Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Kathleen S. Allen

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Kathleen S. Allen, author of Aine and Faerie Folk

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Hi, I am Kathleen S. Allen. I write Young Adult fantasy. My favourite setting has to be Ireland, where I set both of my faerie books, Aine and the sequel, Faerie Folk. I am enamoured of Ireland. I have never been there but I feel a connection to the country.

I began researching my family’s history and found out my great-great grandmother came from Ireland. She was sent to America at the age of sixteen on a ship during the potato famine and met and married a Bavarian man on the ship. The captain of the ship married them and she ended up settling in Ohio and had eleven children. She had a younger sister who stayed in Ireland and parents who also stayed. That’s all the information I could find out about her. I wondered, why was she the only one to leave Ireland? Why not the younger sister, too? I thought maybe the younger sister was ill or had died. I have no idea what happened to her parents.

For Aine I researched Irish legends and came across the Iegend of the Irish Goddess, Aine, I talk about it in Aine. The legend fascinated me so I decided to write a story about the legend and incorporate it with the legend of the Irish banshee. I have always loved the coast and the ocean, so putting Aine and Faerie Folk on the coast of Ireland was a given. I used the legend of Merlin bringing the Stonehenge stones–called the Giant’s Dance or the Great Stones of Ireland to Stonehenge–in a more recent book.

Let’s take a tour of my ideal setting. First I travel up the coast of Ireland just outside of Galway–where I teach creative writing at the National University of Ireland in Galway–to a small thatched roof whitewashed cottage off the main road but accessible. There are emerald green fields surrounding the cottage on three sides, one of these leads to a cliff above the sea. There is a small garden out front filled with vegetables and at least two cats roaming around. Inside the wooden floors gleam as I walk into the living room. There is a working fireplace, comfy chairs and along each wall are built-in bookcases filled with books. An old fashioned wooden desk sits under a window where I do my writing. On one side of the desk is my laptop, and on the other is a teapot under a tea cozy. Continuing to the kitchen I find a spacious kitchen with a white farmhouse style sink, cupboards and a breakfast nook that overlooks the garden where a small wooden table with four chairs sit waiting for my next meal. Down the hall is the loo with a working hot shower, and I come to the bedrooms at the back of the cottage. The guest bedroom is small, big enough for two single beds and a dresser with a small wardrobe. The master bedroom is slightly larger with room for a queen-sized bed, a dresser and a wardrobe. There is a cozy window seat that overlooks the side that faces the sea and the blue water sparkles as the sunlight glints off of it. It is my favourite place to read, if I can get the cats off of it! The laundry room is also in the back with a full size washer and dryer. Out the back door I walk to the cliff to look out over the sea and spy stairs leading down to the beach below. As I go down the stairs I begin to hear the cries of the seals that populate the coast. Their sound goes right through to my heart and I catch my breath. Taking off my shoes I wade in the still cold water, watching the waves as they wash over my feet. The seals float off shore watching me as I walk the beach but they are not afraid because I do this nearly every day and they are used to my presence. There is no place lovelier on earth than the coast of Ireland and I rejoice that I have found my paradise, at last.

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A big thank you to Kathleen S. Allen for sharing this guest blog about her ideal setting. To find out more about her and her writing, visit her website www.gaelicfairie.webs.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter as @kathleea. Kathleen’s next book, Lore Of Fei, will be published in April 2012.

Flash Fiction: Dirty Job

Flash Fiction

This is flash fiction but it felt more like spontaneous fiction. Sat down to write one thing, ran across an article regarding the thesis work for a friend’s husband, and the story took off in a different direction. Enjoy.

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The man brushed at the tiny grains that covered his shirt. No matter how brushed at them with tough callused fingers, they clung. But every job was a little dirty. The truck bounced over the uneven back road through the mountains and the added weight of the cargo shifted from side to side.

Around a great bend, the truck pulled into the dead brush by the side of the road. The man got out. The door shut. Tan netting rose over the vehicle. He took care in covering it. He checked. It would hide the entire truck until he left tomorrow for the drop off point. He nudged one corner under. No mistakes.

It was then he got a closer look at his shirt in the light of day. The sand would not come off. The tiny grains were strange. They weren’t the color of actual beach sand. They were more like bits of graphite or gunpowder. He thought back. The cloud of dust blew out of nowhere when he picked up the cargo at the airport. And then there was that strange model airplane. It passed by a few times before disappearing. Had it disappeared after the cloud of sand blew over?

The man threw open the door of the truck and grabbed the modified tablet from the seat. After a moment to update, the GPS app indicated a plane nearby. It was way up in the sky, closer to space than Earth.

He’d been made.

Frantically, he ripped his hat off. It fluttered to the ground beside the truck as his arms slid from the open camo shirt. He pulled the desert t-shirt over his head. The boots were tougher. He cursed when his knuckles raked over the ground. The cuts stung as blood welled. The metal zipper tore open. He frantically shoved his pants down. He had to get to the bunker two hundred yards away. Wearing nothing but faded cotton underwear, he ran for his life. The rocks of the mountain were supposed to be protection. Barefoot, they were just one more obstacle.

The man didn’t make it to the opening of the cave before the blast from the bomb blew him off his feet into guided flight. The seconds of terror stretched into eons before his body crushed itself against the mountain.

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Flash Fiction: Ghosts Of The Past

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

To celebrate Halloween, I wrote some flash fiction!

In the past month, I wrote one story with a vampire, and another with a zombie, so here’s one with a ghost.

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GHOSTS OF THE PAST

He would never be rid of her.

It was all he could do not to grind the enamel right of the tops of his capped teeth. Jenny appeared any time she wanted. He’d get home from work, grab a beer, and turn the television on for a little r&r after dealing with bullshit at the office all day and the next thing Hunter knew, there’d be Jenny on the couch beside him yammering about something or other.

Today she’d surprised him in the kitchen when he was warming up leftover pizza. Naturally, she’d offered her unwanted opinion about the pizza. It would make Hunter fat. It would make Hunter sick. Hadn’t Hunter heard about carbs? Everyone these days was skipping them. It was enough to make him want to get a restraining order but what the hell good would that do with a ghost? It’s not like the ghost police would come and drag her away. She wasn’t eating the carbs, couldn’t she leave his damn well enough alone? He had to settle for the strategy that got him through his marriage while it lasted: a few “uh-huhs”, “nopes”, and “wows” strategically placed.

If only he could go back and undo any number of bad choices. In the first damn place, the cockamamie idea to get married. Then to marry her of all people. To not adopt children. To not get divorced sooner. Stupid lawyer.

The money. That’s where he’d really screwed up. It took Jenny all of ten seconds to plunk down a cool hundred grand of his money for the new fountain of youth, Eternavitas. Sure, Jenny recovered that rockin’ bod she used to have before she crawled into a giant potato chip bag with a tub of chocolate frosting. But who cared if those perfect lips were exactly the shade of a luscious red apple when they wouldn’t ever close. Hunter couldn’t even make jokes about taking a breath like he used to when he still looked forward to seeing her. Near as he could figure out that was over a decade ago – long before her death.

He’d considered suicide. About half an hour into plotting a painless death, it hit him. What would happen when he died? Would he be trapped in Hell with her for eternity? Hunter couldn’t take the risk.

Early into her visits, Hunter stayed away once. Drove to a bar and threw back a few. He commiserated with some sap next to him about being unable to tell the difference between an actual twenty year old and someone who’d lived through World War II. The pill had amazing results, no question. Certainly added a new level of risk to dating. But Hunter forgot about all of that when he walked out of the bar to drive himself home. There she was, waiting by the car. She frowned. It was not a pleasant ride home. That was when Hunter stopped thinking about running. Stopped thinking about anything really.

The government pulled the drug almost immediately. There were whispers on the nets. That your body wasn’t the only thing it changed. You really would look your best forever. But it was too late by then. Jenny came over to cry on his shoulder when the official statement was made. He should have moved to Alaska the next day.

Funny thing then that he would run into Sarah at the pizza place. Sarah, his fifth grade girlfriend. What could he say, he was advanced for his age. Picking up a piping hot pie, he recognized her on the bench out front. What luck, Sarah remembered him! It didn’t take long for Hunter to realize the cold breath as she whispered in his ear was the answer to his problem.

A week later, Hunter followed his usual routine. A crappy day at work, take-out bought on the way home, his favorite spot on the couch with a beer in front of the TV. For the first time in months, he smiled. When Jenny materialized and saw Sarah sitting next to him on the couch, she lost it. It made Hunter wish he’d thought far enough ahead to make a bowl of popcorn. It took some persuasion on Sarah’s part but by the time the ghost of his fifth grade girlfriend, she of the championship high school lacrosse team, got through with Jenny, he knew she wouldn’t be coming back. Honestly, he’d never been happier.

In return for the favor, Hunter promised to stop by Sarah’s Halloween party. Seriously, what was the worst that could happen at a party with a bunch of ghosts? As long as Jenny wasn’t there, he was game. Surely, that rumor on the nets about the Eternavitas ghosts keeping humans as slaves wasn’t true?

Flash Fiction: It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

Drawing by Emily, Age 8

For the fun of it, I decided to enter a little short story contest Mozy threw. If you haven’t heard of Mozy, they are a company offering data backup services to the cloud. It goes without saying but I will say it anyway: backing your data up is very important! Truth in advertising: I am not a customer of Mozy.

I chose one of four pre-written starts for the story which I have put in italics. The story had to be 200 words or less and seasonal. Entries were to be judged on creativity, originality, scariness, and Mozy-ness.

The winners will be announced on Halloween.

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She was in the middle of reading her friend’s blog when she heard a sound… and Jane jumped. There was something scratching on the glass of the back door. Jane screamed. It was a zombie!

Grabbing her smart phone, Jane ran up the stairs. She slammed the door to her bedroom and shoved the dresser in front of it.

Heartbeat racing, Jane turned off the light and crept to her window. The zombie staggered around the backyard moaning. To her surprise, it stumbled against the house. Everything went still. It must have hit the power box. Then Jane really freaked. Her dissertation changes were unsaved on her laptop!

Below, the zombie cursed loudly. Jane watched as it sat down on a lawn chair and rubbed one knee. A moment later, it peeled off a mask.

John! Jane was going to kill him for real.

Then she remembered. Jane swiped at the screen of her phone. Seconds later, the Mozy app opened. There it was! The dissertation file was last backed up ten minutes ago!

Jane turned a light on and stared at the barricaded door. As she picked everything up, she plotted her revenge.

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Six Sentence Sunday 10/23

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 17 of my book, Tenderfoot.

I knew he wouldn’t give up easy. A guy like him would need an explanation, a reason, something firm to wrap in pretty, shiny, logic. I hurried into the bathroom. Andrew came onto the hallway while I was in the shower. I wanted to reach with my arms through the wall and pull him to me. Instead, I increased the temperature until my skin turned pink as I sobbed.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Father To Son

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment, “Bullies And The Bullied,” was to write 100 words on the motif of bullying. I wrote a scene from the backstory of one of the main characters in my book, Tenderfoot.

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FATHER TO SON

His father found Andrew where he shielded his little sister in the closet. Burly arms pulled him free. Andrew stiffened. He could hear his mother crying downstairs. What now?

His father thrust an old catcher’s mitt into Andrew’s chest. One hand tightly gripped his upper arm.

“C’mon, Son. Let’s go play some ball. You need to play a real sport.” He pushed Andrew toward the door.

The slight fencer stood his ground. “You leave us alone or I’ll tell my teachers.” The backhand sent Andrew to his knees. No more, he vowed. He stood back up.

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Flash Fiction: Predator

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction of 1000 words or less using 3 of 5 random words: box, fountain, tax, bottle, and cockroach. And a vampire.

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PREDATOR

Nicholas thought he’d seen it all. Then they sent Jean-Michel.

Jean-Michel floundered fully clothed in the dark water of the fountain as he tried to locate the bottle under the icy detritus of decomposing leaves. A bottle hidden inside a safe box in the church. For a Vampire of four hundred years, Jean-Michel still had a lot to learn. Starting with sleight of hand.

The damn Vampire really was an idiot. Most of the French Clan were. They averaged IQs slightly higher than a cockroach and therefore should have been easy to put down. Yet like the insect, they persisted. Nicholas would not underestimate a man who tracked him into Sweden. The Vampire wouldn’t stop until he had what he came for.

A few kilometers into the forest, Nicholas knew. Out for a walk in the quiet night, the empty void that followed quickly drew his attention. One of the Undead. Nicholas found it curious. And alarming. He circled around until he came to the front of the church. Then he waited.

Not long after, the creature stepped out from the cover of tree boughs. Nicholas didn’t need the faint light from the parking lot to know he had guessed right. Only a Vampire would tromp through the forest in a suit and expensive dress shoes.

The Troll King forged a pact with the Clan to stay out of Scandinavia. For the most part, the Vampires had. The French Clan was intelligent enough to foresee the consequences: a visit from a conquering army of Trolls, Dwarves, and Fae to hunt the dark nooks where Vampires rested by day. What did the Vamp want badly enough to risk breaking the Continental Pact?

It stopped at a slight distance. “What do you want, Vampire?”

“Pardonnez-moi the intrusion. My name is Jean-Michel Clerselier.” He gave a faint bow as he said his name. “I have come to ask for something.”

Nicholas shifted his weight back. He knew of this creature. And it knew about the bottle. Jean-Michel tilted his head. It’s charm wouldn’t work on him. He allowed himself a faint smile. He always enjoyed the odd fight of predator versus predator. It was infinitely more satisfying than outwitting teenage girls.

“The bottle. I have to come to beg, Monsieur Grimm. S’il vous plait, name your price.”

“You have nothing I want.”

The Vampire stiffened. The answer could not have come as a surprise. “I see. I suppose an explanation of my predicament would be a waste of breath, non? You have no interest in Clan disagreements. ”

“You are correct. I see no need to take sides on Continental matters. They must be bad if they bring you here.

Jean-Michel’s eyes flashed. “Oui.” He smoothed the lapel of his suit. “What if I were to tell you a story about two gay maidens who live in Paris with their parents. Every morning they skip down les grand boulevards to school. They do not suspect a monster shadows them from afar. Alas, it would be a terrible tragedy if something were to happen.” Jean-Michel stepped forward. “I could assist you in their care. Perhaps you would reconsider?”

And that was that. Vacation was over. Nicholas reached out. Satisfied no humans were nearby, he shrugged.

With a click, fangs split the line of Jean-Michel’s lips. “Allons-y. Now we dance.”

A moment later the Vampire was upon him. The Fossegrim shifted forward, forcing the Vamp to pass him. Jean-Michel turned quickly but Nicholas was just as quick. They turned as the Vampire sought caught Nicholas by his upper arms. He couldn’t bite Nicholas like a human, but there were other ways to break a body. Nicholas leaned back and kicked. His worn black boot caught the Vampire beneath the chin. The impact forced Jean-Michel to stagger back, hissing. Again, Jean-Michel lept forward. His arms sailed forward as he threw his body over Nicholas. Nicholas struggled. He swung his arms to throw the thrashing creature off. Nicholas fell to the ground, the stink of Jean-Michel’s foul corpse upon him. As the Vampire reached for his neck, Nicholas punched forward, finding the very center of the dead spot. Jean-Michel flew back into the air.

Nick was satisfied. When the lunge came, Nicholas allowed the broadside. He felt the wind first. Then the impact. Together they toppled against the rough cement of the fountain. Chunks of rock flew through the air. Nicholas didn’t need them. He had the one in his hand. As the pain transmitted wildly from all bones, he stood. He threw the rock from the forest. It landed with a splash a dozen meters away in the still sloshing water.

“You want the Nettle Elixir from the Tree of Life? You’ll have to get it yourself!”

Nicholas threw his head back and laughed as the Vampire scrambled over the wall into the water. Frickin’ Vamps. Every time, they underestimated the ones who taught war to the Vikings. This one wasn’t close to worthy of the blood-free immortality enjoyed by Nicholas’s kind.

As Jean-Michel floundered, his rage grew. He found the rock a minute later. That was the last time he flew. Nicholas clinically noted the terror Jean-Michel expressed as he impaled himself upon the fresh stake. What he forgot was how the cloud of Vampire dust got into every open orifice. He limped to the pool and peeled the torn cotton shirt from his bloodied body. As he wiped his face, he considered the future. It was time to evacuate the family from France and bring them to safe ground.

For the first time, he noticed the statute of St. Bridget. Such delicious irony. On a day far from today, Nicholas might find himself in the purgatory she described as he awaited burial in the roots of the Tree. Until then, he would escort those who threatened him to Hell.

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Six Sentence Sunday 10/16

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 11 of my book, Tenderfoot.

Beyond Andrew’s lusty eyes was the clock. It was well past midnight. He leaned over and kissed me again. When we came up for air an hour later, I murmured, “It’s late.” Part of me wanted to stay. The other part was afraid of the love drunk that wanted to stay all night. She scared me.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Search Results

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a story about a new kind of monster.

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SEARCH RESULTS
#avasparty, @jenjenten, @ericablonde, @killersteph, @thadalot, @jonahdog, @drewdreamey

Hey Tweeps. Still pissed my dad grounded me for busting curfew last night. Missing out on #avasparty tonight!
WAH!
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 21:03

@jenjenten Damn girl. How long are you grounded for?
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 21:04

@ericablonde Forever. Nah, he hasn't decided yet. So who's there?
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 21:05

@jenjenten JASON!!!!!!!!!!!
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 21:05

@killersteph @jenjenten I know, like right? It's embarrassing how he's hanging all over Ava. Then again,
it's #avasparty .
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 21:06

@jenjenten Aww. I'm so sad you're not here, I'm crying in my beer. Can't you sneak out and come to #avasparty ?
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 21:15

#avasparty is kicking! Any ladies want to hook up?
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 21:34

@thadalot Sorry baby. Step Jane is guarding the stairs! Unreals.
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 21:40

@jenjenten Jonah wants to go to the gardens. Abandoned house, woot woot! Can you meet us? #avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 21:56

@jenjenten Meet us! Bring beer!
JonahDog, Sat Oct 29, 21:59

@drewdreamey You’re nasty. Stay on the other side of the room or I'll scream. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 21:59

@killersteph O you can scream for me all night long! #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 22:02

@jenjenten Did you hear that crunch? That was Steph throwing Drew's phone out the window. Girl's vicious.
#avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 22:09

@killersteph I take that back. I didn't mean it Steph! Please? #avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 22:11

@thadalot @ericablonde @killersteph @jonahdog @drewdreamey LOL! Ok, I'll sneak out. #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 22:45

@jenjenten Hooray! And bring a leash for Drew. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 22:47

@jenjenten I'll be waiting. : )
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 22:48

@killersteph OW. THAT HURT. #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 22:52

@drewdreamey Seriously, what are you? 8 years old? #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 22:58

Meet at the front door if you're coming! #avasparty
Thadalot, Sat Oct 29, 23:23

Wait for me! #avasparty
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 23:24

Hey, did you guys hear that? This place is spooky! #avasparty
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 23:45

@ericablonde I forgot you were afraid of your own shadow. Thanks for reminding me!
KillerSteph, Sat Oct 29, 23:47

@ericablonde I'll keep you safe! #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 23:48

@drewdreamey You found your phone? #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sat Oct 29, 23:52

@drewdreamey Bro. I'm embarrassed for you. #avasparty
JonahDog, Sat Oct 29, 23:52

@jenjenten Yes. It's scuffed now. Thanks a lot @killersteph ! @jonahdog Why? #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 23:54

@drewdreamey You set a new low in levels of desperation. #avasparty
JonahDog, Sat Oct 29, 23:58

@jonahdog OW AGAIN. Are you my friend or my frenemy? #avasparty
DrewDreamey, Sat Oct 29, 23:59

Shh, be quiet. I heard it again. Did you hear that? #avasparty
EricaBlonde, Sat Oct 29, 23:59

@ericablonde I heard it. Is there something in the trees?
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:01

@thadalot I think so. I'm totally creeped out. @drewdreamey will you walk me back to #avasparty ?
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:03

@ericablonde YES.
DrewDreamey, Sun Oct 30, 00:03

What a wuss. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:06

@thadalot @ericablonde @jonahdog @killersteph @drewdreamey Where are you guys? I'm outside the front
gate! #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:16

@jenjenten We're near the fountain. Straight thru and hang a left at the cupid statue thingy. #avasparty
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:19

@thadlot Thanks Snookums. #avasparty
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:19

You @jenjenten and you @thadalot are grossing me out. #avasparty
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:23

@killersteph You're welcome! #avasparty
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:25

@thadalot What was that noise? Were you screaming?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:31

@jenjenten RUN BABY
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:31

@jenjenten Get help!
JonahDog, Sun Oct 30, 00:33

@jonahdog @thadalot What?! Why?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:35

@jenjenten There's something out here. @drewdreamey @ericablonde Where are you?
JonahDog, Sun Oct 30, 00:36

@jonahdog @thadalot @killersteph @drewdreamey @ericablonde I'm safe in my car. What is it?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:37

@jenjenten It was disgusting! It unfolded these massive insect arms!
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:39

@jenjenten Something jumped out of the tree. It bit me then it ran after Erica and Drew. Get help!
Thadalot, Sun Oct 30, 00:40

@jenjenten OMG. It folded itself into a tree stump. Then four eyes poked out and it skittered
sideways. I think it ate Drew's cell.
KillerSteph, Sun Oct 30, 00:41

@jonahdog @thadalot @ericablonde @killersteph @drewdreamey I called 911!
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:42

@jonahdog @ericablonde @drewdreamey @killersteph @thadalot Run to my car!
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:45

@jenjenten Hurry! It got Drew and he's bleeding bad! We're hiding in a shed by the house.
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:46

@jenjenten OMG! Some of its teeth are sticking out of Drew's thigh. It was only two feet tall
but it jumped on him.
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:48

@ericablonde Jonah made it to the car. @killersteph @thadalot Where are you?
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:55

@ericablonde The police are almost here. Jonah's talking to them. Hang on! @thadalot Baby??
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 00:57

@jenjenten I'm so scared! It poked one of its stalk snake eyes through a crack and blinked!
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 00:59

@ericablonde They're here! Hold tight! The police are in the garden now.
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 01:01

@jenjenten There's so much blood. That thing finally ran away.
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 01:02

@ericablonde They found Thad! Part of his hand is gone.
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 01:15

@jenjenten Where's Steph?
EricaBlonde, Sun Oct 30, 01:16

@ericablonde I don't know.
JenJenTen, Sun Oct 30, 01:20

@ericablonde @jenjenten @drewdreamey @thadalot @jonahdog Please DM @newstoday. We'd like to
interview you. Was it a monster? #avasparty
News Today Investigators, Sun Oct 30, 03:14

Six Sentence Sunday 10/9

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 13 of my book, Tenderfoot.

There was a light touch on my shoulder. I turned to Nick and smiled. He looked past me and his face shifted, as those large brown eyes of his grew larger. His thick eyelashes couldn’t hide how mesmerized he was. It was the softest, most real expression I’d seen since we met. I waited until he returned and his eyes flickered over my mine.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday 10/2

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 8 of my book, Tenderfoot.

No question, this place was a dive suitable for rock shows. I concentrated on Jade. What little light there was illuminated the glittering makeup on her face. She gestured in exaggeration with her drink as she gossiped about Derek’s friends. I had to hold her off from setting me up on a half-dozen random dates; I firmly put my foot down with a “maybe” and a “sounds interesting.” How could I tell her no?

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

 

A True Story: Our Lady Of Europe

Place de la Concorde, 1997

OUR LADY OF EUROPE

A True Story

When I was 12, I saw Europe.

It was 1985. We were stationed in France for three years while my father performed scientific work on behalf of NOAA. It was an irregular situation since France left NATO years before. My parents immediately recognized the opportunity for what it was – spectacular. After navigating around a destination change to the Everglades, my father left to start his new job. Then my mother packed up the house in Seattle. Before we knew it, we boarded a TWA flight bound for Paris.

My mother quickly instituted  a new family mantra: “We’re in Europe. We’re going to see Europe!” And by George, we saw Europe. Remarkably, that was all but five countries in three years.

And that is why I saw Europe from the backseat of a blue Volvo 240 GL.

Within a week of arriving in the suburbs of Paris, we took an overnight train north. The train loaded onto a ferry, and a day later we found ourselves at the Volvo factory in Gothenburg, Sweden. It was there we picked up our beautiful car, the Tank.

Order was established quickly. My father drove. My mother never sat in the backseat. I always sat on the right side in the back while my brother sat on the left. The seat was covered with comfortable dark blue material. If I scooted down a few inches, my head would comfortably rest against the top edge of the backseat. It was the perfect place to take one of those languid teenage naps. At least, until my brother woke me up. Or we arrived.

On weekends and French holidays, we would load into the Tank and take off. Sooner or later, my brother and I would get hungry. We took a cue from the VHS recordings friends sent us of “The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties” and act like the immature American teenagers we were. We would sing one of the McDonald’s theme songs ad nauseum until my parents capitulated or my mother threatened us. To this day, “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese…” takes me right back to my spot in the Tank as my brother and I bonded in mutual conspiracy. But most of the time, we would plug our headphones into individual cassette-playing boomboxes that rested in the middle seat between us and listen to music. They were soon replaced by newly released Sony Walkmans. My parents would pay for blissful silence at any price.

Once a month we would drive from Paris to Chievres Air Force Base in Belgium to buy staples unavailable in Paris, like Iceberg lettuce and peanut butter. (All of us now prefer the ever-so-French Spring Mix and ham.) We always came back with piles of books and magazines. Best of all, we got to pick out new music. My father used to joke that the Tank dragged all the way home on trip south. To be certain, my brother and I always rested our feet on flats of sodas and canned string beans. We didn’t care. We were lost in the latest issue of X-Men or Sweet Valley High novelette.

We also learned how to drive from the backseat.

My mother developed a particular style of driving as offense against crazy drivers. At the time, France had a very long and labored driving requirement to receive a driver’s license. Despite the significant obstacles to obtaining one, it still resulted in many drivers who couldn’t drive. They would pile into their tiny cars: the Citroens, Renaults, Fiats, and drive like bats out of hell. Sorry, is that a line? They would cut in from a 90 degree angle, all the while gesturing madly through the window. My mother, of stout Scandinavian stock by way of Montana, decided this was a bunch of nonsense. She developed a technique to use in these situations. If another driver attempted to engage personally in an inappropriate fashion from the right, she would stare at their front left tire. Before long the other driver would glance at it as if to see what was wrong. Now, it is impossible to see the front left tire from the driver’s position behind the steering wheel, yet this never stopped the attempts to see it. From my superior position in the backseat, I was fascinated. From my father’s position, it was a way to edge the Tank up a bit further when the opening came and block that ridiculous person from cutting in. Make no mistake, driving in France was all sport.

Then there was the rest of Europe. Winding down from the Eagle’s Nest, the Tank sheltered us through a fierce hailstorm that caused millions of dollars of damages in Germany. On our frequent visits to that country, we often encountered fog. My father would pop the high beams on and we’d watch out the front window in silence for tail lights to materialize in front of us. We spent one afternoon in a party on a highway when we made the mistake of leaving for Italy on August 1st during the continental pilgrimage south. Our trusty Tank was not one of the lesser vehicles that overheated and died on that highway.

Eventually we moved back to the United States. The Tank was shipped to our new home in Virginia. A few years later, my parents moved back to France. They took a new black Volvo sedan with them. My brother inherited the Tank. It ferried college kids and empty fast food wrappers to and fro. One day it finally died. The Tank had escorted my family across a kazillion miles of road safely.

The Tank is long gone but the memories remain. There were five of us on our grand adventure – my family of four and ou dear Tank. She was our Lady of Europe.

Flash Fiction: Circular – Update

 

Congratulations to Me!

My three sentences were picked as a winner in the flash fiction contest thrown by my favoritest (sic) purveyor of writing tips and writerly experience: CHUCK WENDIG.

<insert flashy blinky lights here>

This is very exciting. One of my short term writing goals was to win acclaim from him, and I was able to do so with only three sentences!

Now, to wait by the mailbox for his postcard to see what writing advice Chuck offers…

*****

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write three sentences. Yes, three. I think the hard part for this assignment was to write three relevant sentences. I went with something topical.

*****

I arrived seemingly before I left. One moment the cops were around the corner and the next I sat down in the sand on the empty beach. With my stolen NeutrinoPort, it was easy to slip in and out of dimensions; staying in one place was what I found to be impossible.

*****

Flash Fiction: Circular

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write three sentences. Yes, three. I think the hard part for this assignment was to write three relevant sentences. I went with something topical.

*****

I arrived seemingly before I left. One moment the cops were around the corner and the next I sat down in the sand on the empty beach. With my stolen NeutrinoPort, it was easy to slip in and out of dimensions; staying in one place was what I found to be impossible.

*****

Six Sentence Sunday 9/25

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 6 of my book, Tenderfoot.

‘”Well, Julianna, I’m off to save someone else. It’s been a pleasure, nefarious intentions and all.” As Andrew stood up, he leaned down and kissed the top of my head.

I blinked in surprise. Wait, that wasn’t a real kiss! What the heck was that supposed to mean?”

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Blistering Criticism

UNC-Chapel Hill

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a complete story of no more than 100 words using three of the five following words: ivy, enzyme, blister, lollipop, and bishop.

I used four of the five words, which can be found below in bold. The likely pairings were enzymes and ivy, blister and lollipop. I went in the other direction and purposely forced them apart.

*****

Jessica carefully added enzymes to the small beaker of urushiol oil and stirred well, like she’d been taught. Then she added the mixture to the gently bubbling corn syrup. How handy to make the treats right in the lab! When the syrup hit hard-crack stage, she poured it into small round molds. A few hours later, packed and ready, she arranged the shiny red lollipops on a pretty paper plate near the door.

Jessica’s days of researching herpes zoster were over. She’d show those pretentious Ivy League bastards she used to work with what it meant to form a blister.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Paul Kater

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Paul Kater, author of Hilda – Lycadea

*****

 *****

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

*****

” ‘Almost there’ meant another hour of walking and a more frequent handing over of cats from one to another, through an environment that was changing very rapidly. They had just walked past a few groups of trees, when they entered a forest with humongously big trees. Everyone, except the two natives, had their head on a swivel, trying to see all the high treetops, or discover what animals up there were making a cacophony of sounds.”

*****

So where is this place with a cacophony of sounds? It is in Yucatan, Mexico, in the forest that surrounds Playa del Carmen. I was in Playa for a vacation, to do as little as possible, but I had to do ‘something’. So I went along on a trip through the immensely dense forest there.

My home has forests, and for that I am very grateful. But the forests in Mexico are breathtaking. First because they are so huge, high, dense. Second because it is so hot and humid there and walking around then really takes your breath away. I have always felt at home around trees and in wood, so the trip to this area was a treat. Because it is so far away from home (I live in the Netherlands, Europe) the difference in the kind of forest was already fabulous. I knew I could use this feeling in my writing somewhere. Later that day, back at the hotel, I immediately wrote down my experiences and feelings, so they would not get lost.

The smell of the forest was amazing. Different. The air was rich, sweet and also permeated with the smell of rotting things, but not in a repulsive way. It is part of nature, and nature does not always look or smell great.

The walk through the woods there was guided by locals who apparently were as close to real Maya ancestors as one can get. Small people but amazingly friendly and helpful. These people made such an impression on me that I had to use them in the story as well. There were sounds of animals unseen, shreeks, quacks and toots. Monkeys hung in the high trees, observing us as we observed them. Really, everyone in the group was looking around.

Yes, that was something I had to capture, if only a little bit, so I took in as much as I could. The guides had fun taking everyone back through a part of the forest that was extremely dense. That caused this bit to happen:

“Hilda wondered how mountains could be hard to find, but the two were right: they had to travel through a part of forest where the trees were growing so close together that it was impossible to know where you were going unless you knew where you were going.”

That forest is not my home. It will never be my home. But the sheer overwhelming sensation of walking there, realising for myself that I was walking in an as yet unspoilt part of nature with all its smell, sounds and so many shades of green is something that I will never lose.

*****

A big thank you to Paul Kater, from Cuijk, Netherlands, author of Hilda – Lycadea for sharing this guest blog about Playa del Carmen, Mexico. To find out more about Paul’s writing, visit his website http://paulkater.wordpress.com or visit him at his blog http://www.nlpagan.net/.

Six Sentence Sunday 9/18

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 6 of my book, Tenderfoot.

“Are you O.K? You looked scared in there.”

Our hands separated and the warmth from his skin dissipated. I breathed in the fresh air, trying to reorient myself. The alcohol didn’t help. It was hard not to take off running. I was safe with Andrew, wasn’t I?

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Porsche Camping: A True Story

PORSCHE CAMPING

A TRUE STORY

All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

To sharpen my writing skills, I have tasked myself with developing a new skillset: the ability to tell new, true, and on occasion, funny stories. This is where I nail down actual details instead of making stuff up. Heh!

True Story: My father used to take my brother and I camping in a Porsche.

My father loved his Porsche 924s. He loved them so much he leased a new one every year. He’d pick us up for his weekend on a Friday evening and there’d be a new one in white, silver, or gold.

One weekend he decided to take my brother and I on a little trip. Having sold the green truck with the camper shell from the 70s, he made do. We were Porsche camping!

Picture this: my mother, a model of restraint, standing on the stairs of our split level home as she watched her ex load our overnight bags into the trunk of a white Porsche 924.

Ever seen the inside trunk area of this fine vehicle? There’s really not one to speak of. It was a minor indentation of maybe twelve inches under the slim hatchback window. In our stuff went, next to the sleeping bags and groceries, all of which were flattened in hopes that my father would be able to see out the back window.

We left early on Saturday morning. That began with a fight for “the Hump.” To any adult, the elongated arm rest which continues into the backseat between the generously named “bucket seats” might go unremarked. But in the seat-belt optional days of the ’80s Stone Age, “the Hump” was the place for kids to sit and worth any manner of physical violence, wheedling, or whining. It provided the optimal view of traffic and scenery from inside the Porsche. It was better than the driver’s view.

I lost. I sat in the passenger seat, which was really more like sliding down the leather. I don’t remember if my father put in the cassette for LIPPS, Neil Diamond, or his favorite, “Donna Summer’s Greatest Hits,” but we listened to something good on our way to a campsite a few hours from Seattle, a destination located somewhere in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula.

The trip went something like this: super major highway, state highway, side roads, and at last, a fire trail of mud and gravel. The road was a mess. It was one car wide and full of enormous potholes the size of meteor craters. They were of such significant size, you would most assuredly not want to drive into one because you would not be driving out. My father slowed way down. He took care to drive around them. Sometimes the Porsche went off road a bit into the wet ferns. As a career truck driver known for backing semi trailers down impossibly narrow piers on the waterfront, jobs which other truck drivers refused, he was the man to navigate a Porsche down this road.

We crept along at five miles per hour. This seemed to go on forever. We were used to shooting down I-5 singing along to the Bee Gees at the top of our lungs. Who knew the Porsche could go so slow? And then we heard it.

SCCCCRAPE.

My father continued driving forward.

SCCCCCCCCRAPE.

He stopped. He stared at the road ahead. He got out. He looked down the road. He got back in.

That was when my brother and I found ourselves walking behind the Porsche. My father hoped that in removing the combined weight of two kids in elementary school, say 150 lbs, the Porsche might not have anything important scraped clean off the underside. I will always remember stepping between the lakes of potholes as the tail lights on the Porsche flashed on and off.

SCCCRAPE.

We finally made it to the camp site. It was little more than a pull off. My father set up the orange tent on an elevated outcrop of rock while my brother and I goofed off. After we tired of chasing each other around, we sat down next to my father at the campfire. He made a big deal of heating up food from a can over a sterno stove. As we ate, he told us stories. Stories about what it was like when he grew up. Most involved fireworks and explosions. 

Gradually, it grew dark. There were so many mosquitoes at dusk, the storytelling gave way to a competition. We got twenty points for each mosquito annihilated. You had to look toward the campfire to see them in the darkness. With bruised hands and thousand point scores, we went to sleep in the tent on the rock.

Not long after, my father got remarried and a new baby arrived. One day we went into the garage to get in the car, and in the place where the Porsche slept was an ugly brown stationwagon. My brother and I were dumbfounded. How do you go from a Porsche 924 to a stationwagon?

There’s one more memory I have about that trip. At some point during the night, my father tried to sleep in the Porsche 924. As a man of six feet with the shoulders of a defensive lineman, I’m not sure he actually slept. We teased him about it the whole ride back.

And that, my friends, is Porsche camping!

Flash Fiction: The Collection

Crayon Drawing by Allison Tupper, Age 5

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction, a story of less than 1000 words, based on a photo. Go see it now. Thank you. Stare at it long enough and… yeah, it’s like a bad flashback to the 70’s. This one was based on an idea I had last week after watching True Blood.

*****

Ian called again.

“Did you get it?”

“No,” I said. “Couldn’t you just email it like everyone else in the free world does? Post it to Facebook, tweet it, stumble all over it, dang, whatever the kids are doing these days?”

“This picture you’ll want to hold in your hands.”

“Ian! Why’s this so important?”

There was silence. I knew he wanted to tell me. “Sorry, Jon. I wish I could have delivered it myself. Damn.”

When he called a week ago to mention he was sending me something, I had no reason to think it was anything earth-shattering. It was about the family reunion, right? I let it go at that. Then again, the dog was barking, the dishwasher half-loaded, and one of kidlettes spun in circles until she grew dizzy and dropped to the floor where she threatened to vomit. And I was up to my eyeballs in the types of nuisances that occurred only when we left town: the escape artist dog, a wobbly mailbox, a school meeting rescheduled to the same night as soccer and guitar lessons. In a nut-shell, life.

I was glad we went though. It’d been too long. Ian and I grew up together, cousins and best friends all through school. A week after graduation, we joined the Air Force. Eventually Uncle Sam did what no one else dared to do; station us in different corners of the earth. That’s when we took to the Internet. It cost some dough to get set up, but it beat the hell out of waiting for the APO mail to arrive. When we left the service, we wound up living a couple hours away. It was a real good moment to throw an arm around Ian when he arrived at the family reunion.

“Don’t sweat it. I’ll call you when it comes.”

“O.K.”

I finished loading the dishwasher and implored my daughter to find something more meaningful to do, like tease her brother. Then my wife swept by. She stood in front of the trash in a sorting stance.

“What’s that?”

“The mail. I forgot to pick it up when we got home yesterday.”

She was methodical. Glance, garbage. Glance, garbage. Tear it open, peer inside, garbage. Bill pile. Garbage. Wordlessly, she handed me a letter. One of those frigging air mail envelopes identical to the ones Ian sent me twenty years ago. Christ, did Ian throw anything out besides his wife?

There was a single photograph inside.

I laughed. It was a picture from the family reunion. We were setting up to play Shadow Charades, that ridiculous game my parents love. We picked up the lawn chairs and drinks, moving them near the siding of the house. Only this year, Auntie May had a bit too much to drink. Well, that’s not true. She always had too much to drink. But this year she dragged Uncle Tim’s welder’s torch out of the garden shed instead of the battery operated floodlights. Ian must have snapped the shot with his cell phone mere seconds before my mother yelled, “May! Turn that thing off before you kill someone!” and the family scattered.

I called Ian back.

“You got the photo?” He asked.

“Yeah, this is hilarious! I can’t believe you caught this on film!”

“I forgot about the pictures from the family reunion. I went to pull the ones I took yesterday off the phone and saw them there.”

“Well, you were pretty busy putting out the grass fire.” I added.

“Thank God for that kiddie pool. You didn’t see it, did you?”

“See what?” He had lost me.

“Where are you in that picture?”

“I was standing behind everybody.” I lifted the photo and scrutinized it. There I was, on the far right, keeping my distance from crazy Aunt May. Then I saw the second face. “Oh, no.” I backed against the kitchen counter, suddenly tired.

“Jon? I’m real sorry,” Ian said. “I love you, man.”

I ended the call and set the phone on the counter.

“Honey?”

I stumbled past my wife. Outside, the smell of Fall surrounded me. I slumped into a lawn chair. Leaves from the maple tree slipped free and spiraled down until they came to rest in the grass. They’d broken free.

Jenny. My sister was coming for me. After all this time, she kept her promise. I’d waited years but I thought I had more. Ian had my instructions. Long ago, we’d made the same promise to each other. Ian was the best man I knew. And bless Jenny for not taking me that night. An extra week with my family free from all the usual daily craziness. How was that for a bit of closure?

I knew what I had to do. There was dignity in walking away willing.

That was why we made the Promise. I’ll come back for you. I’ll take care of your family. I’ll conclude your business. What other way would The Collection work? I set the photo down on the side table.

Jenny stood on the porch when I walked out the front door. Twelve years after her death, she was as beautiful as I remembered. I turned around and kissed my wife and children one last time. It was time to go.

Writers And Their Chosen Settings – Jim Murdoch

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

On Tuesdays, I post a guest blog by a writer about a special setting, real or imaginary, they chose for their work.

Today’s guest blog is by Jim Murdoch, author of Living With The Truth, Stranger Than Fiction, and the soon to be released Milligan And Murphy

*****

*****

 A Country Road. A Tree. Evening.

A place for everything, everything in its placeBenjamin Franklin

Writers are frequently asked to talk about what inspires them. It’s a difficult question for me to answer because I don’t believe in inspiration, not in any Romantic sense of the word and I never talk about my muse. I believe in ideas. My definition of inspiration is a good idea. And I can get a good idea anywhere.

I had a religious upbringing. It didn’t do me any harm but I can’t say my world view has not been affected by what I was taught. I never really got churches, though. Or graveyards. The idea that you need to go to a specific location to talk to a god or to remember your loved ones never made sense to me. You never got Jesus dashing off to the synagogue so he could commune with his heavenly father and why would I want to drive forty-odd miles to stand around in a graveyard my parents never went near in their lives simply to remember them?

I’m not big on place. That doesn’t mean I’ve never been to places. I have. Loads. And what I learned from going to all those different places is that none of them is that different. I’m sure I inherited that attitude from my father who never wanted to go anywhere. He used to say, and I never argued with him, that “contentment is being happy with whatever you had at any given point in time.” He never said, “…and space,” but that was implied.

There is, of course, no right way to be a writer. As a young boy in sixties Scotland I was exposed to the poetry of fellow Scots Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns along with a selection of English poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson and John Masefield. By the time I got to secondary school I was sick to the back teeth of babbling brooks, vagabonds and fields of daffodils and it took the war poetry of Wilfred Owen and the bleak verse of Philip Larkin to make me realise that there was much more to this poetry malarkey than nature poems. The poem that made all the difference to me was ‘Mr Bleaney’ by Philip Larkin and one of the things I liked about it was its descriptions. The poem opens:

This was Mr Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him. Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land?
Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand’
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags —
I’ll take it.

His depiction of the room is reduced to a checklist and I liked that; it respected me as a reader and allowed me to use my own imagination. One of my personal writing edicts is: Say what you have to say and get off the page. That doesn’t mean all I write is flash fiction but it does mean I’m come to appreciate how little you can get away with when it comes to descriptions.

Have you ever seen the film Dogville? Essentially it’s all filmed on a sound stage. The buildings of the town are represented by a series of simple white outlines on the floor and a church spire suspended above the ground. Even the eponymous ‘dog’ is present only as an outline. No dramatic backdrops, or exquisite realistic period trimmings. All you are left to look at are a few tables and chairs. Oh, and the actors. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I loved it.

When Amy asked me to write this article she suggested I include a section of my own writing. It wasn’t easy but I came up with this description from my first novel:

The town of Rigby had been built piecemeal over the years. It nestled itself uncomfortably in a sheltered escarpment not quite the archetypal seaside town it purported to be. But it did its best. Its architecture ran the full gamut from the seventeenth century on, though you’d be hard pushed to call what remained from that time Georgian. They were functional cottages when they were built; practical. Now, they were empty, but no one would commit to doing away with them out of some misplaced sentimentality. Most of the residential part of the town was of solid Victorian stock, though they’d been building ever since. It always smelled of paint and seaweed. It had a cenotaph with eighty-three names on it (eighty-four if you counted the graffito), a sizeable park complete with pitch and putt, a duck pond (but no ducks) and a statue of someone long-forgotten covered in bird-do. There were public baths, innumerable guest houses and B&B’s, a retirement home or two and a Town Hall, with a library grafted on at the rear. Its promenade was an austere place on days like this, when the holiday crowd was back working away wherever they came from. Most of the shops had been boarded up for the winter and it seemed like winter was getting earlier every year and lasting longer. He half-expected that one year they’d forget to open up at all and no one would notice. The shorefront was comprised of a huge arc bordered by a great stone wall a yard across. He’d walked the length of that more times than he cared to remember.

That description was not in the first draft of the novel and it was a chore to write. All I said in that first draft was that Rigby was a seaside town in the north of England and really that says it all especially if you make the connection to the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby – “All the lonely people / Where do they all belong?” To my mind that’s all the information you need to conjure up the town in your own mind. It’s really an amalgam of every seaside town I visited as a child, although, I suppose, primarily the Scottish towns of Ayr, Troon, Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Largs. That said, I’ve seen enough films and programmes on TV to realise that there’s much of a muchness about all seaside towns, places to retire to and die, take for example the titular town in the recent BBC series, Sugartown (Filey) or the resort in the Michael Caine vehicle, Is Anybody There? (Chalfont St. Giles which also doubled as Walmington-on-Sea in Dad’s Army). But I could never say that any of those places inspired me. I needed to have my protagonist live somewhere and that was the right kind of place to put him.

My third novel is set almost exclusively in a park. The park I used as a model was the one at the end of my street, Victoria Park in Glasgow, but very little of the actual park makes it into the book, for instance:

The pond was shaped like a giant kidney bowl. It was something he noted every time he came to it. He also remembered that the Bible said the kidneys were the seat of the deepest emotions, not the heart.

The pond is not shaped like a kidney bowl. I wanted to include the remark about the kidneys and so the shape of the pond changed. I also added benches because I needed a bench for my protagonist to sit on. The swans were there already though. Bottom line, it could have been any park anywhere; I never mention it my name nor do I even say what city he is in not that it’s hard to work out.

Most of the action in my last novel takes place in the flat I live in at the present. It gets a makeover in the novel but the structure is still the same: three bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom. Not that I do much describing of anything. All we learn about the protagonist’s bedroom, for example, is that when her father moved house (while she was at university) he had taken photos of the layout and replicated the room to the best of his ability in his new flat. The only things I even mention are in the room are her bed and an Eyes of Laura Mars poster that she decides is creepy now and needs to go.

If I was to think of a word to cover all my writing, the poetry, the stories and the novels I’d probably go with ‘chamber pieces.’ Okay, that’s two words. The road that the two brothers walk down in Milligan and Murphy is just a road. I don’t even mention that the road is in Ireland. It’s obvious where it is and why state the obvious?

So do I have places that I have an attachment to? Not so much. I accept that there are different mes depending on who I am with but I’ve never been able to perceive a different me based on where I am.

Bioregional animist psychology is focused on a concept of oneness, not unity per se but specifically oneness as unity indicates there are two things that are united or BECOME one. The difference on this point lays in that you do not become what you already are but you can become aware of what you are. – Self and Place, Bioregional Animism, 9 July 2010

I get that. I could wander down to the Clyde and watch the water and enjoy a few minutes of calm but I think too much can be made of the physical journey and location. Why can’t I simply imagine being there? I have access to that level of awareness anywhere. What if the Clyde wasn’t there or Wordworth’s Lake District or R.S. Thomas’ Wales? What if they’d been born in Brisbane or Seattle and I’d been born in Johannesburg?

Place is unavoidable unless you write purely dialogue and the more I write the more I’m drawn to that mode of expression. My radio play, Vladimir and Estragon are Dead, for example, takes place in limbo – there are only the two characters, no props, no scenery – and in my novel, Left, a large section of the book takes place in cyberspace and is presented as a simple chat log. I’m not the first writer to do that kind of thing, in fact entire novels have been written as pure dialogue: Delores Claiborne, by Stephen King is one that might surprise most people – the story opens with a quote that does not close until the very last page of the book – but there have been other novels written in dialogue before: Nicholson Baker’s Vox springs to mind, although it’s not completely in dialogue, and there’s also Corey Mesler’s Talk. I’ve personally written two short stories completely in dialogue, ‘Just Thinking’, which was published in The Ranfurly Review and ‘Ugly Truths’ which appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears. It’s quite refreshing actually to be able to forget about those boring descriptive passages.

I don’t think writers who feel the need to go to specific places to charge up are weird. Okay, I do think they’re a little weird but I respect their right to be weird just as I understand that there are those writers who need to write with their lucky typewriters (just ask Isaac Bashevis Singer or Cormac McCarthy about that). It takes all sorts to make a world. We need poets who know how to write a decent haiku and storytellers whose verse can quieten a class of eight-year-olds, we need writers who can recreate a place on a bit of paper for all of those who will never have the chance to visit and we need writers capable of unflinching inner vision, too.

*****

A big thank you to Jim Murdoch, from Glasgow, Scotland, author of Living With The Truth, Stranger Than Fiction, and the soon to be released Milligan And Murphy for sharing this guest blog about the use of setting. To find out more about Jim and his writing, visit his website http://www.jimmurdoch.co.uk/, his blog http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/, and follow him on twitter as Jim_Murdoch.

Six Sentence Sunday 9/11

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 12 of my book, Tenderfoot.

We were way over the speed limit. There weren’t many cars on the road this early. The engine hummed as we moved along, fluidly changing lanes. I could feel Nick’s foot making tiny adjustments on the accelerator.

“You know the speed here is sixty-five miles per hour?”

“Some rules don’t apply to me.”

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

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And one final piece of artwork, providing by my other daughter, who wanted to have her artwork on the internet:

Drawing by Allison Tupper, age 6

Flash Fiction: The Spelling Test

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write a complete story of revenge in 100 words.

I would like to ___________ Chuck’s __________ except I sort of worship him. We have a firm no-__________-ing our idols rule in this house.

One rule we don’t have: it’s alright to throw food at the TV for terrible plot developments, bad dialogue, seasons 2 and 3 of Lost, and the second to last episode of True Blood this season where Marnie’s ghost comes back.

This story is semi-autobiographical, except for the end. My mother was a teacher at my elementry school and she would have ___________ my ___________ if I had responded the way the Main Character does in this flash fiction story.

*****

I wonder if she sat next to me because I looked nice or if the teacher put her there because she was missing half an arm and a leg but it didn’t matter after she looked at my test paper.

“Quit looking!” I carefully spelled the next word. Her neck craned forward.

The teacher’s head swiveled around. We froze.

I put my arm over my answers. Meghan continued to look. Angry, I yanked her pencil from her cracked, burned fingers. A moment later it hung from the white ceiling tile by the point.

I smiled at the final answer. “F-a-i-r.”