Weekends at play

Cover art from MabelAmber.

Creators all over the internet are taking advantage of this quarantine to create more than normal. There are more podcasts, more blog posts, more art. Every other post online seems to be about how everyone’s stuck at home, so we might as well have good things to read, watch and listen to.

Every time I see one of those posts, I kind of want to smack the person who wrote it. Yeah, lots of people have more free time than normal. Some of the rest of us are working harder than ever because we work in essential jobs. 

Now, I work from home. Please don’t think for one second that I don’t understand what an awesome privilege that is. I am safe, my family is safe. I’m not one of the many trying to get unemployment right now. I’m thankful for that. 

I’m also stupid busy again. I’m working extra hours, trying to get a book out, writing more for some of my freelance clients and PBW. Now seems like the dumbest time to add something else to my plate.

So, I’m not. What I’m doing instead is taking every other weekend off to write short stories. I don’t work on the novel, I don’t work on promotional stuff. I just write flash and micro fiction for a whole weekend. If I were a painter, I would liken this to stepping away from my work in progress to wash the paint off my hands and sketch. 

If you’re a creator, here are five reasons why you might consider doing the same thing.

Lets stories out that are talking to me.

Any writer will tell you that getting ideas is not the problem. It’s never been the problem. The problem is what to do with all the damn ideas! I have this great novel I’m writing and I’m super excited about it. But I also have this idea for an eerie little piece. And I want to write about some dark moments from my childhood. And some bright moments. And maybe I’d like to talk about some things going on in the world right now. 

There was a time when I thought serious writers worked on one project at a time. I thought that chasing all of these different stories was childish. It went right against the Lion meditation I love so much. 

But here’s the thing. When I ignore those stories, they start digging away. They become the distraction that I can’t ignore. They make me resent the story I’m working on. I can’t have all these other stories because I’m working on this one! That’s not a good way to work.

Gives me new material to get up faster than novels.

Novels take time. Anyone who has a favorite author knows this. I have a list of authors I check on monthly to see if their new book is coming out soon. This month. This year? Please?

I hope that somewhere a reader is waiting for my new book the same way I wait for Tamora Pierce’s new book. And if that person is out there, I want to be able to put out other things that might give them something entertaining to consume while they wait.

I also like to get my name out there every so often, to make sure people don’t forget me.

Lets me play with ideas.

I am an artist. I know I don’t put it that way often, but there it is. Writing is art. And I want to explore that. I want to try new things, new points of view. I want to write about weird little shit that might never make a full novel. Who’s that old man I saw on the bus, where’s he going? Can I write a story in a weird pov? Can I write a story about the lifetime of a shoe, or a bird, or a gift card? Can I write a story about this creepy picture I just found?

I need the freedom to explore. To write things that might not work. To write things just for me. 

Gives me a break.

Frankly, I need a break sometimes. I need to take my eyes off the project at hand and do something else. 

I’m writing dark science fiction. I might want to put that down and make a ghost story. Or maybe a little smut. Maybe a nonfiction essay. A change is as good as a rest, is what I’m saying.

Sends me back to my WIP with fresh eyes.

Of course, the weekend will end and I’ll get back to my novel. Of course, the work I did when not working on my novel is still writing. So maybe I learned something I can bring to my novel. Or I learned something new. Maybe it’s even something I can write into the novel. It all feeds into the work at large.

And even if I don’t learn anything new, my writing will be better for the fresh eyes I bring to it. 

PreorderFalling From Grace and be entered to win a free autographed copy of Broken Falling From Grace eBookPatterns.Click here for details.

Gracie

Gracie wasn’t anything like the kids I usually deal with. Most kids that get dropped in my lap are seeking foster homes for terrible reasons. Abusive parents, drug addict parents, dead parents. The kids come in shell shocked and broken. Some are screaming obscenities and ready for a fight over anything. Some can’t string two words together they’re so worked up. The worst just sit quietly and accept wherever I send them, as though nothing’s going to ever be good again so it couldn’t possibly matter. Those are the kids that really worry me.

Gracie was different. For one thing, she wasn’t taken from or abandoned by her parents. She just appeared in our waiting room one day, in a neat pink dress with a nice brown coat and matching suitcase.

Candace, our secretary, said that she’d walked right in all by her lonesome and sat herself down.

“Are you looking for someone, Sweetie?” Candace asked.

“No, Ma’am,” Gracie said.

“Where are your parents?” By this time, a few of us caseworkers had come out of our offices to see what was going on.

Gracie just looked at all of us, with those big hazel eyes of hers, and said, “They had to go away for awhile.”

Well, what other place did a child have to go when her parents went away but the foster care office?

There was a lot of calling back and forth to the police in all the surrounding areas, checking to see if anybody was missing a young female with brown hair and hazel eyes. All she could tell us was that her name was Gracie. She didn’t know her address, her parent’s names, what school she might go to, or if she had any relations who might be looking for her.

While we were all trying to find information on her, Gracie sat on her chair as though content to wait. We all prayed she wasn’t allergic to anything when we fed her some lunch.

Finally, after it had been established that no one in the tri state area was missing her, I called an emergency foster family, the Clarks.

Mr and Mrs showed up right away. Mrs. Clark was a big woman, and she gave Gracie a big hug right off the bat, and said, “You’ve had some day, haven’t you?”

“You can come stay with us until your mom and dad come back, okay?” Mr. Clark asked. He was an older gentleman, graying on top like his wife. They were old hands at the whole foster parent thing.

Gracie left with them, holding her suitcase in one hand and Mrs. Clark with the other. I, as the caseworker assigned to this mess, thought that all I had to do at that point was locate her parents.

After two days of fruitless searching, though, Mrs. Clark was back with Gracie walking calmly behind her. Mrs. Clark was not so calm.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot keep this child in my house for another minute!” she cried.
“What happened?” I asked, sending Gracie into the waiting room and getting Mrs. Clark into a chair.
“There’s something wrong with her!” she cried. “Yesterday, Todd took her out on his boat and he fell out! Nearly drowned.”
“Wait, so he almost drowned right in front of her?” I asked.
“Yes!” Mrs. Clark said. “And she just sat in the boat, the whole time. Didn’t say a word, during or after.”
“The poor thing was probably in shock,” I said.
“I think she’s a little demon. I haven’t had a full night sleep since she moved in,” Mrs. Clark said.
“What’s she doing that’s keeping you from sleeping?” I asked.
Mrs. Clark stopped, and was silent a moment. “She whispers things,” she said.
“She what?” I asked.
“Never mind. I won’t have her back in my house,” Mrs. Clark snapped, and stormed out of my office before I could say another word. I jotted myself a note to move the Clark’s off of my good foster family list, and went to talk to Gracie.

She’d sat herself down in the same chair as before looking around the room as if nothing was wrong. I sat next to her, and said, “How you feeling, Gracie?”
“Okay,” she said. She opened her suitcase and took out a cloth covered sketchbook.
“You want to talk about what happened with Mr. Clark? It must have been scary.”
“Not really,” Gracie said. “I had a life vest on.”

Being a caseworker and not a therapist, I had no idea what to say to that.
I called Mrs. Flemming. She and her husband were new foster parents, and I hadn’t seen much of them yet. But she came into the office all energy and color with a bright red coat and curly blond hair that was all over the place.
“Oh, aren’t you just a doll!” Mrs. Flemming cried upon seeing Gracie. “Do you want to come stay at my place for a few days?”
“Yes, thank you,” Gracie said. She seemed quite calm, taking Mrs. Flemming’s hand and leaving with her. They looked picture perfect leaving the office.

With Gracie out of the office, I returned to my search for her parents.

Someone had the news on in the background. While I called police offices, hospitals and mortuaries, Candace and some of the others were crowding around. I looked up while on hold. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“There was a shooting in Ohio,” Candace said, her eyes wide.
“Just like that one in Colorado a few days ago,” said Jim, one of the other caseworkers.

“People thing it might be the same group.”
Had there been a shooting? I hadn’t noticed, being so wrapped up in the mystery of Gracie. “When was that?” I asked.
“On the ninth,” Candace said, looking back at the tv.
I thought back. The ninth was the same day Gracie had wandered into the office.
I decided it was time to widen my search.

Two days later, I’d managed to do nothing more than mildly annoy a few police offices in Colorado who where quite busy enough without trying to track down missing parents. As I searched for a rock I hadn’t looked under yet, Candace knocked on my office door.
“Mr. Flemming is here, and he’s got Gracie with him,” she said.
No one ever comes into the office with their foster kid to tell us what a delight they’ve been. So it was with dark expectations that I admitted Mr. Flemming into my office.
The man was young, and as bright as his wife. Or, at least he seemed like he must be on a good day. This was not a good day for him. He was unshaven, his shirt had a coffee stain on the front and he looked like he hadn’t slept the night before.
“I’m really sorry to barge in on you like this,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?”
“Monica’s had, well, an accident,” he said. “She was in the attic, getting down this big doll house. We’ve got a ladder going up there, and on the way down she fell. The dollhouse landed on her.”
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“She’s still in the hospital,” Mr. Flemming said. He sat on the chair in front of me, wringing his hands. “It’s just, it’s so weird, you know? She was telling me before that she was having these nightmares about falling, or hurting herself. Actually, I have too. Ever since, well ever since Gracie came to stay with us.”
Before I could say anything he tossed his hands in the air and said, “I know! I know, it’s not like she’s doing anything. She’s been so polite, so well behaved. It’s just that, Monica was really the one who wanted to do this. Now, she’s in the hospital, and I can’t take care of a little girl and her at the same time.”
“Alright, I understand,” I sighed.
Mr. Flemming almost ran out of the office, leaving Gracie in the waiting room again.
I took a deep breath before going out to sit with her. She was drawing in her book when I joined her. It must have been cold outside, because even sitting next to her made me feel cold.
“You okay, Gracie?” I asked.
“Sure,” she replied. “Mrs. Flemming fell, not me.”
“That’s true but it’s no fun seeing someone get hurt.”
She shrugged. “Do I have to go somewhere else now?” she asked.
“Just until your mom or dad show up,” I said. She was taking all of this too well. I was sure she was going to explode sooner or later.

The next available family was the Marshalls. I figured they’d be a solid bet. They’d adopted a little boy last year who’s mom had overdosed. Mrs and Mr showed up with little Ralph in arm.
Ralph was one of my favorite happy ending babies. He was a little over two years, and recovering well from the addictions he’d been born with. The Marshalls were doing a great job with him.
Gracie gave Ralph an apprehensive look as Mr. Marshall knelt down in front of her. “I hear you’ve had a string of bad luck, girl,” he said.
“I guess so,” Gracie replied, holding her suitcase with both hands.
“Well, don’t worry,” he said, holding his hand out for her to shake. “We’re gonna look after you now, and I have very good luck. Would you like me to carry your suitcase to the car?”
“No, thank you,” Gracie said, but she followed them out of the office without complaint.

It had been days, and I was running out of places to look for Gracie’s lost parents. Worse, my in box was getting full. Gracie was sad, but there were a lot of sad kids. I added her name to all of the missing children lists I could find, and got back to work.
In the first hour, I dealt with one infant being surrendered, a boy who’d gotten into some legal trouble that was too much for his parents to deal with, and another who’s mom was drinking too much.
The next few weeks went by in a flurry of catch up work. I was only vaguely aware of the rest of the world. I’d even forgotten all about Gracie, in fact, until Mr. Mitchell showed up in my office first thing in the morning with Gracie in tow. “How can I help you?” I asked.
“You ought to tell people, if you’re going to place a child with behavioral issues with them,” Mr. Mitchell said. He looked furious. “You put my family in danger, I deserved to know!”
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked. “Because Gracie hasn’t exhibited any dangerous behavior. We would have told you.”
“She burned Ralph’s hand on the stove!” he cried. “The kids were playing in the living room, and Sammy took a load of cloths down to the basement. While she was down there she heard Ralphie screaming. She came upstairs and he was sitting on the kitchen floor, with the burner on and his hand all burned!”
“Where was Gracie?” I asked, crossing my hands on my desk.
“She was still in the living room, drawing in her book like nothing was going on!”
“So at what point is this story going to explain to me how Gracie burned Ralph’s hand?” I asked.
“She made him do it. He’d never gone anywhere near that stove before. She whispered in his ear, just like she’s been doing since she got there!”
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.
“I just, never mind,” Mr. Mitchell said. “We’re not keeping her. I’ve got to meet Sammy and Ralph at the hospital, excuse me.”
He stormed out, not even looking at Gracie as he passed.
I cursed under my breath as I started into the waiting room. Before I reached Gracie, though, Candace said, “Turn up the tv,” in a hushed voice.

I looked toward the television mounted on the wall. There was a hospital, I wasn’t sure which one. But people in black were running through it with guns.
“Turn that off,” I said, “there’s a kid in here.” No one seemed to want to listen to me, though. Not knowing what else to do, I took Gracie into my office, and shut the door. As I led her into the room, I was struck again by how cold she felt.
“Well, it’s kind of a crazy day, isn’t it?” I asked her.
“I guess so,” she said.
I tried to call a couple of foster families on my list, but no one was picking up. Gracie sat in the chair in my office, drawing. She hummed a bit, but I didn’t recognize the song.

Finally, I left her in my office for a moment to go see what was going on.
Candace was crying at her desk. She looked up when she heard me. “There were shootings all over the world,” she whispered. “Pittsburgh, DC, London, Tokyo. They got hospitals and schools. They’re saying on the tv that it’s all the same group.”
Another caseworker standing next to her desk said, “They could be anywhere.”
Well, that explained why I couldn’t get anyone on the phone.
I made Candace turn the tv off. We rounded up the caseworkers and kids in the building, and got everyone in the waiting room. We pulled out board games and used the coffee pot to brew hot chocolate. With the kids distracted, we discussed what we were supposed to do with them. It wasn’t ideal, but with no foster families available, we decided it was best to put them up at our homes for the night. Gracie would come with me.

She walked with me to my car, carrying her suitcase. “Is that heavy?” I asked her, “I can take it for you, if you want.”
“No thank you, I can manage,” she said. We climbed into the car, and I turned on the heat. I wasn’t sure whether it was the cool air or the news that made me so cold.
Gracie was the perfect house guest. Her manners at the hastily unburdened dinner table were lovely and she was content to watch cartoon movies. I didn’t dare turn on cable, for fear of stumbling across news footage of the shootings.
After she was all washed up and put to bed on the pull out, I went off to my room in the hope of getting some more work done before bed. I left the door cracked so that I could keep an eye on her.
The night was quiet. I guess my neighbors were too upset by the day to be making much noise. The only sound I heard was the scratching of my pen on paper.

The whispering started low, I was aware of it before I really heard it. Not for a second did I think it was coming from my neighbors. I stood up, trying to think it what could be making that dark, scraping noise. Then I heard my living room window open.
I ran into the room in time to see a thick, dark shadow slither through the crack. It darted towards the pullout where Gracie was sleeping.
I got there first, and scooped her up into my arms. Just then another shadow slipped into the room. Images were whirling in my mind. I was sure that the best thing to do would be to leap out of the window, or turn on the burner in the kitchen. Or, maybe just take a butcher knife and go visiting.

Gracie woke up in my arms. She was freezing, and it was little wonder. The room was so cold that ice was forming on the window, cracking the glass. I held her close, trying to think of a way to save her, trying not to hurt myself, just trying to breath.
“Mommy, Daddy!” she cried. She squirmed from my arms, stronger than any human child, and ran to the shadows. As she ran, they changed. Suddenly they looked not like shadows, but like a man and a woman, both well dressed and tall. Even like this, I couldn’t imagine they’d ever pass for human.
“Gracie!” they cried, bending down to pick her up. Their voices were like razor blades in my skin, I could feel blood dripping from my ears.
“Are you all done now?” she asked.
“For now,” the female one said.
The male looked down at me, and said, “Thank you for looking after her. She’s out little good luck charm.”
I wanted to weep at the sight of his eyes. I wanted to scream, pull my skin off, stab myself in the eye.
Just like that, though, they were gone. The last thing I heard was Gracie, her voice taking on the grating, scraping tone of her kind, calling, “Goodbye!”

If you liked this, don’t forget to check out Days and Other Stories, available on Amazon, Istore, and Gumroad.

Music

My family always loved music. I remember, when I was a very little girl, Mamma would start singing whenever my sisters would fight. It always calmed them down. At night, Papa would play his violin for us. He played every night, even when he was tired, and he was often tired.

He played and Mamma sang while the gestapo was closing our clothing store. He played and Mamma sang while we sewed star shaped patches on all of our clothes. He played until they moved us into the ghetto, and took his violin away. Even after that, Mamma kept singing. Right up until they shot Amber.

I found myself craving music, more than I craved anything else from our old lives. More than food, or warmth, or safety. I hummed to myself, but I was often hushed by the other seamstresses. Especially if a guard was near. I tried to sing at home, but it made Mamma tear up, and Papa would say, “Not now, Emma.” But he would never say when later, when I could sing, might be.

Is it any wonder that I was drawn to the music at the wall?

I first heard it one cold day, when we were sent outside for lunch. I was sitting on the ground, with my back against the wooden wall that surrounded our ghetto. The other women were quiet, sipping the thin soup they gave us.

In the silence, I heard the strains of a violin. It was a simple tune, but the first I’d heard in so long. I glanced around, trying to tell where the song was coming from without drawing attention. Who had managed to sneak a violin in here? Perhaps it had been too old and worn to be worth much money.

The player had not been playing very long, I could tell. His violin squeaked, and he started over many times. It was nothing like how Papa had played. But still, it was music.

Too soon, the guards called us back inside. I went without hesitation, but it made my heart ache to leave the music behind.

“Mamma, I heard someone playing a violin today,” I said as we set the table that night.

“You did?” Evelyn, my sister, asked. “Where?”

“Hush,” Mamma said. “Evey, don’t encourage her.”

“But I only heard it during my break. I didn’t do anything against the rules, Mamma,” I said. At least, I didn’t think I had. There were so many rules, it was hard to keep track sometimes.

“You are imagining thing,” Mamma said, “No one could have a violin in the ghetto.”

“What is this?” Papa asked, coming into the room.

“Someone has a violin,” I said, “I heard him playing today. But he doesn’t play as well as you. Maybe you could teach him.”

“Emma,” he said, making motions for me to hush. “What are you doing?”

“I am only telling you,” I said.

“Yes, and what you tell me can be overheard. What if the guards hear? They will hurt this man you heard playing.”

“They might also hurt you, for listening and not reporting him,” Mamma said. “Really, Emma, it’s better to tell yourself that you imagined it, and forget it.”

The next day, Evelyn and I walked together to the sewing house. We did not talk, but we were sisters. We didn’t need to. So I was not surprised when she followed me to the wall during our break, and sat down beside me. We drank our soup, and waited.

The music came again. Evelyn tried not to give any outward appearance of having heard it, but I saw her hands tighten around her bowl. When the man hit a sour note, she almost laughed.

We didn’t speak of the music until we were in bed that night. “I don’t think you should listen again,” she whispered.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it will only make you want to hear more of it, and when it goes away you’ll be sad.”

“How do you know it will go away?” I asked, and she gave me a look that I richly deserved. It was good. Of course it would go away.

“I’ll tell Mamma,” she said. “I don’t want you ending up like Anita’s brother.”

“I’m not going to kill myself because I can’t listen to someone play the violin badly anymore,” I said. “Go ahead and tell Mamma. What is she going to do to me?”

The only benefit of having nothing is that your parents have nothing to take away from you as punishment.

Evelyn knew she didn’t have anything more to threaten me with. So she did her best to ignore me when I went to the fence the next day.

Again, the music came. Again, it was a simple song. The man could not have been playing more than a few months. This song was one of my favorites. I listened as he got closer to the chorus. He seemed, there, to run into a particularly troubling note. He started over again, fouling up at the same place.

After two more attempts, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I opened my mouth, and sang the chorus for him. Maybe that would help him get it right, I thought.

Then, I heard boots crunching. To my horror, I realized where the music had been coming from. The guards barracks at the other side of the wall.

I crouched down to look through the gap at the bottom of the wall. I saw a pair of heavy, black boots, then the knees of two gestapo guards as he bent down to see me!

For a moment we looked at each other. Then, I sat back up. I stayed where I was, frozen. I would hear him running in a moment, coming for me. Would he beat me, or worse?

But I didn’t hear any running. Instead, he started to play again. And this time, he got the note right.

Click here to buy my short story collection, Days.

Writing 101, Day 9

Rough draft, mostly playing with this idea.

WARM

It was warm out finally, and thank God for that, Marcey thought.  At 72, the cold was no fun.  But finally the winter chill had gone, the wet grass was dried by the late May sun, and she could take her work to the park.  So she packed up her knitting supplies, and took herself down to the park.

She bought herself a cup of coffee, and settled into her work.  She was making a little red sweater for a client who wanted something more personal for her nephew’s second birthday.  It made Marcey’s daughter laugh whenever they talked about her little ‘side hustle,’ as  they called it.  It wasn’t like she needed the money.  She wasn’t hurting like some her age.  She just liked to keep busy.

As she made her way to the chest of the sweater, a young couple walked past.  The woman was keeping up a constant stream of chatter.  The man, however, stopped in his tracks, and stared at Marcey.  Specifically, he stared at the sweater.  She was starting to wonder whether she should yell for the police, when the man burst into tears.

“Sorry,” the woman said to her, pulling the man away.  “I’m really sorry.”  She hurried away from Marcey as quickly as she could, still dragging the sobbing man along.

“What was all that?” Marcey muttered.  Since she knew she wasn’t likely to find out, she sipped her coffee, and made a mental note to tell her daughter about it later.

It was a warm day, but Jordan didn’t feel very warm.  There was never such a thing a good weather for a funeral, after all.

She’d put a lot into helping Paul plan it.  There was no one else around to do it, and hadn’t he always been her best friend?  So she pulled on her black dress, and went to his apartment to pick him up.

Paul was dressed when she got there.  Well, that’s a step in the right direction, she thought.  He even managed a smile for her when he came to the door.

“Did you eat?” she asked him.

“Not yet,” he replied.

“Let’s take a walk through the park, and go to the diner,” Jordan said.

“Yeah, okay,” he agreed.

Jordan felt triumphant as they started along the path.  They’d talked about nothing but the funeral for days, so she thought of anything she could to talk about now other than that.

“So that Rick guy called me again,” she said.  “Just out of the blue, like our last date went well or something.”

“No kidding,” Paul said, and actually managed a laugh.  “After spending half the date talking on his phone?”

“I know,” she replied.

They were coming up on a bench.  There was an old woman sitting there, drinking a coffee and knitting a red sweater.  When Paul saw her, he froze.  Then he started to sob.

The woman looked scared to death, which made absolute sense to Jordan.  Generally, people don’t start crying at the sight of art projects.  “Sorry,” she said, and started pulling Paul away, “I’m really sorry.”  She drug him down the path, trying to figure out what about that old woman had made Paul so upset.

If it had only been Maureen, Paul thought, maybe he could stand it a little better.  He dressed in the bedroom they had shared for three years, where her side of the bed still smelled a little like her.  He had loved her since the first day he met her, and when she died it broke his heart.  But if it had only been her, he supposed it would have healed.

Jordan was pulling up.  She’d been so great though all this, the only person he’d had to rely on.  He had put so much of this on her, even though he knew she must be hurting too.

So when she suggested a walk through the park and breakfast at the diner, he gave her a smile and said yes.

And at first, he really did feel better.  Listening to Jordan babble, walking with her in the sunlight, he felt warm for the first time since Maureen died.

Then he saw the woman, knitting a sweater with red yarn.

Maureen had laughed at him when he brought her that red yarn and a pair of knitting needles.  “I hope those are for decoration,” she’d said, “because I don’t knit.”

“Yeah, but you’re going to be a mommy now,” Paul had told her with a laugh.  “Everybody’s mother should knit.”

He couldn’t help it.  He started to weep.

If it had only been Maureen, he supposed he could have healed.  But knowing there would have been a baby, and now there never would be?  He didn’t believe he would never be warm again.

Done!

Okay, so I didn’t write a response to the Writing 101 post today, because I was busy finishing this instead.


Photo by Garrett Luttrell
Photo by Garrett Luttrell

That pile of five composition notebooks is the first draft of Starting Chains, book two of Woven.  After working on it since November, it is finally done!

Oh, and that’s my sort of creepy cat, Harper.  She’s not always so glowey, as my husband puts it.

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