Two weeks remain until the close of the Spring 2018 semester. It’s been a very hectic, but productive one, and I’m eager to hear some final student presentations, read final papers, and complete the final curriculum of the year.
I may take a few days off afterwards to smell the roses, go for a road trip, see the Blue Angels, and stroll around Annapolis and some Eastern Shore towns with my Nikon in hand—one of my favorite things to do.
But I’m also looking forward to completing the writing and editing of my short story collection, tentatively titled THE POSTCARD and OTHER SHORT STORIES and POEMS. As some of you know who follow me, I’ve been talking about this for a while, but writing textbooks, teaching, and writing novels in between has delayed this project. I’ll be including the original short story I wrote called CONTELLI’S MIMOSA, a sad short story that ended up becoming my first novel, BENEATH THE MIMOSA TREE (although the novel turned around and had a much, much happier ending). I’ve also got some of my FICTOGRAPHY pieces that have been turned into longer stories, and three new stories I’m editing for the collection along with one other that’s in the works. I’m hoping to have this collection completed and on the market by August. I’m excited to share these with you.
I’ll also be reconnecting with Milly, John, Miles, and the rest of the crew in Oxford as I see where a possible sequel to INN SIGNIFICANT takes me.
Wish me luck, my friends.
All I need is a bit of encouragement and some good, strong coffee to get me through.
In the classes I teach at Stevenson University, students know that I have the propensity to use writing prompts in class to get them writing creatively and telling little stories. Their purpose? Simply to practice writing.
Often, when I have the inclination to write something but am in-between novels, I use writing prompts a lot. There are three main reasons to use a writing prompt:
It gets you writing (as stated above) and thinking creatively.
It gets you thinking in way you may not have been thinking when you started staring at the blinking cursor and allows you to take a writing journey.
I like the idea of someone giving me an idea to write about because it pushes me, just as those I give the students push them. It’s also fun to see where students take the prompts. For example, Student X might take the story one way, Student Y might take it another way, and Student Z might take it in an entirely different direction. That’s the beauty of prompts and of writing: we imagine things differently, and sharing that journey is exciting.
Today, I got the first line for the prompt from that site, and I’m going to share what I did with it. It’s totally rough, because that’s what writing prompts should be. They are a launching pad to see if you want to explore it further when you are done.
I hope you take the time utilize writing prompts to see where your creativity may take you.
Enjoy the writing journey.
The first line generator gave me this first line:
There was a legend about the well in the garden…
Here’s the story.
There was a legend about the well in the garden. Groundskeepers said the well held a secret to the old home and its matron, Cynthia LaMontagne, who lived on the property for all 100 years of her life. Born on the second floor to her own mother, Cynthia inherited the home upon her parents’ deaths and raised all eight of her own children on the property. The secret of the well was not a pretty one, and it reflected a haunting tale that left me searching for answers after spending time on the grounds of the old estate, set in the hills of France.
You see, I was not personally acquainted with Cynthia LaMontagne until she was eighty, and I was a college graduate back in 1998, the youngest of three children of Cynthia’s son, Martin, who had met an American woman, my mother, and moved to the United States in his early thirties. My father and his mother spoke only rarely and upon occasions when it was mandatory. However, it had been promised to me for ten years that upon my college graduation and at my grandmother’s urging that I would get to spend a month with her on the large estate in France so that I could see a little bit of Europe before I began a career in advertising in New York City.
I did not speak French, which would make conversations with Cynthia challenging, but my father had very nicely hired a local French woman who was bilingual as a translator to help with that. Despite turning eighty the summer I visited, she didn’t look much like eighty at all. She was a thin woman, with a strong nose and inset blue eyes. Her hair was white, but long, and she wore it in a bun on the top of her hair.
When I first arrived to Vue Sur Le Jardin, I was in awe of the expansive balcony on the second floor with vistas of the gardens—wildflowers everywhere—and of course, a small vineyard on the left side of the property. The house itself was not massive, but the grounds were. New York City has its skyscrapers and glittery skyline, but the view from that balcony was one to be envied.
“Bien?” my grandmother asked, smiling, seeing me taking in the scenery. It was an awkward initial greeting, hugging each other gently, the two of us having never met in person.
On that first day, the translator had not yet arrived, and so Cynthia and I were content with lots of smiling and gesturing. Thankfully, the next morning, Helen arrived to take over on day two and to help me communicate with Cynthia. We sipped our coffees on the veranda, and she seemed like a nice person.
“Aimeriez-vous vous promener dans les jardins pour que je puisse vous connaître?” Helen asked. I looked at her squarely.
“I’m sorry, Madamoiselle. Would you like to stroll that gardens so that I may get to know you?” she asked in very broken English.
“Yes,” I said.
We began our descent to the main lawn, a rolling hill, with trees atop blowing in the wind. We came upon the wishing well, covered in ivy, wildflowers growing in all directions around it.
“C’est charmant,” I said, trying to practice my French so as to not disappoint.
“Yes,” Helen said. “It is charming, but there is a story, you see. One we don’t speak of.”
I looked at her puzzled. It always felt like something had been missing from my father’s stories, and there were not many. When I asked about his youth, he always dismissed them as good, with little elaboration. It was apparent standing among these gardens that I knew nothing about my father’s younger days. How could he not have told me all about the estate of Vue Sur Le Jardin?
“But you have to tell me. I’ve come all this way to understand my father’s upbringing and get to know my own grandmother who I’ve only just met in person yesterday.”
“I cannot speak it,” Helen said.
“But you must now,” I said.
Helen looked away with fear. Something had rattled her very core, as we stood among the beauty, a picturesque paradise annointed with flowers and stone paths highlighted by an abundance of sunlight.
“Your father’s sister, you see,” Helen said pointing to the well.
“My father’s sister is in the well?”
“I’m afraid the sad story is that your father’s sister was pushed and died in the well…”
It’s Monday, November 20, and I’m not as far along with National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo) as I would like to be. I’ve hit over 12,000 words, but if one is trying to finish a novel in four weeks, one has to do better than that.
But there’s been a slight problem. Father time has keep me busy in other areas.
Because it’s been so busy and I have not been fulfilling my obligations very well as a promoter of #nanowrimo, I believe I owe you the reasons behind why I have not held up my end of the bargain.
Let me present you with my Three Main Excuses.
EXCUSE NUMBER ONE – COLLEGE VISITS
Every weekend, my husband, son and I have been embarking on college visits. To date, and since the end of September, we have completed 6 visits, with only one left to go. While we are making headway, it takes away from my time writing, not to mention the hours we spend discussing college possibilities.
EXCUSE NUMBER TWO – BUSY ON CAMPUS
I have been co-teaching a new course at our university, and as such, it has taken up a great deal of my time, along with the time I spend teaching my other three courses, advising our Integrated Marketing Communication Club called ’47 House, advising students for next spring’s semester, attending lectures and promoting NaNoWriMo on campus, and just chatting with students throughout each day. Life on campus this semester has been inordinately busy, but fun. I’ve enjoyed it, but I won’t lie. Turkey break couldn’t come at a better time for me to catch up on some grading! If you’d like to hear more about the new course I’m teaching, click here.
EXCUSE NUMBER THREE – I’M NOT AS YOUNG AS I USED TO BE
Those who know me VERY well know that I used to sleep very little. When I was getting my MFA a few years ago, I averaged about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Every night. I would work during the day, take care of my husband and kids, and then at about 9 p.m., I’d slip into my office where I’d work on my studies until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. Then, I’d get up and do it all again. I find I’m more tired now than I used to be, and a lot of it is probably because I get up earlier with two high school students than I used to. When they go out the door, so do I, and I’ve been at my desk much earlier than in years past. I used to write at night, often late into the evenings when I wrote my first three books, but now, forget it. I’m in bed and asleep most nights before midnight.
So, there you have it. Three main reasons why my writing is not up to its “full steam ahead approach” my other novels took.
But I’m here now.
To present you with today’s prompt.
Your favorite character (either one you have written yourself or one of your favorites from literature) meets your best friend or your favorite relative in a bar. What takes place during this conversation?
Write about a time you won something or lost something. Practice describing the scene and using your emotions and lessons to tell this story.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I am thankful for my family who always encourages me to continue with my passion. It’s important to have a good support system around you when you tackle something as big as a novel. And it’s wonderful to have people who support you, even though it’s a time-consuming endeavor.
T H A N K Y O U M Y D E A R F A M I L Y.
* * *
Now, for TODAY’S PROMPT
Write 500 words
Three characters are stuck in an elevator in their 24-story building. The three have never met before. One has claustrophobia, one is exhausted and hates his/her job, and the other is nine months pregnant. Write the scene.
Write about a time when you had to tell someone something that hurt his or her feelings. Write it as a scene, almost as if it were a play. Let the characters talk; let us hear, feel, and see the thoughts, words, and emotions that are shared.
In the spirit of practicing what I preach, here’s yet another chapter of what may end up being the sequel to Inn Significant. I’ve passed 10,000 words, but this chapter brings me to 9,385 for this endeavor.
Here’s what I’m working on presently:
Extending the characters by allowing readers to get to know them even better
Working on creating additional scenery and settings within the town of Oxford, MD
Bringing in new characters
Creating realistic dialogue
Bringing a lighthearted tone to the story
Anyway, those are my goals for now.
Here’s Chapter 4.
C H A P T E R F O U R O F T H E S E Q U E L T O
I N N S I G N I F I C A N T
“Will you look at that!” my mother said aloud as a group of us were standing in front of Inn Love Catering watching the installation of the new, elegant calligraphy sign.
“It’s so fancy!” Colette said.
“And feminine,” Eva said.
I squinted to see it as the sun was beating down on us on that glorious May afternoon.
“Not too feminine,” John said, my father nodding along in agreement with him.
“No, not too feminine. Just right,” Eva said.
We were all there for a final walk-through with our contractor. It was the final day, and Ernie was with us to make sure all the electricity and appliances were in working order as Colette and Eva needed to begin planning the food for the wedding that would take place the following week. The menu had been pre-arranged, and they would be working on some of the preliminary shopping and details before they actually made the food. Additionally, the dishes, glasses, and cutlery were arriving later today, and John and I would unbox and organize them in the barn. Each day, my excitement level grew, and I hoped that our team of novices could pull this type of event planning off. I’d done a lot of research over the last year, and had met with other wedding and event planners for advice. I’d taken copious notes, attended small workshops, and having planned my own first wedding years ago to Gil, I knew what was in store, from the vacillation of emotions that all brides and grooms go through to understanding that it was the details that made each event special. One of the similarities I’d gleaned from being a writer to now being an event planner is that both occupations required attention to detail—I don’t believe you can be successful without understanding the nuances and strategy of the details. The second thing I think both occupations have in common is that in both cases, it’s imperative that you listen to other people’s stories, as those stories can help you better define whatever it is you are creating. And young couples embarking on marriage with a large-scale reception want to know that their story is told.
That said, I had been designing something “magical” for Carolanne and Tim’s wedding next Saturday. That was the word they used when my mother and I asked what “feel” they wanted from the night, so my mom and I were hard at work to give them that type of ambiance.
“These all look like they’re in working order. Those two fridges are massive!” Ernie said. “I guess you’ll be able to make me a lot of food, Colette!”
“I’ve roped off a corner inside just for you Ernie. And don’t forget, there’s another massive one in the barn’s kitchen,” Colette said.
Eva glanced at Colette, a look of hesitation in her eyes. “I hope we can pull this off, Colette. My heart’s starting to race!”
“Don’t worry, Eva. Milly and I have become accustomed to the feeling of a racing heart for the last year and a half. We have to have faith that the stars will align,” my mother said.
John put his arm around me and gave me a squeeze. “You’re going to blow them out of the water,” he whispered in my ear.
I smiled at him. I may have been a slow learner, but I knew now that he was just the sort of person I needed in my life.
“Okay, there, Richard. Are you in comfortable?” John asked Richard, as we got him in the car.
“I promised Eva that I would not make you all crazy with my bad temperament, but this knee is driving me insane. I just want it to heal, already.”
I felt badly for Richard. He wasn’t a man who liked to sit idly for too long. He was always on the move, whether he was playing golf, fishing, or boating. As a younger man, he was incredibly athletic, and even played on a local men’s softball team until five years ago when his knees began to give out.
“I can understand,” John said sympathetically.
“And I certainly shouldn’t be complaining to a man who wore a uniform and fought for liberty! Never mind me, John. I’ll just shut up and enjoy sitting by the water with my book.”
“It’s only been a few weeks, Richard. Give it time. You’re coming along nicely,” Eva said.
“Nicely, but not quickly.”
“It will come. It will come,” she said, patting him on the arm and giving him a peck on the top of his head.
We pulled into Inn Significant, and Colette had already set up for afternoon tea. There were quite a few guests mingling on the lawn, sitting in the Adirondacks, and enjoying the temperature and sunshine. There was absolutely no humidity in the air, a light breeze caught my hair, and the sky was crystal blue.
“I’m tempted to go for a paddle,” John said to me as we walked back up the slow sloping hill after we settled Richard and Eva in chairs down by the water. Eva had brought her new cookbook, a notepad, and lots of sticky notes to tag recipes. Richard brought a Tom Clancy novel. “Look how calm the water is. It’s like glass. Care to join me?”
“You know, I think I would love that. Let me just get a handle on things and make sure nothing is pressing. How about if we go at five-thirty after I check some emails and help Colette clean up tea?”
“Sounds great. I’ll meet you at the launch area at five-thirty. It’s a date.”
Twenty emails had arrived in the two hours I was gone. Six of them were from Carolanne. I perused the remaining lot when I saw it. There it was—another message—in my inbox. I clicked “open.”
I am ecstatic! I have booked my flights and am looking forward to seeing you in late June. I cannot tell you how much this means to me. I feel as if I have found some very dear, new friends. I will be in touch as the date approaches. In the meantime, best of luck with the Inn, your new venue, and with your writing. I look forward to each week’s new post from Inn Significant.
I stared at the email and thought for a moment about the wonder of connections. Since I’d been in Oxford working at the Inn, so much had changed for me. It was overwhelming to recount the abundance of love I felt in this town among these people. And it all started because my parents knew better than I. They understood exactly what I needed most. And then came John and his kindness and the fact that he found Nana’s journal, which had been a stroke of pure providence. And now, to sit here, reading an email from Nana’s first husband’s nephew? It was almost too much coincidence for me to understand, and yet, all I wanted to do was appreciate it.
My curiosity was piqued. What would Marco be like? What stories might he have to tell? How would my mother react to meeting this relation to her mother by marriage? I often wondered how my mother felt about her mother keeping this secret; we had spoken of it often, but I always felt as if my mother felt slightly betrayed by a woman she loved so much, so unconditionally, and whether or not she wondered what her own father had known and thought about Ferio?
As for me, I would always be thankful for my grandmother’s love for Ferio and for her journal and words and love. Life is ironic and sad and twisted at times, but at the heart of every loving family is a sense of belonging and forgiveness and love beyond compare.
The phone rang and startled me out of my deep thoughts.
“Inn Significant, may I help you?” I asked.
“What the hell would you say to the fact that we’re buying a second home in Oxford?”
“What? Have you lost your mind?”
“Nope. You’re going to get to see me all summer now. I’m going to spend summers with you.”
“This has to be a joke,” I said. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Go check it out. Number Seventeen High Street.”
“Number Seventeen High Street? I don’t have to check it out, Gracie. I know the house. I ride my bike around this place almost every other day. It’s adorable. Tell me you’re not pulling my leg.”
“I’m not pulling your leg. I want to be closer to you guys, and I want Abbie to have a sense of family. It’s lonely here, and since I don’t work in the summer and it’s a short drive from Pennsylvania, I will live there during the week and Cal will come down on weekends. We’re using some of the inheritance money from Cal’s aunt to do this.”
“Remarkable,” I said. “I was just thinking about coincidences, and then the phone rings and it’s you…with crazy-ass news!”
“Aw, I love you, too, Mills,” she said.
“How long have you known this?”
“What? That I wanted a place in Oxford or that we’re buying a home?”
“Both,” I said.
“Well, after I visited that first time when we set up the website and then after I knew you were going to be permanently living there and seeing your own adorable house, it all came together. Cal was on board right away because he’s not sure what’s in store at his company and he’s been looking at virtual jobs. We’re just not that attached to the townhome here. We were excited, too, that Abbie could make summer memories. And I hope Abbie can do that kids camp thing now that we’ll be residents. John better take us out on his boat, because we won’t have one of those.”
“He would love to. He always loves going out on the boat. In fact, I’m supposed to meet him and go kayaking in a bit.”
“And you wonder why I want to move there,” she said.
I could feel myself getting choked up. What was happening? Were these tears in my eyes not tears of sorrow but rather tears of joy? I felt wholly unsteady.
“Gracie?” I said.
“Do Mom and Dad know?”
“Not yet,” she said. “I called you first.”
“This feels like a dream.”
“For me, too, Milly.”
We hung up the phone before we became two mushy heaps of happiness flooding the place with love.
The water remained still, and our paddles cut through that stillness, making slight slushing sounds each time we rowed. We watched silver fish shimmer as they popped out of the river and then right back into it. In synchronicity, we paddled on, listening to the peacefulness of nature or the hums of other boats. An occasional powerboat roared by, or the sounds of the flutters of a sail of a large sailboat could be heard as it finagled its way out of the river. Fellow boaters waved to us, and we returned the gesture.
As we coasted a bit and lifted our paddles out of the water, I leaned back slightly to feel the early evening sun on my face. I closed my eyes and breathed in the late spring air.
Washington, D.C. and Gil and tragedy seemed miles and miles away from me now. It had been over four years, and the pain that I felt had diminished, though it would never fully be gone, and I would never forget it. They say that time heals all wounds; I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but time certainly has a way of making it feel less like it’s going to kill you.
The distance time put between my former life and my life now made me ask questions such as what would Gil be doing now if he were alive? What would the two of us be doing if he were still here? Would we ever have had a child together? Would we still be in D.C., he working as a government contractor and I still writing for the magazine? Reflecting on these types of questions had been commonplace after the accident, but now, I only allowed myself to think about it now and then, when silence offered room to think about it for a minute or two.
The bottom line was Gil was taken far too early from us, and the hard, cold reality was that nothing could be done about it.
I tore myself away from these thoughts and turned around to look at the man behind me who was hopefully going to be in my future. As I had allowed myself to feel love and compassion again, I realized just how handsome John was; his eyes expressed his thoughtfulness and his overall goodness. I totally understood why my parents thought so highly of him once I gave myself permission to get to know him—fully. He was the complete package, but it was his gentleness and understanding coupled with his own hardships and vulnerability that made him utterly attractive to me.
“Hello, beautiful,” he said, as he caught me looking at him.
I smiled. We had an understanding between us that uniquely ours. A connection grounded in place and people and circumstance.
“I love you, you know,” I said.
“Ditto,” he said back, as we floated and allowed the soft, rippling water to guide us.
—END CHAPTER FOUR—
COPYRIGHT STEPHANIE VERNI / NOVEMBER 2017
TODAY’S WRITING PROMPT
#nanowrimo | Write 500 words
Two characters have not seen each other in over five years and bump into each other at the location of your choice. They were in a relationship, but something went wrong and they parted ways. One loved more than the other and still has lingering thoughts about that person; the other moved on without a second thought. Write the scene.
In letter form, write to someone as if you were to actually send the letter, but maybe are too reserved to do so. Write it with feeling and honesty and emotion. Be clear and concise with your message, but write it from the heart.
Today, I’ve got a PODCAST for you about WRITING CHARACTERS with my favorite tip about writing these characters. I think you’ll find it helpful if you don’t already do this.
Writing Character Sketches
Write 500 words | #nanowrimo | Choose one of the prompts below
To go along with today’s PODCAST, write one of the two prompts below.
For non-fiction writers:
Write a short biography of your best friend(s) as a character sketch. Use all the information you know about him or her, from what they look like to their characteristics to their likes and dislikes. Try to write 500 words.
For fiction writers:
Pick a character from your upcoming novel and write an in-depth character sketch. Include everything and anything you can about the character so that you can use it in the future as you construct and build your novel.
I hope you are doing well AND doing well with your writing. As it’s Friday and the weekend is ahead of us, maybe finding some time to write won’t be as challenging for us as it is during the week.
Today’s PODCAST is about THEMES. I share with you some thoughts about themes and what I think about with regard to novel writing and my readers. I hope you’ll have a listen and let me know your thoughts.
Talking About Themes
As for today’s PROMPTS, they are below.
Have a good weekend, and keep writing.
#nanowrimo | 400-500 words | Steph’s Scribe
Write about a very vivid memory you have from your childhood. Insert as many details or bits of dialogue you can remember into the prompt without distorting the truth. Let this be written as if you are the age you were when that memory occurred.
A character works at a place and has been happily employed there for many years. However, a change in management has led to your character’s disillusionment with the company. The boss calls the character into the office to talk about some things, some of which the character was not expecting. How does this scene go?
Admittedly, I was pretty proud of myself. I am not too technically savvy, but I watched some YouTube videos and was able to finagle it all by my lonesome.
I texted my former boss, mentor, and dear friend from my days at the Orioles, Charles Steinberg, and said: “See what that internship in Orioles Productions helped me produce?”
I had worked at the Orioles for two years when I needed an internship for credit at Towson University. I had never worked with audio or video equipment before, and Charles agreed to take me on as an intern, as he knew my work ethic from my time in public relations with the ballclub. That little stint in Orioles Productions was pretty helpful for all that has happened in my life since then, most specifically gaining a stronger understanding of storytelling from a mass media perspective (and now a social media perspective).
But alas, I digress, and I’m telling YOU a story when it’s really time for YOU to tell ME a story as it’s time for TODAY’S #NANOWRIMO WRITING PROMPT.
Write 400-500 words | #nanowrimo | Choose one of the prompts below
For non-fiction writers:
Write about a place you have been to or visited that you can’t wait to get back to as soon as possible; or, write about a place you have been to or visited that you never want to go back to ever again.
For fiction writers:
Two people meet in a place they have frequented together often. However, the relationship is strained and they picked this place to meet because it’s on neutral ground. Describe the place and write the conversation and tell the story that ensues as they reconnect in this location or spot.
Podcast 2: More on Finding Inspiration
QUESTIONS FOR THE BLOG?
I can guarantee you, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to share my own experiences with writing, crafting fiction, writing dialogue, building characters, writing description, or whatever else you care to ask me. I’ll do my best to answer the best way I can.
Fellow writers–I don’t know about you, but after I’ve written a novel and it takes everything out of me, I need a break for a while. In my time of decompression, I like to stay in touch with the craft by writing short fiction. You never know where it could lead, and it keeps you thinking and telling your stories. Today’s story is about saying your sorry…to the person you need to say it to when an apology is owed. Especially a big one.
Out of the Circle
He always knew he’d be back. But when you make as many mistakes as he did, he certainly wasn’t expecting to be greeted with open arms, or even an acknowledgment that he existed. He might as well be dead, he thought often, as once he made the decision to go, he was gone, and they all treated him as such.
Unreachable. He made sure of that. A disappearing act that was difficult to follow.
He parked the car around the corner, as it was the same car he’d driven away in seven years ago, a Ford Taurus, and he didn’t want anyone to even take note of it or realize he was back on the street. He hated the car with every fiber of his being and wished he had something sportier, but he never sold it. He figured it was a part of his penance for his inability to stay, his inability to commit. Plus, he could barely afford to eat and pay his bills.
He’d hit rock bottom, and he wasn’t really sure, even now, months later, what had been the turning point. Ten different jobs, six different residences in the last seven years, and a host of “change of address” cards made him a certifiable mess. After finally waking up and realizing that he was destroying his own life one sip at a time, he decided that it might be the right time to reach out for help.
Was it the girl he thought he could love with the raven hair who shouted at him half dressed amidst rumpled sheets and liquor bottles strewn across the room? Was it the old man he’d shared a meal with at the dump of a diner on Main Street? Was it the kid who looked at him inquisitively as he sat on the park bench eating a cheese sandwich who said, “Hey, mister, what’s wrong with you? Why do you look so sad?” He wasn’t sure what the tipping point was or how he managed to climb out of the Scotch and Rum and Vodka, but he somehow got himself into a chair surrounded by others who had the same demons plaguing them every day as well.
In that first moment, as they welcomed him into the circle and he said his name aloud and admitted his dependency and why he was there, for the first time since he could remember, he felt less alone.
Twelve months after the circle, he found himself walking up the street to his old address. The one he shared with her, the brunette with big eyes and a sweet smile. The one with whom he ruined it all. He pulled his hat down a little in case anyone was outside who might recognize him. He’d done his homework and knew she still lived in the house, though he was not sure with whom she shared her life now.
But he was there for a reason, and he didn’t care who was there with her.
He just knew he wanted to see her. That he needed to see her.
And that he needed to say the words he’d mustered up the courage to say for the last twelve months.
His knees were shaking as he rang the doorbell, and yet he knew he had the courage to do it.
He knew he wouldn’t leave until he looked her in the eyes and was able to say he was sorry.
So, last night I posed a writing challenge to see who wanted to try and write a short piece of flash fiction (300-400 words) around a prompt. I posted three. I got no takers. But I did it.
I chose the third. I love writing prompts because they force you to immerse yourself in a scene, setting, or situation right away. They force you to be creative, and to use your creative juices in the best possible way. The challenge was to write approximately 300-400 words.
Here’s my result of Prompt #3.
The Young King
The young King’s hair was a rumpled mess, his clothes strewn across the floor, his crown askew and hanging off of the chair. The lingering smell of liquor plagued the room as the gold goblet next to his bed sat empty. He had banished everyone from the castle after an evening of dancing and celebrating at two in the morning—rather earlier than his typical four o’clock dismissal. It was nearly eleven, and the sun had risen high in the sky, the morning dew long dissipated from the lawn.
His mother had married his father, the former King, when she was younger than he was now. She had not been pleased with his antics last night. She publicly reprimanded him in front of a few of the guests, and he in turn, had caused a scene. He was twenty-three, and he had become King two years prior upon his father’s passing. She blamed him for the current state of affairs in the Kingdom, for his lack of leadership and foresight, and for his relentless pursuit of young women. She had fought him privately, but last night she could no longer hold her tongue, and she had, in his estimation, embarrassed him beyond reproach.
She stood looking at him now, he squinting at her through the hazel eyes that so often had reminded her of her dear, departed husband. The blinding sunlight, which she had allowed to stream into the room after pulling open the heavy curtains, was causing him to sit up in bed and acknowledge her presence.
“There were vial words said between us last night, most of which, I would like not to remember or repeat,” she said in a tone he fully recognized as one in which you do not offer a response. She was his mother, after all, and while he was by all means a man, she would always be his most trusted advisor and confidante. He felt a sense of regret at what he must have said last evening, but he offered no reply at present. “It’s your choice,” she shrugged. “You can continue with your worthless life, or you can become someone who matters.”
With that, she turned on her heels and began the walk toward the gilded double doors that shielded and separated his room from the rest of the castle. He was not one to apologize freely as his pride and defensive demeanor almost always got in the way of salvaging his relations, but as she crossed the threshold, she heard him call, “Mother—“
Creative fiction writers out there tend to dabble in flash fiction, which, quite simply is short form writing. It’s just like writing a short story, but even shorter. I practice writing short, short stories often, as they help writers tell a narrative within a minimum word count. I have my students engage in writing prompts, too. They are a great place to get an idea going to see where it may lead you. Of all of the pieces of short fiction I’ve written, the two below are my favorites because I think there’s potential for a longer story to grow out of each of these, whether it’s a short story or a novel. The first is a ghost story (I never write ghost stories, so that one surprised me), and the second is the beginning of an interesting story that involves love and a fortune teller. I hope you enjoy them. Have a great Friday, all, and let me know what you think about these two that I picked and whether you think they are worth tackling in longer form.
The enduring span of lifelessness is enough to drive me mad, as if I wasn’t driven half as mad when I lived in this ramshackle of a cottage. The cobwebs in the corners seem to have lingered for years, and yet, I haven’t been gone that long. The chandelier is full of heavy dust, the curtains look as if they may disintegrate into nothing, and the rug is almost unrecognizable, as it is covered in soot and dust and grime. It angers me that no one has cared properly for this place—this place I tended to daily. I’ve become bored with waiting, and so I decide to visit the larger home on which the cottage is set—the Hamlin Mansion.
After I was dead, I set out to let people know the truth about what happened that wintry Friday evening when the wind whipped and the trees were bent with snow. No one ever suspected that someone could have murdered me on the grounds of Hamlin Mansion, just five steps from the front door of the cottage. Why would someone want the governess dead? I could hear the roars from the folks in the town…she must have fallen and hit her head…the winds must have caught up with her and she did not see the tree limb…it was an accident of happenstance. I grew weary of hearing the townspeople make excuses for my death. It was covered up so well, I have to give him credit. There was little to no bloodshed, you see, so he was lucky in that regard. He struck me in just the right place, and where he became luckier still was that the snow piled so high that Mother Nature neatly disguised his tracks. All for the better for him, you see.
Light as feather, I can walk through walls now, something I only dreamed of doing when I was alive. I find my way to his room in the mansion, to the seemingly unlikely murderer, a boy of just sixteen, with demon eyes and glossy, albino hair. He is still unlike any other person I have—had—ever met in my lifetime. There was always something ruthless and unsettling about his looks as well as his manners. In this he is frighteningly unique. I dare say, he has no remorse about anything he does or says. He is an unlikely offspring to the lovely husband and wife who own Hamlin Mansion, Greta and Theodore Hamlin. This child of theirs is a sad outcome of what should have been proper breeding.
He sits in the corner of the room reading by lamplight, though the room is dingy and unkempt. He is permitted to treat his belongings and his part of the home with a complete disregard, and that is perhaps one of the final straws where I was concerned. As his governess, I did not accept his lazy ways, his cruel retributions, his off-putting mannerisms. It was my mistake that I stood up to him…questioned him…demanded that his studies be turned into me before the snowstorm hit…and reported his questionable behavior several times prior to my demise to the Mistress of the house.
I glide toward him. His water glass is next to the lamp on the table, and I focus with all of my might and lift it, then tilt it ever so gently, so that the full glass fills his lap with water. He screams. He stands up and begins to frantically wipe the water off of himself. He stares at the empty glass on the floor. I’m going to have fun with him, I think. Again, I concentrate and will the glass to float in the air and place it firmly in its place back on the table.
His face goes whiter than it ever has been, and his hair stands on end. He is a most unattractive creature.
“Who are you?” he shouts into the air, a frightful, frantic question piercing the silence.
I try to yell, but realize I make no sound.
But there is a quill pen on the table, and his book remains there as well.
I use all the power I have inside of me to open the book, grab the quill, and start to write. Much to my pleasant surprise, the ink is showing up on the page.
“You killed me,” I wrote.
He begins to hyperventilate, and I stand by and watch. The little brat. The little brat who got away with murder.
This could entertain me for days upon end, I think.
Story #2: THE FORTUNE TELLER
“That boy loves you,” the old woman next door calls to me as she sees Nick peel away in his black BMW. She is sitting on her stoop in the 98 degree weather, her dyed red hair in old-fashioned rollers, her socks gathered at her heels in her slip-ons. The look on her face indicates that she wants me to engage in further conversation. We have been friendly since we’ve lived next to each other in the row homes of Baltimore, but have never had a long, in-depth conversation.
“He may, but he’s leaving,” I say.
“Probably for the best,” she replies.
I’ve lived beside this odd-looking woman for almost a year, and she pretty much keeps to herself. She knows nothing of my personal life. Her name’s Mable, and I’ve heard others on the block refer to her as “the palm reader,” though she has no official business. I don’t believe in fortune tellers and have never engaged in any sort of it.
“Come here,” she says. “I’ll show you.”
For curiosity’s sake, I walk down the steps from where I am, and climb the four steps to meet her on her stoop. I’m tempted to see what she knows, trying not to let the tears fall in front of her. Her appearance alone warrants concern; there seems to be a twitch in her eye, and she’s wearing more mascara than a runway model. It looks uneven and gloppy. Her coral-colored lipstick goes beyond the outlines of her lips. It is difficult to take her seriously.
She stretches out her hand and asks for my palm. I extend my hand and turn my palm over for her to see.
She examines it. “There is a lot of passion, here,” she’s pointing to the line that runs up across my palm in a curve where the line ends at the base of my fingertips. “There’s a great deal of love for that boy.”
“However, you will not see him again after today,” she says.
I feel a lump build in my throat.
She continues to look at my hand. “You have a good career, but you’re not quite sure if you want to stay in it. You’re thinking of uprooting yourself and moving someplace far away.”
I get a little chill up my spine. I’ve had this particular thought on and off for the past month, and I’ve told no one. Not even Nick. Not my own parents, or my best friend, Ava.
She focuses on one particular line on my hand, tracing it with her fingertip for what feels like hours, studying it with concerned eyes. She looks puzzled.
“Interesting,” she says.
“What?” I ask, now confused.
“You will travel. You will go where you’ve considered going, and you will be happy.”
“Without Nick,” I say, more as a statement than a question.
“Yes,” she says. “There will be passion again, but only if you go.”
Nick and I have been together for a year. However, I can’t be with him long term, nor should we ever have been together. Nick is unhappily married. He lives apart from his wife, but they are not formally divorced. Nor are there any plans for them to be so. The passion with which Mable speaks is true; it currently exists, but it is a sick, twisted, unhealthy passion, and it has become the ruin of me.
Three weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to work for my friend’s father’s business in Rome. I’ve always wanted to go abroad, and have seriously contemplated accepting it.
I scoff at the idea of leaving for a moment, and then I stop. She sees my face, and gives me a crooked, quirky smile.
Mable is offbeat, eccentric, ridiculously dressed, and the oddest person I’ve ever talked to, but something tells me to listen. Something makes me take her seriously.