much darker. Fresher. Blossoming up even as she watches.

Normally they wait until she’s not looking to appear.

Kerryn lifts her wet hair away from her face and studies the wine-colored stain that mirrors her jugular. The towel wrapped securely around her body doesn’t begin to cover all the marks across her skin and there isn’t enough foundation left to do the job either.

It would be better to stay, anyways. The bathroom is a warm, steam-shrouded cocoon, and even though the bruises can find her here, it’s quiet and time can’t reach her.

She’s always been adverse to time, the arbitrary assignation of numbers and values to something so fleeting, an element impossible to truly pin down. It’s never been very fond of her either, slipping away every time she’s tried to capture it and dodging every one of her efforts to make it conform the way everyone else always seems to.

Three taps on the door. “Kerryn? We have to go. If you’re late to one more rehearsal, Wheeler says he’s demoting you to demi-soloist. Neither of us want that to happen.”

It’s easy for Leena to still be worried about ballet. She’s not standing naked in front of the mirror, towel puddled around her ankles, watching a faintly pulsing pool of marbled indigo and charcoal spread slowly across her right ribcage.

Kerryn used to worry about ballet too, sometimes she still does. When she’s made it past the bathroom threshold, through the living room with its rough shag carpet and the awkward seventies colors Leena’s tried to disguise with all her paintings and throw pillows and Portuguese trinkets. When she’s made it to the street and walked several blocks, when there’s a chai tea latte in her hand and she’s entering the squat brick studio, such a far cry from the old Hollywood glamor of the theatre it abuts, that’s when she worries about ballet and the fluidity of her arms and the angle of her pointe. Not now. Not here, in the oppressive sauna she’s created with the shower steam and her own fright.

More knocks. “Kerryn. For the love of all things, hurry up. If you’re not out in three minutes, I’m coming in. I’m not risking my job for you but I’m also not living with you if you lose yours. And I like this place.”

Kerryn pulls on her tights slowly, pressing hard against the skin of her thighs and hips as she does. No bruises form in response. She’s tried everything – running into the corners of tables, having her blood levels checked, changing how she eats and when she sleeps and how often she gets fresh air. Nothing has had an effect on the bruises, except that they form faster and wider and more.

The straps of her leotard are barely in place when the door creaks open. Cold air slithers over her skin as Leena tosses in the heather gray sweatshirt Kerryn always wears when time is being the most difficult.

Leena’s tried a hundred times over the past three years to be an intercessor between them, Kerryn and time. She’s tried clocks and alarms and ringing phones, post-it’s on the fridge and butcher paper the length of the hallway. Nothing helps, and she’s figured out now that to make herself happy, she needs Kerryn to be happy, and for that to happen, she’s got to personally intervene when it seems time is getting the better of her roommate.

“I will literally kill someone if we don’t leave in the next five minutes because we won’t have time for coffee and if I don’t have coffee before I let Benji fumble the lift twenty times I will rip his head off and use it for a chair.”

Kerryn waits for her to notice. The edges of a bruise the color of winter midnight are leaking out along the strap of her leotard, and though she pulls on her sweatshirt, the neck gapes and leaves the widening bruise exposed.  They’re clear right through Kerryn’s tights, spattered like paint across the back of her left leg and clustered across the top of her foot.

Even as she watches in the mirror another one comes alive, growing swiftly and darkening along her jaw line, up across the clear stretch of her cheek and the sharp jutting pinnacle of her cheekbone, shades of plum and mahogany. She panics, grabbing her foundation and wiping futilely at the tender skin. It’s a disease and it’s consuming her, and how can anyone worry about time or ballet when she’s so clearly dying as she stands there?

“Well.” Leena tilts her head impatiently. “Do you want me to rip off your head instead, or are we going?”

Leena stares right at Kerryn and she doesn’t blink or sigh or reach to touch the stains that cover Kerryn’s body. Something rises in Kerryn’s throat, something choking and dark, a bruise moving inward instead of out, consuming her.

“Let’s. Go.” Leena marches out the bathroom door, mumbling in Portuguese under her breath.

Kerryn turns back to the mirror. The bruise has consumed half her face and she can hardly breathe. She presses a hand against the glass.

It’s time, it must be time. Playing tricks on her again. Breaking her down.

Her eyes flutter shut and when they open, her skin is clear and her body unmarred. The bruises sink into her bloodstream again. Poison. It’s only a matter of time.

March Madness Flash Fiction: NOT-ON-THE-FIRST-DATE CATE by Shawn Anderson

TODAY’S BREW: Whatever will fit in this bathtub

By Julie

Shawn Anderson is one of the people that I don’t even talk to every day, but he affects me every day. Just his simple tweets and his smiling face make me happy no matter what else is happening. I’m lucky he’s my friend. I’m lucky he considers me one. And you’re lucky to read this story because it is one of the most unique ones I’ve come across in these flash fiction series that we do.

NOT-ON-THE-FIRST-DATE CATE

by Shawn Thomas Anderson

My khakis. Pressed to impress.

New chambray shirt—sleeves rolled to the elbow. Handsome, yet casual.

Lucky Valentine’s Day socks—the ones with the big red hearts on the ankles. No action in February, but still relevant in March.

 I stuck my nose inside the collar of my shirt to make sure my cologne wasn’t too overpowering. Patting my pants pocket, the rattling of the breath mints in their plastic container reassured me that they were there. All systems go.

Singing every word of her Match.com bio in my head to the tune of a Taylor Swift song, I googled her one last time on my phone. No telltale mug shots, hostile Twitter rants, or any other red flags to indicate that she was a bunny-boiling psycho. This had to be the one.

The bistro where she chose to meet me was the exact one I was going to suggest. The place was abuzz with conversation and clattering dishes. A man stumbled onto the stage with his acoustic guitar and set up to perform. Live-music ‘80s night. Romantic.

I ordered a latte to hold the table, and as I waited, I glanced at my watch. Of course, she was going to be late. I just knew it—she was one of those people. But right as the hands hit seven o’clock, the girl with crimson hair was standing over me. Perfect timing. The perfect girl.

“Hello. Ian?” Her plump lips breathed my name as the performer hit the first chord from his rendition of Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Like a choir of angles, strumming harps.

“Old-school Joy Division. Cool,” she said.

“Abigail?” I stood up to shake her hand, but missed her fingers and shook her arm. Creepy, awkward… Don’t blow this, you dummy. “So nice to meet you.”

“Thanks for meeting me here. This is one of my favorite spots.” She didn’t seem to mind the shaking. “It reminds me of Middle-earth.”

I looked around at the dark woodwork, painted trees, and the group of hobbit-like hipsters drinking coffee and bobbing to the music. “Middle-earth?”

“Why, yes. Are you a Tolkien fan?” She slid into the seat next to me, disregarding the place setting arranged across the table.

“Since I was young,” I said and sat back down.

Her handbag thumped on the floor as if it were weighted by an anchor. It reminded me and I kicked the duffle bag, resting between my feet to make sure it was still there.

“I don’t usually do this on the first date, but I feel like we already know each other so well.” She bit her lip and smiled, revealing a bright smear of lipstick across her pearly whites. “I want you to meet Paul.”

Who the hell was Paul? Her husband? Her lover? “Paul?” I gave a hard swallow, choking on my chances and the thought of competing with another guy.

“He’s just someone I met in a cemetery a long, long time ago,” Abigail said, taking a sip from my coffee cup. “He’s the one I measure all my dates up to. Your resemblance to him is uncanny.”

Ah, maybe he was a father figure… I was good with fathers. “Sure, I guess. Is he meeting us here?”

“Oh, he’s already here.” A glint of mischief flashed in her eyes.

My eyes darted around the room. Had he been watching me this whole time?

“He’s right here.” She flopped her handbag onto the table, rocking the water glasses and my coffee mug to the point of almost spilling.

Oh God, was he in the bag? I took a loud gulp as the song ended, and felt like the whole place was staring at me. “What’s in the bag?” I chuckled a little, trying to stay calm, but my voice cracked.

“We met night after night in the moonlight until I just couldn’t resist anymore, and I had to take him home with me.” She fumbled with the zipper as she told her story. “Finally, one night I crept up behind him and BLAM-O!

BLAM-O?

“I took his head clean off his shoulders with a baseball bat.”

There was a head in that bag—a severed human head! Check please. My mouth went dry, but I wasn’t sure if she was going to whack me if I made any movement to leave or toward my water glass.

She undid the zipper the rest of the way and pulled out a stone head, placing it on the table between her palms so it was staring at me. “Meet my Paul. Isn’t he perfect?”

The next song started, a folksy version of Depeche Mode’s Strange Love, but I was sure all eyes in the place were still on me.

“So, does he approve?” Not knowing what to do, I reached forward and patted the statue head. “Nice to meet you, Paul.”

“Of course,” she said and rested her hand on mine. “You have his cheek bones and his nose. I usually don’t run around vandalizing cemeteries, but the statue was so beautiful, just like you.”

My cheeks felt warm.  “Funny you should bring Paul, because I also have someone that I never introduce to first dates.” I reached under the table and tugged my duffle up into my lap. “This is my Cate.” I pulled the marble bust of Catherine the Great from the bag and placed it next to Paul.

Abigail squealed with excitement and her knee hit the table. Both Cate and Paul toppled over, their faces rolling together, lips touching.

My hand snaked across the table and found hers.

She laced her fingers with mine as the performer started strumming and singing the next song, I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You. “Modern English… I love this song.” Abigail swayed to the beat and looked deep into my eyes.

“So do I.” Check please.

Shawn Thomas Anderson is a copywriter, branding specialist, and writer of Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy and science fiction—plus a little horror from time to time. He lives in a far-flung corner of New England, splitting his time between Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It’s a magical place where moose, bear, and deer wander through your backyard and everyone rocks flannel. He currently coauthors the Splinter steampunk-adventure web serial with Summer Wier.

Follow Shawn and his writing adventures on Twitter @ShawnTWrites or visit his website and blog at www.shawnthomasanderson.com, coming soon.

March Madness Flash Fiction: SUBJECT TWELVE by Robert McKay

TODAY’S BREW: French Vanilla from a RUNNING HOME mug. Because I’m just self-important enough to have one.

By Julie

I’m so happy to show you Rob McKay’s work today. This story kept me guessing until the very last line, and its inventiveness is incredible. I need to see a Rob McKay book on my book shelf. Check out Rob’s blog http://t.co/oNs3WtYXHS and find him where I did, on Twitter https://twitter.com/robertmckay. He’s probably the sweetest person ever.

SUBJECT TWELVE

by Robert McKay

I paced back and forth in front of Dr. Naughton’s office and considered bolting back to the lab. It was pointless though, his secretary had already announced that I was waiting to see him. If I left, I would have interrupted him for no reason. Besides, he’d asked to be apprised of any significant changes in behavior. He just always managed to make me feel stupid like nobody but my mother could. I had just as many doctorates as he had; three, if anybody was counting. He was only heading the project because he was a few years older and the program director liked him. God only knew why.

The office door clicked open. His welcome grunt was barely audible. He didn’t even try to hide the way he stared at his secretary’s legs. Her dress covered most of them and the awkward twitch of her perfect, flat nose told me she’d noticed far too many times. “Come in Casey,” he called, waving me past him. It irritated me that he used my first name. If I did the same, he’d glare at me until I corrected myself, the pompous ass.

He walked by me and took a seat behind his desk, looking up expectantly. He didn’t offer me a seat, or even ask me what I was there for. Just waited for me to dance like I was the evening’s entertainment.

“Subject twelve is exhibiting signs of distress,” I said, when the silence had drawn out long enough to be awkward.

“What sort of signs of distress?” asked Dr. Naughton, letting out a small squeal of surprise.

“He’s just sitting in the corner of his cage and staring off into the distance, sir,” I said.

Dr. Naughton let out a long, grunting groan. “You took me away from my important research because subject twelve is doing nothing?”

“Well, sir,” I continued nervously, silently berating myself for letting the man get to me, “George is also sighing loudly and gripping one hand in the other, mimicking the way he used to hold han–”

“That’s enough!” shouted Dr. Naughton, rising to his feet and slamming his hands on the desk. “You sound like an idiot child. These subjects don’t have hands, they have paws. Only people have hands. And as has been highly documented, the subjects only join paws in an effort to appear larger to prey animals in an attempt to scare them away. If you are trying to imply otherwise, I’ll have you summarily dismissed from this project on grounds of mental instability.”

He stared at me as if daring me to contradict him. I didn’t agree with a single thing he’d just said, but a lot of scientists more eminent than I was did and I wasn’t about to lose this assignment over a theory that I hadn’t had a chance to properly test. Still, that didn’t mean he wasn’t an asshole and that I wasn’t right about the distress. “He’s also stopped eating, sir,” I said through clenched teeth.

Dr. Naughton’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. “Why didn’t you lead with that, Casey? It’s probably some sort of gastronomic issue. Put him on a bland diet, force feed him if you have to. I’m sure it will clear up in a few days.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, keeping a tight reign on the words bouncing around in my head.

“Is that all, Casey?”

I nodded, not trusting my tongue further.

“Dismissed.” He waved vaguely toward the door, already rooting around in his desk, probably for something to eat.

I stomped out of his office and shut the door as hard as I thought I could get away with. I was still huffing and puffing when I made it back to the lab.

“I would ask you how it went, but I think that might make your head explode,” said Gayle, trying her best to hide a smirk.

“I went in there expecting to get fired, so in my book, it counts as a win. We’ve fulfilled our duties and reported the behavior. Now we can proceed in the way we think is best.” Her smirk, whether it was at my expense or not, was cute, and it had helped calm me down.

“What did he suggest, anyway?” asked Gayle, reaching over and straightening my ruffled hair.

I pulled her hand away gently and sighed. “Bland diet.” Gayle groaned. “And don’t groom me here, public displays of affection might be enough to get me fired now.”

“Alright, let’s take care of George. I’ll bring in Ursula.”

“I’m still not sure we’re right about their feelings. Ursula doesn’t seem to be bothered like George is.”

“We’re right, and she’s not bothered because she knows she’s right.” Gayle smiled and walked out of the room.

A minute later Ursula stepped into the observation room, her eyes scanning for George. She studied him briefly and then turned away, crossing her arms. He ran over and threw his arm around her, gibbering in higher pitched tones and pressing his mouth against her skin. It was a peculiar habit that seemed at times amorous, and other times, apologetic. Ursula held her ground for a moment, her back stiff, and then relented and slumped into George’s arms. He sniffed her hair, again making me wonder how they smelled anything with down-turned noses.

“See,” said Gayle, stepping up behind Casey and observing the humans through the glass. “He  apologized and she forgave him. He knew he was wrong. That’s why he was sad.”

“And maybe he missed her.”

“That, too.”

I leaned my head against hers. “We’re going to be laughed out of academia when we publish our paper saying humans are capable of love, you know.”

“No we’re not. We are two of the most respected scientists porcinekind has ever known. We’ll be hailed as revolutionary.”

“Or completely mad,” I said.

“Or completely mad,” she agreed, favoring me with her sweetest smile.

March Madness Flash Fiction: PURIFICATION by Heather Wheat

TODAY’S BREW: All of it.

By Julie

Today’s flash fiction piece is from the wildly and unnecessarily nervous Heather Wheat, who puts a smile on my face every day. She’s the coolest high school English teacher I know, and I know a lot of them. Go find my darling on Twitter https://twitter.com/hwheaties and https://twitter.com/bookofthemonth. Check out her blog http://t.co/iMAb6hVL6y, but first, read this story which I am obsessed with.

PURIFICATION

by Heather Wheat

I’d thought about burning down my high school a year or so before my best friend Will and I figured out how to do it. I had always hated the place, with its over-privileged students—none of them worthy of what they had—and those who had nothing, well, we weren’t worthy of anything.

I hated the way they looked at me, and the other people who they didn’t think fell into their special groups. There were the nouveau holier-than-thou skaters, the princesses who went to dance classes, the clergy kids, the bad girls and boys, and of course the so-very-not-fun geeky kids.

That wasn’t it, though; there were the teachers. They preached self-righteousness, purity, and all of the things they were supposed to, but you could see that maybe only two of them really believed their own bullshit.

The Bible teacher, a converted Jew, had the philosophy that it was his way or the highway. I argued with him on a regular basis only to find myself on the hard linoleum floor outside his room. Clearly religion class was no place for disagreements.

The French teacher and the Anatomy teacher couldn’t have truly believed, though, looking at them was always too sad. I could see in their eyes they were pining for real lives, mourning that they were getting old and spinsterish and wishing they could have had some wild sex when they were younger; instead they had somehow gotten caught up in religion. By the time they realized the hypocrisy of the shit, though, it was too late. They were trapped in fat bodies and ill-fitting pants or dresses, destined for nights in muumuus, looking longingly at young, strapping men they maybe could have made it with once.

These people—most of all the teachers and administrators, and how they were trapped in their pitiful lives–disgusted me. They swore an oath to be Christian, and to teach us to be good, Christian kids.

It was maddening.

But then there were people like Will and me. He was my best friend. We were normal. We worked hard for everything we had. We had learned very early in life what and how people really could be. Friends since the age of eleven, it never mattered to us which group we fell into, because we didn’t want to belong in any of them.

So when I decided, as a ritual of cleansing and renewal, to burn down the school from which we had both graduated, Will was there for me. I needed to purge my memories of the place, purge the damage it had done to me, purge the hate I carried for everyone and everything there. There were no security cameras, and my dad worked at the school as a sort of maintenance person, so it was simple enough to get keys.

They really made it all too easy.

Will and I walked through the school, spraying lighter fluid up and down every bank of lockers, into every doorway, every classroom, over every chair, desk, and bookshelf. We stopped in front of the doors to the gymnasium, over which someone had hung a banner that said, “Blessed are all who enter here.”  I looked at Will, and he looked back at me.

“That’s where we’ll light it,” I said. “That banner. They have no right to say who is blessed and who isn’t.”

Will rolled his eyes. “Please remember that my dad is a pastor. And remember I still go to church.” He looked at me expectantly.

“Sure,” I said, pointing my bottle of lighter fluid at the banner. “The difference, Will, is that your dad isn’t a self-righteous piece of shit.”

Finally, everything was drenched, with the exception of our path to the door. I turned and looked at Will.

“Ready?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course you do. You had a choice to tell me I was fucking crazy the moment I called you and told you I wanted to do this. You had the choice not to let me stay at your house. You had lots of choices. You chose this.”

“You have a point.”

“Don’t I always?”

I took one last look around before pulling a box of matches from my pocket.

“Here we go, then.” I stopped for a second and then looked at Will and laughed—a laugh of good, true, and pure release. I lit a match from the pack, and tossed it up toward the banner over the gymnasium doors. Flames instantly covered the lettering, and the words on the vinyl sign disappeared into orange, yellow, blue, and then white-hot flames.

Will and I locked eyes as the flames started to flare up around us, the only open space our path to the door.

“Well, that’s it then,” said Will, and we turned and raced the flames to the entrance.

March Madness Flash Fiction: LOVE IMAGINED by Summer Wier

TODAY’S BREW: Dunkin’s mediumcoconuthotcoffeelightnosugar (all one word, as ordered)

By Julie

Summer Wier is the most delightfully sweet, caring, and joyous person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with. And yet, she still likes me. Even better, she writes with the beauty of modern fairy tales, and she’s pretty.

LOVE IMAGINED

by Summer Wier

I wonder if I’ve ever been in love. Not the kind of love I feel for my mom and dad, but the kind Barbie sings about in all of her fancy princess movies. The servants and people of the town join in, singing and dancing. Even the animals seem to know when that special magic is in the air.

Maybe being in love makes you want to sing all the time. I like to sing and dance anyway, so it’s been harder for me to tell. And animals don’t even talk in real life, so they can’t be trusted with matters of the heart.

There are lots of kids at school who have boyfriends and girlfriends. I’m not sure that sort of thing qualifies as love, because there’s nothing romantic about holding dirty, sweaty hands and sharing mac and cheese at lunch—nothing to sing about anyway. And kids my age break up a lot, swapping girlfriends and boyfriends like hockey cards. There’s nothing happily ever after about that.

A lot of songs say love is never wanting to be apart from someone. But if Justin Bieber can’t keep a girlfriend on that merit, I’m not sure what chance the rest of us have. I could imagine something close to that though, always thinking about someone.

It’s hard for me to think about anything besides the boy with the brown and yellow hair.

Last summer, my family went to our annual neighborhood bar-b-que. Everyone brings food, we set up games in the yard, and I play with my friends all day. This year, the old man across the street had his grandkids visiting.  I hadn’t seen them much because they did a lot of touristy things while they were here, but someone invited them to our party, and they came.

Nobody introduced us, so I didn’t even catch his name. But as we traveled down opposite sides of the picnic table, our eyes met when he offered to put ketchup on my burger. His hair was brown and yellow, just like mine, and our eyes matched the color of a cornflower crayon. He had more freckles than me, but that made him even cuter. I definitely wanted ketchup. He looked like someone I could share mac and cheese with.

I hoped fate would tie us together in the three-legged race or match us together in the stick pull. Although his older brother was eager to join in our games and competitions, the boy with the brown and yellow hair sat quietly by himself. The day wore on, and he never budged. Normally I would run all over the street, playing tag and circling through the activities, but instead I stayed near that tree, hoping to catch his eye or have a reason to talk to him.

But my chance never came.

The sun dipped lower in the sky, and I knew it was already past my bedtime. It was time to clean up, and one by one families started to go home. Including the boy with the brown and yellow hair.

It’s been a year since that day, and for some reason I can’t seem to get the boy out of my mind. My mom had snapped a picture of him as she made the rounds with her camera. I had her print it out, and I keep it on my dresser.

Sometimes I dream that he’s a prince and I’m a princess, but not like in one of those Barbie stories. Besides, if an evil duke or crazy butterfly fairy ever tried to take me prisoner, I wouldn’t wait around to be rescued. It’s lucky I know karate, because I would ki-ya! them both and run for the hills.

I also imagine he’s my boyfriend and that he thinks about me too. On our first date he would take me to McDonald’s, and he wouldn’t care if I ate all of his fries. In my mind, that’s real love right there.

Even though my mom says I can’t be in love with someone I haven’t really met, I wonder if this warm, fluttery feeling could be love. It’s different from the excitement of Christmas morning or the whoosh of a rollercoaster, but I see how it could make people want to sing. Mom says there are lots of different ways to love people, and someday I’ll understand what it means to be in love. I’m not very patient, but I believe her.

Until then, I’ll hold this feeling in my heart, my own magical gift from him. And maybe, just maybe, my someday will include the boy with the brown and yellow hair.

Summer Wier

Summer Wier is an MBA toting accountant, undercover writer, and all around jack-of-all-trades. Link is her debut novel and the first in The Shadow of Light series. She has short stories appearing in Fairly Twisted Tales For A Horribly Ever After and co-authors the Splinter web serial. Summer is the Marketing Director and a member of the acquisitions team at REUTS Publications. When she’s not digging through spreadsheets or playing mom, you can find her reading/writing, cooking, or dreaming of the mountains in Montana.

Connect with Summer on Twitter @summerwier or visit her website at http://www.summerwier.com.

March Madness Flash Fiction: TALISMANS by Jessica Bloczynski

TODAY’S BREW: Bathtub Brew. That’s how much I need.

By Julie

Jessica Bloczynski is a writer like you read about. She’s the one that can’t stop. She cannot stop writing. Doesn’t know how. Does it all day and night. If you’re up, she’s writing. I love her for it. She has the rare sort of writing that I get addicted to. If she writes it, I’ll read it. You can read it here today and also on http://t.co/NOGmhoX4fm. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/jabloczynski.

TALISMANS

By Jessica Bloczynski

The first thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is that you need salt. Little crystal shakers. Big blue boxes with yellow umbrella girls on the side. Your collection of beach-glass worn smooth and salty to the taste even decades after you collected them with grubby fingers.

They tell you salt is the trick, so you line the sills with blues and greens and browns. Dust the lintel and baseboards. Make a rectangle of umbrella-girl salt around your bed. Tuck yourself in. Cover your face. Pray.

The trouble with salt is that it spreads. Gets between your toes and crusts your eyes. It lives in your blood and tears and snot. You scream at the cat, as she bats a chip of blue-green glass across the floor. They said you would need salt, but salt is not enough.

The second thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is that you need iron. Nails will do. Also the rust-spotted wrench you found in the shed. You think about tetanus, but the salt didn’t work and you are more concerned about how all your shells and glass bits are gone and how someone swept away all your umbrella-girl salt. Tetanus is a small price to pay for safety.

You put the nails in the windows. Driving them home, a lighting crack splits up the bottom pane. The landlady will have to understand that ghosts trump security deposits. It’s a security system of sorts. You take to carrying the wrench tied to a scarf around your waist. It’s not a terribly functional way to carry something so heavy, but the wrench makes you feel safe and safety is key.

You put your wrench under your pillow, but in the morning it is gone. You suspect the cat, but she doesn’t have the strength in her jaws. The dexterity in her paws. She has none of these things.

You suspect the landlady.

She is less forgiving about the nailed windows.

Insists you pay to replace the broken windowpane.

Makes lazy circles by her ear.

Mutters,“meshuga.”

Yes, you are quite sure she has taken your wrench and nails.
The third thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is that you need chimes.

The fourth. Horsehoes.

The fifth. Garlic.

Except you’re allergic to garlic, so you keep it on the porch, giving it a wide berth when you go out. You go out seldomly, putting one Chinese slipper in front of the other. You try to remember what your life was like before you lived here. You can’t.

“That one’s bad luck.” The man at the pet store said, when you held up the ball of charcoal fluff blinking at you in wonder. You laughed at his superstitions, and named her Lucky. This was before you lived in a haunted house. Lucky is up at all hours. Animals can see ghosts, but you wish she’d be less obvious about it. It keeps you up at night.

The last thing they tell you about living in a haunted house is nothing at all. They haven’t told you anything in a week now. Perhaps it is the garlic. Perhaps they don’t believe that you are actually allergic. You would show them. Rub it on your skin and present them with the hives as evidence. You do this.

The landlady takes you to the urgent care.

Meshuga. Meshuga. Meshuga.”

“Why do you say this word?”

More circles by her ear. More muttering. But she drives you in her clanking old Buick back to the house.

You stay awake all night listening to the wind shift the panes of glass, and howl in the eaves, and give the chimes voice. You wonder if it’s worth it. New place. New life. New everything. You used to have so much hope. You used to laugh. You used to sing happy songs and not nonsense tunes set to the song of dancing chimes.

You haven’t seen Lucky for a week now. She has abandoned you. You don’t know whether to be happy that her black spectre is no longer shadowing your path, or sad that she is not there to warm your pillow at night. The horseshoe falls off the door. Someone has left garlic on the table. You wrap it in a towel and feed it to the garbage disposal. Your chimes have been stolen.

“You are late on the rent,” the landlady says. “Pay up or get out.”

You nod. All your money is gone. That is the curse of this house. It takes all your things and scatters them to the wind. You pack your bag. Three outfits. That is all that is yours. Lucky never came back.

The thing they never tell you about living in a haunted house, is that no one stays for long. Maybe they expect that if you’ve read the stories, you know that the house always wins. It takes what it can from you and sets you back on the path toward something else. They don’t tell you that you’ll catch a bus to the next town. Find a job. A husband. A life. That in ten, fifteen, twenty years time you will tell your daughter of the six weeks you spent under its roof. You will not have the words. There are no words but this. The first thing you need when living in a haunted house is salt.

March Madness Flash Fiction Series #1: EIGHT WORDS by Kennedy Thompson!

TODAY’S BREW: Trader Joe’s made it.

By Julie

I’ve mentioned that what I LOVE about this flash fiction series is that every participant is scared. They’re all feeling not good enough. They all took it super seriously and doubted themselves, and with every private message, email, text I got about how awful their stories were, I smiled, because I knew how these blog series work on Deadly Ever After. We support each other, we applaud each other’s bravery, and we kick some amazing talents out into the world in this very safe environment. Many of these writers haven’t even had their work go public before. Listen to me when I say…..

  • YOU ARE NOT THE FIRST TO PUT THEIR FIRST WORK UP HERE.
  • YOU ARE BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE.
  • YOU’VE DONE SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE WILL NEVER DO IN THEIR ENTIRE LIVES.

Today I’m unbelievably, ridiculously, gushingly proud of Kennedy Thompson. This girl…yes, girl, merely 17 years old… is an amazing talent, and the most caring young woman I have ever met. I could go on all day about her, but let me tell you that my youngest calls her “his fairy,” and she makes him feel better when he needs it. I’m proud to have her put her first public piece out in the world right here, today. And it’s gorgeous. SO MAKE HER FEEL WELCOME OR ELSE.

IT BEGINS……..

EIGHT WORDS

by Kennedy Thompson

My eyes were burning and my head ached, but the book just started to get good. I rarely go to bed without finishing a book, which generally means sleep doesn’t come easy. “Hello Sarah, I’ve missed you.” I gasped, not because those five words were what I was waiting for these last seven chapters, but because “hello” was highlighted. I kept opening and closing the book and couldn’t stop blinking. The page remained highlighted. Defacing books, whether it be writing in them, folding over the pages, or even tearing the pages out, is like sinning to me. Or worse. Definitely worse than sinning.

One word couldn’t mean any harm.

I hopped off my bed and fell on the floor. As quick as possible I started throwing the books out from underneath my bed. Each of them I’d read within the last week. Searching for more highlighter, knowing I’d seen it before recently, thinking it was just a figment of my imagination. Hoping it was, at least. No one ever came in my room, I was very adamant about keeping everyone out. Just as I was unshakeable about damaging books. I was always in my own head, in my own world, not welcoming outsiders, not letting anyone past the surface. Therefore, no one would’ve had access to my personal library, no one would’ve been near my bed.

I hoped.

It felt like years went by. My long blonde hair was like a bird’s nest on top of my head, my face stained with make-up and tears. My giant purple sweatshirt weighed me down but I didn’t have enough strength or motivation to take it off. I rocked back and forth, staring at the mess in front of me. Every book was just a front and back cover with its pages strewn about, if they didn’t have anything highlighted, I crumpled it and threw it across the room. The pile was taller and wider than me. Half of the books had no letters highlighted. Others had one or two. The entire book was destroyed, I had no mercy, no patience, no sanity.

I grabbed permanent markers and began scribbling my unscrambled letters on the wall. “Hello, we’re all mad here.” I smiled sadly. Just like Alice in Wonderland. The freak out was for nothing. I flopped onto my bed and closed my eyes. I laughed at myself, and cried too. I loved Alice in Wonderland. Though nothing explained how everything got highlighted in the first place. My feet aimlessly traced my sheets, then I felt it. Another book. My heart stopped as I sat up.

Fourteen letters, but wait, there’s more.

I feverishly turned the pages, scanned them, and tore them out. I found “you” “will” “are” “that” “fix” “we” all highlighted. Six highlighted words. That was the most in one book. I slung the hardcover at the wall.

Fourteen letters, seven words, one last thing to do.

The back of my hand was red and tender after scratching it incessantly. Anxious. I added it all to the sentence. I sunk to my knees, reluctant to read the finished product. “Hello. We are all mad you are here. We will fix that.” “No, no, no, no, no. There has to be more books.” I whispered shakily. I scurried around my room for a pathetic fifteen seconds, knowing the rest were locked in my wardrobe. I stopped and stared at my wall. I kicked it and then collapsed. “What does that even mean?” My body shook so hard it was vibrating. “Hello. We are all mad you are here. We will fix that.” My voice grew quieter, the further I got. “I don’t unders–” The lights flickered and went out. The door slammed. I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Bright light spilled through my eyelids, burning my eyes. I struggled to open them. “Carrie, Carrie? Are you even paying attention?” My head shot up. I nodded. “Well, will you read your highlighted words on page 452?” “I… I don’t highlight words in books. That’s worse than sinning.” I replied with more sass than I meant to. My history teacher shot me a dirty look. I turned to page 452 anyway. To my surprise, one word was highlighted. “Goodbye.” I whispered. “Pardon me, Miss Marks?” The lights flickered out. My heart was in my stomach and I stopped breathing. The door slammed. Screaming filled the air, but this time, it wasn’t just mine.

Fourteen letters, eight words, there’s nothing else I can do.

March Madness Feelings Time!

TODAY’S BREW: All of it.

By Julie

The start of the March Madness flash fiction series is approaching quickly! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, HERE. https://deadlyeverafter.com/tag/march-madness/

I was excited to offer our blog as a forum for people who matter to me to post their words. We’ve done this before and it fills me with such happiness to help other writers that this is really more for me than it is them.

But I never anticipated how much good this blog series would do for so many. So many writers that haven’t posted here before. So many that have never let their work out before AT ALL. (You know who you are, girly. And your writing is spectacular. I had no idea I was the only one who got to see it.) Writers that haven’t been able to write for months or more, that finally found inspiration in this project.

Goddammit, if you people make me cry, you will all pay.

Writers that have been down on their luck with submission processes, writers that suffer depression among a myriad of other health issues…. I couldn’t be more proud of every one of you, more honored that you’d share your work and your feelings with me and our readers.

What I really wanted to say here today is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON participating in the March Madness blog series has reached out to me about how nervous they are, that they’re stuck, that they’re excited but maybe they shouldn’t do it….. and all of you have found it in you to do it anyway.

While I’ve been proud to host writers in all stages of their careers here, this one is special to me because all of you feel vulnerable about your work in some way. I’m overjoyed that you’ve come out of your shells, found faith in yourself to do this. I can’t wait to share your work and see the support you all give each other.

To put him on the spot, our good friend Beau Barnett posted his first piece on our blog two years ago. He was the most nervous of everyone I think, it really shook him, and since then Beau has been published, submits work regularly, writes all the time and cheers on so many other writers, he’s been an invaluable asset to the writing community. Make A Wish still gets searched and read on our blog, two years later. Here it is: https://deadlyeverafter.com/2013/02/11/make-a-wish-by-beau-barnett/

And I urge you to reach out to Beau on Twitter to ask him how he felt submitting this story, because nobody tells it like he can. You can find him at https://twitter.com/INukeYou. (@INukeYou)

There’s still time to join in with March Madness! (And if you miss the deadline and still want to be a part, I’ll never turn you away.)

Best of luck to all of you. Dig deep and have fun!

Post Navigation