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.

Advertisements
fiction

Better Than Candy: Bite-size Halloween Stories

My friend Cyndi gave me the idea to showcase some of the Halloween stories I received from the flash contest. Enjoy these bite-sized stories from Ethan Zabka, Anna Marsick, and Cynthia Hilston.

The Last Halloween 

By Ethan Zabka

“This is going to be awesome!” My friend Jeremy exclaimed. ” It’s going to be the greatest Halloween ever!”

“I agree; let’s make it the best,” I replied. After I donned my Dr. Frankenstein costume, we left.

It was a warm evening. Kids were everywhere, shouting and observing their prizes. The sunset was beautiful, an explosion of pink and yellow in the sky.

The first 5 houses we visited were generous, giving us Hershey bars and King-Sized Reese’s. As we were strolling, we came across a hideous creature, who fell in step with us after Jeremy remarked how he completed my Frankenstein apparel. The monster’s makeup was almost perfect, and his yellow eyes glimmered in the dusk. He wasn’t talkative, just keeping in step with me and munching on chocolate.

Soon, the moon came out, often hidden by dark clouds scudding across the sky. A chilly wind started to blow, and rain sprinkled down. Jeremy departed for home, tired. The monster and I kept on, gathering candy.

I left the monster when I realized the time. I would have to take the shortcut through the woods to make it home before midnight.

I was nearly home when I bumped into something large.

It wasn’t a tree.

The monster-man.

A lightning flash divulged a ragged rip in his cloak, revealing a mottled chest, metal pieces poking from green flesh. The sight paralyzed me with fear.

He was real.

Thunder boomed like artillery fire. I screamed as he seized me and hissed, “Curse you, Frankenstein! You have come back from the grave to cause me anguish!”

“But Frankenstein-”

“All who bear the name Frankenstein deserve to die, to have no happiness here!” His eyes blazed with rage as the thunder crackled. “I end this once and for all!”

I felt his fingers close around my neck.

Love Wins

By Anna Marsick

*Ping* goes my phone. I lay on my bed, pillow sodden with tears. I flip over, refusing to acknowledge that deplorable dimwit who sources my rueful feelings. One minute I’m in love, the next I’m drowning in my tears. I still can’t believe he didn’t take me to homecoming because he had to work out. I hate relationships.

*Ping* I roll my eyes, ignoring it and muttering, “Not accepting apologies today, buddy. Go flirt with your dumbbells. They’re probably smarter than me anyway.”  Suddenly, I hear a *thunk, thunk, THUD* at my window. Spooked, I spring off my bed.

“Oww!” I scream-whisper, creeping to the window, seizing a pink slipper that will protect me from the predator who’s summoned me. Heart pounding, I cautiously peer out of my window into the gloomy night and am greeted by a rock hitting my forehead. “Stand down!” I yelp, “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to strike!”

“Hi, Baby! Come out here!” replies the hooligan. “What in the? Myles? What are you… never mind. Go away.” I begin to shut my window as he bellows, “Wait! I’m sorry. I’m a bad boyfriend. Let me make it up to you. Please. Come out here, dance with me under the stars. I made a playlist and brought a dress for you… I love and care about you.”

“That’s cute. Bye,” I say, shaking my head and preparing to retreat. I steal one last glance at his face. Aw man. The pleading gaze in his eyes causes me to cave in. I gingerly climb out of my window, into his arms. Expeditiously, I slip into the dress, and we become one under the stars… united in rhythm. As we sway to the music, he murmurs, “I love you.” I love relationships.

Credit: Jean-Philippe Delberghe

Halloween Date Night 

By Cynthia Hilston

The elusive they say opposites attract. Herman didn’t know who they were.
He looked over his phantom face in the mirror. The stitches holding his smile broke. Rotten teeth were a turn-off for most women.
“What sort of zombie puts a profile on a dating site?”
It was done on a dare. Who says the undead can’t have a life? Ed, ever a charmer and a drunk in this half-afterlife, told Herman he would be happier if he went out more. Halloween was coming. She would think Herman was a brilliant costume.
This she was as elusive as the they who made ridiculous claims like opposites attract.
Herman pulled up to her house in his 1966 Chevy on Halloween. She glowed with the setting sun as she stepped outside like an angel meant to take him to Heaven.
Heaven isn’t for zombies who eat brains, even reformed zombies, thought Herman. If he had a beating heart, it would have thumped out of his tattered chest beneath his new clothes.
“The clothes,” said Ed, “were important. You can’t go around looking completely dead.”
His already rigid body stiffened as he remembered his manners, exited the car, and opened the passenger door.
The light of Heaven shone down with her smile. “Happy Halloween…Herman.”
“Hello, Brenda.” He shouldn’t have gorged on a stray cat’s brains before coming here, a chunk of grey matter lodged in his throat. “Where to?”
“You look like a vintage kinda guy. There’s a malt shop in town. You know it?”
He nodded.
A little while later, they shared a table and a strawberry shake. She leaned into him and took his hand. He twitched, trying to pull away.
Yet she was as cold as him.
She giggled. “Don’t worry, Herman. It’s Halloween. This is all a costume.”

 

fiction

Published! My Alien Perspective.

Sometimes it takes an alien perspective to show us what it means to be human.

My story, “The Outrider,” published in The Corona Book of Science Fiction, explores a paradoxical culture that condemns a cheerleader for killing her just-born baby and lauds millions of girls for walking into clinics all over the planet to achieve the same end. Can the protagonist, a teenager herself, justify the chasm of value fixed between fetus and baby? The future of the human race depends on it.

Will my story make you mad? Maybe. Will it make you think? Definitely.

I’ve read many of the other stories and can vouch: they’re worth your time. Far more delicious, less fattening, and for less than you’d spend on a Pumpkin Spice Latte, you can enjoy this fantastic collection of thought-provoking sci-fi entertainment. Many thanks to the editorial team at Corona Books UK for publishing “The Outrider.”

 

Homeschool Life

Flash Contest Winners!

How exciting to see 19 entries for what became a Halloween-themed flash fiction contest! My students regularly create a flash story as part of my class, and a good competition throws our motivation into high gear. Thank you to my blogging friends, writing friends, and friend-friends who participated and made the collection of stories diverse and compelling. I hope they were as fun for you to write as they were for me to read.

Many thanks to our judge, Laura Kennelly. I always appreciate the objectivity of blind judging (no names/credentials associated with the entries).

Laura worked as a freelance arts columnist and reporter for the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio, and served as associate editor for BACH, a scholarly journal about J. S. Bach and his circle, published by the Riemenschneider Bach Institute at Baldwin-Wallace College. At the University of North Texas, she was editor of The Avesta, the campus literary magazine, as well as an arts writer for the Campus Chat. Check out her weekly column in CoolCleveland.com.

And now…the winning flash stories:

1st Place – Stealing Hearts and Minds by Keith Kenel

Great start and funny finish. Nice dark humor. – Laura

Jane was known for stealing hearts: She also liked to collect other body parts, but hearts were her hands down favorite. She longed for romance hot as a five-alarm-fire, a boyfriend so salsa that he was off the Scoville-Chili-Pepper-Scale. Her fruitless search for a boy that swept her off her feet left Jane feeling dead and empty inside. She knew the warm, loving embrace of a custom-made-mensch was just what the cardiologist ordered, and since her search for a proper boy-born-of-woman had proven fruitless the ghoul, er girl, decided to create the perfect boyfriend, bit-by-bit and piece-by-piece.

It started innocently enough, a stolen glance, a stolen kiss, but soon Jane went from misdemeanor infractions to major felonies; breaking into hospitals and stealing dialysis patients’ kidneys, cataract sufferers’ eyeballs and tipplers’ livers. Her constructive surgery had been slow, but she finally had her golem, her synergistic masterpiece that was far greater than the sum of her stolen and quilted parts. Jane had her mensch and he was fine as frog-fur, a cover that’s known to be mighty fine.

Having leapfrogged over obstacles, tonight she and her made-man Verde Greenia were stepping out for the first time. She’d selected a romantic French restaurant that featured spécialités du tuyau guaranteed to get libidinous juices flowing. The evening began with champagne and oysters-on-the-half-shell and would end with juicy-juicy-mangoes, figs and dark chocolate. Jane ordered Quiche Lorraine while Verde selected cerveaux.

Verde was perfectly attentive, a boy literally made to order, and dinner was sublime. Dinner was sublime that is until the main course arrived. It was then that Verde grunted, “Brains!” and lopped off the top of Jane’s head and devoured her cerveuax, proving once again that no matter how charming the zombie, brains are always at the top of his mind.

2nd Place – Halloween Love by The Dark Netizen

I liked the irony of the “same time next year” set up and the “potential tooth decays.” – Laura

I sat in the diner, looking out of the nearest window.

The street was bustling with activity. I could see all sorts of weird monsters and creatures of terror roaming about. After all, it was Halloween night, and everyone had something to do. The children were scurrying about in their cute costumes, angling for as many potential tooth decays as they could. The adults were party hopping, all gussied up in the sexy versions of vampires, werewolves, and other famous monsters, or rather whichever costumes were available in the store.

It was almost midnight. I was extremely excited. It had been so long since I had been on a date. I knew I was looking great. The hungry stares that had followed me ever since I got out of my house were evidence enough. However, I couldn’t help but have butterflies in my stomach. I figured I would drown them with some ice cream soda. Just as the soda arrived, I noticed a figure wearing a slightly old fashioned, but expensive looking suit. My date had finally arrived.

I watched as the love of my life shuffled into the diner and made his way slowly to where I was sitting. As he approached me, he fetched out a rose from his pocket and offered it to me. He was so romantic. I took the rose from him and kissed him on the cheek.

He moaned in delight. I asked him how the year had gone for him. He moaned in response. Okay yes, I do speak zombie. Yes, the love of my life is of the undead variety. However, I loved him and he loved me. This was the only night of the year we could meet and celebrate our love.

Our Halloween Love…

3rd Place – Untitled by Ella Steyer

Nice switch from the usual POV. – Laura

My mind excelled in areas similar to these. The humans bustling from shop to shop, the fragrance of unhealthy food, and the racket of motion from every which way. The noises varied from a woman speaking with her colleague to a taxi screeching to a halt. I strolled across the hectic sidewalk, remaining near my companion. He used to be uneasy of the unknown streets, but we’ve grown fond of them. Our daily walk helped us improve together.

Of course, not all was pleasant. My companion didn’t witness the stares we received or the whispers following, but I did. Some days we walked with confidence, while others we struggled with the monumental obstacles. The world consisted of people good and bad. It wasn’t complicated to recognize the difference. On one challenging walk, a young boy pretended to trip my companion, simply to gain laughter from his friends. I growled at them until each was out of sight.

The morning of our last walk, the street was busier than usual. My mind stayed on high alert as we strolled up to the crosswalk. My companion and I started stepping across the street in a leisurely manner. All was fine; until the screeching came. The impact tore me to the ground, skidding across the concrete. The urgent voices rang out before everything went black.

The day of our last walk continuously disturbs me. My heart yearns for the kindness I found in my companion, but that morning in the bustling city was my last few moments with him. I had failed in sustaining his safety. The therapy in our relationship worked both ways. My reason in life was gone, and among it took my loving companion away from me.

Congratulations to the writers who challenged themselves to create something where before, something didn’t exist.

fiction

Book Worm*

Zahara’s jaw fell open. Her book slid off her knees and hit the floor. She scrambled for it and flipped to find her page, all the while shaking her head in denial. Page found, she pored over the words once more. Unconsciously her hand went to her throat.

Zahara let the book fall in her lap and looked around. “Is this a joke?”

The empty room didn’t reply.

Zahara turned the book over. It had the library barcode sticker and an ISBN number. It was wrapped in clear plastic to protect the hard backing, as all library books were. The author was one she’d never read before, but he came highly recommended by the librarian who’d helped her the day she picked it out.

Each time Zahara looked at the words on the page, her stomach clenched tighter, her heart beat faster. She mouthed the last line. …throat closed completely, never to open again.

“I’m allergic,” she said to no one. Her EpiPen was probably expired. It was jammed so far down in the folds of her purse, Zahara doubted she’d be able to extract it, should she be stung.

The short story was one of a collection.

The character, “Z” and her friend Tony happened on a hornet nest. It hung low in the tree, and if you climbed on the roof of Z’s trailer, you could easily hit the thing with the landscaping rocks Z’s mom had arranged around their petunias. All this Tony breathlessly told Z. In no time they had gathered an arsenal of smooth stones and put them in a heap on Z’s roof.

Tony threw first and missed. Z took a shot and it grazed the nest. A cloud of buzzing erupted, then quieted. Tony threw again. A hit. The grey pod that looked like a misshapen Christmas ball swung a little and leaked a flow of hornets.

“Your turn.” Tony said.

Some hornets buzzed angrily around them, far away as they were.

“I think they know,” Z said.

“That’s ridiculous. You chicken?”

Z was, in fact, chicken. Tony wasn’t allergic to bees. Z batted at a hornet circling her head.

As if reading her thoughts, Tony said, “You’re allergic to bees, not hornets.”

Z shrugged. No way was she throwing another rock.

“Fine. Watch this…bunch of sissy hornets.”

“Wait.” Z put up her hand, the stone still in her grip. “How do you know they’re hornets?”

“Aw, Z, you’re sucking out my fun.” Tony did a pitcher move, and the stone, a big one, hit the nest dead on, swinging it crazily and touching off a buzzing rage. A horde of pissed off hornets flew right at the girls.

As Z clambered down the ladder she felt a prickle in her shirt, in the hair at the base of her neck, then pinpricks of pain, more and more. Z screamed and tore her shirt off. Tony, still halfway down the ladder, yelled at Z to roll in the grass. Z dropped to the ground, but not in obedience. Her airway closed up. A fire began inside her throat and consumed her face, her head.

As Tony stepped off the last ladder rung, Z thrashed in the grass. Her throat closed completely, never to open again.

Zahara closed the book. “That’s exactly how it happened.”

Back in 1977, Tony had run home and got her mom to call the ambulance, just like in the book.

“But my throat did open again,” Zahara said as if she had someone to convince. She studied the book. “What’s going on?”

*This is an excerpt from a short story I’m working on. It’s doing double-duty as my assignment for 5000 Words. Our focus this week is to create tension.

fiction

Collateral

Could it only have been two hours since Devon last pushed open the glass door? That was a lifetime ago. That was when Devon dreamed a dream. When he didn’t hate banks and bankers and the soul-crushing thing called collateral. The loan officer chanted the word as if it were a talisman.

With a savage fist, Devon mopped the tears that threatened his concentration.

The black bowls housing security cameras would record Devon. He looked up and gave a toothy smile for the news tonight. The loan officer had taken Devon for a fool, took his application fee, and took his dream. Collateral…what a crock. Devon’s warehouse would be sold to some guy with collateral. Devon’s idea would die with him. But so would the old lady hunkered over a clutch purse. So would the beautiful teller with thick, painted-on eyebrows and lush lips. So would the whale-like teller with bitty glasses with thick, thick lenses. She was the one to notice. Those magnified eyes didn’t miss the sweat sheen on Devon’s skin, didn’t miss the angular bulk under his parka.

Whale-teller’s eyes opened wide with terrible understanding. Her hand scrambled to the under-desk button and got to the counter lip when Devon sprayed her with 223 Remington Hollow Points. They chewed through her, yanked her about, and in a red confetti dropped her bulk beneath the counter.

Then the screams. Devon expected them, but still. Concentration was difficult. Teller fingers frantically pushed panic buttons. The safe door was swinging closed. Devon didn’t care. That wasn’t his transaction. The banker with no brains just the word “collateral” had his hands up in the stance of desperation, head wagging, denying what his eyes told him: that Devon was about to make a grisly withdraw. Life was about to go into the red.

This was originally written for Microcosms, but it fits with my 5000 Words focus for this week, which is SHOW, DON’T TELL. My noun would be entrepreneur and my adjective would be angry. My students will get a noun and an adjective. They’ll amaze me with their showing prowess, I’ve no doubt.

 

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.