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The Perks of Galactic Transport

Uncle Asbestos brings me presents when his tour is done. There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.

He removes his helmet with a wry smile and dramatic sloth.

My fidgeting betrays my impatience.

He inside-outs his pockets and a slew of my favorite tiny, multi-colored creatures fall out. I squeal. We play with them until they run out of battery life. Uncle says I just need to let them recharge. I suggest hooking them up to a v-tube to see if they’d stay animated longer, but he laughs. “It would blow them right up, little one. Just enjoy them while you can. I’ll get more next time.”

“Where do they come from?” I ask as I toss the wiggling creatures into the air and catch almost all of them. Their noise reminds me of the frantic whirring of tine bugs, pests that nest in the humidors. Uncle says the toys are made of calcium. Can you imagine? No wonder they break so easily.

At school, I pull them out of my pocket and dump a pile of them on the lunch table. They try to scrabble away, but we make a corral out of trays and silverware. I’m the envy of all the kids.

“I wish my uncle was a galactic transporter.”

“Me too.”

All my friends agree Uncle Asbestos has the coolest job ever. I get the best gifts.

Suddenly, a loud sound (for them) issues from one. Then it loses all animation.

“Careful.” I rebuke my friend. “You squeezed it too hard.”

“Sorry. Can I keep it? It’s broken anyway.”

“Yes, but not too long. They stink once the batteries go.”

My friend tweezes the limp, pinkish creature with four appendages and one dense tuft of fur. “So strange…where’s your uncle get these again?”

“Earth.”

This flash was inspired by Microcosms, a weekly flash fiction contest, and was first runner-up. I had to incorporate this sentence into the piece: There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.

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on writing

I Resolve, Therefore I Am

…going to get this life under complete control. That’s what I tell myself between Christmas and January, the only time I ever think about making a standard work list that includes a time slot specifically devoted to chopping vegetables and organizing the fridge.

Here’s how resolution delusion plays out: Starting January 2nd, I’m going to find myself suddenly shirking cake balls and Boursin cheese—and, desperate for snap peas, I’ll handily pluck some out of the sanitized cold box that has a method inside there. All because I resolved. I’ll be popping radishes and snacking on seaweed.

The way things work now is I go to the store after the obligatory quota of there’s-no-food-in-the-house! rants. My sons fry pepperoni, use up all the eggs, and when they’re really desperate they open the freezer and cook something. I know it’s almost time to go shopping when that happens. The actual time is the moment we run out of heavy cream or coffee.

2018. I honestly don’t even know how to frame it. I’ve been a student of calamity (I’ll thank you, March, for my brain tumor) and valedictorian of the Rocky Balboa School of Right Hooks (I’ll thank you for the querying process on my debut novel).

But heck, let’s remember the high points. I just went through my most recent notebook, in which I wrote goals and thoughts. In 2017 I had a story rejected by a local literary journal. That same (revised) story was published in a sci-fi anthology. And the local journal nominated a different piece for Best Small Fictions 2019. Progress! Two years ago a paying lit journal rejected one of my stories, and in 2018 accepted one. My work is presently knocking at the doors of two crazy-selective lit mags. This means I’m more likely to get rejected. Each time I get rejected, I re-examine the piece, edit if necessary (it always is), and send it out again. That’s the Rocky Balboa School of Right Hooks. You keep getting up. Keep submitting.

In November, I wrote a 50 paragraph “short” story for Owl Canyon’s Hackathon. They gave paragraphs 1 and 25 and asked writers to supply the rest (and match the tone of course). I thought it would be a fun, like a puzzle. Walt Whitman didn’t break that much of a sweat penning “Leaves of Grass.” As the hours in-craft stretched into double digits, I consoled myself I could win the prize because no one else was crazy enough to attempt such literary alchemy. Last year they had north of 900 entries—just found that out as I wrote this. Excuse me while I claw out my eyeballs.

Hope’s a funny thing. It’s not rational. But neither is thinking I’m going to get a handle on my veggies in 2019. Still, I’m resolving. You probably are too. Here’s to some of them sticking in 2019 and one piece of advice. Make resolutions you can control. Example: I will get either 100 rejections or an agent in 2019 vs. I will get an agent in 2019. I cannot control whether or not an agent signs me, but I can decide on how many attempts I’ll make. Likewise, I can’t control how organized the fridge is (I have teenage sons, after all), but I can decide to roll up my sleeves every six months or so and get in there and organize. Happy New Year!

 

Personal Journey

Day of Words: Christmas

November 23 was designated the International Day of Words, by the Fundación César Egido Serrano to promote “the word as a bond of humanity, against any violence.” What can mere words do, you ask, against any violence? Being a lover of words, I believe they can do great wonders.

Consider the words of Christmas.

Peace. Merry. Bright. Shining. Give. Happy. Love. Light. Noel. Christmas is a season of words. The words we share are warm and loving; they wrap us in a common spirit of hope and renewed wonder. On this day we speak and think words of peace. We try to right wrongs, to balance the scales of circumstance with donations and gifts. Wherever we perch on the continuum of humanity, on Christmas we find ourselves sliding toward the benevolent. All but the Scroogiest of us.

Every religion agrees: the words that get traction in our minds, they define us. Religion is often about getting the best words to stick. Words bind or separate; they are the sharpest of knives. Words heal if in a physician’s hands, but in hands of a thug, they cut.

Here are some less obvious Christmas words: In the beginning was the Word (it’s capitalized by the ancients), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Why is Jesus called the Word? Why not the painting? The voice? The music?

Because words, once set down, last. I tell this to my students to get them to write and to write more carefully. For me, Christmas is the Day of the Word. What happened on Christmas parallels what happened in my heart. One day roughly twenty years ago, the Word came to dwell in a webby, splintered place that smelled faintly of manure. It was the best present I ever received. It was always there for the taking, but I had to reach out and accept. Each Christmas I’m thankful all over again.And now, some Christmas words for you, my friends and family. May you get the best gifts, the ones that don’t break or fall out of fashion. May the season be full of words that hug your soul and make you smile. xoxo – Kelly

Homeschool Life

Congratulations Fall 2018 Contest Winners!

Each session, 5000 Words culminates with a peer-judged writing contest. Our last few classes are devoted entirely to workshops, which are the faves of mine and my students. After surviving the gauntlet of peer critique (in which the writer must remain absolutely silent), students polish and edit their stories to a brilliant shine. Why silent, you ask? Because if it’s not on the page, it doesn’t matter. Since the author can’t sit on the reader’s shoulder filling in all the things they meant to say, everything has to be on the page. It has to be clear. Confusion is the death knell of a story. So we sit around and tell what confuses. Or what works. Or we give ideas. Those are the best. I love seeing a story go nuclear because of suggestions in our workshop.

At the end of the critique, students get a chance to answer a few of the charges, but they know audience perception is more important than what they meant to say. A two-inch-thick stack of hardcopy critiques and as much time as they’re willing to devote is the revision program. They post their shined-up stories to their WordPress sites and anonymously vote for their favorites. I am proud of ALL my students’ stories. The magic is in the revisions. Click the titles to read some dazzling romance, sci-fi, and drama.

First Place – Finally Home by Katelyn Steyer

Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past four years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.

Second Place – The Implant by Ethan Zabka

Ethan Zabka is 13 and in 8th grade. He enjoys writing, especially scary, tension-filled stories. Other hobbies of his include basketball, soccer, and piano. He also enjoys spending time with friends and family. He loves math and wants to pursue a career in engineering.

Third Place – Year of Change by Rachel Carpenter

Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. Dance is her passion and career choice but has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on the mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.

Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share…Lion or Gazelle?

Sometimes I slug the coffee down. Sometimes I sip. Depends on what I’m trying to achieve.

What’s on my mind as I wrap my hands around a steaming mug of superhero? Lions and gazelles. I’ve got Africa fever lately. My sister lives there. My husband’s going there. I just put an Africa-shaped blood stain in one of my stories.

Lions and gazelles. They see each other and a chase begins. Both run as fast as they possibly can. They’re pushing their limits, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. One has to eat to survive. One has to survive, to survive. They have so much in common, the lion and the gazelle.

You’re wondering why I’m going all philosophical on you? I’ve no idea.

So which are you, a lion or a gazelle?* (Truthfully, there’s a third option, hyena. Hope you’re not one of those.)

Like so many people, I made some poor choices in my formative years. Doesn’t that sound benign? Poor choices, formative years. You can tell how old a person is by whom they blame for their imperfections. Under twenty, parents. Twenties and thirties, spouse. Forties, fifties, and beyond, the actual culprit.

For the longest time, I saw myself as a gazelle running to escape my failures. I was running from who-knows-what to who-knows-where, and it was exhausting. The shine of my accolades wore off too soon. My failures loomed like the HOLLYWOOD sign over the valley of my life.

When I mutated from a gazelle to a lion, I don’t know. But I did. Thank God, I did.

You know you’re a lion when the taste of gazelle is enough to get you to sprint. Any time, any day. The only reason the gazelle runs is because she’s being chased. The lion runs because she’s hungry. If you know me at all, you know what drives me, what my personal gazelle looks like.

The gazelle is running away from something and the lion is running toward something.

People who are running toward something can actually get there. People who are running away from something only live to see another anxious day. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. They die with their song still inside them.”

Sing before you die, Kelly. Or roar. I seriously tell myself these things.

Not that it’s easy street for Lions. 1 in 8 survive to adulthood. I wish the survival odds were that good for writers who want to publish.

The coffee is gone. It’s a chugging sort of day. Till next week, friends. 🙂

*I’m serious. I’d love to know. Lion or gazelle?

 

Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share

Just as I took my first sip of hazelnut roast with heavy cream, the retirement club arrived at Panera. Judging by the volume of their voices, they’re a bunch of bingo callers. Actually, they’re adorable, and I hope I have friends like that when I’m white-haired. Heck, I hope I live to be white-haired. Still. I have to move away. I smile as I do, so they know I’m not offended. My hot pink and yellow earplugs just aren’t cutting it at this range. ADHD? I’ll look it up later and diagnose myself.

How do you like your coffee? Be careful how you answer that question in this charged culture. On Saturday morning I read a blogger who made the statement: Donald Trump didn’t teach us to hate; he just made hate fashionable. I’ve been pondering that, as well as several other assertions from my blogging friend. Many groups have had their fashionable day: Jews, Commies, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, Japs, Jews. And Jews.

White men, it’s just your turn, is all. This too shall pass.

It’s at this point you pat my mug-holding hand and tell me to stop. Just, stop.

I get the hint and we change the subject to safer things, like kids. On Saturday Gabe had a swim meet. Can I tell you how much I love to watch him swim? He’s a monster. He swam the 200 freestyle and 100 Fly, as well as both A relays.

On Sunday, Bob and the team going to Africa were called up to the stage. I’m excited because I get to live vicariously through them, a writer’s preferred way to experience life. They’re building a church shelter in the “bush,” which means they get to sleep under the stars for a few nights. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Supposedly the mosquitos won’t be bad this time of year. How about the lions? How are they? (See why I’m your best vicarious team member?) “I volunteer as tribute.” Said I, never.

Which is why I’m humbled and inspired by those who are willing to sacrifice vacation, money, and whatever it takes to love people. Thanks, Eclectic Ali, for helping me find my voice. I’ve got a ways to go, but it’ll happen. I’ll just keep showing up and hope you do too. xoxo

Personal Journey

If We Were Having Coffee…

…we’d be sitting in Panera because my son has Psychology at the local community college, and I drive him. It’s his first time taking a class, and he alternately loves and hates it. I put him there for two reasons: 1. Psychology is interesting, and 2. I’ll take any opportunity to get him off the couch for a subject.

Because I’m a homeschool mom and no matter how hard I try, I elicit minimal motivation from my kids, which is why Gabe finds himself under the tutelage of a woman who’s been teaching Psychology 101 longer than he’s been alive. So far so good.

I love the mornings I’m “forced” to grab coffee at Panera. Funny thing is, I keep moving around to get away from people talking to each other and talking on phones because I crave silence. So, if we were having coffee together, I’d likely be running away from you, paradoxically.

I’ve enjoyed the coffee posts of Russell Mercer, which is why I’ve decided to give it a go. That, and I get an itch to blog every once in a while. What stops me is my obsessive need to edit and my doubly-obsessive need to write fiction. I’d take a sip of my hazelnut/dark roast mix and tell you I’m in love with my WIP and am actively searching for an agent, which is to say I’m in a level of hell between where cats go who eat plants and where dogs end up who steal food from counters.

Because it stopped raining for a few seconds on Sunday, my husband and I (and everyone else in Northeastern Ohio) took a walk. Whenever a dog passes by we have a dogzaster, which is Abbott, yanking and barking his head off and scrambling for purchase while Bob holds his feet a few inches off the ground so that he’s actually pawing air, thus saving the other dog from annihilation. You’re welcome, little kitten-dog.

I took a jog through the park on Saturday and the beauty distracted me from the pain in my quads. When you look at the picture above, you can see why. Creation is magnificent. (As is the hottie holding the leash.)

I hope you enjoyed your coffee. Next week we’ll have it with heavy cream. That sounds like it’ll be a heavy conversation and I admit many of my posts could begin Father forgive me, for I have sinned… but I’m going to try to remember we’re having coffee, not shots. Thanks, Eclectic Alli, for getting the coffee and conversation brewing.