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I’m a writer, not a mathematician.
If you’ll notice, I missed counting a day in my Coffee for WriMos. Somehow numbers go missing from my calendar, the clock, the checkbook. I’m the buckaroo scratching my head, re-counting the herd three times and getting three different tallies of tails. It leaves me shouting minor or major grunts of frustration depending upon the importance of the missed numbers.
That means I need to apply myself to numbers because numbers do matter eventually to writers. Number of words, number of books published, number of reviews and number of sales. I’d like to wrap myself in a magic cloak that says, “Back off numbers.” Can’t I just write?
Why yes, Writer, you can “just write;” it’s called NaNoWriMo. And many do just that–just write. There’s nothing wrong with the writing goal to communicate the stories you want to write.
But if you’ve made writing your career, carved out space to write publishable novels and set up goals, the plan needs to include more than task number one: write. Numbers matter.
Which is how I came to read Stop Focusing on Book Reviews today. I know that reviews factor into the equation. While the points are worthy of noting and filing away (for when I have books to market), it was the thought of the day that I found on the importance of professional editing.
Editing is not what we are to concern ourselves with in November, but if you have goals beyond a first draft you’ll need to consider it. I have a professional editor and I heard back from her last night on my first novel ready to publish. It’s not ready. I agonized my way into a fitful sleep.
As I’ve said to others, including my adult children when facing a rough time, morning comes and it’s a new dawn, a new day. Attitude in check, I recommitted to writing. Better that my editor pointed out flaws before I distributed the manuscript. The following struck home.
Thought for Day 17:
An editor doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. A good editor tells you what needs fixing as difficult as it is for you to hear. ~BookTour.Tips
Yeah, it was difficult to hear. I wanted to hear–perfect! smashing! it’s ready! Numbers that matter most are the long-term ones and these are based on quality products. I have choices–I can quit or I can improve.
So I will write on, mindful of the numbers but focused on the words.
Tune for Day 17:
Word Count: 2,059
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Cool autumn breeze tickled strands of loose hair at her neck. The earth smelled of hay and dirt. Dry grasses rattled seed pods and no two-year old boy responded with a giggle or, “Wat’s dat?” He was so curious, so healthy. How was it he took ill quickly, so violently?
The steady pounding of horse hooves indicated several riders in her direction.
“For your sake, old man, you had better not be a liar as much as you are a thief.” The rumbling voice was not one Nancy Jane recognized. She stayed low in case these were bandits.
“I left my daughter here to dig a hole, I swear to you, I’m not lying.” It was Pa.
Nancy Jane stood up and the horses spooked, the men reigning for control of the animals. She had dirty hands and her face was wet from her tears. Wind-blown hair probably didn’t add to her appearance, but at the moment she was more concerned about the wheezing she heard in her father’s voice. That his wrists were tethered behind a big brute of a man mounted on a tall buckskin explained why he sounded out of breath. “What are you doing,” she yelled at the riders.
The three men on horseback trotted toward her. “Are you his daughter?” It was the brute who spoke. Nancy Jane recognized him now. He was that southerner who bought the road ranch at Rock Creek and built a toll bridge.
“I’m his daughter, Nancy Jane Holmes.” She stood with balled fists on her hips, wanting to go to her Pa, but decided it was best to sort out what was happening. A neighbor wouldn’t harm them. These were not bandits. In fact, one of the riders was Mr. Helvey from the next ranch over and she knew Irish John Hughes who sat smirking from the back of his fidgeting horse.
“Is that your child?” The large man pointed at the pine box next to her hollowed out hole in the ground.
“I’m sorry you lost your child. Sickness?”
“Helvey, Hughes give this woman a hand and finish digging the hole.”
Hughes looked at Nancy Jane, not moving from his saddle. “Let this slattern dig her her own hole for her bastard.”
Before Nancy Jane could spit out her words in response, the larger man backhanded Hughes out of his saddle and he tumbled backwards into the grass. Then, calm as cotton on a dandelion, he swung out of his saddle to untie her Pa’s wrists. Mr. Helvey dismounted without a word and picked up the shovel and resumed digging the hole.
“You’ll return that suit laundered and within two days, you hear?” The man spoke to her Pa who stood nearly a foot shorter. He hung his head and wisps of hair flagged when he nodded. Nancy Jane did not recognize the over-sized black suit that hung on her father’s frail frame with streaks of dirt that indicated her Pa did not stay on his feet while behind the buckskin horse.
Joseph walked over to her. He mumbled, booze reeking from his breath. “Sorry, Nancy Jane. I wanted to borrow a suit from Irish John Hughes, but he weren’t home so I borrowed it without asking.”
“He borrowed my whiskey, too.” Hughes shot Joseph a dark scowl and stood well away from the big man who was unbundling something from the back of his saddle.
It was a fiddle. He pointed the bow at Hughes. “He’ll return in two days time, clean. You needn’t take issue sharing a drink with a mourning man.”
Hughes frowned. So did Nancy Jane. What was this brute going to do, play a jig right here at her son’s burial? “You look ready to dance on the devil’s dance floor,” she said.
His brown eyes penetrated her own, but with surprise. “I was headed over to Hevley’s for a barn dance, but no I’m not going to play such here. I’ll play a tune for your child. I’m no preacher, but neither am I the devil.”
A soft, mournful strain rose from the fiddle. Nancy Jane had never heard the like in her life. The song continued and it bored into her aching heart like a prairie dog into a den. Once there it took hold and the man with huge hands continued to rake that bow over the strings until Nancy Jane fell to her knees sobbing. She sobbed for her brother William, for the mother she could not remember, for the baby brothers she didn’t know at all. She sobbed for her father who took solace in a bottle and for the woman who had to leave her china behind. She sobbed for the Russian who never knew he fathered a son. She sobbed hardest for her son. William. And still the song continued relentlessly.
When it ended, the box bearing her son was beneath the prairie and clods of dirt marked his grave. The three men got back on their horses and rode away toward Hevley’s ranch. The fiddle was bundled behind the big man but Nancy Jane could still hear the strains of the strings.
“That David McCanles, Mr. High and Mighty, thinks he’s the law and order around here. Near dragged me to death, he did.” Joseph spit on the ground.
Nancy Jane tugged at the sleeve of the borrowed suit. “What were you thinking, Pa?”
I’m a story-catcher.
This idea first came to me when I watched the movie, The Songcatcher, about a female music professor who goes into Appalachia to collect the mountain folk music of the region. I realized that not only do I tell stories, but I recognize and collect them.
A caught story has to be processed to be retold. Otherwise we are just repeating a story. How do we make a caught story our own? Invite it inside, let it distill and pour it into your words with your emotions and elucidation.
While I am a writer and not a musician, I look to songcatchers to understand the creative spirit of collection. Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite songcatchers. She’s described as a “discoverer and interpreter of other artists’ songs.” Yet she gives the songs back to us with a clarity of meaning.
A story-catcher strives to achieve the same. To take the story and expose its deepest core, to reveal its hidden meaning. And so I am dreaming of such things as I write, listening to Emmylou.
Days 14 & 15 word count: 3,690
Thought for Days 14 & 15:
To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong. ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce
This is true of our writing. To find the creative heart of our story, we must write with a willingness to be wrong. Editing is about clarity and correctness; writing is about the creativity.
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Sally walked out on the porch with Lizzie in a full cry. “I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to calm her.”
No one could seem to calm Lizzie. Born blue, she was fussier than Mary’s previous babies. Yet she grew to be a strong and hefty baby. Although a girl, she took after the big bones of her father. Her hair was blond in that early McCanles way like summer-wheat that would one day turn as dark as molasses. Only Julius had Mary’s black hair and only Lizzie her bright blue eyes.
“Here, I’ll take her.” Lizzie laid her head on Mary’s shoulder. She was over a year old and strong, but she still did not walk and she didn’t vocalize in the same way Mary recalled her boys babbling by this time, testing vocal cords. It didn’t help that Cob avoided even looking at his own daughter. Not that he ever had much to do with the boys as babies. It might just be Lizzie’s constant fussing. God knows Mary grew tired of it at times and was grateful when Sally came over, although she dearly missed Julia. In a recent letter, Julia invited Mary to stay through the fall harvest. It was tempting.
“Who’s that riding up the way?” Sally looked with her hand shading the afternoon sun.
Mary recognized her father and her brother Adam. She sighed and stayed on the porch.Her brother waved as they approached, but neither man got off his horse.
“Hello, Father, Adam.”
The men nodded. Adam asked, “Cob around?”
“No. He rode off to tend to business.”
“Games, more like,” said Joseph.
“Point is, Father, he’s not here.” Mary continued to sway slightly and she hoped by the sound of Lizzie’s breathing, she had finally nodded off.
“The Whigs have no more power. Their short-lived ideas for economic expansion are short-lived and Cob is going to have to decide where he stands. With or without his neighbors.” Adam leaned forward on his horse, saddle leather creaking.
Before Mary could tell her brother to move along, Sally spoke up. “My husband Leroy backs the Constitutional Unionists and stresses the importance of this nation standing together in unity, just like neighbors.”
“That’s my point. We need to stand together and be a part of the secession that’s coming.”
“No. Secession is not unity.” Sally had her hands on her hips, but she had no idea of the ire she was going to raise out of her Greene kin. Already Joseph was raising a finger to drive home more points.
“Father, enough,” said Mary.
“I haven’t yet spoken a word, Daughter.”
“I know. And that’s enough. We aren’t going to discuss politics with you.”
“You better stand on the right side, Daughter or you might get mowed over. I didn’t raise any Tories.”
“I’m no Tory!” Sally looked ready to race down the stairs and take on both Greenes.
“Enough! Cob is not here and we’re not interested in barking with you over the politics of the day. Do you want to be civil and stay for supper?”
“No, we need to be on our way. But you better mind your sides, Sister.” The two men rode off and Mary let out her breath.
Sally stomped her booted foot on the porch. “Why can’t men listen to reason?”
“You’re hanging around the few educated men in this region, Sally. I understand that James and his sons believe in economic development for Watauga as much as for the tidewater places. But lots a folks around here see that as interference. They don’t trust it. Even Cob said, the Whig party is through.”
“Yes, but James believes…”
“With what James believes he had better scoot himself over the other side of the mountain because it’s not what everyone else believes. And I wouldn’t trust my brothers if it comes down to fighting like they are doing in Missouri.”
“Then why must we go out there?” Sally looked like a frightened deer.
“West doesn’t mean Missouri. West means beyond.”
“I miss Leroy. I hope he’s home soon.”
“I’m sorry, Sally, I don’t mean to get you worked up into a fret. Cob received a letter from Leroy. It seemed promising. Good land, good water. Cob wants to know more about economic prospects. Was his letter to you hopeful?”
“I suppose. It sounds lonely and vast out west.”
“Well, it beats being among people and feeling like you live with enemies.”
And when you get the hiccups, you have to do something about it–hold your breath, drink water up-side-down, swear mildly or fiercely. You can also ignore the hiccups. No matter what, hiccups will come and go.
NaNoWriMo can have hiccups, too. Life gets in the way, the words won’t flow, you reach a murky spot and can’t see through it. That’s okay. It’s not about the hiccups; it’s about what you choose to do when they happen.
I’ve had my fair share of hiccups this month, but I’m plowing through. I’m determined not to get distracted, although sometimes it can’t be helped.
The Hub is not having an easy go at finding work. So, I helped him write a new resume, and yesterday we drove to Spokane, Washington to cruise the industrial areas. I waited in the car as he went into offices asking what their hiring process was and if they were in need of a technician.
I could argue that I was not needed to sit in the car, but I understood that the Hub needed encouragement. When I grow weary of the trail to publication he encourages me to go on, so it was my turn to encourage him. I took notes, gathered data and went along for the ride.
As it turns out, he has two very promising interviews on Monday. The bonus was when I got a call on my cell phone from my neighbor who knows we are struggling. She also knows that I’m a writer and she asked to barter wood for my services.
While I’ve neglected to post coffee, I have plowed through several difficult scenes. My word count for three days is 3,420 but I have two major hurdles figured out. The hiccups are calmed for the moment and forward movement is yielding results. Keep at it, WriMos!
Thought for Days 11, 12 & 13:
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” ~Ray Bradbury
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Mists in the trees at morning reminded Mary of ghosts. She stood out on the porch, unable to sleep. The cool morning would soon heat up with the rising sun. Chickens scratched for insects and she thought about collecting eggs, but the dull ache in her back wouldn’t go away. It was worse when she tried to recline in bed and the origin of her waking so early. The red rooster hopped on top of the split wood not yet stacked and crowed. Mary thought about sitting down, but then she wouldn’t want to get up. The rooster crowed again.
“You’re up early, Wife.” Cob came up behind her and set his large hands on her shoulders.
“My back is causing me some discomfort.”
Cobs fingers began rubbing her shoulders and neck. “You feel taught as an overstrung fiddle. Do you want me to fetch Julia?”
“Yes, I do.”
Cob stopped. “Mary, don’t frighten me like this. I’ve had a hard go this month.”
Mary wanted to smack him. He deserved a hard go after putting her through his betrayal with Sarah Shull, but she would never tell him what relief it brought her that Sarah’s baby died. God forgive her, but she hoped it would happen. She hadn’t expected Cob to take it so hard which only meant he did have feelings for the woman. All the more reason to cut that blood tie. “It’s your family you should be fretting about.”
“It is my family that concerns me. It’s you. It’s not like you to want Julia, saying your back hurts and damn it woman, it’s too early for the babe.”
“It’s nothing more than the babe’s position. Most likely it’s another stubborn McCanles male.”
But the babe did not wait, nor change position. Mary woke up howling in less than a week. The pressure was greater than it had ever been and the pain in her leg was burning. On top of that, contractions were coming fast and hard. Cob didn’t have to be summoned from the barn. He stomped up the steps, still pulling on his boots and nearly crashed through the door. Julia awoke to the simultaneous noises of Mary, Cob and a frightened Cling who was crying. Cob ignore her command to get out.
Mary gasped for breath as the contraction eased. She clutched Cob’s hand. “It isn’t time.”
“Julia, for God’s sake, do something.”
“For your sake Brother, and Mary’s, go fetch the midwife and rouse Mother. Tell her we’ll need all the women-folk.”
Cob left and Mary let out another howl as he thundered past the house riding Captain down the pitch black mountain trail to gather Eliza and his kin. She heard the hoof beats drift away as the pain eased up. Not caring about who saw her, Mary got on all fours and tried to ease the back pressure. She lost track of how many more contractions came before Eliza hustled into the room, barking orders. Mary wasn’t sure who was with her, but somehow it made her feel relieved to know that she hadn’t come alone.
Later that day, well after the sun came up and the smells of cooking from the outside summer kitchen wafted into her room, Mary felt her body weakening. Her limbs shook and she couldn’t maintain the various positions Eliza directed her to take. Julia and Mary Catherine helped, along with other women who were not full midwives, but keen and strong enough to help. Celia, Cob’s, mother, was joined by a bevy of friends to cook and keep Cob’s children out of the house. Mary thought she heard the thunder of Cob’s horse running, but soon the sky darkened and lightening crackled. More thunder roared and the storm let loose the rain.
Sarah didn’t make it back to her cabin before getting drenched. She had foraged far, seeking wild blueberries that grew best up high. The thunder reminded her of the times she used to watch Cob race swiftly on Captain’s back and she nearly dropped her basket of berries when she saw him racing up the trail, lit up momentarily by the lightening. How many times did she imagine him riding thus and to finally see him, she didn’t believe her own eyes. She arrived at the cabin just as he was tethering Captain beneath the lean-to. They were both drenched and he had the look of misery about him standing there with balled fists clenched to his sides. Oblivious to the rain he said, “I’ve killed her.”
Sarah grabbed his clenched fist that was the size of a large stone and led him into the cabin. Once inside she set down the blueberries, and he reached for her, bending down to kiss her fiercely as if whatever demons drove him to ride in this storm could be excised by a kiss. Trying to not give in as easily as she had before those nights, cloaked in darkness and secrecy, alone if the backroom of Phillip Shull’s store, Sarah tried to remain neutral. Mocking tones of “sinner” reminded her that even now after her daughter’s death she was not welcome to walk among her own family or community. After her daughter’s death, James rarely visited and food from the McCanles women ceased. Why had she believed it was for her? Of course they cared to take care of Martha Allice. With her dark brown eyes she was one of them. Sarah meant nothing. Cob said “he killed her?” Was he mourning their daughter as she was every quiet, lonely morning that she woke up to see an empty cradle in an empty cabin? She kissed him back, opening her mouth to his probing tongue. He tasted like corn liquor and his touch was as hot as direct sun on rocks. She absorbed it all.
Mary cried out in pain, her throat hoarse and dry. Julia pressed a wet cloth to her mouth but she tried to push it away. The baby had stalled and she was certain it would kill her now. Her waters had broke hours ago and the whisperings only served to warn her that the women weren’t expecting her to pull through either. Stubborn, Mary thought. Let’s see who is stubborn. She summoned every strength of her body and roared like a demented beast, pushing with all her effort. The baby, breeched and stalled, was born blue. Eliza shook her head and Mary glowered at the midwife as she laid the still baby on Mary’s bare chest. Mary stroked the wee thing and everyone was surprised to see a little foot kick.
“She’s a Greene and McCanles. What did you all expect?”
Julia laughed loudest as usual and women began to help clean up Mary and the little girl. Cob’s mother beamed with pride in the doorway of the bedroom.
“Celia Elizabeth McCanles.” Mary knew it was unwise to name a baby so quickly, but since this child was already thought to be dead, what did it matter. With the name she honored her mother-in-law, her midwife and her husband.
“Where is Cob,” she asked.
WriMos, hang on to that swagger.
Write boldly. Connect to your characters, connect to your story. Be bold. Write with a swagger as if your tapping fingers have become Rock Hudson or Marilyn Monroe.
And don’t let anyone deflate your bold reams, your bold plans, your bold story.
Maybe it’s my own sensitivities right now, but I’ve noticed incoming darts aimed at emerging writers in the form of discouraging words. I get it–it’s a hard path to take. But don’t kick me because you feel better about your own writing career by showing me you have a superior boot. It’s too easy to discourage others.
Let’s learn from the Brits. They have sense of humor (you need to be getting your daily dose of NaNo Num-Nums over at TanGental). And they have writers who say that yes, it’s a hard road, but here’s how you walk it. Thank you Anne Goodwin for sharing this post on making a living from writing books. It has practical tactics that apply across the pond.
So back to swaggering. Be bold in writing this month. There’s a million things to dissuade you from doing this, a million posts that sneer at emerging authors. You have a purpose behind your writing. You have a reason why you set out on this path. Maybe you even have a plan. Stick to the path boldly, step by step.
Today’s cup of coffee is infused with cheer. You got this, WriMo! Write on no matter what anyone says about you doing it! Write on boldly!
Word Count: 1757
Thought for Day Nine:
“In order to achieve anything you must be brave enough to fail.”
~ Kirk Douglas
Excerpt From Rock Creek: (We’ve jumped back in time to 1857.)
Shivering, Sarah reached out for her mama. A soft snuffling sound brought her to her senses and she realized that she was the mama now and her baby needed her. “Hush, hush, little Martha Allice.” It was so cold in here. Outside the small foggy window, she could see it was snowing again. And the fire went out. Again.
“Mama’s going to get that fire.” Sarah sneezed and her entire head felt as swollen as a pig’s bladder. She wrapped an extra blanket around the babe like bunting and bent down at the hearth to stack kindling and wood. Snow fluttered down the rock chimney. Opening her firebox, she blew on the coals to set the kindling to a flame. She heard voices outside.
“Miss Shull? It’s James McCanles. May I come in?”
James? What was he doing here? She was still in yesterday’s dress, plain gray linen since her father forbade her to take anything colorful or fine when he banished her to this cabin at the top of a meander fed by a small spring.
Grabbing the thin gray quilt of linsey-woolsey, Sarah wrapped it around her head and body like a huge shawl. “I’m not prepared for visitors.” The baby coughed. It sounded worse than it did yesterday.
“Miss Shull, I have medicine and food, from the McCanles women.”
From the McCanles women? What would they send to her if not poisoned ash-cakes or killing bitters? The baby coughed again and the embers died out. “Oh, no. Why won’t that fire light?” Stepping to the door she cautiously opened it.
“May I come in?” James looked like an older, gaunter version of Cob with white hair and dark eyes.
“Um, yes, please, come in.”
“My God, it’s as cold as Washington’s marble tomb in here.” He looked at the fireplace and her failed attempt smoldering. The baby coughed, again.
Sarah walked over to the crate that served as a cradle and picked up Martha Alice, rocking her and patting her back. “There, there.”
Quietly, James coaxed a fire and soon the cabin with its thin walls were warm against the winter chills. He unpacked a dish of stewed apples, linen wrapped buttermilk biscuits, molasses and a root stew with chunks of ham. Sarah nearly drooled across the top of Martha’s head. James set the stew pot in the hearth coals. “You need a few item, I see.”
Sarah didn’t see much at all—a hearth, a crate and a straw pallet on the floor. She roasted critters on a spit across the heart and she had a sack of dried beans and a sack of turnips that she roasted in the fire. James left her with an herbal ointment he said to rub on the babe’s feet and chest. He gave her a tonic for her health and a big chunk of lye soap made with so much lavender that it looked purple and smelled like spicy summer.
James returned every day for a week to check on Sarah and her baby. Each time he came he brought more food from the McCanles women and wood and tools. The first item he built was a table, followed by chairs and a cupboard that he mounted near the hearth. She needed it for the items sent by the women—cooking spoons, a set of old flatware and several tin plates. They sent tins filled with dried sassafras tea, cooking herbs which smelled like dried spring ramps and a bottle of molasses. Soon she had linen towels and an oil lamp. At the end of two weeks James and his son Leroy packed in pieces of an item that James toiled all afternoon to build. Leroy bounced Martha on his knee. He looked more like his mother, Celia, but had the dark brown McCanles eyes. So did Martha. When James was finished, Martha had a beautiful hickory cradle that silently rocked.
Sarah recovered from her sickness quickly—James reminded her to continue to drink her tonic—but Martha Allice was slow to give up her cough. Sarah continued to rub ointment on her feet and chest. Now the babe had several linen gowns and warm quilts for her cradle. The last item James furnished was a stick bed for Sarah and fresh ticking for her mattress. He gave her folded linen sheets and the most beautiful blue diamond quilt of linsey-woolsey. It was a masterpiece and Sarah recognized it as something a Greene woman would make. Maybe one of Cob’s sisters who had married a Greene crafted this at a loom.
Despite the lingering winter chill, Sarah had a home that she had only dreamed possible. It wasn’t very big, but it didn’t need to be. It was filled with comfortable furnishing, warm quilts and food. Soon spring would come and Sarah could forage—ramps and mushrooms, blueberries and persimmons. Then she could give back to those who so kindly provided. She couldn’t wait to teach Martha about the hills and hollows, to show her where the lilies bloomed and the creeks to pooled invitingly in the summer sun. She might even go swimming Cherokee style, like that time with Cob.
No, she had to curb her thoughts about him. He had a wife and a wonderful family, at least his father was wonderful. It was good for Martha to have a grandfather. It pained her that her own parents stayed away. She knew her mother would want to visit, but Philip would never allow it. Only her brother Simon ever risked sneaking up the back trail to see her. If they knew that James visited frequently, no one said anything. Finally, Sarah felt she could survive this.
Look for anchors.
Yesterday’s break fed my diva and the keys are tapping out words beneath my fingers once again. While taking my break, I watched a movie last night, The Inside Man. I didn’t write yesterday, but I still thought about my story and I took a hint from the movie: anchors can tie together seemingly unrelated scenes.
The Inside Man is brilliant on many levels: it’s a Spike Lee movie; it stars Denzel Washington and Clive Owen; it has memorable characters and plot twists; and it has original music composed by A. R. Rahman. It also employs the use of chewing gum as an anchor.
Not what you would expect of a sophisticated and gritty movie about cops, robbers and the seedy underbelly of the Fortune 500. Here’s how it works–the timeline for the movie is not chronological although most of it occurs in real-time. However, you have to decide which real-time story is indeed the one unfolding.
Chewing gum connects the two timelines and is one of the twist revelations.
When you are drafting, you may be unconsciously thinking of anchors. Maybe your anchor means something symbolic, or maybe your anchor simply relates to a certain character. Let your anchors emerge out of your subconscious as you write and assess meaning or strategy to them later during the revision.
NaNoWriMo is for writing. Let your subconscious be your guide.
Word Count: 2,105
Thought for Day Seven:
“Writing is a lot like making soup. My subconscious cooks the idea, but I have to sit down at the computer to pour it out.” ~Robin Wells
Excerpt from Rock Creek:
Wilstach ordered for them, soup and ham sandwiches. He nattered on about people he knew in New York and about his times as a business manager and press agent. He collected similes, he said.
“Red as coal. Red as a cherry. Red as any rose.”
Memories swirled like blue mountain fog caught against a ridge. Memories of dreams long lost. Memories of Cob bending toward her alone in the semi-dark of her father’s store, his breath so close she could smell a whiff of whiskey along with the pinetar soap he used. His large hands firm on her waist. My love is like a red, red rose.
“Oh, yes. Robert Burns.” Wilstach smiled and took a hearty bite of sandwich that had arrived.
Sarah missed its arrival as well as her own and didn’t realize she had said the words out loud. It was dangerous dredging up old memories. She responded by eating just as heartily, though she failed to keep up.
“More coffee, Mrs. De Vald?” After the waitress cleared their plates, Wilstach opened up his notebook and uncapped his pen.
Sarah shook her head. She’d have to mind her answers and not blurt out anything unnecessary.
“Your maiden name is Sarah Shull?”
“I can understand the spelling of Shell was a mistake or phonetic. All right, Mrs. De Vald. These question will help me solve the McCanles mystery once and for all.”
Sarah gripped the tablecloth now that her napkin was gone. Remember, she told herself, Mrs. Swanson is dead. No one knows.
“Was money owed by Wellman the cause of the tragedy?”
Sarah could hear Cob raging in the back of her mind. His money. He needed his money. It was the Pike’s Peak Express that owed him money. Wolfe and Hagenstien did, too. Cob lost his means for making money on his toll bridge and his road ranches but the parties who bought them never paid up. Until later. Not when Cob needed it. Horace Wellman was the station manager. He didn’t actually owe any money. “No.”
Wilstach nodded, scribbling with his pen. Then he paused. “In your opinion, and from what you were told at the time, did Wild Bill kill McCanles in self-defense?”
Wild Bill. Had he really gone wild? Was it the war? She’d seen the horrors of war etched on the faces of old men and embittered in the eyes of old women, horrors passed down to children and grandchildren as if it were a family birthmark. She’d heard that Hickok signed up for the Union Army as a scout. He knew trails and was the quiet sort who could pass through unnoticed. She couldn’t picture him wild. Dangerous, yes, but always in control. Not wild in temper like Cob. Still, she couldn’t imagine anyone calling Cob wild, either. Self defense? Cob never killed anyone. But neither had Hickok. “Certainly. Yes.”
“What makes you think this is true?”
Wilstach stared so intently at her she wondered if he knew she was lying. So she followed it with the truth. “Because on the morning of the tragedy I heard McCanles say that he was going to clean up on the people at the Station.” He meant to evict them. He never would have killed anybody.
“You say McCanles stole horses?”
Did she? Wilstach asked her about horses in his letters, but she never replied. She had to pay attention. No slip ups. Mind each line of numbers in the ledger. Be accurate, if not truthful in accounting.
“Yes, he stole horses.” Cob would be speechless to hear her say such a thing. She felt guilty. Cob had stole her heart, stole Mary’s but never horses. He was a righteous rogue. She closed her eyes momentarily. Wilstach continued to write, oblivious to her guilt.
“Were those horses for the use of the Confederate cavalry?”
For the war? Sarah had no idea how Cob would get the horses all the way to the Confederate cavalry. The morning Pony Express rider had already passed through. There were maybe four, five horses in the corral. He must certainly know she was lying. “Yes.”
Wilstach smiled with satisfaction and bent his head to write some more. “And they sent you away on the stage the next day. Just not to the Black Hills.”
It wasn’t a question so Sarah didn’t answer. He continued to write.
Day seven and I’ve become a whining diva.
Snickers Bar is on to something with their commercial that we are not ourselves when we’re hungry. And I’m definitely at that stage of my writing career that I’m feeling the hunger pains. I have a wonderful client, but sometimes funds don’t come through. Not their fault, but I have nothing else to rely upon.
Why? Because I have this dream that I can be a writer and make a living. Most days I believe in the dream and I work the strategy. I look at this time of writing and revising novels as the same time a person would commit to earning a degree or investing sweat-equity in a start-up business. These are the lean years.
If I get too hungry, I can go eat a Snickers Bar and find another client or two. Writing skills are valuable, and sometimes we need to remind each other of this. Writers don’t just write novels.
And, our novels are valuable, too. The more marketable a book, the more profitable it will be. Yet it is a fine line we walk between the desire to produce art, to communicate and the desire to earn money, to eat.
As a friend reminded me today, money can be a source of embarrassment–either because we have it, or we don’t. We should not let that stand in our way in telling our stories, honing our craft and sharing our words. We need to balance earning with output without letting ourselves get too hungry.
So what was my Snickers Bar for adjusting back to myself again? The Hub had the solution–he said I needed to get off the computer and out of the house. He was right. Since returning from my trip to Rock Creek last month, NE I’ve done nothing but pore over my research and write. I wasn’t even sure the last time I had actually put on jeans.
While it was “double day” form NaNoWriMo, I used it to improve my outlook, to pause and realize that I have choices. It may be lean times, but I am doing what I want to be doing and there’s more value in that than in the buck and a half it costs to buy a Snickers.
Diva adjustment in progress. Word count today: 0.
Thought for Day Seven:
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”
~Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now
Wise words from Ms. Angelou. Our cares may not withdraw from us, but we can take time to withdraw from them. With a clearer head we can return to our writing. NaNoWriMo is not an all or nothing process. It is but a tool and a part of a long journey we have committed to among many pilgrims who all have different dreams and reasons for being on the road.
Your draft is an ugly baby.
Face it–writing is messy and that first attempt to communicate the dazzling story in your head is not the same as what ends up on the page. Just like not all babies are born looking like a Disney Princess, your first draft is not going to read like Louis L’Amour or Stephen King. Forget being named the next Shakespeare at the end of November.
Ugly babies and first drafts grow up, and like the duckling that became a swan, your first-draft will become a second, third, fourth, fifth or whatever it takes to reach beauty. Think of edits as growing pains. It’s worth the effort in the end. But first you have to have a baby. You need that first draft.
So the point is, don’t fret over your ugly baby. Don’t drag people to the crib and ask them to tell you how gorgeous it is. Expect a dismayed look or two. After all, it doesn’t make you love your baby less. It’s your baby. Give it tender loving care to grow and mature. Today, write and ignore any negative feedback. Don’t ever let that stop you. This is just a phase.
Thought for Day Six:
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
~Lawrence Block, June 1981
Except don’t tear it up just because it’s an ugly baby. Give it time to grow. Go and write some more. This month is about the writing, not winning a beauty contest.
Day Six: 1,897 words
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Wild Bill Hickok-McCanles Affair of Rock Creek, NE 1861
“…our honest opinion is that the real facts never will be known.”
~ F.J. Elliot to George Hansen Nov. 26, 1938
“Mrs. De Vald! I know you are in there!”
Sarah ignored the rapping and the yelling. She sat down in the old rocker her brother had let her take from the Robbins Hotel. The seat needed re-thatching and despite her stiff knuckles she managed enough weaves to seat herself comfortably. A handy skill to know, not that she ever used it much, but one that James McCanles taught her long ago so that she could thatch seats for him. It was their fair exchange so that Sarah hadn’t felt like a charity case when he or one of the other McCanleses brought her food to this tiny cabin in the woods. Shunned.
“Mrs. De Vald. I am he who has corresponded so diligently with you. Just a few questions is all I ask.”
In ignoring the man from New York City, she let her mind drift. Rock Creek gurgling in summer, insects buzzing like fairies alive in the tall grass. The pounding hooves of an approaching express rider, the exchange of the mochilla, the entrance of a swift moving stage or the choking dust of lumbering wagon trains. So different from the quiet pines and endless mountains of her youth.
“Mrs. De Vald. I know you were there.”
Sarah stiffened. Certainly this man couldn’t read her mind. Her hands gripped the scarred arm rests. Walnut oil would polish them up, but she had none. She looked around the small room. A broom was needed. In her mind she remembered living here, just her and baby Martha Allice. She made up stories every night. She had no rocking chair then. She used to pace, not understanding why her baby girl fussed so much. Colicky the doctor said. This room was much cleaner back then, back when she had kindling and quilts. Now there was hardly a sapling to be found in the area with the massive lumbering that made her hometown unrecognizable. That it was a town was an amazement. When she lived here it was her father’s mill and store. Neighbors had houses within walking distance, but the forest made it seem more private. Now she could see all the way down the stump-littered hill to the town they called Shulls Mill. Her father’s mill washed away in a flood in 1861 and was never rebuilt. It was 1925 and the families of her brothers now ran the Robbins Hotel in the shadow of the cotton mill and the bald slopes. It looked like a wasteland. It was never a place she wanted to return. She closed her eyes and could feel the warm Nebraska sun on her cheeks. This room was so cold.
No shouts, just continuous rapping as if a woodpecker was attacking the door. It was thin, not like the thick doors Cob once hewn for the ranches he built out west.
“Please, Mrs. De Vald. I have a deadline with my publisher…please?”
Sarah opened the door a crack. The man looked startled, but quickly recovered his dignity. His sloping forehead was topped with a mound of gray-streaked brown hair and was cropped closely behind each ear. Sarah supposed it was a city-man’s style. It did look dignified but she couldn’t imagine Cob wearing his hair like that. Or maybe. It was the kind of thing he’d do, trying to look important. “Be about your business quickly.”
“You are Sarah Shull De Vald?”
“Yes. I am her.”
“How old are you, Mrs. De Vald?”
I woke up this morning, talking to myself.
It’s an affliction of drafting daily: I hear voices. It’s perfectly okay. I know whose voices they are; they belong to my characters. Weirdly, we talk about how the story is going as if I’m the stage director and they are the actors. I listen. Soon they’re taking places to act out the crucial scene. We step back and discuss it.
I’ve migrated from the sleepy warm bed to my office, conveniently outside my bedroom. I pace in my pajamas. The scene “we” are working on is the final climax. It’s the whole reason we’re here. I’m not ready to write this scene, but today I rehearse it and ask questions. It’s important that every other scene leads to the clarity of this one moment. So we chat, my characters and me.
Thought for Day Five:
“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
~Leigh Brackett, WD
Are you listening to the people you are plotting about? If they were to tell you the story of your novel, what would they say? Imagine having a cup of coffee with your characters. Talk out loud to them. Listen to what they say in return. Knowing them as intimately as waking up in bed with them will do more to fuel your plot than anything. Plot is people.
Do you talk to your characters?
Day Five: 1,811 words
Excerpt from Rock Creek
Then there were other wagon trains that espoused those who already knew hardship. Many of the women wore sorrow on their faces having to leave behind mothers, sisters, precious carved furnishings too heavy for even the massive Conestogas. One woman last week lamented that she had no fine china to receive the soup. Nancy Jane told her not to fret; that the beans weren’t worthy of fine china. Another woman asked if she was going to pass out those fine looking molasses cookies piled up behind her. Nancy Jane turned to look at the chips and told her those weren’t for supper. The woman offered to give her a copper for one, maybe two. The man behind the woman declared in a loud voice, “Madam, those are chips of dried buffalo dung and I don’t think those lumbering creatures eat molasses.”
Despite the delicate nose wrinkles many eastern wives gave the chips, Nancy Jane knew that once they passed the 100th meridian there would be no wood for warmth or cooking. Those women would come to appreciate the plentiful chips although they were not fit for eating. Nancy Jane tossed another chip on the fire and resumed serving beans until all had passed through. If the beans were not completely eaten, she’d used them to soak the next batch. The road ranch owner was particular about not wasting anything. At least he paid her once a week and she was saving up money for when the season ended.
Tending to children on the trail wasn’t easy and sickness was common. Nancy Jane had her own child on the way, but she wasn’t traveling, just serving beans or stew to those who were. She carefully watched for runny noses or feverish eyes. Often the cholera started with the very young or the very old. Sometimes it just started and took hearty and hale lives. One freighter advised Nancy Jane to boil her water even if there were no squirming worms in it. She didn’t want to get sick, mostly on account of Pa. It would do him in to lose another family member and who would watch out for him? He was working in the long barn with John Hughes, fixing wheel spokes or carving carry-all boxes. Irish John, as folks in Jones Territory called him so as not to confuse him with Welsh John Hughes, was a blacksmith’s apprentice. He could fix simple parts and made decent looking hooks for camp fire cooking.
Irish John watched Nancy Jane in a way that made her feel cornered. One day when she had gone into the barn to tell her Pa she was going to ride Hunk into the Blue River woods to shoot something better than what they had in the salt pork barrel, he pulled her aside and put his work blackened hand on her bump of a belly. “I know what you’ve done to get this, girl,” he said in a low, fierce tone, his brown eyes looking like a child who found a hard candy in the dirt.
“I know, too and this baby’s Pa is Russian cavalry and he knows what to do with a bayonet.”
It wasn’t an out and out lie, but somehow rumors picked up after that incident, claiming Nancy Jane was married to a Cossack. She was pretty sure she had heard Eustace say a few things that sounded like he didn’t like Cossacks, whoever they might be, but if it put fear in men like Irish Hughes, then she’d not correct the tale.
How to use dashes properly. Not.
This is not that sort of NaNoWriMo post, and not the sort you need to read right now. While style is important to clarity and dashes are something you use–or don’t use–it doesn’t need sorting out today. Save the dash-or-not-to-dash proclamations for next month. Before you can write clearly, first you must write.
And that is why we do the NaNoWriMo dash.
Thought for Day Four:
“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.” ~Anne Lamott
Imagine your scene. Step into it as if a moment has frozen in time. What is your character holding in her hand? What is on the table and why? Pay attention to your principles not just to the the plot. Let them speak. They may have things to say to you. It may be your story talking to you. Be an active listener. Don’t just try to tell the story everything you know. Let it speak, too.
How important is your punctuation to you as you draft? I’ll confess that I go back and tidy up any obvious flaws like an omitted word or missed quotation mark.
Day Four: 1,738 words
Excerpt from Rock Creek
Just as everyone was slowing down, except for Cling who was dipping his fingers into the smears of gravy left on his plate, a loud rap came at the door. Cob stood so quickly, his chair scooted sharply. Mary dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin and sat straight as Cob answered the door. It was her father, Joseph, and two of her seven brothers.
“Evening Joe, Hiram, DJ. Come in, we’re just finishing supper.”
Mary stood up. “Hello Father, would you like some…” She looked at the table, realizing nothing remained. Three wee boys. What was she to do when they were older?
“Daughter, I don’t see a crumb left for a field mouse.” Joseph stood rigid and Mary resisted the urge to hug him.
“So I see. I do have more applesauce.”
“We’re fine. DJ’s Cathy made a meal.”
“My wife is going to have to teach you to cook larger quantities, Sister.”
Mary frowned at DJ. “She only has two more than me. I’m sure I’ll adjust.”
Cob was buttoning up his coat. “I’ll saddle up my horse and then we’ll ride out.” Mary knew the men were headed over to Sugar Cove to meet in regards to some French merchant who had come into the area selling folks job lots. It was nothing more than mass quantities of cheap items but he was refusing cash or barter, welcoming credit. Turns out he was having folks sign over property to gain this credit. Mary also suspected that the men would use this gathering to debate the state of the union and its territories.
DJ picked up the newspaper and mumbled something about the traitor governor. Before Mary could send him a warning glare to mark his words in front of young ears, Monroe asked, “What’s in the paper Uncle DJ?”
“Well, says here that coal can’t be used for steam locomotives.”
Mary nodded her approval.
“Like for the railroad? I’ve not yet seen a train.”
Joseph said, “They’re running a line to Johnson’s Tank over the mountain in Tennessee. You’ll be able to take a steam engine all the way to a steamboat.”
Hiram shook his head. “Give me fine Kentucky horseflesh any day.”
DJ scowled. “You mean fine Tennessee horseflesh, Brother.”
“Boys,” Mary warned. The Green men had grown even more incorrigible since their mother died in 1850. Her father was the worst, yet he seemed quiet tonight. It meant he had something to say.
Joseph cleared his throat. “Monroe. You take them young fellars to the back porch and wash up their faces and hands.
Monroe looked to his mother. Mary nodded. Once the boys went to the back of the house Mary asked, “What is it, Father?”
“Reckon you should know he’s taken up with that Shull slattern again.”
Mary felt the flush rise from her neck to her face.
“Want us to see that he has an accident, Sister?” Hiram looked eager to start.
“How dare you. I will hunt you down if my husband so much as scrapes his knee.”
“Now, Mary, Hiram is just telling you, the family supports you.”
“The family? Amos and Isaac are already talking about leaving for Tennessee because they can’t stand the divisions in this family.” Mary knew it was unfair to bring up her twin brothers’ plans but in truth, she feared that if the sensible Greens started leaving she’d be left with the rabid ones.
“Don’t you care he’s dragging our family through the hog muck?” DJ scowled at her as if Mary was the one he accused.
“Not that it is any of your business, but I know that my husband takes food and firewood to Sarah’s cabin. He sinned, he confessed and now he is repenting. Both his father and I agreed that he needs to care for the welfare of the woman and child shunned by their sin.”
Joseph scoffed, but before his words followed, Cob’s boots clunked up the front porch steps. He walked into the house and Mary knew he sensed the tension. “Best be going,” he said. He merely nodded to her as he followed her father and brothers out the door.
From behind the window curtain, Mary watched the men meld into the early evening shadows. She saw Cob pull a punch on each brother, DJ tumbling to the dirt. She sighed, relieved that they wouldn’t get the jump on Cob, yet frustrated that Cob wouldn’t punch the real instigator. Joseph worked his family into fighting every chance he got. Her mother would have never let him be that way, but then again, his misery was due to her being gone to the grave. She wished all her brothers would be more sensible like Amos and Isaac, but it wasn’t sense they fought for. It was money and power. In these parts, folks had too little of either.
It was hours past dark before Mary heard Cob ride in. She could tell he was alone. The kitchen was clean beyond normal tasks. She could tell Cob noticed when he walked into the house.
“Shall I polish my boots before I dare set them on this pristine floor?”
“No, I was just passing time after getting the boys to bed.”
“There’s a couple of gifts lingering nearby that would enjoy passing the time with my wife so fair of face and clean of dust.”
Mary understood that he meant the rocking chair he had made her for Christmas and the porcelain teapot from Julia. It was her mother’s teapot from the Alexander family. Selina Alexander McCanles herself had offered the gift to Julia to share with Mary. It was a symbol of unity from the McCanles women. Yet, Mary hadn’t dared to use it yet. “I suppose I could rock if my husband were to join me.”
Cob carried a kitchen chair to set it next to Mary in her rocker. Because the chair was made for her diminutive size and the kitchen chairs were big enough to hold McCanles men, she felt like a doll sitting next to Cob. She was glad she didn’t have tea. She had more important things to discuss.
“Cob, I have a Christmas gift for you.”
“It’s rather late with spring coming on.”
“After you swore your fidelity to me and agreed to take care of the sufferings of, well, of others…I let you back into my bed.”
Cob was grinning like a rogue. “Is this bedroom talk, fair Lady?”
Mary gave him her best Green scowl. “This is what happens after the bedroom. I’m with child.”
Mini-cup of coffee for WriMos: Day 4
If you study for your writing–research or similar genre–set those books aside. Let what you’ve read for study work its way into your writing naturally. But do read. Read for fun. Recall what it is that you love in a good book. Engage with a good story, a good laugh or a good classic.
On Tuesdays, I compile the responses from last week’s Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge. So these 99-word stories about ruts are my mini-offereings to WriMos to take a break and read.
For a feel-good break, I suggest Nano num-nums with fellow WriMo and Rough Writer, Geoff Le Pard. He’s published his first book which was a NaNoWriMo project, and is working on the sequel this month. How’s that for inspiration!
What do you read when you are doing NaNoWriMo?
Ed and Edna by Larry LaForge
Ed pays the bills. Edna cooks. They’ve never discussed it, but it’s been that way for 43 years.
Except one time.
Edna wanted to hide the huge bill from Watkin’s Department Store. She intercepted the mail, plucked the bill, and went online to pay it. Edna managed to transmit $2,414.00 electronically to cover the $241.40 bill.
Ed decided to broil himself a chicken. He set the oven to 500 degrees, plopped it in, closed the oven door, and left. The smoke alarm woke him up.
They quickly returned to their rut — or groove.
Ed pays the bills. Edna cooks.
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.
George by Anne Goodwin
Irene slid the prospectus across the table. “Anything you fancy?”
George eyed the whitewashed villas bathed in sunshine. “You’ll leave Eric for me?”
“It’s what we planned. Once you were retired and my kids had left home.”
“Nobody mentioned moving to Spain,” said George.
“Why not? The heat would do wonders for your arthritis,” said Irene.
“And everything’s so cheap there. How much would you get for this place?”
“I can’t sell The Willows. I’ve lived here all my life.”
Irene sighed. “You’re not still expecting your sister to come back, are you? It must be over fifty years.”
You can read her other two character flashes at Annectdotal. Anne Goodwin is working on her Not Quite NaNo project.
No Way Out Part Five – Breathe by Sherri Matthews
Bill buried his head in his hands as the doctor uttered just five words: “Joey’s operation was a success.”
By early dawn and back home, Bill retrieved his phone from the bin where he had dumped it the day before. So many missed calls from a lifetime ago…
He saw it then: the repossession letter on the kitchen table. Bill’s upper lip curled as he grabbed the letter and his lighter. Outside in his back garden, sparks flew up into the dawn-lit sky as he watched the letter burn. Now he breathed.
“Not yet you bastards, not yet.”
Gall, Gratitude, and Guilt by Ruchira Khanna
Each night she promises herself not to go back to that kind of life, but morning strikes, and the gratitude of being rescued when she was in the dungeon always springs up when she wants to revolt thus faithfully follows the 9am to 9pm orders without any debate.
She drags herself to the routine while relying on her destiny.
Knocks twice on her door, prior to entering, and finds her body pale with no expressions.
Screeches for help!
Moans when her master is declared dead, and guilty when she hears about acquiring 25% of her wealth.
The Form by Sarah Brentyn
Oliver knew precisely when it started.
The nurse had asked him to fill out a form. That was eighteen days ago. Oliver had forgotten to write his street number on the “address” line.
Now there was a sheet with Oliver’s name on it, written in blue ink, tucked in a file cabinet somewhere in that building. And on that paper was a blank spot where there should be blue numbers in Oliver’s handwriting.
He had walked to the office twelve times with his blue pen. They wouldn’t let him behind the check-in window to write “1397” in the space.
Cornered by Charli Mills
And still the flow of wagons continued. By day, Sarah took coins from teamsters for crossing Cob’s toll bridge and at night she tallied the income. Cob was amassing a fortune in dimes and silver half-dollars. He’d stop by when he wasn’t building. Last week it was a hay barn for the stage coach company that agreed to make Rock Creek their stop, and this week is was a cabin for the schoolteacher he hired. It all pounded against Sarah–the busy days, the lonely nights. She felt as cornered as the iron-clad wheels that rolled down rutted tracks.
Bee Happy by Love Happy Notes
Joseph’s thoughts flurried with worry until a voice quieted them.
‘Isn’t it wonderful to discover something new; a sunset, flower, a way of thinking? Wonders abound! What have you noticed today?’
Joseph searched for the voice. He questioned the sky, sea, fauna and flora.
Speech came from inside a flower.
‘Empty your mind, my friend. You create the brain clutter of worry, regret, and guilt. You needn’t feed them. Set them free. Open your heart. You exist to be happy.’
Mind liberated, unlearning complete, eager to explore the world, Joseph’s new life brought joy to everyone he met.
Out of the Rut by Sarah Unsicker
A deer run approaches the hiking trail. The sign reads “Do Not Stray Off the Path.” Always the rule-follower, Hannah turns onto the natural highway.
The ground is soft, grass bends beneath her feet. She has entered a dim world that smells of earth and evergreen trees. Mushrooms and wildflowers speak peace as dense trees mute hikers’ conversations. Her body settles against a rotting log that gives to her weight. Her lungs expand as she breathes in the forest. The long chore list forgotten, she takes in the pleasure of nature that is carefully cultivated out of modern life.
Blocked In by Pete
Mills stared at the cinderblock wall. He knew each crack and crevice, hell, he’d even counted the pores until the shadows dragged him to sleep. A shake of the head, then back to his notebook. His account needed to be told.
His pen scratched the surface, then stopped. A wail of agony. Mills rose, his old joints aching and popping. That’s the thing about concrete, it just took, never gave.
He never got used to it, the walls or the wails. And still four hundred and thirty one more days until it was over.
If there was anything left.
Walking the Dog by Geoff Le Pard
She had seen Rupert. He said Peter was her real father which meant he had an affair before the one with Angela, Rupert’s mother. Oddly it didn’t shock Mary; any more than that the woman she called ‘mother’ had accepted Mary as her own.
Mary imagined her mother’s reaction: calm, practical, no emotion; nothing to upset her ordered existence. Mary was different. She kicked the tyre tracks. She would find her real mother.
Rut by Irene Waters
Pamela walked to the clothes line. The rut in the path caused the bag hanging off her waist to bang her hip with each lopsided step.
“You’ve got to stop doing it.”
“No. I don’t want to.”
“It’s not healthy.”
“No habit is healthy if you can’t stop doing it. I’m surprised the authorities let you do it in the first place.”
“Legal precedent. They had no choice. Bess Throckmorten did it. Twenty years she carried Sir Walter’s head. Carried it ’til the day she died.”
“That wasn’t the only rut Bess had. She was jailed for the other.”
NaNoWriMo Day 4 Update:
Goodbye Sarah Shull of my flash fiction. You have led me to your story and no longer will I toy with who you are in 99 words. Never did I suspect that the biggest project I would take on as a writer would evolve from 99-word explorations. Tomorrow I’ll post the next Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge and explain how consistent craft practice led to a break-thru moment as a writer.
Hello Sarah Shull of NaNoWriMo 2014. Today’s Word Count: 2,030
Excerpt (and yes, it’s based on the “cornered” flash fiction):
The scrape of brake on iron-clad wheels and shouts of “Whoa!” signaled the arrival of yet the third wagon train. Dust clogged the air outside the toll cabin with a throat-choking fog. Sarah kept the curtain snugly pinned to reduce the permeating dust that still seeped into the dark room. It was cool inside despite the heat of day. Before stepping outside, she smoothed back her dark hair, checked the hairpins in her bun and put on a sun bonnet of deep blue calico with emerald green hexagons outlined in white.
A man shouted from outside, “In the cabin, ho!”
First she would need to dampen a small patch of hankie, the material neatly matched her bonnet, so as to have it to breathe through if the dust was too thick or to wipe her face to keep it clean.
Another shout of “Ho,” came from outside.
Sarah shook her hips as she stood to settle her skirt and petticoats. She took a sip of water from the tin cup next to the water bucket and felt ready to go dicker with the wagon master. Before opening the door, someone from outside pounded heavily. She frowned at the ungentlemanly haste of the knocking. While she didn’t share Cob’s view entirely regarding the Yankees, they were an impatient lot.
Bright sunlight cut through the dust to illuminate a man on horseback as Sarah opened the heavy cabin door. “Excuse me, Sir. Kindly back your horse off my steps.”
The man wore a duster and had a kerchief of red tied around his neck. It must have served as a mask because his mustache and chin seemed cleaner than the white dirt that paled around his eyes and coated his cheeks like pastry flour. A large round hat shadowed his dusty face but didn’t hide the surprise at seeing Sarah. By now she was used to the looks wagon masters gave her. If any looked too hard or too long they often met a second surprise—Cob’s fists.
Reining his horse back, the dusty animal tucked his nose and stepped back off of the river rock flagstones Cob had paved at the entrance to the toll cabin. He took off his hat. “Sorry about that, Ma’am. Wasn’t expecting a woman.”
Sarah stood on the flagstones and glanced up the line of wagons. This would be a good day for collecting coin. “How many wagons in your party, Sir?”
“About that. Since when has Rock Creek crossing required a toll?” She could see that he was angry, but kept his words soft. He didn’t sound Yankee or Carolinian. So many people had passed through here since she and Cob took over the way station by the first of April, that she was still hearing the variances of place upon speaking.
“Mr. David McCanles, owner of this way station, built a toll bridge in April this year of our Lord, 1859.”
“What kind of cod-head would go and do that?” He snapped his hat against his thigh, dust rising from it and spooking his horse.
Sarah could hear Cob down the knoll among the campers who had purchased space on the broad flat for the coming evening. As loud as his voice was booming, he must be expounding his views to some soul who shared a different idea. She’d have to handle this wagon master on her own. It was not unlike dealing with customers at her father’s store once Mr. Shull had cut off their credit. She was practiced in disgruntled men. It was the disgruntled women who put up the greater fuss. “50 cents per wagon, Sir.”