The Emergence (Fiction)

As I sat down to write this post on Thursday night, my motto was, “when gears don’t shift, stay in park.”

In my early-week confidence, I’d been certain I could write a story to post on Friday. Then, work happened. This week has made me wish I were close to retirement age. (Despite what my older son says, sadly, that is not the case.) Hours spent assessing the complications of contractual liability, updating payment plans in underwriting manuals, and testing new reports left me less creative than I like.

I parked myself on the couch to write a post about how I planned to embrace nothingness. I looked through some old photos hoping to find a peaceful one to accompany the short post, and then a funny thing happened- a short story emerged.

09-12 Mogollon Rim View


Gabriella rolled over and stretched her arms above her head. Each morning as she shook off the grogginess of sleep, she almost forgot she didn’t have a permanent home anymore. The early morning sun peeked through the flap of the cowhide tent, reminding her of reality. They had been nomads since soldiers took over their land three years ago. Her father said they must always stay one step ahead of the sword. She heard her father’s voice outside.

“What do you suppose it means?”

The response came in a crescendo of murmurs.

Curious, she slipped her wool shift over her nightshirt and pushed through the door flap. Her kinsmen clustered on either side of a clearing that looked like someone had shaved a twelve-foot-wide stripe across the landscape, all the way into the horizon. She scanned the faces for her best friend, Daisy.

“It must be a sign,” Gabriella’s father, chief of the Mogollon tribe said as he rubbed his bearded chin.

“Daisy!” Gabriella called as she rushed toward her friend. When her feet hit the edge of the newly-formed clearing, a hand grabbed her shoulder, pulling her backward.

“You mustn’t cross the line.”

“But Father, I want to talk to Daisy!”

He shook his head. “They are another people now.” He turned to address the growing crowd flanking the edges of the dividing stripe. “The spirits have spoken. We must disperse as they have directed.” Everyone residing on this side of the line,” he gestured to his left,” will form one tribe. We will pack and leave by sundown.” He pointed to his right, “everyone on this side will become a second tribe. Today, you must elect your chief. He will determine when you embark on the journey to a new destination.”

“Father, we should stay together.”

The chief turned to his daughter. “This is not a point to be challenged, child. Ignoring the spirit ruler of the land shall have dire consequences.”

“But Daisy- she’s my best friend. We’ve been together since birth. This isn’t fair!”

“The spirit has spoken.” He clapped his hands twice and the people hesitated only a moment before dispersing into their respective camps.

Gabriella stared, incredulous that no one challenged her father. The idea that the stripe dividing the landscape was a divine revelation seemed preposterous. She knelt down and studied the shaved grass, still unsure enough to actually touch it.

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Birdie (Fiction)

Funky tree in our yard... wasn't the initial inspiration for this post, but well, I'll explain that at the end!
Funky tree in our yard… wasn’t the initial inspiration for this post, but  I’ll explain that at the end!

Bernadette Thibodaux stood in front of the house she’d just purchased, key folded in her palm.  “This is it,” she exhaled.  She turned to her best friend, Chris, to read his reaction.

“Well.  It’s a nice place.”


“Who said anything about a ‘but’?”

“Come on, after twenty-two years, I can tell.”  She didn’t have to mention their years as high school sweethearts and their failed marriage; that always lingered in the back of her mind.

He shrugged.  “Birdie, don’t you think four acres might be a bit much for you to maintain?”

Birdie.  No one else could get away with calling her that.  “I just bought my first place.  Don’t ruin it for me.”  She grabbed his elbow.  “Let me show you the house!”

He nearly knocked her over when she came to an abrupt stop at the wrap-around porch.  While she fumbled with the key in the lock, he shook the railing.  “Sturdy support,” he mumbled.  “A porch swing would be nice over there.”  He pointed to the right.

She glanced over her shoulder.  “That’s exactly what I thought.”  She pushed on the door but it didn’t budge.  She thrust her hip against the door twice and it popped loose with a creak.  When she entered the foyer a new wave of excitement rippled through her.

Chris opened and closed the door several times and rubbed his fingers along the door jam.  “I think a little sanding right here and a re-paint and it’ll be good as new.”

Thunder rumbled overhead, shaking the windows.  Intermittent rain drops pelted the glass.

He peered at the track of the large window to the left of the entryway.  “Might need some tightening.”

She threw a playful punch at his shoulder.  “Critical much?  You talk like the house is falling apart.”

“I just think the place on Church Street would’ve been better for you.”

“It was sweet of you to look at it for me, but it was a condo.  No privacy at all.”

“But it was in town.”

“This is only twenty minutes away.”

He opened his mouth, but then closed it again.  “May we continue the tour?”

She nodded.  “Follow me, then.”  She led him into the kitchen.  She expected him to comment on the worn finish of the cabinet doors or the discolored laminate counter tops, but he said nothing.  When he saw the guest bathroom, he let the missing drain stopper go without comment.  The smallish guest bedrooms drew not even a murmur of criticism.

“So what do you think?” Bernadette asked when they circled back to the front door.

“It’s perfect for you, Birdie.”

Something in the smile he gave her, or the wistful tone of his voice, made her cheeks color.  “You know I want your honest opinion.”

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‘Awkward Amy’ (Fiction)

Perfect reading tree (in my opinion!)
Perfect reading tree (in my opinion!)

Amy rolled onto her side, the foam inside her vinyl-covered bean bag chair squeaking as she moved. She flipped another page in her book, anxious to find out if the rumor of Tiffany cheating on Brad was true.

“You should be outside, it’s a beautiful day.”

Amy glanced at her mom standing in her doorway.  “No thanks.  This is a really good book.”

“Go play with your friends.  You sit around the house too much.”

“I don’t want to.”  I don’t have friends, and twelve-year-olds don’t play, she wanted to say.

“You’re not going to spend the whole summer inside.”  She motioned toward the front door.  “Go on.”

Amy contemplated arguing, but could see by her mom’s folded arms that it was no use.  “Fine.  I’ll get my bike.”

With a satisfied nod, her mom turned and retreated toward the kitchen.

As soon as her mom’s footsteps faded, she tucked the book into the front of her khaki shorts and pulled her baggy t-shirt over her hips.  “Be back in a while,” she called as she slipped out the front door.  She rolled her bike out of the side gate and thought a little prayer that she would make it to the park without anyone seeing her.  Several streets away, she spotted four blonde heads and knew her luck had run out.

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Character Says, “Like Me Or Not, You Have To Believe Me”

Just one week after I publicly committed to do one writing-related post per week, I contemplated handing this post over to life.  Life is still unruly, and I’ve been struggling with my first character development for novel #2, which I’m writing in the form of a short story.  I’ve left and came back to it several times over the last two weeks, but couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with it. 

On Tuesday, I read a post by Hilary Clark titled, “Conflict is Change”.  As the title suggests, the post discussed how novels need conflict, but conflict isn’t always a confrontation between people.  A change of any kind can be conflict, too. 

This post got me thinking about character motivation.  I know it sounds like a stretch, but conflict and motivation are tied together by a thin thread (kind of like my patience and sanity.)  If you think about it, character motivation drives how conflict (both internal and external,) arises and is resolved.

And there was the issue with my story.

In my short story, there was plenty of conflict between the three siblings.  The problem was that the main character’s siblings came off as self-absorbed, in an unbelievable way.  I (finally) realized that the piece missing was a clue as to why they behaved that way.  I was so focused on getting to know the main character, that I overlooked the others.

I can’t give away the story because I may post it here someday, so I’ll use another example:  A grumpy old man who yells at children playing in front of his house may not be a likeable character.  However, if we find out that the man’s wife passed away two weeks ago, we gain understanding, and possibly some sympathy.  He still may not be likeable, but there is an explanation, other than “he’s a just a jerk,” so his behavior is more believable (and tolerable).

I may not always write a likeable character, because, well, it can be fun to write a despicable one and watch him (her) stumble.  But the characters must be believable because believable is relatable – and if readers can identify with an aspect of the character’s personality, then they might just keep reading to the end.

Have you ever not finished reading a story or novel because of ‘unbelievable’ characters?

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Evolution of a Story (and Me)

It was around the beginning of November when it first occurred to me to write a story for my older son with him as the main character.  I imagined writing this story and giving it to him for Christmas.  I pictured his smile as he saw his name on the pages of the ‘book.’ 

Then I came back to reality:  I’m not a middle-grade, or even a young adult writer.  I write mysteries and fiction for adults.  Even when I reminded myself of this, I couldn’t abandon the idea.  I knew the story had to have a scorpion in it, because he loves scorpions.  So, I started taking notes as he talked about friends at school, what he did at recess and began a rough outline for the story.

As my stories usually go, I started out using the outline, but then the story veered off path.  I became more excited about this story.  Instead of a simple mystery about a missing scorpion keychain (that he has on the zipper of his backpack), it became more of a spiritual story with paranormal elements.  I worked on it nearly every day, and finally completed it the week before Christmas.  I made up a simple cover, and even the ‘jacket’ blurb on the back flap, just like a real book.

Cover of Story I Wrote for My Son

The interesting thing is, that life played an important part in the core of the story – a part that wasn’t anywhere on my initial outline.  Two days before Thanksgiving, my grandma passed away.  Being eight, my older son knows what death is, but he wouldn’t talk about his feelings, and seemed embarrassed to cry about it.  In the story, my son was able to cry and confront his grief, and in a dream, ‘talk’ to his great-grandparents, who let him know they are watching over him, and are taking care of Charlie (his Betta fish that died earlier this year.)

I read the forty-five page story to him and he liked it so much, he wanted me to read it to him again right away.  I did get to see his smile as he saw his name in the book.  He read a few pages out loud and my husband commented that it sounded like my son was really telling the story (he was – it was in first person.  The mind of an eight year old is a scary place!)

This project was a departure from my normal writing, but it was a labor of love.  I have to say, his reaction to the story is the best review that I think I will ever have.  It affirms that I can tell a story that someone else can enjoy.  And it makes the query rejections (or non-responses) for my first novel feel like…nothing. 

I have also evolved; much like the story I wrote.  I’ve spent the better part of 2010 obsessing over my first novel; the edits, the revisions, the synopsis, the query letter.  As the year closes, I’m starting to accept that my novel may not fit in the mainstream.  It may not be naughty enough, shocking enough or cutting edge.  Maybe I’m not meant to be commercially published; maybe I’m supposed to do just what I’m doing now.  I don’t know, but I’ll keep my heart open and will go where my prayers lead me.

Have  you come to any realizations about your writing, or life, as you reflect upon 2010?