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

 

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Personal Journey

Writing: The Reach that Doesn’t Sleep or Die

I am blessed to have people who believe in me, even (and especially) when I don’t believe in myself. Like the ones who scrawled my work-in-progress in the sand while they were vacationing. We thought of you, it said. We love you, it said. I now understand why writers make such a big deal about thanking the ones who’ve helped them along the way.

Some mornings I open my email to find comments on my blog. I LOVE comments. And I try to be generous with them too, as opposed to just liking a post and skipping away (although I do that too). Recently, I woke to this gift in my inbox:

I love your style of writing—humorous, entertaining, inspirational—the way I aspire to write one day. I’ve been enjoying reading several of your posts, some old, some new—they encourage me to relax and write and not worry about things (people’s opinions) so much. Thanks for that!

In addition to giving me a smile, Mia demonstrated what I love about writing. It reaches out to people even while I sleep. Posts I wrote months or years ago don’t have an expiration date. It doesn’t matter that it’s been 23 years since I wore pillowcases into America or four years since my brain-tumor-your-van’s-broken moment. To a new friend, it’s new. King Tut, centuries dead and forgotten, was new to us when he was unearthed. Reading is archaeology without the dirt. Writing is setting down buried treasures for someone else to find.

This, I tell my students. Our minds are always changing and evolving. Our opinions (if we’re not bullheaded or hopelessly dogmatic) will change over time and with experience. Just this morning, I read about a fellow blogger’s mental evolution on diversity. His post reads like a mind map of tolerance. And I love that it’s set down for people to happen along, long after he’s moved on to other revelations.

That’s the motivation for writing my novel too. I want to put some world down on paper, set it down so people can pick it up and enter it for the first time. We’ll have a connection. I won’t even need to be awake, alive, and certainly not present—which is perfect for the introvert in me.

I happened on this picture of a barn. It looks just like the barn in my novel, which is also on a hill and has woods behind it. Trespass asks what if? What if someone was given the ability to read minds? What if she liked a certain amazing guy and wanted to know if he liked her? What if she read his mind? Imagine the chaos for a teenage girl to have access to the minds of teenage boys and the world at large.

Soon you won’t have to imagine, because I’ve written it all down…

And I’ll finish this little update with a shout out to my husband, who champions my writing and is a man of grit and steel who ever leads me to be a better, stronger version of myself.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Some bloggers reel me in—usually with a strong literary voice and brutal honesty. I’m a sucker for poetic confession. We all struggle inside ourselves, and I appreciate a writer who can fly that flag and call it fiction or essay or Dear Diary…

MrHushHush is one such blogger, so when I saw he was looking for beta readers, I jumped at the chance to swap books with someone whose work I admire. So glad I did!  

Thanks for the nomination, Jordan!

What is this Sunshine Blogger Award?

This award is given by bloggers to fellow bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

Why did you start blogging? Until blogs, the only thing I could self-publish was the yearly Christmas card. I love putting my mind on a blank page. Or is it my blank mind on a page? It’s not that I think my mind is any more interesting than the next one, but I think we can, by writing, capture our minds at various stages of life, stages we won’t ever get back again. My blog is a history, for what it’s worth.

Who is your favorite blogger? No way. Can’t choose just one.

What keeps you going and motivated? Sheer love of craft, and when that doesn’t work, YouTube videos like this one:

PS – I listen to these while peddling away on my recumbent bike. Nothing beats getting yelled at by Sylvester Stallone while you’re sweating enough to hydrate a Willow tree.

What is your weirdest habit? See above. No. I’m even weirder than that. My weirdest habit is so weird I’m going to give you my second weirdest one, which is that I allow my dog to lick the sweat off my arms and legs when I return from a long run or get off the recumbent bike.

What is your favorite cuisine? My humble beginnings don’t allow for cuisine, but I have an addiction to Mitchell’s salted caramel ice cream.

What is a personality trait you would like to change in yourself? I’d like to silence the little voice that tells me I suck.

What are the first three things you always notice in a person? How firm the handshake, how steady the eye contact, and whether they’d be a protagonist or an antagonist.

Which is the best book you have read to date? Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. A coming-of-age story about a cadet at the Citadel. Pat Conroy builds the most beautiful mind I’ve ever read. If I live to be a hundred years old, I don’t think I’ll be able to write like him. But I’ll give it a go.

How do you deal with negative comments or hurtful feedback? I curl into the fetal position for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the hit. Then I transition onto my couch, where I type out swaths of rage until my fingers and mind are numb. Then, click select all/delete. I pray and ask God to remind me of how little I am and how big He is and I do the next right thing, whatever that is. Usually, it’s laundry.

What is your goal in life? To write fiction that pulls people out of this world and provides a temporary refuge in another. But also, to write books that not only mirror the human condition but underscore how we can be the best version of ourselves.

To my nominations, I hope you’ll play along because I look forward to hearing your answers to these questions!

My Nominations:

Nancy

Nthato

Kelvin

Magarisa

Wezlo 

Keith

Russel

Peggy

Brian

Cyndi

Michael

 

 

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.

 

 

on writing, Personal Journey

The Most Dangerous Thing We Do

Once this kid—my passenger—grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it hard over while I was driving. Not just a little tug, mind you, but a full-on we-gonna-die! yank. The kind that elicited a blood-curdling scream and a shouted sermon. A 19-year old preaching car safety to a 15-year-old. This kid was all charm and immortality and sass. The car fetched and yawed but it didn’t crash into a telephone pole. He thought my fear was funny.

At age nineteen I hadn’t become comfortable yelling at people. That’s why the moment sticks. Now I yell at people for a living. Pro bono. Homeschool mom.

It wasn’t a year after the steering wheel incident I found myself looking at a car, at a half-unwrapped McDonald’s egg McMuffin. The driver’s seat was crushed, crenulated like those paper fans we made in elementary school. The sandwich was in the foot well. He must have had it in his hand when he threw the wheel too hard over. Must’ve dropped between his feet as the car began its flip.

An object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by another force.

This kid, he lay in a hospital bed on life support, monumentally acted upon. His hands were warm from the machines pumping his blood around. All the damage was on the inside where we couldn’t see. This is true for us, too.

Apparently, his brain was dead. I didn’t buy it. Too warm. Too much like sleep. Were I his mother, you’d have to pare me from that beautiful boy with a hacksaw. I’d cling like apple peel. I still do.

I still hold to him. Still yell at him. See him in my own 17-year-old son who drives like telephone poles don’t exist. He thinks my fear is funny too.

My friend began telling this post as if it really happened before remembering it was an entry for a flash fiction contest. I remember her waving it away and saying “…it didn’t really happen.” But it did. Not exactly as I told it, but it did happen, and it happens every day. For most people, getting in our cars is the most dangerous thing we do.

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.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

2017. Crushed it. Really and truly. Those of you who know me know I beat myself up at regular intervals. I raise self-flagellation to an art form. My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself. If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do me no harm. I like to think I have an Anne Lamott aren’t-I-funny? aren’t-I-endearing? eggshell personality. Or that it comes as a side-effect of being rejected on a regular basis. All this to say, I’m not accustomed to patting myself on the back. But for 2017, I’m making an exception.

With 2017 I am thrilled, even with the number of rejections. Because rejections mean I’ve been trying. Rejections mean I’ve been hit and I’m still in the ring. In fact, I stayed in the ring and completed my first novel.

RESOLUTE was my word for 2017, and I’m proud to say it matched my year.

There is so much more to writing than just writing well. Does that seem obvious? Or confusing. I thought if I just wrote well, I’d be well read. If you build it, they will come. But noooooo. They don’t come. They don’t. You have to build it, repair it, arrange it, repair it, raze it, re-build it. Then, you may commence begging…begging for them to come. I BUILT IT, PEOPLE! You say. (then you hear the echo) You get the bullhorn out and street-preach at them.

If you build it, they will not come. You must go gather them. In 2017 I committed to spending time each day reading and commenting on fellow bloggers. The more I read, the more inspired I became. What started out as a commitment to encourage others, ended up encouraging and growing me. And along the way I’ve met some cool writer-friends.

I’m not a planner-blogger. I post whatever is in my mind. If the mind is full of cobwebs, I don’t want to give you cobwebs. I just wait. This explains my large chunks of blog silence. A commitment to a regular posting schedule is one of those things that sounds good on a list of resolutions, but is not realistic for me. My goals for 2018 are to get Trespass represented, publish more shorts and flashes, and have less cobwebs.

My 2017 writing accomplishments.

  1. Finished my novel, Trespass. It’s out to beta readers now, and I hope to send it to agents in 2018.
  2. Four works accepted for publication.
  3. Several flash/shorts out to literary journals, awaiting news.
  4. Wrote/edited almost every day.
  5. Took part in writing contests whenever I needed a break from my novel.

It was a physical year as well.

  1. Hiked a volcano in February.
  2. Ran my first ten miler in April.
  3. Ran my first half marathon in October.
  4. Got slow and fat over Christmas.

My whole family had a sort of Rocky Balboa year. Perhaps this stuff is contagious. I credit my husband with getting the ball rolling. Each of my children worked hard, challenged themselves, and took giant strides out of their comfort zones—whether it was a work promotion, a new sport, or an ambitious school schedule.

This is how my kids inspire me: I’ll be jogging, feeling like someone scooped out the flesh of my quads and put led in there…wanting very badly to walk. Or fall over. Then I think of one of my kids and how they don’t stop when it gets hard…and I don’t stop either. I can’t give less than I ask of them. Competition at its finest. And the more I overcome in one area, it spills over onto others. I expect 2018 will have its challenges and blows. If it please God, I plan to stay in the ring.

Happy New Year!