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Writer Wednesdays – Jenni Gudgeon

Today, Writing Wicket interviews Jenni Gudgeon.

Jenni is a photographic artist from Fife, Scotland, who etches into photographs to create one off pictures. In May 2013, she exhibited a couple of fairy creatures that she’d etched into photos taken in her local woods. As her pitch, she told people silly stories she’d made up about the creatures while etching them. She was told repeatedly that these stories would be great as a book. She explained she couldn’t write and that the project would never happen. Three days later, she woke up with the first line in her head and thought, “Oh my god, I’m writing a book!” She independently published Folkland Fables in March 2018.

Q: If you could be any author, who would it be and why?

I’d be Terry Pratchett. When I was about fifteen, I told my friends how I thought the world worked. It was a slightly crazy idea, and they told me I was being an idiot, so I kept those thoughts to myself from then on. About five years later, someone gave me The Colour of Magic to read, and everything I’d told those friends aged fifteen was written down in his books. I want to be the person who lets other people know they’re not alone in thinking the way they do. And I want the world to be brighter because it includes me in it.

Q: What is the first book that made you cry?

One story my Mum told me was getting a phone call from the neighbours letting her know that I was crying in my pram in the back garden. She apparently replied that she knew I was crying because she’d put me out there so she wouldn’t have to hear the rest of my tantrum after she refused to read me The Billy Goats Gruff a fourth time.

Q: What are your favourite literary journals?

I’m afraid I don’t know any. I’m not even sure exactly what a literary journal is. Yeouch! #notaproperwritersyndrome

Q: What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Ooh, there I so many that I’ve fallen into at one point or another. I think the one thing which made the biggest difference to my writing was creating a character profile for my main character. I didn’t do one at first because I was so new to writing that I’d never heard of them. I was encouraged to create one, and was shocked at how much more it made me know my MC, and how it made me understand how they’d react in different situations.

Q: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

My research time is now my official procrastination time. I always panic when I’m about to start designing a new picture so I allow myself one day to research the creature I’m creating. During this time, I copy and paste everything I can find online that interests me about the creature. As a by-product, I also start to think about how the creature’s mythology would have shaped their character, and what they’d be like if you knew them.
E.g., for centuries unicorns have been told that they’re perfect in every way, and they’ve gradually believed the hype and become big-headed bores. Therefore, my unicorns are vain, stupid, and obsessed by the length of their horn.

Q: What is your favourite childhood book?

There were a few books I loved as a child, but the stand out one has to be Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. The illustrations are beautiful, and I loved the idea of leaving my boring, annoying life behind and travel to far off lands to meet monsters.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

None of this is hard. Many people work in dull, life-sapping jobs, and being able to create art as part of my living is a privilege I don’t underestimate.
As an artist of many years, I was used to people critiquing my art, so I haven’t had as much of a problem with people critiquing my stories as most newbie writers do. I know I need to get criticism in order to learn, but I don’t like it much. I deal with it by allowing myself to be angry at the impact it has made on my self-esteem and having a couple of glasses of wine to wallow. Then I leave the criticism to stew for a couple of days before thinking it through properly. By this time, the subconscious part of my brain has decided whether the person is right or not and I can get on with solving the problems without the white heat of hurt affecting my judgement.

The part I most struggled with when writing my book was coping with the conflicting advice from my five beta readers. It overwhelmed me because I didn’t know whose opinion to take over the others. I met with my mentor, who gave me excellent advice and gently reminded me that I was in charge and could take or leave any opinion as I wanted. It helped a lot having someone to share the problem with.

Q: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

It energizes me.

Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? If you write under one now, why did you do so?

No, I never considered it. I’d been creating art under my own name, so for consistency it made sense to use it for my book too. I might consider writing under a pseudonym if I changed genres.

Q: If you could start over again in your writing career, what would you do differently?

The only thing I’d like to change is to have enjoyed my launch more. My formatter took ten times longer than he should have done, so I had to reschedule my launch party in order to have books to sell. Then, and extremely unfortunately, a close relative got extremely ill just before the rescheduled party, so bringing out a book was the last thing on my mind. I found the whole thing quite a trial and can barely remember it at all, or the wonderful things people said to me.

Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

There are so many things I’d change about myself! Can I have two? Listening more when people talk to me would be a huge one, and I’d like to be less paranoid as well.

Q: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I lived in a pretty sheltered community as a child, so my first awareness of using language expressly to hurt, and my introduction to racism was at the same moment and quite late on. My best friend at primary school was half Pakistani, and throughout the 1970s I never heard one racist remark to her in our community. She experienced it, but I was never aware of anything at all. In the first term at secondary school aged eleven, we were walking down a corridor and an older boy shouted out to her, “Do you want a banana?” It made no sense to me why she should want a banana on the way to class so I said something like, “That was weird. Why would he ask you that?”, and she told me it was because her darker skin made him think she looked like a monkey.

It blew my mind. She was my beautiful, talented, outgoing, exotic (it was the 70s and she had cushions with mirrors sewn into them – wow!) best friend who I would have loved to be, and other people could only see her as a colour? Also, she knew that’s how some people saw her.

Q: Do you want each of your books book to stand on its own (if you’re writing more than one, that is), or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

The next two books I have in mind are linked, but after that I’m not sure. I’d like to do something with Greek Gods, or possibly Shetland’s mythical creatures (which are different from the Scottish ones). I’d like to start writing continuous stories rather than the guides to fairy tale creatures my first two books will be.

Q: Are there any books you didn’t like and couldn’t finish reading? Why?

I struggle to remember the names of books/authors I like let alone the ones I give up on. I’m much better at remembering the stories within, though. I don’t like pretentious writing, or writing which uses thirty words when five will do. Long words for the sake of using long words always turns me off too.

Q: How often do you write?

The honest answer is that I write when I need to. I’d love to write every day, but my pictures take between 14 to 36 hours each to etch (To see how I etch into photos, you can view a video on my website via the link below.) so take much longer than my writing. I could write something else, but I get very involved in the picture I’m etching, and resent anything which takes me away from it.

For Folkland Fables, I quickly made a first draft of each creature’s story (about 300 words per creature) and then concentrated on the pictures until they were complete. Only then did I work solidly on the writing part until it was as perfect as I could make it.

Q: What challenges have you faced in publishing?

I couldn’t get an agent or publisher so I had to go the indie publishing route and learn it all on the job. My mentor told me on our first session that I would probably want to self-publish rather than go the traditional route. This is because I’m an artist and am therefore a control freak. I’m used to being in total control of my own work, and traditional publishers would probably want a say in the finished work too. My biggest challenge has been marketing. In my ideal world I’d concentrate on creating and someone else would sell my work. I hate having to promote myself all the time and find the right blurb to entice people to want to buy.

Q: What’s the best way to market indie books?

As I say, I’m not great at this, but I do a range of things. I’m not sure it’s a one-size-fits-all thing. I advertise on Amazon, do craft fairs, and post regularly on social media, and I am building up a mailing list (according to Mark Dawson of Self Publishing Formula, this is the most important thing). There’s lots of free information on the internet about marketing your book, and I’d say spend a few weeks learning from those who know.

Q: What is your biggest accomplishment (in writing or otherwise)?

My biggest accomplishment by far as been completing the many, many edits I needed to do in order to make my book ready for publication. Watching my tangled ideas gradually transform into beautiful sentences was incredibly exciting and a life changing experience. I can’t wait to do it all over again.

Q: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Paying for mentoring sessions has given me invaluable advice from someone who’s been there before at every stage of my publishing journey. I was very lucky to slightly know a local author who also did mentoring, and she’s become a good friend over the years.

Q: What book(s) have you written?

Folkland Fables: an illustrated guide to the fairy creatures who live in the woods near my home in Fife, Scotland.

Check out Jenni’s website and social media:

Website: https://jennigudgeon.co.uk/

How I etch link: https://jennigudgeon.co.uk/about-jenni/how-i-etch-photographs/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennigudgeonartist/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennigudgeonartist/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennigudgeonart

Amazon link to book: https://amzn.to/2ARnAZ6


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C.A. MacKenzie is the author of (among other books) the novel WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama/thriller, available from the author or at various retailers including Amazon [https://www.amazon.com/Wolves-Dont-Knock-C-MacKenzie/dp/1927529387/].
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Writer Wednesdays – Karen Black

Today, Writing Wicket is showcasing Karen Black.

Karen lives in the eastern United States with her husband and three little aliens who are disguised as cats. She is fascinated by the supernatural and draws on that fascination along with her background in criminal justice to create stories of drama and suspense, with a touch of paranormal. Karen has published a collection of short stories, some of which were also published individually. She is one of the Seven Fates writers and released her first novel, Race into Murder, this spring.

karen black

I asked Karen:

Q: How often do you write?

A: An average of three or four days a week. Sometimes I go into overdrive and spend days hovering over my laptop, but then there are times I don’t even look at a story for a week or more.

Q: What genre(s) do you write?

A: Drama, suspense, mystery.

Q: What is your favourite genre?

A: Suspense.

Q: What motivates you, in writing or otherwise?

A: My primary motivation in writing is my long-time friend and editor, Robert Arend. He is probably the only one who can get me moving when I go into a writing slump. I tend to work on six or eight projects at a time and have found that going back to a story gives me new incentive, as opposed to sticking with one from start to finish. I tend to allow life to interfere with my writing and don’t put it at the top of my priorities.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?

A: I like the way the characters take on a life of their own. I’m never sure how they will develop.

Q: What do you like least about writing?

A: The stiff shoulders from staying in one position too long!

Q: If you could start your life over again, what would you do differently?

A: Strange as this will sound, I wouldn’t change much, if anything. Although there have been some bad times, and some things I’m not necessarily proud of, there have been wonderful times and things I’m delighted to have accomplished. That being said, I wouldn’t be where I am and who I am if my past was different, and right now, I’m happy with both.

Q: Have you ever cried with one of your characters?

A: No.

Q: What is your biggest accomplishment (in writing or non-writing)?

A: I have always loved to read. When retired, I wondered how hard it could be to write a novel. I found out.  After publishing a variety of short stories, I recently completed a crime novel, which was published this year. I think my biggest writing accomplishment is getting the next one underway, even though I realize how much time and effort the first one took.

Q: How does your life unfold in a normal day?

A: Two cats harass me until I agree to get up and feed them. My husband and I have coffee on the deck if the weather is accommodating, in the house if it isn’t. From that point, all bets are off. It becomes a decision about what needs to be done, as opposed to what we’d prefer to do, and we try to balance the two.

Q: Who are your favourite author(s)?

A: James Patterson, Dan Brown, Lee Childs, Dick Francis

Q: Do you have a favourite book? What is it?

A: I love books, particularly reference books, but I don’t have a favorite.

Q: If you could be any author, who would you pick and why?

A: Karen Black, because overall I’m happy with my life.

Q: Have you set goals? If so, what are they?

A: My current goals are to have a first draft of my next novel completed by the end of this year and to have at least two short stories finished and ready to publish, within the same time frame.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

A: I have begun two novels and half a dozen short stories, all in various stages of completion. I jump between them.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

A: Right now, I simply hope to entertain readers.

Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

A: Don’t believe everything you hear or are told. Do the research and trust your instincts.

Q: What did you want to be when you were a child?

A: A Veterinarian.

Q: Is writing your full-time job? If not, what is?

A: I’m retired, so writing is as a full-time a job as I have, though I spend less than forty hours a week doing it and I take as many vacation days as I want to.

Q: What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

A: I believe in research, research and more research. If an actual historical figure is used in writing, I think the truth about that figure should be incorporated in the publication.

Q: What book(s) have you self-published?

A: Long Stories Short and Race into Murder.

Check out Karen’s book, Race into Murder, on Amazon.

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C.A. MacKenzie is the author of WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama with elements of thriller, suspense, mystery, romance, and family dynamics. Buy it on Amazon. Also available locally from the author and at other local retailers.

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Writer Wednesdays

I’ve started a new feature on my blog. Every Wednesday, I plan to showcase one indie author. I’ve sent invites to my writer friends, and thus far, I’ve had a great response.

Of course, this is, I suppose, mostly self-gratuitous as I’m trying to promote my book, WOLVES DON’T KNOCK. But in the process, the authors who participate will be promoting their works, as well. And every little bit of advertising helps, right?

I’m doing this on a first-come, first-served basis. Wednesdays are booked for the next several weeks, but I don’t want “empty” Wednesdays while I wait for people to return the questions/answers, so I’m offering this to subscribers of my blog, too.

If you’d like to participate in “Writer Wednesdays,” send me an email (writingwicket at gmail.com) that you are interested. I will then forward you a list of questions to answer. Return them, along with a photo of yourself and a short bio, and voila! you’ll rate a spot on a future Wednesday. The only “catch” is that you must be a subscriber to my blog, which is a small price to “pay,” right?

I won’t have time to personally let everyone know the date of their interview, but since you, as a subscriber, receive an email every time I post to my site, you’ll see your interview when it appears. Thursdays are designated for The Spot Writers (an online, flash fiction group I belong to–free fiction!!!), and I might post one other day a week. With Writer Wednesdays, that makes, maybe, three posts a week. But the “delete” button is handy if you wish to ignore an email.

If you are reading this post and aren’t a subscriber, please subscribe. And if you want to be featured on a future Wednesday, email me at “writingwicket (at) gmail.com”.  I will  reply with the questions to be answered.

Happy Writer Wednesdays!

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C.A. MacKenzie is the author of WOLVES DON’T KNOCK, a psychological drama with elements of thriller, suspense, mystery, romance, and family dynamics. Buy it on Amazon. Also available locally from the author and at other retailers.

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The Spot Writers – “Coming of Age” by Phil Yeats

Welcome to The Spot Writers. The August prompt is based on a photo taken at a local zoo. There was a fence leading to a “no admittance” area, but about 12 inches at the bottom had been bent upward, allowing admission of… people? animals? And where does it lead? The Spot Writers’ task: Write a story involving a fence that has been snuck through—as a major or minor plot point.

This week’s story comes from Phil Yeats. Phil (using his Alan Kemister pen name) recently published his first novel. A Body in the Sacristy, the first in the Barrettsport Mysteries series of soft-boiled police detective stories set in an imaginary Nova Scotia coastal community is available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Sacristy-Barrettsport-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07CK94SKV/

***

Coming of Age by Phil Yeats

The school bus dropped them off on Friday afternoon after their third week in grade ten at their new high school. They lived in two isolated houses on the far side of a large industrial estate, the last two kids off the bus before the driver turned back to town. Everyone in school thought they were going steady because they spent their free time together, but it wasn’t so. They knew no one at school and had been friends forever, so they hung together. But they weren’t romantically involved, at least not then.

Mitch dropped his school bag at his place and continued to Jen’s where Mortimer eagerly waited for his afternoon romp. She threw her bag on the porch and chased after her mutt. Mitch followed more slowly knowing they’d make so much noise he’d have no trouble finding them. And anyway, Jen needed a run as much as her dog did. She was the high-strung adventuresome one, always getting them into scrapes.

When Mitch tracked them down, he saw Mortimer running along the chain-link fence that bounded unused forested land behind the industrial estate. The dog vanished through a gap in the fence. Jen yelled “Morty, come back here!”, then squeezed through the gap and promptly disappeared.

Mitch rushed up to the fence and stared into the forest. With no undergrowth or large trees to hide behind, he should have spotted them. Where were they? And why couldn’t he hear them?

After pulling at the fencing to widen the hole, he squeezed through, tumbling and banging his head on fine white sand. Mitch gazed at palm trees swaying in a warm breeze and listened to waves breaking on a beach. He stumbled past girls in bikinis and surfer dudes in their baggy shorts wondering how the Nova Scotia forest had transformed into a tropical beach.

When he found Jen and Mortimer, they were back in the Nova Scotia forest. She rested in a hollow in the long grass while Morty bounded around like the crazed rabbit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. No more tropical beach, just a meadow in the forest, a place where they’d often stopped.

Mitch flopped down beside her, and she reached over and pulled him close, kissing his lips. Had she also been assaulted by the strange tropical beach images? Were they omens, images destined to lead them forward from children to adults? Had they suddenly joined the high school culture where everyone was more interested in relationships than the physical world around them?

Weird and wild, but hey, Mitch could handle it.

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The Spot Writers—Our Members:

 

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story in which one character plays a prank on another. Today’s tale comes to us from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, the young adult reboot of Hawthorne’s masterpiece, and Corgi Capers, the kidlit, canine-packed mystery series.

For this month’s rotation, we’re featuring guest writer Eric Egger, publisher at Freedom Forge Press, who will write this prompt with the added challenge of connecting it to the theme of freedom, as with everything having to do with FFP.

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Ms. Spindle’s Retirement Gift

By Val Muller

Robbie Stewart was the kid she had every year. He came in different names, different bodies, he took different courses. But he was always there. Every iteration was a natural leader or especially talented, or at least had the potential to be, but he always squandered his natural charisma for ill and chaos. Sometimes he riled up the rest of the class. Sometimes he set off another conflicting personality and made a 90-minute class last all afternoon. Sometimes he popped into Ms. Spindle’s head as she tried to fall asleep. Or when she was cooking, one of his irritating antics would replay in her mind, causing her to burn dinner. Sometimes he appeared as a character in a movie or television show, ruining her immersion.

For thirty-seven years she had put up with the Robbie Stewarts of the world. For thirty-seven years she grinned and bore it. She’d always planned on going for just three more. Three short years to round her career to an even forty. Just three more years of Robbie Stewarts. But last month’s faculty meeting had put an end to that. The new initiative, following the latest educational trends, dictated that next year neither she nor any other member of the faculty at Piney Field High School would be allowed to hold students accountable to deadlines. Adhering to deadlines was not part of the academic standards, and it was harmful to student learning.

Theoretically, the Robbie Stewarts of the world could turn in every single assignment from September onward at the end of June. She knew this because Robbie Stewart, sitting in third block study hall, had gotten wind of the new initiative and was questioning her about it.

“So if it was next year, then if I held on to all my assignments and turned them in on June 1, you’d still have to grade them?” he asked, his mouth cracking into a smile. His face was oily with acne, and his teeth needed flossing.

She did not answer, but she suspected her involuntary cringe was all the encouragement he needed.

“And what if every student did the same? You would have to grade every single assignment from every single student on June 1.” He stifled mock concern. “That would take you hours. You’d have no time to yourself. Not on weekends, not on evenings. It would almost mirror the way teachers make students feel. Having assignments intruding into all our waking hours…” He was mumbling now, taking the joke beyond its natural stopping point, making a few other students chuckle. “…would barely even have time to shower, let alone eat.”

Luckily, this particular Robbie Stewart would graduate in a few weeks, but another would replace him, and next year’s R.S. would surely take full advantage of the new late work policy, exposing all the loopholes before the administration team even had a chance to address them.

“It’s not worth it,” her husband agreed over dinner that night. “You put in your time. Not everything has to be neat and even. Thirty-seven is just as good as forty.” Indeed, the difference in pension was a mere seventeen dollars and fifty-three cents a month if she stayed the extra three years.

“I won’t get my forty-year service pin,” she said. “Or my watch.” The district gave a fancy, engraved watch to all teachers who made it to the forty-year mark.

Her husband smiled. “I’ll buy you a watch, Mrs. Spindle. Any color you want. Even gold.”

She thought about Robbie Stewart. This year, he was big on taking pictures of assignments and distributing them to classmates. He didn’t charge for this service; he did it for the fame. She’d caught him in October with a copy of the vocabulary quiz, one he’d gotten from a recycling bin at the end of the previous school year. She’d caught him using his watch to send texts with answers to the fifteen-page history packet right before the due date. She’d tried to turn him in twice, but each time, Robbie Stewart cleared his phone so that when Admin searched it, they found nothing incriminating.

Except Mrs. Spindle’s repressed frown.

Robbie Stewart was on her mind that night as she agreed to the retirement with her husband. After that, her teaching took a noticeable dive. She relied on decades’ worth of material for the final weeks of the year. She took sick days to accommodate several three- and four-day weekends. She allowed students to view more movies in one month than she’d allowed in the last five years. And while they watched, she just stared and stared. The time was growing short. She had only days to make her move.

She had been watching carefully, these new smart devices students had. There were watches and jewelry and little fobs you stuck to your sneaker. They tracked movement, sent alerts and notifications, and even browsed the web.

Robbie Stewart had the most impressive watch of them all. It was a blue one, a unisex band not too thick. It was a serene blue, too, the color she imagined retirement would be. Whenever he got a text, the watch glowed, a pulsing blue light. And she knew he could send texts from it, too, and access the Internet. She wasn’t sure the details of how it worked; she knew only that she desired that watch more than she desired her service pin or the platinum-colored watch the district would have bestowed upon her three years hence. It was a symbol of the menacing power of Robbie Stewart.

She popped in another movie and opened her laptop. Years of creativity, repressed by student apathy and teenage angst, came flooding out. Her years of teaching journalism and research papers mingled together in the cauldron of her brain, coalescing into the perfect concoction. It was fed by the renewed energies allowed by her recent long weekends and lack of lesson planning. It was the inspiration of a career’s worth of self-indulgence, all packed into a single moment.

She experimented with fonts and columns, with stock art and bylines, until it looked the part. She left the class alone to watch the film and trotted to the copier. She photocopied the article once, then photocopied the copy and its copy until it had that worn-out look that made it seem genuine, like something the main office would distribute.

And then she left the bait. When Robbie Stewart’s class came in, she left it tucked between the chair in front of him and his desk. It stuck out just enough to intrigue the lad. Before she started the film, she channeled all her years of teaching Shakespeare. With a performance worthy of an Emmy, she feigned concern.

“Students, I seem to have left an important article somewhere. If you happen to see it, please turn it in to me at once. No need to read it. In fact—” she hesitated and tried to make her face turn red and then pale— “It’s actually a bit controversial. It has nothing to do with you, mind you. Just with some policies going to be implemented next year.”

She stifled a smile as Robbie raised an eyebrow. As soon as her back was turned, she heard him snatch the article. She made a show of searching under several student desks as the movie commenced, not minding the young lad reading quietly at his desk.

As the students shuffled out, Robbie tossed something in the trash, leaving the room especially quietly. She waited until they all left. The room was silent and full of the emptying scent of teenagers. As the air cooled and freshened, she bent down to unroll a wad of paper. There was her article, well read. High school senior expelled as smart watch reveals cheating; college admission rescinded. She smiled again at her use of quotations from the principal of the nearby county who was apparently receiving some kind of award for his groundbreaking sleuthing into student technology. Even the superintendent had been quoted, confirming the district’s ability to search student devices without warning.

She chuckled. If the article were true, Robbie’s watch probably contained enough evidence to get him expelled three times over. Too bad it was just really good fiction.

She wadded up the article to return to the trash when something twinkled in the trash can. There it was, in all its glory: Robbie Stewart’s blue watch. Abandoned for fear of it being a snitch. Her article had been more convincing than she thought.

The watch felt cool around her wrist, but it warmed almost immediately, and she swore she felt youth making its way from her skin into her blood and up her arm. She went to the main office right away to arrange leave for the rest of the year. Who needed to work three more years to make an even forty? She left school smiling, her trophy sparkling serenely around her wrist in the early June sun.

* * *

The Spot Writers is seeking another member. Have what it takes to write one flash fiction piece per month? Want it published on four different blogs? Need other flash pieces for your blog content? It’s a great way to stay motivated to write—and write for an audience. If interested, contact Val for details!

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The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Eric Egger: www.freedomforgepress.com/blog (guest this month)

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The Spot Writers – “Perfect People” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. April’s prompt is based on a Stephen Hawking quote: “The universe does not allow perfection.”

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has published two anthologies: OUT OF THE CAVE and TWO EYES OPEN, two collections of short stories by authors around the world, to read during the day…or at night, as long as two eyes are open. Not “horrific horror”…more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply good reads.

TWO EYES OPEN: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1927529301/

OUT OF THE CAVE (milder stories for 13+): https://www.amazon.com/Out-Cave-stories-Cassandra-Williams/dp/1927529298/

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Perry, a writer friend, used to read my work. He lived down the street and popped in whenever he had writer’s block. Seemed he had writer’s block more often than not. Did he have ulterior motives, something more than curiosity at a fellow writer’s writings? He was a dear friend, so close he could have been my husband, but I was happily married to the perfect guy in the perfect marriage, so I didn’t need Perry.

Perfection, right? Or was it a matter of perception?

Perry had fawned praise upon my writing in the past, given me 5-star reviews, sometimes 4 stars. Once in a while, he’d tell me a story was crap, comments I took in stride, for I’m a writer, and writers must have thick skins. And sometimes my stories were crap!

Praise is nice, when it’s warranted. I’ve always asked for honesty.

He was a self-proclaimed editor, too, and edited my work in the past. Edited miserably. I’ve found numerous errors and inconsistencies in stories he previously said were perfect. But I never said anything, not wanting to rile him up, for I was certain he’d be upset I caught things he’d missed. But that was okay. They were my stories, and he edited out of the goodness of his heart. You get what you pay for, right?

Right!

So perfect little me never said anything.

“Let me read a book of your short stories,” he said one day.

“Yeah, okay,” I said. “I’m working on a book now, in fact.”

I was happy someone wanted to read works that might be hidden from the public forever. “But be honest,” I said. “I want honesty.”

“You’ll get it.”

I emailed my book of twenty-two stories to him.

A few days later, he sent me his two-page critique. Two stories were trash (crap!), despite the fact both had been previously published in publications, which meant others had enjoyed them. Four stories were 5-star; eight were 4-star, seven were 3-star, and one was a 2-star.

I didn’t totally agree the two stories were trash, but I deleted them from the file. I had another I could add to the book that I would send for his quick review.

He told me what was wrong with the non-5-star stories. All opinion, of course. I was a tad upset with his comments on the 2-star story, which I thought was one of my perfect stories, but after sleeping on it, I realized he was right. The ending didn’t make sense, and neither did happenings beforehand that resulted in the ending. I revised it “to perfection” and thanked him profusely for his perception. Perfect perception, to be honest.

According to him, several of the 4-star stories could be 5-star stories if I did “this” or “that.” I reread each one, his comments forefront in my mind. I concluded I liked most of them as they were. They would turn into different stories had I revamped them. In one story, the main character would be an evil person had I followed his wishes, which was totally not the gist of my story.  I didn’t even understand his comments as they pertained to a couple of other stories. It was as if he hadn’t read them carefully enough.

I incorporated most of his other suggestions, the mistakes and inconsistencies, which would up the level of the 3-star stories (according to him).

I hadn’t realized Perry was God until I emailed him, advising him of my changes and non-changes. I gave explanations. I perfectly profusely thanked him.

They were my stories, after all, and the author is ultimately responsible for her stories. It’s the writer’s prerogative to accept or reject an editor’s changes and suggestions. Not to mention, in this case, that he was a friend; he wasn’t a paid editor. Besides, every reader has different likes and dislikes, different opinions. No story is perfect to each person.

I’m not perfect, but I am a perfectionist. I agonize over each word choice, check each comma, double-check each spelling. Despite that, my stories will never be perfect.

He lambasted me in a reply email because I hadn’t “obeyed” him one hundred percent. I was stunned! Umm, gee, I had incorporated the majority of his changes, even deleting two stories! Who was he? Perfect Perry? Yup, apparently so.  His opinion obviously ruled.

Who was Perry to say this story needed “that” or that story needed “this”?

Yes, all you writers and editors: I realize a writer is so close to her own work that she can’t see the forest for the trees. (And yes, I know clichés are a no-no. I’m trying to make a point, and sometimes a cliché, an already established statement, brings out the point better than a made-up phrase.)

As I said, I was shocked at his reaction. I politely emailed back. I explained my reasoning. Aren’t I entitled to my opinion? Opinions are opinions, are they not? And who’s to say his opinion tops another individual’s? I also didn’t realize I had to accept his every comment/change.

I expected him to apologize for his abruptness. He could be having a bad day. I’ve lashed out in the past, later regretting words said in anger from an unrelated incident. In fact, he recently lambasted me and seconds later apologized.

But there were no apologies. (Perfect people don’t apologize. What need do they have for apologies?)

He replied again. And again. Both times telling me where to go, telling me to f***off (stopping a smidgen short of using that exact phrase), something along the lines of: “You’re so perfect, carry on. You don’t need me! You need someone to spout praise when it isn’t warranted. Try to sell your books to a universe that yearns for perfection. I’m done.”

I was more than shocked; more than pissed. He didn’t deserve the satisfaction of a further reply. He’s perfect, remember? Nothing I can say will satisfy him (not that I need to satisfy him). I even said I was sorry in my first email. I was sorry? For what?

I wanted to ask: Is your opinion perfect? Are you Perry Perfect? Is that your middle name or your last?

I wanted to say: A little politeness would go along with your so-called perfection. And you’re not a full-fledged editor; you’re a writer, as I am.

I hadn’t realized he expected me to take his every word as gospel. I never expected his offer to read my stories would hurt our friendship—end it, actually. I miss his unexpected visits. I miss his conversation. He had an opinion on everything. Had run-ins with others, too, now that I look back, due to his self-claimed perfectionism, but this was my first battle with him. I should feel special it hadn’t happened before.

Anyhow, life proceeds—for perfect people and for us peons, the non-perfect humans. Perfect Perry has moved on, to a more perfect neighbourhood. To more perfect people, I guess. I’ll be around. He knows where to find me, but those pigheaded perfect people live in their own perfect glass bubbles.

Ironically, the last story I emailed him, the one to substitute the two I had trashed, was titled “Perfect People.”

I’m still a lowly writer, trying to find readers. And who knows, Perfect Perry may be right about my stories. The universe will reveal that in good time. But even the universe must allow differing opinions. Even Stephen Hawking would agree, wouldn’t he?

Perry: I hope you’re happy in your perfect world.

Stephen Hawking: The universe may not allow perfection, but certain people living here think they’re entitled to it. It’s an entitled world now, you know.

RIP Stephen Hawking. RIP.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “The Vampire” by Cathy MacKenzie

Welcome to The Spot Writers. March’s prompt: How (or why) a young person decides what career (or path) to follow.

This week’s story comes from Cathy MacKenzie. Cathy’s one-woman publishing company, MacKenzie Publishing, has published two anthologies: OUT OF THE CAVE and TWO EYES OPEN, two collections of short stories by authors around the world, to read during the day…or at night, as long as two eyes are open. Not “horrific horror”…more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Simply good reads.

TWO EYES OPEN: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1927529301/

OUT OF THE CAVE (milder stories for 13+):  https://www.amazon.com/Out-Cave-stories-Cassandra-Williams/dp/1927529298/

***

The Vampire by Cathy MacKenzie

Nancy jumped. What was that?

The book she’d been reading, A Nightmare of Vampires, lay beside her. Had she fallen asleep? “Darn, now I’ve lost my place,” she mumbled.

She tiptoed to her bedroom door. Carefully she opened it and peeked into the hall.

Dark. Quiet. No—what was that?

A shadow. At the end of the hall.

Was that Nathan, her seventeen-year-old brother?

Once Nancy’s eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the shadow morphed into a vampire—a real life vampire. A female vampire! Heading to Nathan’s room!

She wanted to keep watching, but she was a fearful. Vampires were bad creatures. They sucked the blood out of you and where would you be then? But that’s why she wanted to be a vampire. She wanted control: control of her destiny, control of others.

She liked the look of blood, the thick red, coppery scent. She’d tasted blood previously, when she cut herself, sometimes on purpose, so she could lick her skin until she had lapped up all the red. The taste wasn’t bad, actually, but not as sweet as she had expected. She worried—if her dream to be a vampire came true—whether she’d be able to stomach strange blood. That was perverse and unnatural, wasn’t it?

But it would be fun to haunt the night, to soar through the sky—vampires did fly, didn’t they? She considered herself a people person, at least that’s what her teacher had recently said. At the time, Nancy thought “people person” was a label for yapping fools who didn’t shut up, but she later learned the connotation was desirable. People were supposed to be sociable, talkative, and interested in others. Nancy was all of those: all the requisites for a female vampire.

She hesitated. She’d love to confront the vampire in the hall and converse with it, but she snuck back to her bed.

Katherine Krimmins was an excellent writer, and Nancy immersed herself in the story again, picturing herself as Vanessa the Vampire. She was aware most vampires were male, but this was the twenty-first century. Couldn’t she be whatever she wanted?

The next morning, she met her grandmother, who was visiting for a couple of weeks, on the stairs, and told her that she wanted to be a vampire when she grew up.

Granny’s eyes grew wide. “What! A vampire? How do you know what a vampire is?”

“I know what they are. I’ve seen them.”

“You’ve seen vampires?”

“Well…just one. Last night.”

“Oh, you must have had a bad dream. A nightmare.”

“No, Granny, I saw one for sure.”

“Where?”

“It was going into Nathan’s room.” She pointed behind her. “I saw it.”

“Oh, Nancy, you silly girl.”

“No, Granny, I saw it.”

“It’s not nice to tell fibs.”

Nancy pouted. “I’m not. And that’s what I want to be when I grow up.”

Her grandmother hugged her. “Oh, sweetie, if you want to be a vampire, you can be a vampire. You can be anything you set your mind to, but you’re only twelve, so I’m sure you’ll change your mind dozens of times before then.”

Nancy relaxed. Even if her grandmother didn’t believe her tale, she had, at least, agreed she could be a vampire. Her mother, though, would have a different opinion.

“Let’s go eat breakfast,” Granny said.

They entered the kitchen. Her mother, busy at the counter, greeted them. Nathan appeared seconds later.

Nancy couldn’t help but notice his flipped-up collar. “Nathan, your collar is skewered.”

His face flushed. Up to no good, she thought.

He glared at her. “Shut up, Nancy.”

Their mother wagged her wet fingers. “Kids, behave.”

When Nathan sat at the table, his collar flipped down.

Nancy gasped and whispered to her grandmother. “Granny, see? Vampires do exist. They suck the blood outta you, just like one did to Nathan last night.”

“Sweetie, what are you talking about?” Granny asked.

She motioned toward Nathan. “Look at Nathan’s neck. See the red blotch? That’s dried blood. That’s where the vampire got him. Sometimes they don’t kill you, you know. It all depends how sharp their teeth are.” Nancy figured she’d be a good vampire. Suck up enough blood to satisfy her urge but not enough to kill.

Nathan, his face even redder, yanked up his collar. “What you guys looking at?”

Their mother growled again. “Kids, hush. Sit down, Nancy and Granny. I have eggs and bacon.”

Nancy ignored her mother and whispered to her grandmother again. “See, I told you I saw a vampire.”

Granny leaned in to her. “I believe you, sweetie. I saw the red mark. But let’s keep that our secret.” Her eyes glistened.

Was she crying?  She looked sad.

“You missing Grampie?” Nancy asked.

“I am, sweetie.”

“Sorry, Granny.”

“Life goes on. Companionship is a good thing. I think being a vampire would be a good occupation when you grow up,” she said.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Suffice” by Dorothy Colinco

Welcome to The Spot Writers. September’s prompt:  Write about a character whose one ability is to amplify the best traits in others. Who would they hang around? Who would they choose to avoid?

***

Suffice by Dorothy Colinco

It’s hard to love someone who’s self-sufficient. Among the traits that you should avoid when seeking a potential life partner, self-sufficient seems pretty far down the list, far below convicted felon, substance abuser, Pirates fan, vegan, or lactose-intolerant. An inability to consume ice cream without later having to desecrate a powder room seems more offensive than the ability to exist without depending on another person for validation and security. And yet.

Ironically, her self-sufficiency is one of things I found most attractive about her. Here was a woman who told me about her flat tired AFTER she had changed it herself. Who saw Les Miserables alone rather than drag me to a musical. I hate musicals, but I loved her. I would’ve gone. When she had a bad day at work or a fight with her mom, she didn’t ask me to bring her wine and ice cream (yes, she could of course consume dairy) and lend her my shoulder to cry on. She just took a weekend for herself and called me three days later, refreshed and happy and content. I was ready and willing to do all those things. I’ve done worse for women I’ve cared less about. But she never asked that of me, asked anything of me, and for a while this hardly seemed something to complain about.

We were our best selves when we were together. She was warm and funny. She told jokes that were unexpectedly irreverent but never downright bawdy. She was so good at describing movies and books and albums. I always said she should be a pop culture writer, and one day she submitted an essay to this magazine and they published it. The first thing she ever sent out! She was kind. So kind, my goodness. Like that one time an autistic kid in the subway screamed at her for touching his shoulder when she said ‘excuse me,’ and the kid’s mom was mortified and apologetic but also very used to this kind of thing, and instead of backing away with a freaked look on her face, she chatted with the mom. not about the kid’s autism and ‘what’s it like to be a mom of a kid on the spectrum?’ No, she just chatted about stuff. I don’t even remember. And the mom was so grateful, you could tell.

We were our best selves together. But. I felt like I wasn’t giving enough of myself. She never asked me to sacrifice anything for her. And after all, isn’t that what makes up a good portion of a relationship? Resenting someone for all you’ve had to sacrifice for them, and then loving them anyway? I thought maybe as we fell deeper for each other that she would start to need me. To view me as essential to her existence. But instead, it seemed like our love had fastened her self-sufficiency to her core even more tightly. It made her more sure than ever of her adequacy as a distinct entity in this vast emptiness that is our existence.

It’s hard to love someone who’s self-sufficient.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

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TWO EYES OPEN!

TWO EYES OPEN anthology. Now available! A mix of 16 short stories by 16 authors. Not “horrific horror”…more like intrigue, mystery, thriller. Just a “good read”…
 
Available on Amazon, print and e-book:
Two Eyes Open FB

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The Spot Writers – “Grading on Effort” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt: Think back on a memory when you were angry. REALLY angry. Now change the names of the people in the memory, the setting, everything familiar about it, and most importantly… the ending. Turn it into a memory that ends happily. Let all the writing wash your anger away.

Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the young adult books The Scarred Letter, The Girl Who Flew Away, and The Man with the Crystal Ankh. Her novels with Barking Rain Press are discounted to $2.99 from now until May 14.

Grading on Effort

By Val Muller

Everyone on the faculty glared at Mr. Becket. They all knew, even though the principal didn’t lay the blame. They all knew it was him, his policies in Gourmet Foods, that was making them all suffer through this ridiculous policy.

“And so,” the principal finished, “we are implementing the policy as of this semester, that we will only grade students on their effort. Too many grades have been given out subjectively, and we just can’t have that anymore.”

The faculty groaned. They’d all read the editorial written by Stephen Smitchen. The one criticizing an unnamed Gourmet Foods teacher of showing favoritism in his gradebook. Stephen Smitchen had prepared Hasselback potatoes, a recipe that required arguably (as his editorial asserted) more culinary skill than Mr. Becket’s required “rustic smashed potatoes.” And yet Stephen was deducted points because the precise cuts of his Hasselback recipe “contradicted the rustic nature of the recipe.”

It was one of those stories that garnered national news attention, an easy topic for clickbait and teasers on the nightly news. And thus the principal’s hands became tied to defend the school’s policies in front of a national audience.

And the school’s policies lost.

The memo was printed on Pepto-Bismol pink paper, and the roomful of them looked sickly, like the memos were there to cure the faculty’s collective stomachache. Martin Flemming wrinkled the corner of his memo as he read: …effective immediately, students will, be allowed to appeal grades, by writing a short essay explaining the effort they put into the assignment. If they can assert, that they put in a valid and admirable effort, then their grade must be changed irregardless of the actual product produced. The rubric, for their essays is printed below…

Martin’s eye twitched at the principal’s use of “irregardless” as well as the excessive use of commas. Shouldn’t a principal understand how to use English correctly? Or at least hire a proofreader? In any case, this policy was bad news. How could he hold students accountable in his Medieval Literature course if he was only allowed to grade on effort? He thought back on all his years of teaching. So many essays written with gusto that were completely…wrong.

You just can’t argue that Beowulf was written to mirror the struggles of modern man. Effort or not, that essay was just inaccurate. And that essay last year, the one arguing that Chaucer was influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? No amount of effort could justify that conclusion. Unless Chaucer had a time machine.

Martin raised his hand.

“Mr. Flemming?” the principal asked. “You have a question?”

“More of a statement,” he said, clearing his throat. All eyes turned to him, hungry mosquitoes ready to bite. “An anachronism is not something subjective. It’s fact. So if—”

But the principal was already shaking his head, his eyes glossed over at the use of the difficult vocabulary word. “If you have specifics about English or History, you’ll need to consult your department chairs.”

Several other hands raised. It was going to be a long meeting. Martin turned to the one tiny window not covered by the meeting room’s light-blocking blinds. It was a nice day. The birds were singing, and the sun looked warm and pleasant. He looked back at the faculty. By the time the principal got through all these questions, the sun would be setting before he’d had a chance to go home and run.

He tucked the pink memo into his bag and shuffled toward the door. The principal gave him an irritated glance, but it would be okay. In the morning, after his mind had been cleared with a long run on a sunny afternoon, Martin could explain to the principal just how hard he’d tried to stay at that awful faculty meeting. Maybe the principal would be amused. Maybe he’d get written up.

Martin shrugged as he stepped into the sun.

He enjoyed his run irregardless.

***

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Dorothy Colinco. http://www.dorothycolinco.com

CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/

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