Friday, March 7, 2014

Spring Fling Blog Hop! :: "How did you get your idea?"

Although I've lived through a few whirlwind romances in my life and I've been a professional writer for years, I never tried my hand at romance writing--never, that is, until my friend and fellow romance author Danica Winters encouraged me to submit a story for the publishing company's Valentine Romance series.

With about six weeks to write 15,000 words, I jumped right in. (Or, rather, I sat right down at my computer and typed like my fingers were on fire.)

Of course, before I could start all that typing, I had to figure out what my romance was going to be. Sweet? Sexy? Intergalactic?

I came up with a list of romantic premises based on my own experiences, fantasies, and stories friends have told me over the years. Many of these are sure to become future publications--two are already in the works for this summer and fall. But the one idea that kept tugging at my imagination actually came to me in a dream.

I am taking care of a friend's house--someone I haven't seen for a long, long time. Though it's been years and he is far away, I feel connected to him as I live in his space, with his things. I walk though his kitchen and see his shoes by the door. I sit down at his computer and see notes jotted and photos tacked on the wall. I curl up in his twin bed with soft navy blue sheets, and, little by little, find myself falling in love. 

As I thought about writing the dream into a story, the ache of these questions arose:
How can I tell him I love him when I don't know when--or if--he will return?
How can I tell him I love him when we haven't seen each other face-to-face for so long, only communicating over email and phone?
How can I tell him I've fallen in love with the intimate details of his life, when he knows next to nothing about me?
And, finally, what if the person I think I've fallen in love with bears little to no resemblance to the person he actually is?

These questions were far too enticing to ignore, and the answers became the story line for While He's Away. I hope you love the story--and the story behind the story.



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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flash fiction: The Release

She left four messages for him that day:

12:45pm. “Dad, where are you? You’re supposed to be home. Call me.”

1:02pm. “Daddy, pick up your pho-one.”

1:22pm. “C’mon, dude. Seriously. This is the last time I’m calling.”

1:57pm. “Dad? I’ve left like a million messages for you. What is up? This SUCKS.”

The EMTs put his phone in a gallon-sized plastic bag, along with his wallet and spare change. Twelve missed calls, it read, by the time his sister Deb arrived at the hospital to identify his body. The accident hadn’t left a mark on him.

When Aunt Deb came home from the hospital, she picked Karina up in her arms as though she were a small child. Karina’s slender, pre-pubescent body stayed rigid in her aunt’s embrace; she did not cry.

At midnight, Karina awoke with her face bathed in tears. She was confused, at first, about why she was crying. She walked halfway down the long hallway to the lighted bathroom. Her dad’s room—once her parents’ room, and now no one’s room—was at the other end of the hall. When she looked at the closed door, she remembered. She breathed in so sharply it hurt.

She began gasping for air like a beached fish, like the northern pike her dad had thrown up on the shore. She dropped to the bare wood floor, convulsing in silence, wishing she were dying, too.

The pike had been one of dozens, even hundreds, they’d caught this summer. Nothing remarkable about him; just a trash fish that folks around here believed in beaching. Certain times of the summer, the woods around the lake were so littered with northerns in various states of decay that the smell sometimes kept people off the beaches.

It had been Karina’s eleventh birthday, that day the outboard motor had died, and they’d had to find a way back to the other side of the lake.

The shallow, mucky water was warm enough to wade to shore, where the evidence of their prolific morning of fishing was in turn gasping, flopping and drying. One sacrifice had squirmed nearly ten feet—almost back to the lapping edge of the lake. His tail curled up into the June air and unfurled into the shallow, tepid water. His journey had left him covered with sand.

When Karina’s dad stepped ashore he picked up the pike by the tail and chucked him deeper into the woods.

“Why’d you do that?” she asked.

He looked at her and shook his head.

It isn’t fair, Karina thought, curling her upper lip.

She’d felt guilty about killing the fish, but she’d trusted her dad and hadn’t argued. Plus, they were often with one or more of his fishing buddies, who were already skeptical of her presence: First, she was a kid, and second, she was a girl. She’d had a lot of practice at being both useful and invisible, to compensate. She unhooked her own fish, tied her own knots, and handed out beers from the cooler. She didn’t even act squeamish when threading worms, minnows or leaches onto a hook, though she knew she was sending them to their deaths.

At that moment, standing on the gritty lip of the dirty little lake, peering out across the lake, surrounded by a dozen or more dead and dying northerns, her father looked different, almost unrecognizable. He looked like Marvin or Butch or Harry, one of the guys they fished with, or like Cliff, the unshaven guy at the Cottonwood Lake Bait Shop who sold them the Styrofoam container of worms, the Dr. Pepper and potato chips.

“Well, damnit,” he grunted, dialing his cell phone. She assumed he was calling Butch or Harry, both of whom had boats, to see if one of them could come retrieve them. But he wasn’t one to explain, and she’d learned not to ask. When he was like this, sometimes he lost track of what had pissed him off. It was best not to give him an object for his frustration.

She remembered the little digital camera in her dry bag, a birthday present from her mother, who she’d see in a week or so, when she left to stay with her for the summer. She tucked the camera into her pocket and picked her way up the shore into the cottonwoods.

The fish her dad had thrown was easy to find. He had hit a tree and fallen at its feet. He was still coated with sand, though not as much. Despite her practiced stoicism, she couldn’t bring herself to touch the fish.

He was still, and beautiful, Karina thought. He looked like a cement sculpture of a fish, scaly and gritty and brown. When the wind blew she noticed strange patterns migrating across his body, thrown by dappled sunlight. She took his picture.

The fish suddenly slapped his tail, startling Karina. She pulled away so quickly she hit herself in the face with her camera and fell backwards into a scratchy bush. How long had it been since he was pulled from the lake? she wondered. How long had he been suffocating in the open air?

He twitched again. She shot up as though she’d been bitten, and turned to return to her father. Halfway there she could hear his voice carried through the trees. “Nothing going on today,” he was telling their potential rescuer. “Fishin’s slow.”

Except for these “trash” fish, who didn't even merit a mention. They’d caught at least six apiece that morning, though nothing else was biting. She changed her mind and went back to the fish in the woods.

Again he wasn’t moving. She didn’t reach down to pick him up; somehow it felt different than unhooking a live fish or touching a dead “keeper” in the cooler. She rolled him over with her toe, pushing him towards the water. He didn’t respond. She rolled him again and again. He collected twigs and leaves to himself as he went, as though building a cocoon from forest floor litter. She wanted to stop to take his picture again; he looked like a mythical creature, a land-water hybrid that could grant wishes or exercise magic. But she knew she had already wasted too much time.

Once she reached the lip of the woods, she scooted the fish quickly down the sandy beach, trying not to draw her father’s attention. The fish finally rolled into the shallowest water, releasing a cloud of dirt and debris wherever the water touched him. The lake lapped him, a mother cat tonguing her nursling.

Karina willed the fish to breathe, to make a final gasp and in so doing discover that he could breathe again. She nudged him out into deeper water. She splashed him to wash him clean. He rolled under as though weighted, turning his pale yellow belly to the sun. She finally touched him and found that he was no longer slimy, as a fish should be, but instead smooth and plastic, like the underside of their crippled boat. She submerged him, holding him underwater; drowning him to resurrect him.

When she let go, he turned belly-up and floated back to the surface.

“What’re you doing, Karina?”

She’d forgotten about her father. She was caught red-handed, trying to save a fish that he’d deliberately sentenced to die. He looked from her to the fish and back again. He raised his eyebrows. “Huh,” was all he said, as he pulled their little Sea Nymph to shore.

The fish floated out farther. He wasn’t even trying to swim.

She followed her father to land. The pike were drying out all around them; not one fin flipped, not one gill bellowed. She looked closely.

“Butch’ll be here in a minnit,” her dad told her.

She stepped back into the water, and took a picture of him with a dozen dead fish at his feet.


After the funeral, she spent two days in bed. Her mother temporarily returned with her to the house they had all once shared, so Karina could pack her things, but she has a hard time doing so. 

Her mother's new baby, Karina's half-sister, needed a lot of attention, so there was no one to force her to talk. It was as though the house were haunted by two spirits unaware of one another, but both mindful of the house’s only legitimate occupant—the man who had shoveled the now blown-over front sidewalk, whose shoes were in the front closet, whose leftover chili was going bad in the refrigerator.

On her last day in her father's house, Karina crawled into her father’s bed, and she dreamed of him.

She stands on a pile of rocks in the middle of a big river, facing upstream. The faster, boiling currents of the river rush by on the right. A slow, calm pocket of water swirls on the left.

Her father stands in the calm pocket, fishing. It's deep; he's in water up to his chest. As she watches him, she sees a huge, vibrant fish coming towards his lure. She searches frantically for her camera, panicked that she will miss the picture.

After a few flustered moments, she realizes she’s already holding the camera. She has the dreamers' frustration of moving too slow, too slow.

The fish is big and wriggly and barely caught. Her father holds it high, but just as she is about to snap the picture, the fish leaps into the air. The shutter closes in time to capture only the empty space the fish has left behind.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Microfiction: Things left behind

Things Left Behind

Among other misfiled sundries, the box of Legos held a three-legged rhinoceros and a malfunctioning battery-powered choo-choo train. The box also stored—surprise!—a dozen or so actual Legos; a solitary argyle sock, toddler-sized, smelling faintly of peanut butter and pee; and the mama’s wedding ring, missing for 17 days. (She was still counting the days.)

On the night the ring had gone missing, she had fretted about whether or not to wear it. She didn’t want to deceive anyone, exactly, but… an empty ring finger would certainly make things less complicated. It kept options open.

She'd pictured her husband in a hotel room in Ohio or Illinois or Michigan, removing his ring, leaving it in a sock in his suitcase. He traveled so much for work she had agreed, almost a year ago, to this arrangement: open. No need to ask questions or share lustful details, they agreed. And no falling in love.

She assumed he was pleased with the agreement – he was home less often—and that he took full advantage of it. She, home with the two-year-old, had not.

With slight hesitation, she dropped the ring into her oversized mommy purse on the dining room table. It clinked down amidst baby wipes, toy cars, and an assortment of Crayolas. Then she crammed lipstick, cell phone and cards into her glittery handbag, which wouldn’t hold even a pack of gum more, and bid the babysitter goodnight.

The child, bathed and clad in monkey pajamas and mismatched socks, mumbled goodbye, eyeing the peanut butter and honey sandwiches the babysitter held. “Brush teeth, two books, then bedtime,” mommy said on her way out the door.

The babysitter read herself to sleep, one arm and one leg hanging from the toddler’s bed. The boy, undrowsy, clambered over the foot rail and into a toy box. Among the stuffed animals, puzzle pieces and alphabet books, he found a sippy cup half-full of fermenting juice and gulped until he was satisfied.
The only light in the house was the kitchen’s, so there he went. Climbing from chair to table was a routine matter, and he perched on the formica, monkey in a treetop, to root around in mama’s purse. Keys, lipstick, lighters, mints—a bottomless well of fascination and reprimand. He sifted past things meant for children to seize the more-interesting pens, insurance cards and fingernail clippers. The only sound was the rev and retreat of a nearby car.  

Squatting on the tabletop, he held up a treasure: a gold ring. He put it on each finger, his tongue and his nose—briefly—before it slid off and clanged to the floor. He froze, expecting a parental reaction. The house, the dog and the babysitter were quiet.

But then the sliding door sighed an air pressure sigh, and the boy looked up.

“Daddy!” he said. “You came back!”

The dad’s mouth made a smile but his eyes did not. He put a finger to his lips. “Shhh, buddy. Let’s not wake mommy.” He reached into his pocket and jangled out a keyring. He unthreaded two keys from it and laid them next to her purse.

He swept an arm around the boy and buried his nose in his hair. A hard kiss on his head. “I love you, buddy. Daddy’s gotta go.” Then he was gone.

The child, accustomed to his daddy’s departure, climbed down off the table to retrieve the ring, which he stuck in his sock. Then he walked down the hall to his parents’ room, and put himself to bed. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

New release -- While He's Away

I'm pleased to announce that my first release, the short story While He's Away, is now available for purchase as an e-book!