fiction

CNF Published in The Forge Literary Magazine!

Besides being full of excellent stories that make you feel you’re plumbing the Atlantic, The Forge is a visually stunning platform. I’m honored to have my creative nonfiction work “The Boots” published there today.

The Forge editors were some of the nicest with whom I’ve worked. When my piece was selected, I was days away from going in for brain surgery. I explained that some of my interview answers were unusual, as it was an unusual time in my life. Not only did they not delete or suggest changes for my responses, the editors were genuinely concerned for my welfare.

The questions from Sara Crowley were whimsical and fun. Bob and I took turns answering them on our last date-night before surgery. It was one of the most special times of my life, sipping champagne in the study of an 1880’s B & B laughing about our answers to questions like, “You are wallpaper; what is your pattern?”

The questions from editor Sommer Schafer were deep and challenging. They bade me take a closer, more analytical look at my writing strategies, many of which flow unconsciously from the fountain of literature I’m constantly drinking.

I hope you enjoy “The Boots.” I am no longer six years old, but that wounded six-year-old sometimes has a hold on me. When I write about her, she becomes both immortal (in a sense) and mortally wounded.

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fiction

Invaluable Writing Advice: Part II

Richie Billing

Not long ago I put together a post sharing some invaluable writing advice offered by award-winning novelist, Colum McCann in his book, Letters to a Young Writer. But I’d only made it halfway through at the time, so I thought I’d share some further insights from the second half.

Fail, fail, fail

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‘Fail’, ‘failing’, ‘failure’, they’re all such nasty, negative words. There is nothing wrong with failing. It allows us to identify our weaknesses, fuels us with determination to next time succeed. Failure is an inevitable part of the process, but it’s an invaluable part. Embrace it, learn from it, use it.

For many writers, the feeling of failure hits home when you receive rejection letters or emails. Many famous writers wear their rejection letters like badges of honour. Something to look back on with pride when the successes begin to mount.

 Rejection Letters P2

Read, read, read

Read P-.png

Reading is…

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Personal Journey

Unexpected Kindnesses

It’s been 2+ months since my brain surgery, and I’m clawing my way back to the level of energy I once enjoyed—happy to be thus clawing. When I am tired and things don’t get done, I smile and thank God I’m alive, that I’m here to sink into the couch after pulling a bit of weeds, here to forget my bank account number or the time of an appointment or to hit submit (oops). Everyone assures me they also forget such things, so who knows what’s to blame? My skull has a funny little dent, but with some finesse I can cover it with my hair.

Today I had an appointment with an oral surgeon. Before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I had this lesion in my mouth that wouldn’t go away. I’d searched Google and was certain I’d be dying of mouth cancer. I was just about to make an appointment with my dentist when I had another, more pressing issue…pressing on my brain. I remember Bob coming home from work one day and I was having a fit about the unfairness of it all, of having imminent brain surgery, of having to paint the uncooperative stair rails, and of then dying from mouth cancer.

I got over myself and purposed to trust God. In fact, every time I ran my tongue over the lesion I would pray and ask God to increase my trust in Him. And He humbled me again, even in this “little” mouth issue (everything is little now).

Setting: The oral surgeon’s office. First, he looks in my mouth and pronounces that it doesn’t even need to be biopsied. Yay! —no waiting to know if it’s benign. (I’ve waited quite a bit this year.) And then he asks if he should cut if off. I tell him: not if it doesn’t need to be. You know me, the minimalist. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke and all. But he says it’ll be quick and easy, and I figure I should let him since I’m in the chair already. He numbs my mouth and does his thing, which is easier than getting a cavity filled. Then he says, “That’s it. No charge today.” And out he walks.

What?! Who does that? His assistant did tell me he was nice. I’d heard good things about him, but this…this brought tears to my eyes. I had walked into the office feeling anxious and praying, and I walked out in tears, thanking God for the kindness shown me.

The other unexpected blessing came from dear friends who want to bless us with a place to live while we’re between houses. What are the chances their rental would be available exactly the two weeks we’re homeless? Over tea, my friends told me God clearly aligned the dates so we can use the house, that I should thank Him, not them.

So much is going on, and I’ve neglected my blog. Sorry! But I’ve been focused on getting my manuscript agent-ready. I finally began submitting it and am in the wonderful bubble of no-response, the one where I don’t even have one rejection under my belt and am free to dream great big dreams of getting an agent with titanic clout, of seeing the movie-version of my book. I remind myself that the greats were rejected, and I will be too.

Just before my surgery, a piece of mine was accepted by The Forge Literary Magazine. It was a great feeling, especially because I had been rejected by The Forge back in 2016. It’s my own try, try again story, and I hope it will buoy me during the soul-crush of agent rejections. If you are a writer, do keep at it. Keep submitting. Every day you read and write is a day your writing’s improving. The Forge interviewed me about the piece, and I found that analyzing my writing was just as hard as writing in the first place! But it was a good exercise, and I look forward to sharing the story with you when it goes live in July.

 

 

Book Reviews

A Killed Conscience by Jordan Antonacci

Investigative journalist Emilee Weathers is hungry for the perfect story and not too particular about how she has to get it. Asked to help find new evidence for a convicted serial killer’s appeal, she heads for the mountain town of Pigeon Forge.

When she discovers the body of a recent victim, the questions come thick and fast. Has she happened upon the work of a copycat? Is the real killer still out there? And is there anybody in this neck of the woods she can trust?

Excerpt:

Beneath a starry night’s sky, Emilee and everyone at the cabin all stood around the flickering flames of a fire just in front of the trees. All were wrapped in sweaters, gloves, and scarves. Sebastian stood with his arm around Morgan; she was snuggled up under his arm with her head resting against his chest. Skylar sat in a plastic lawn chair with her legs crossed and her thumbs tapping away on her phone. Emilee and Sebastian were across from each other, on opposite sides of the fire. A bit too far to comfortably carry on a conversation, but not too far to keep them from catching each other’s eyes. James sat in the only other lawn chair, and by his feet, Emilee sat in the dirt and rocks.

After taking a gulp from his beer, Casey grabbed a flashlight, put the beam beneath his chin, and said, “So who wants to have the shit scared out of them with a scary story?” The shadows distorted his face into something wicked as he grinned wide.

“Ooh, I do. Which one?” Skylar asked.

“Good question, Sky. I’m thinking,” he took another sip, “since Emilee is about to interview the psychopath, why don’t we hear about VDK?”

“Okay, maybe now isn’t the best time to be telling this story,” Sebastian said.

“What? We’ve got the location, the night, the cold, a fire… and the potential for the killer to be set free soon. What more could you ask for?”

Sebastian let his head fall back as he groaned.

Casey began before anyone else could interject: “Five years ago, there was a girl by the name of Kayla Lawrence. Twenty years old, bubbly personality, all around beautiful girl. Two nights before Christmas, she went to sleep in her home. The next morning, when her parents stopped by, Kayla was nowhere to be seen. Her family quickly reported her missing, and after investigation, police found no sign of forced entry, no sign of a struggle, no sign of foul play whatsoever. It was like aliens had just come down and—boop—plucked her straight from the face of the Earth.”

Sebastian tried waving the story away. “Okay, that’s enou—”

“A couple months later, it was Valentine’s Day. The girl’s name was Luna McBeth. That night, she’d gone to a club downtown with some of her friends. It was almost midnight when she told her friends goodbye and left by herself. Security cameras showed her leaving the club and walking across the street to the parking lot… but she never reached her car. The next day, it was still sitting in that parking lot, locked. Just like Kayla, Luna had vanished without a single trace.”

“Dun dun dunnn,” Sebastian interrupted loudly, making a few people jump.

“It wasn’t long before police connected the two, based solely on identity,” Casey continued. “Both girls were young, petite, black hair, Caucasian.” Casey looked up at Emilee. “Kind of like Emilee… Anyway, almost two years later, some foreigners were hiking through these mountains when one stepped onto a ‘very soft patch of dirt’ that turned out to be the decaying corpse of Luna McBeth. Not far from her, another body was found that wasn’t ever identified. And just like that, the Valentine’s Day Killer was born.”

“Oh wow,” Morgan said.

Following the story was a quiet that arrived and threatened to stay. No one could seem to find the words to make it leave.

Then, there was a sound. So soft, yet so deafening in that silence. Everyone went stiff—stiff like a group of cadavers. They each exchanged looks with slightly widened eyes.

“What was that?” Morgan’s voice was brittle.

The noise had come from the dark flooding the trees of those woods. Sounded like the subtle snapping of a dry twig. Seemed like everyone was hoping to let the gripping moment pass… until it came back to grab them once more.

About the Author:

Jordan Antonacci and I “met” when we were both on the prowl for beta readers. I read a few of Jordan’s posts, and his prose was so gripping I knew his book would be an incredible read. I was not disappointed. You can get to know Jordan by following his blog.

Want to get to know Jordan better?
fiction

You Call It Coffee

I don’t get it. You never took the covers before. You never minded about my snoring, about my restless legs. I peek at you with one eye. Your long hair fans out against my pillow. Your perfumed shampoo claws my nostrils. Do I complain? No.

“Out!” You give me the shout-and-shove. “Your breath stinks,” you say. This is how our mornings go. I don’t usually swear, but you’re a… B. Not the kind that stings, either. Who’s the one who always apologizes first? Me. Who initiates the snuggling? Me. Who licks you, head to toe? And not once have you licked me back. Not once.

I suddenly feel like a shag carpet. Like I’m your carpet and I put up with your shh—nanegans.

Even though I’m mad, I won’t use fowl language. I’m no parakeet.

I do everything for you. You throw the ball. I fetch it. You throw it. I—aha! Almost got sidetracked.

Did it ever occur to you, I’d like to throw the ball for once? That I’d like the whole bed to myself? I’ve got half a nerve to thrust my back legs into your doughy flesh and launch you onto the floor. And your landing wouldn’t be nimble, like mine.

Next time you bark at me and shove me to the floor, I just may take a chomp out of that legbone of yours. I’ve been asking for a new bone for what—a month? I could linger on a femur for days, months, even. I could let myself out through the doggie door, drink from the goldfish pond.

I’d be my own best friend.

I could snap. Snap at that pulsing jugular and tear it like tissue before you take your first sip of that malodorous crud you call coffee.

Written for April’s Zeroflash flash fiction contest. 

Personal Journey

Post Brain Surgery: 75%

Today is exactly one month since I had my surgery, and I’m getting better every day. I nap most days, and I tire easily. Pre brain surgery, a favorite activity was walking our German Shepherd mix. I’m still not up for a stroll, even around the block. You can imagine how fat my dog is getting. I still spend lots of time in my recliner chair, but I try also to sit on the couch. Imagine feeling accomplished after sitting on a couch for your morning tea. Or after a shower for that matter. A shower’s right up there with HIIT routines. I only recently stopped needing to lay down immediately after, which is good because the sheets got all wet.

Another accomplishment is not getting sick every time I ride in a car. Even after getting the green light to drive, the motion made me feel queasy. That’s gone, and I can do errands with Gabe. I drive; he gets out and does the errands.

People always want to know if my head hurts. Believe it or not, it often feels fine. Tight is the adjective I use to describe the feeling at my wound site. Tory pointed out that tight is better than loose. Yes. Must keep that stuff inside. So long as I don’t bend over (no yoga for a while and I can’t even imagine headstands), I’m ok. Pain and/or exhaustion tell me when to stop.

Speaking of exhaustion, yesterday I got to attend my daughter’s graduation from Youngstown University. As a homeschool mom, I get super proud when my kiddos accomplish academic feats. Tory’s ceremony was special because she’s the first one of my children to “walk.” I love that we could celebrate this achievement with her. The ceremony was delightful; the bleacher seats, not so much. I almost caved and went to the car, where I had a comfy pillow and blanket. Staying for the ceremony: HIIT routine. And so worth it.

Last weekend we had a delightful visit with our PA family, and though I wasn’t up for joining them at the Cheesecake Factory, they brought back cheesecake. This weekend I can sit in Panera and write this post. See the progress! Gabe is at church and we live too far to go home, thus the sitting in Panera with a ginger mint tea.

I even went to church this morning. A gentleman commented that Bob left me at the top of the parking hill. It was a beautiful day, so why weren’t we walking together? This tells me I don’t look like 75% of a person, which is good. I explained that Bob didn’t want me to walk down the Incan temple stairs that connect the church with the lower parking level because I had a… you know. Then I told him.

What I really have to share with you (again) is how grateful I am for God’s care during this time. I had the best brain tumor experience a person can possibly have. I have beautiful friends and family who loved me extravagantly. We receive meals almost every day, which is the hugest help ever. My family has enjoyed some amazing food. They’re glad I’m on my way to well, but no doubt they’ll miss the culinary talent of our meal train.

So that’s my update. Thank you for praying!

Though [a man] may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. – Psalm 37:24

 

 

 

fiction, Homeschool Life

Announcing the Winners of the 5000 Words Creative Writing Contest

It was during my 5000 Words Writing Class that I first heard the news about my brain tumor. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to focus during the weeks leading up to my surgery. I let some things go, like this announcement.

The stories that follow were written by my students, all of whom receive/endure a workshop critique and (are supposed to!) thoroughly revise their work. The final drafts are posted to WordPress, and students vote for the winners anonymously.

Our literature selection was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. If you are at all familiar with Crane’s extravagant use of imagery, you’ll see he left his mark on my students. I couldn’t be more delighted. I, too, found myself writing Crane-ish posts like this one.

For the first time, we had a tie for 1st place. The Steyer sisters wowed everyone, and 2nd place went to Rachel Carpenter. Congratulations! Click on the titles to read the winning stories.

1st Place TIE: Love and War & The Unknown

“Love and War” by Katelyn Steyer (10th grade)

Here’s what Katelyn had to say: Reading is a favorite hobby of mine. Every time I open a new story I begin a new adventure, entering a different world full of exciting tales waiting to be unfolded as the pages turn. This year I got to experience the brutality of war through the eyes of Henry in the novel The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I was inspired by Crane’s descriptive and beautiful writing to create a war story of my own. And I hope you’ll enjoy reading my story Love and War as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

“The Unknown” by Ella Steyer (8th grade)

Ella is fourteen years old and the second oldest of six kids. She has participated in soccer since she was young. Another hobby of hers would be reading, but before she started the 5000 Words Writing Class, she’d never been interested in creating the stories. Now, however, she thrives to better her writing with each piece and could even see herself making a career with it in the future.

2nd Place “The Path” by Rachel Carpenter (11th grade)

Ultimately, all fifteen students were winners because they bettered themselves as writers and learned to be more discriminating readers. I am grateful to my students for their many kind words and gestures.

 And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
― Sylvia Plath

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. – James 1:17