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

 Failure P2.png

‘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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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. 

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

 

fiction

Fiction: The Colonel’s Last Wish

In the bombed-out shell of a Starbucks cafe, he sat at a buckling and tilted table. What the colonel wouldn’t give for a green-smocked barista right now. A US Army truck painted over with his familiar insignia passed by, likely headed to the dump. Halfheartedly, he returned salute, then covered his nose. The dead Americans stank.

A familiar voice whispered, “You have one more wish.”

“I know.” He was afraid to say more. He’d already been tricked into wasting two wishes.

***

“I wish we had more recruits,” The colonel had mumbled. To himself. Barely aware of the vaporous and negligently-clad genie behind him. All he did was tap the kettle spout on the relic that had mysteriously appeared on the desk. No one saw who left it. The colonel’s words were barely out when a crowd of youths showed up, eager to don the newest nuclear plastique vests and pay the highest price.

Next, it wasn’t even a wish, just wishful thinking. “Oh, that they’d all fall– every major city…” The new recruits departed in unison, waited till all were ready. A thousand magic-controlled minds depressed the igniters… boom.

Thankfully, the colonel was in the underground bunker when it happened, else he might have wished himself dead. Everything good was gone. How could he tell the genie he wanted it back, just, sans Americans? What did he want with cornfields and rural towns of gun-toting Republicans? The colonel wanted the cities, the nightlife. The Starbucks. The pretty young baristas.

But these genies, they were black souls. They sneaked up on you and gave you exactly what you asked for, not what you wanted.

All the colonel wanted was a cup of espresso. “Can I wish for more wishes?”

“You know the answer to that.”

He spat at the genie’s feet.

 

 

fiction

Last Touch

A tire spun, the one not furrowed by speed and thrust. Smoke wheezed from the buckled steel hood. Engine guts, half-erupted and splattered with oil, steamed in glossy, iridescent blackness. Beside his twitching foot lay an unwrapped breakfast sandwich. The smells of sausage, cologne, and sharp copper ghosted the car, floated out the broken windows, past the craggy blades. If his eyes worked, they would still see McDonald’s in his rear-view mirror. They had looked, in fact, cost him precious reaction time. That, plus a novice driver’s penchant for overzealous turning.

A deer in the road. Nothing had ever been so surprising. A deer. Right there. Where a second before had been open road.

He took the wheel too hard over and flipped the Subaru his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. Dumb luck his side hit the pole. The last thing John saw was wood grain, dark and deep like the lines on his mother’s eyes. And some rusty staples. A triangle-shaped scrap still clinging to one. He had time to recognize Death. First his skull hit the glass window, then the telephone pole.

John’s focus had been behind him, on McDonald’s drive-through. Even as he fished in the bag for the breakfast sandwich, he glanced behind and conjured her. Emma had said, “For you,” kissed it, and dropped it in the bag. “Pay me later.” She winked. The feathery touch of her hand as they passed the bag would be the last physical thrill John would know. As he gazed dreamily in his rear-view mirror, it was her face he saw, her lips against the paper wrapping.

John couldn’t wait to devour that sandwich. But when the unbending glass and wood splinters entered him, it was Death who laughed and opened his arms for a sweet embrace.

This flash fiction was inspired by the weekly Microcosms prompt/contest.

 

fiction

Fiction: Tight Flight

I pressed the call button. Pinned to my window seat by the slumped behemoth of a man, it was the only thing I could do. His flesh oozed beyond the arm rest, assaulting my left thigh with an intimate, maddening pressure. His body heat passed through his polyester pants, through my jeans and ignited a wick of claustrophobia. Wasn’t there a weight restriction on standard seats? If he could afford sustenance to maintain nether regions the size of Russia, he could afford a first-class seat that would contain them.

First-class’s seat tray could not be put down, for obvious reasons, so First-class had the plastic cup wedged between his legs, which he spread well into my section, as defined by the invisible, but no less real and authoritative line that extended from the end of his seat into the seats in front of us. First-class let out an animal grunt, snapped his gargantuan legs closed, cracking the plastic cup and spilling soda all over the seat and floor. His head lolled, unfortunately toward me, and there remained. Eyes closed. Mouth open.

The seat belt sign was on, so I guessed that explained the absence of the blue-clad flight angel who should appear instantaneously, lean over the seat and ask in hushed, soothing tones, “Can I help you?”

Not like I hadn’t tried to rouse the sleeping leviathan myself. When that didn’t work I pressed the button. Seven times. It was moderately aerobic because I’m short and the ceiling buttons were just beyond my reach. Weren’t flight attendants handsomely paid to defy turbulence and saunter the tiny, lurching aisles like runway models?

Ten minutes later, still, no attendant.

First-class roused and swung the arm rest up, unleashing the full scope of his girth. I all but vanished.

This flash won community pick in Microcosms and was loosely inspired by my friend, Nancy.