Tag Archives: writing

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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The Spot Writers – “Autumns Past and Present,” by RC Bonitz

Welcome to the Spot Writers. Today’s contribution comes from RC Bonitz, author of the new book, DANGEROUS DECISIONS, which was released in September. The prompt for this month is to write about autumn.

Autumns Past and Present

I love this month’s topic. Fall is my favorite season of the year, glowing with the reds and yellows of trees preparing for the chill of winter, the air clean and fresh and light jacket comfortable. Sailing in autumn is particularly special, the stifling mugginess of August gone and wonderful brisk winds driving the sails. I’m considered rather insane by my sailing friends since I much prefer to sail when whitecaps dot the harbor and spray goes flying everywhere. I’ve been a boater for most of my life, sailing, rowing, and canoeing. Most of that is in my past except when my son tosses a canoe atop his car and takes me out for a little fun.

I’m actually a spectator when it comes to rowing and autumn is the time to be one. Three members of my family have rowed in the Head of the Charles in Boston. The race takes place in the fall and is a memorable event each time you see it. This year some two thousand boats competed.

And then there’s Halloween of course. I remember when whole neighborhoods went out Trick or Treating and the little ones learned to give as well as take. We’d take the tots out early to collect their loot and then they’d stand at the front door and help give out goodies to the older kids. No one comes to the front door anymore. We buy a bag of candy just in case and end up eating it ourselves. Thank you salacious news media for scaring the dickens out of everyone.

Thanksgivng has become a bigger event in our family recently. This year I’m looking forward to seeing my married grandsons and their wives along with my great-grandson and one of my California granddaughters and her beau. Oh yeah, and their parents will be there too. (smile)

On a more sedate basis, I have a wonderful fireplace to sit beside and read during fall and winter evenings. The snap and pop of burning logs is music to my ears. The books I read must hold my attention lest I drift away and get hypnotized by the dancing flames.

Wondering where I read during the summer? Why, outdoors on our screened porch of course. (I have the best places to read!)

Oh by the way, I write contemporary romance. My fourth book, DANGEROUS DECISIONS, came out September 8. My favorite genres include most categories of romance as well as cozy mysteries and the occasional non-fiction (If it’s as captivating as a good novel.). Horror and paranormal I can do without, though you’ll find a few touches of mysticism in some of my books. That comes from my days as a psychotherapist when I had some almost magical experiences with clients. Sorry, I can’t say more about them- client privacy you know.

Fading eyesight limits my reading lately and I’m very busy writing (book five, Only Emma, is nearing completion) but I still manage to lose myself in the world of other author’s fiction quite a bit. Some of the authors I’ve enjoyed over the years include Jacqueline Winspear (her Maisie Dobbs mysteries) and Louise Penny (Armand Gamache and the village of Three Pines, also mysteries.). I love Laura Moore’s contemporary stories and have just started her latest book, Once Tasted. I recently finished my friend Ann Clement’s, Debt of Honor (historical).

I started writing seriously about fifteen years ago and then joined the Ct. Romance Writers where my writing education took off at light speed. I’ve been an engineer, a corporate manager, a construction contractor and as I mentioned above, a psychotherapist as well as a writer. This is the career I love.

DANGEROUS DECISIONS is available now. I hope you enjoy it. RC Bonitz


The Spot Writers- our members

 RC Bonitz


 Val Muller


 Catherine A. MacKenzie


Tom Robson – Blog pending

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The Spot Writers – “Stolen Time,” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is to use the following 4 phrases in a tale (in any order): “back to school,” “glorious roar,” “and then it fizzled,” “while the wind gusted.” Today’s tale comes to you from Val Muller, author of The Scarred Letter, the YA reboot of Hawthorne’s original in which a girl tries to stand up for the truth in a deceptive world.

Stolen Time

By Val Muller

Rebecca had been dreading Tuesday night for weeks now. September the Fifteenth was the longest night of the year. A night of sweating and stuttering. Of uncomfortable shoes and business suits. Of mosquito-eyed parents staring her down, questioning her, ready to feast on her dignity.

Tuesday was Back to School Night.

Whoever thought of the idea was clearly a sadist. Anyone but first-year teachers hated the concept. Rebecca’s first year, she looked forward to the opportunity to meet and impress parents. She spent two weeks prior making a folder for each student—yes, all 125 of them. A welcome letter for parents. A copy of the syllabus and her office hours. Even a bookmark with a Shakespeare quotation underneath Ms. Reynolds – British Lit – Looking forward to a great year!

That had been in 2010 when her passion for teaching was new, and at its peak.

And then it fizzled.

Though parents seemed to enjoy their folders, they spent the night as Inquisitors. How many years of teaching experience do you have? How many movies do you plan to show? Why so many? Why so few? Who chooses these books on the curriculum, anyway? Why so dated? Why so new?

A haughty woman quizzed her on the spot about prepositional phrases to see how sharp her grammar was. She knew all about the concept, but her mind went blank, and she spent the rest of the night flustered and tongue-tied.

She’s hated Back to School Night ever since.

Which is why the prospect of Hurricane Hughie thrilled her. They had cancelled after-school activities and sports, just as a precaution, and they promised to make a decision on Back to School Night in the early evening. Rebecca flipped on the local news station. Still nothing.

But the wind and the rain certainly was picking up. Nothing like hurricane winds yet, but enough to be alarming. While the wind gusted, she checked the school’s website from her phone. Nothing yet. The power flickered, browned, returned. Then it went out.

The land line rang, and her heart lifted. She picked it up and answered eagerly. She knew this was no telemarketer. It was the robo-call she had been desiring. Back to School Night was cancelled. Not only that, but so many schools had already lost power—with three elementary school basements flooded—that school was cancelled for the next day as well.

Imagine that—a “snow day” in September!

Rebecca pulled on her slippers, lit a candle, and pulled out a good horror book. It certainly fit the mood, and October wasn’t too far away. Then she stretched out in her favorite chair and lost herself in a book against the glorious roar of the wind, snapping trees, upending furniture, and fulfilling dreams.

The Spot Writers–our members:

RC Bonitz: www.rcbonitz.com

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

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

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The Spot Writers – “Demon Spawn,” by Deborah Dera.

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week’s prompt is to use “he threw open the door” in the writing. Today’s story comes from Deborah Dera. Deborah is traditionally a non-fiction writer and blogger but she also enjoys exploring her more creative side from time to time.

Next week’s story will be from RC Bonitz, author of A BLANKET FOR HER HEART. His latest book, DANGEROUS DECISIONS, has just been accepted for publication by REBEL INK PRESS.


Demon Spawn

The howling from the back seat unnerved me. Brandy, for the most part, would strike you as the most docile cat you’d ever met. Until you tried to take her to the vet, anyway.

It wasn’t the cat carrier that set Brandy off.  She actually enjoyed the confined space, as she did any other box, and she didn’t seem unnerved by short car rides. Just a few minutes, though, and she was done. Longer and she knew she was in for something unpleasant.

The howling got louder. My heart was racing and my palms were sweating as I finally found the vet’s office and turned into the lot. Lugging the carrier into the office was no small feat, as Shadow was thrashing around, moving from side to side, front to back – trying to assess his surroundings and plot his escape at the same time.

Inside, the receptionist gave me a sideways glance as I set the carrier by my feet.

“This is Brandy. I… uh… I mentioned on the phone that he generally doesn’t like going to the vet. He sort of turns into… well… demon spawn.”

She nodded with a smile, as if she knew something about handling my cat that I did not. “Don’t worry, sweetie. We’ll take good care of him. You look rattled. Would you like to sit down in the waiting area for a bit? I’ll take him back to be examined.”

“You… don’t want me to go with him?” I felt a mixture of guilt and relief.

“No, no. We’ll be just fine. You take a few minutes and we’ll let you know when the vet is ready to speak to you.” She smiled confidently as she came around the desk and reached for the carrier. Brandy mewled and howled from the inside, but was still.

I moved to the waiting area and waited for the games to begin. The howling grew louder and I could hear the voices of the vet and at least one tech, maybe two, in the exam room; the shuffling of quick feet moving around as the howling turned into a screeching.

I wondered if any of them had thought to put on heavy leather gloves.

Taking a deep breath, I waited for the inevitable. From the sound of the hushed but hurried voices, I imagined there were probably four people in the room now, attempting to give him a simple exam and draw the blood work 6 vets before them had not been able to. I was assured this office was the one.

The howling and screeching became absolutely blood curdling. I heard a groan of frustration and what I was sure was a string of profanity.

Finally, I looked up just as he threw open the door. The scratches on both of the doctor’s arms were fresh, oozing. The doctor stood in the entry to the exam room, his dark eyes boring holes into me. “You. Come and get your cat. Now.”

I rose slowly, calmly, with calculated movements. Confidence oozed from my pores as I moved past him into the tiny room where there were, as I’d imagined, four techs still in the room, all standing along the walls as Brandy pressed herself up against the underside of the exam table, hissing. This was the easy part.

I quickly pulled the carrier down and placed it on the floor in front of her. I opened the door. “Ready to go home?” I cooed at her. “Come on, sweetie…”

Brandy’s body visibly relaxed as she watched me toss a treat into the back of the carrier. She pushed herself off the wall and dove into the carrier, not caring that I’d shut the door and trapped her inside once again.

Standing, I placed the carrier on the table and turned calmly to the doctor. “I assume you were not able to do the exam. There will be no charge today, correct?”

“Just go. Get that thing out of here.”

Heaving the carrier back off of the table, I exited the room and walked calmly past the receptionist, who no longer had the smug, confident smile she’d sported earlier. This time, I smiled. “Thank you, anyway.”

Brandy didn’t make a sound the entire ride home.


The Spot Writers—Our Members:

RC Bonitzhttp://www.rcbonitz.com

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

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

Deborah Marie Dera:  www.deborahdera.com

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The Spot Writers – “November 1957” by RC Bonitz

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This week the prompt is to use three of the following words in the story: ridicule, laugh, spellbound, following, letter


Today’s contribution comes from RC Bonitz, author of A BLANKET FOR HER HEART.  


Next week’s story will be by Val Muller, author of FOR WHOM MY HEART BEATS ETERNAL, a sci-fi romance, and CORGI CAPERS: DECEIT ON DORSET DRIVE, a mystery novel for young readers.


November 1957


The letter came in the mail two weeks before Thanksgiving. He scanned it quickly and let out a whoop of joy. Wonderful letter, delightful letter. His friend Mac wanted to double date when he got home from college for Thanksgiving, Mac with Terry (they’d been an item for some time now) and he with Karin. She was willing to go out with him!

Karin had turned him down about three months ago. Of course, he’d asked her to the movies when she worked there. Fool. But apparently she’d forgiven or forgotten. Never mind a letter for his answer. He picked up the phone

Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday actually, Mac and Terry picked him up and then they picked up Karin. Now he’d met dozens of girls since he went to college, blind dates mostly. So, he should have been cool with Karin. But he wasn’t. They were both stiff and awkward in the backseat of Mac’s Chevy.

They had tickets to a square dance, presented by Terry’s Mom. But the hall was dark when they arrived, the dance scheduled for the following weekend. Oh crap, he thought, but Karin suggested they listen to records at her house.

Listen they did, and danced too, in the playroom in the basement undisturbed. He was oblivious to Mac and Terry, couldn’t tell you what they did or said. But Karin- he was spellbound, dancing, talking the whole night. And then, after a long slow dance, he knew. Sure as he was standing there with her, no doubt about it. He didn’t propose, not him. He made it a pronouncement.

“I’m going to marry you,” he said.

She stared at him, dumbstruck. But she didn’t pull away. She didn’t laugh or choke or ridicule him.

“Well?” he asked.

“You certainly are original.”

“I mean it.”

She smiled. “I know.”


“I barely know you.”

He smiled. She hadn’t said no.

He’d just turned eighteen, she would in another month. They married a year later.


The Spot Writers- our members.



RC Bonitz



Val Muller



Catherine A. MacKenzie



Melinda Elmore


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“The Stories of John Cheever” – a review

I’m reading an interesting collection of short stories, The Stories of John Cheever, by, of course, John Cheever. The book is a used, huge hardcover that I bought for ten pesos (less than $1.00) here in Mexico—694 pages of 61 short stories (if I’ve counted correctly). It’s an old book, published in 1978. Individual stories were published between 1946 and 1975, some in “The New Yorker,” “Playboy” magazine, “Esquire,” and the “Saturday Evening Post.” This book won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Cheever, who was born in 1912 and died in 1982, lived an interesting life. After reading a few of the stories, I felt possessed to Google him. I had heard his name, but, to be honest, knew nothing of him. I won’t get into his life; if you’re interested, you can Google him, too.

The stories are dated, reminding me of gold shag carpeting and avocado-coloured appliances (yes, I had both). I’m still reading the book, but it’s not been a chore doing so. I was even a bit sad when a couple of the stories ended, perhaps a bit too abruptly, just when I became involved in the characters.

My favourite thus far is “The Enormous Radio.” Wow! What a story. “The Season of Divorce”—well, we can all relate to that one; timeless, but perhaps not a modern day ending. “The Hartley’s” was just too sad, with an unexpected ending. There’s kind of a moral in “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor.”

No doubt I will finish the book before we leave for home. Despite that, and its size and weight, I’m still cramming it, along with a few others, in my suitcase. I just pray I won’t be overweight.

This is a book I want displayed in my library at home.

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Wanna be a Spot Writer?

The Spot Writers has lost a member. Any of my writer friends want to join us?

We need one member to bring us back to four.

What do we do? With four members, each of us will only have to write once every four weeks. We take turns posting a prompt, then each of us writes a short story/writing at least 500 words. Every Thursday, we post each other’s writing to our blogs, with links to same on social media. The purpose is to promote our blogs, which, we hope, will bring attention to our  books for sale.

We have a lot of fun! Interested? Send me an email for more information.

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I received another rejection email today. And one last week. Being a writer, that’s hard, especially when you believe you’ve penned a masterpiece.

Today’s rejection wasn’t as bad as the one I received last week, since today’s was merely a simple, little flash fiction. Of course, I liked this metaphoric piece or I wouldn’t have sent it off with bated breath. Miracles upon miracles, I even received feedback. Actually, two individuals “critiqued” it in the one email; the second person clued in my story was a metaphor (and even guessed correctly what it really referred to!), which pleased me.

But, my other story, which was about 8,000 words and one of my best works—or so I thought—really hurt. And that email rejection was actually the second I received within two weeks for that particular story. I had truly truly thought I had a masterpiece. Truly I did!

Obviously not. I’m so devastated by the loss I’m about ready to trash my writing “career.” No, I won’t. Even if no one reads my work, I’ll persevere. And wait for more rejection letters, which I’m sure will be forthcoming!

Merry Christmas everyone! May you all receive acceptances in your inboxes!


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Truckloads of Books on Amazon

No wonder some of us (our books, that is!) can’t be seen.

Bowaker recently stated the number of books published each day in the US is up to 3,500. And that doesn’t include e-books published without an ISBN, since many e-books don’t have an ISBN.

Read the article here:


What are we unknown writers to do?

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Today, I received the most wonderful written review by Josh Hicks of my book, “Between These Pages.”  This review is Part 1. Part 2 is coming. It is a compilation of 18 of my short stories, approximately 60,000 words in total. I just have to post it here. Sorry for tooting my own horn. But I’m just TOO excited!


Indie Book Review: Between These Pages, by Catherine MacKenzie, Part 1 of 2

My apologies to Catherine MacKenzie for the late review.  I thought I would have it done before now, but I fell behind on my schedule.  The biggest event that slowed me down was the FBI Green Dot Moneypak Virus (mentioned in my last blog).
Between These Pages has been one of the best books that I’ve read by an independent artist, and I want to give it a proper review.  To do the book justice, I plan to give it a two-part review.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I’m going to give my synopses of the individual stories within the book.
1.      Collecting Knocks:  The story is somewhat vague, but sometimes that’s a good thing.  Some of my favorite stories are the ones that leave a little to the imagination.
2.      Doorbells and December:  The story is told at a slow pace, meant to bring the reader into the world of a woman who must take care of her grandson, after the disappearance of her daughter.
3.      Away with the Fairies:  A boy is coping with the divorce of his parents, and has a new life that includes three new sisters.  The boy doesn’t quite fit in, but with some help he learns how to cope with his new situation.
4.      Night Candy:  This story is full of innocence lost.  A little girl sees many things that she doesn’t quite understand.  I read the story thinking, how far is Cathy willing to go?  I wasn’t disappointed.
5.      Island Lovers:  This one stood out the most to me.  The story involves the strange rituals of an island tribe, and how those rituals affect two people who are in love.  I won’t give away the ending.
6.      The Party:  Burn scars result in a woman’s negative self-image.  Despite her feelings about her appearance, a masquerade party allows her to enjoy herself, and gives her a new sense of confidence.
7.      Balloons, Chocolate and Flowers:  This is a story that takes readers on an emotional journey that many people have been on before.  A young woman thinks about giving her boyfriend another chance after he has cheated on her.
8.      Rear View Mirror:  Very cool flash fiction story about a woman who has just committed murder.  The body is stashed away in the car, but… you’ll have to read it for yourself.
9.      Hourglass:  A story about twin brothers that ends with a twist.  One brother is constantly cleaning up after the other, and he’s had enough.
I’m straying a bit from my normal format, but I would like to say… Who would like this book?  I think the majority of the stories in this book were written with women in mind.  The first half (this half), is especially geared toward women.  However, there were a lot of thrills and horror in this half of Between These Pages, making it enjoyable to a wide variety of tastes.
Personally, I think the book is well rounded, but the second half actually contains the majority of my favorite stories.  I think this book is worth buying, and hope that the readers of my blog will support this author.  Cathy MacKenzie is one of my favorite personalities when it comes to writers.  I’ve always thought she had a crazy side, but she’s managed to put her insanity into a bottle, and pour it into a book for us to read.
Which story is my favorite in this half of the book?  “Rear View Mirror.”  Although it’s probably the shortest story in the book, it’s full of cool imagery.  It comes in fast and hard, and delivers everything a good short story should.
Keep watching for the second half of my review for Between These Pages.  Until then, check it out for yourself…


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