Posts Tagged ‘writing’
Poetry is a mixture of common sense, which not all have, with an uncommon sense, which very few have. — John Masefield
I asked my three year old son what he had done that day while we were driving home last night. He said “I went to the dinosaur museum with mommy.”
It was kind of silly to ask, but since he is three, I said “what did you see there?”
He said “really really big dinosaurs.”
I asked “where they nice or mean?”
He said “they were really really really scary daddy.”
For a three year old it was cute and effective to tell me about the dinosaurs, but for those trying to entertain readers or make a few bucks writing you have to learn how to show. You can learn more about show verses tell from our writing lessons.
We are proud to announce that Conversation by Tyffany Neiheiser is the winner of our October 2009 Short Story writing contest. She has given us permission to publish her short story below. Tyffany D. Neiheiser is a part time writer and full time book addict. Tyffany lives in sunny Arizona with her six cats, two dogs, and one husband. In her spare time, Tyffany is working on her Master’s degree and finding an agent to represent her novel.
Abstract by Hugo Damas was second place. We have not been granted permission to publish this short story.
Portrait of an Abandoned Queen by Emily Nelson has been awarded third place. Emily has also given us permission to publish her story below.
by Tyffany Neiheiser
Brenda had worked at Conversations for only about a week when she first met Jack. He usually sat in Amy’s station, but she was out sick, so everyone was filling in outside their normal station. Brenda had heard that Jack was a little strange, but no one would tell her why, just saying with knowing smiles, “You’ll see.” It seemed to her to be some sort of initiation, so she didn’t press the subject.
It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon. Not a depressing rainy day, but a warm day with soft rain. The rain blurred the edges of the city, giving the area a gray haze that could have been anything, and let Brenda dream that she could be somewhere else. Brenda took her ten-minute break standing at the kitchen door, letting the cool breeze wash over her as she watched the rain. She was getting strange looks from the kitchen staff, and almost wished that she smoked so that she would have an excuse to stand there, half in and half out of the rain. There were big windows in the restaurant itself, but she wanted just one minute to herself to relax and enjoy.
Coming back into the dining room, Brenda got her first look at Jack as he walked in and seated himself at his normal table. Diners seated themselves, and Brenda walked over to light the candle in the middle of the table. The ambiance was nice, with lots of exposed dark wood, dark green linen tablecloths, white napkins, and fat white candles in hurricanes. It was one of the few restaurants Brenda had been in that didn’t have multiple TVs. There was just quiet music that encouraged conversation. Jack ordered his drink, a dry martini.
Brenda took an order at another table, then went to pick up drinks from the bar. As she returned to Jack’s table, she stopped abruptly, and the drinks sloshed around on her tray, dripping slightly. Jack was leaned forward at his table, chin resting on one hand, gazing intently at a spot above the other chair. He was talking as if he were engaged in a conversation with another person, even though he was alone. Brenda looked closer, and noticed that the chair had been pulled out from the table as if there were someone seated there.
Recovering quickly, Brenda pasted a smile back on her face, and served drinks to her tables. When she got to Jack, she placed his martini in front of him, and he placed his order. While she wrote his order on her pad, her eyes kept straying to the empty chair. She felt herself blushing as she tried not to be obvious about it.
Throughout lunch, Jack continued talking to his imaginary companion. Jack lingered at his meal, obviously engrossed in his conversation. Brenda caught only snatches of what he was saying. At one point, he was apparently talking about work, and later the weather. He was animated, and didn’t appear to notice the other diners watching him. Most people were polite about it, but there were one or two people who were obvious in laughing at him. He tipped generously, and Brenda watched him leave.
She wondered what was wrong with him. She thought that crazy people were dirty and disheveled, smelling faintly of old booze. She hadn’t expected someone like Jack, clean cut and attractive, to be so obviously unbalanced.
Brenda found herself making up stories about him as she wiped the table. He was an executive who had succumbed to the stress of his job and had a minor nervous breakdown; his wife had recently died, and he was still grieving in a rather unusual way; he had a brain tumor and was seeing a childhood friend. Brenda’s thoughts halted abruptly as she automatically bent to wipe the unused chair. There was a light blue, silk ladies scarf on the chair, smelling faintly of a floral perfume.
Brenda’s thoughts whirled. She knew that she had cleaned off the chair before Jack sat down. The only explanation was that someone must have put their jacket on and set the scarf down. She hadn’t noticed any women wearing a scarf like that, and she usually noticed what people wore. Then again, it was entirely possible that the woman hadn’t been wearing it at all. It could have fallen out of someone’s pocket.
Feeling strangely relieved that she had come up with an explanation, but not understanding why, Brenda tucked the scarf into a drawer below the cash register. It was their unofficial “lost and found.” Most items that went into the drawer never came back out; usually people didn’t know where they lost things.
Amy came back to work the next day, feeling better, but still rather pale. She was smiling as she approached Brenda and asked, “How’d you like our resident nutjob?”
Brenda frowned at the description of Jack as crazy. The same thought had passed through her mind, but she had at some point excused his behavior. “I liked him,” Brenda replied truthfully. “I thought he was very nice.”
“Why don’t you keep him then?” Amy asked. “To be honest, he kinda creeps me out. I’ll trade you any table for that one when he comes in.”
Brenda shrugged, and Amy looked relieved. “Really, he doesn’t bother you?”
“He didn’t bother me at all,” Brenda said. “I thought he just seemed sad.”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized it was the truth. Jack hadn’t seemed the least bit crazy. He seemed sad. He seemed more alive when he was talking to his invisible companion, but there was no disguising the sadness in his eyes.
Brenda soon learned that Jack came into the restaurant every day for a late lunch, and he always ordered the same meal with a dry martini. Just one. He didn’t appear intoxicated as he talked to his companion, and he was always perfectly polite to Brenda. Watching him one day, Brenda saw him approach his usual table and pull the chair out, then scoot it in as if he were helping seat his companion. He took his seat, and looked at the empty space across the table.
Brenda made a special effort to make normal conversation with Jack. She took care to ask him how his day was, how he liked the weather, whether he enjoyed his meal. He was always pleasant and answered her questions in a patient tone of voice, almost as if he knew what she was doing. She wanted to ask him the question, “Who are you talking to?” but knew instinctively that topic would be taboo. For some reason, she was afraid that he would stop coming into the restaurant if she called too much attention to his “companion.”
Brenda left the table after one such conversation, and as she passed, she caught the same scent that had been on the silk scarf. She stopped abruptly and looked around. There were no other female diners near her. No one had passed by the table. The scent faded, and Brenda met Jack’s eyes. For the first time, they were steady on hers, and she felt as if he were seeing her for the first time. She held his gaze for a moment, until he dropped his eyes to look at the other chair, as if his companion had just made a comment that caught his attention. When he looked back, Brenda was gone.
Brenda splashed water on her face in the ladies’ room. What just happened? She had a weird feeling of unreality, like there was something going on that she could understand if she chose to. She wasn’t sure she liked the feeling.
Brenda resumed waiting her tables with a subdued air. She did not make eye contact with Jack again, and made no effort to spend any additional time in conversation with him. She went to the cash register to run his credit card through, and on a whim checked the drawer where she had put the scarf. It was gone.
Brenda felt a chill run down her spine. All it meant was that whoever lost the scarf had come to pick it up. Nothing less, nothing more. Brenda brought Jack his credit slip to sign, and he left without speaking another word to her.
Brenda wasn’t sure if she was dreading or looking forward to Jack coming in the following day. They had shared a moment, and Brenda had felt connected to him for those brief seconds, but at the same time, the whole situation was too weird for her.
Jack went through his normal routine when he entered the restaurant, seating his invisible companion before sitting down himself. Brenda watched him surreptitiously for a long time before she finally approached him, bringing his martini without being asked. He smiled at her, and placed his order. She turned to leave, and heard him say, very quietly, “Her name is Grace.”
Brenda turned back to him and met his eyes. He was trusting her, and she didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t turn and greet the invisible person; it wasn’t right to encourage his delusion. Not knowing what to do, without a word, she turned to put his order in.
Later that evening, when Brenda was alone in her apartment, she wondered what it was that bothered her about Jack and his invisible friend. She didn’t believe that he was dangerous, and if he was crazy, it was a benign sort of delusion. He obviously felt as if she had befriended him, which was her intention in the beginning. She wasn’t sure what it was that she was feeling.
Curious, Brenda Googled Jack L. Danner. She remembered his name after running his credit card every day for weeks. Several articles came up. As she suspected, he was a well-known businessman, and according to the articles, well respected. She skimmed several articles, stopping to read paragraphs here and there. A newspaper archive caught her eye, and as she read, several things about Jack became clearer.
According to the article, Jack and his wife Grace were on their way home from a business dinner when Jack’s car hit a patch of black ice, and spun out of control. The car was totaled, and as sometimes happens in freak accidents, Grace was killed instantly, and Jack survived the accident with only scratches and bruises. The accident had happened three years ago, and as Brenda took a closer look at the articles she had been reading, it appeared that everything that was written on Jack the businessman had been written prior to the accident. Jack the Businessman had ceased to exist after his wife’s death.
Brenda now understood Jack a little better, but was left with more questions than answers. Did he really believe that he was talking to the ghost of his dead wife? He obviously had enough grip left on sanity that he knew that other people thought he was crazy. Still, why go to a restaurant with the ghost on a daily basis? Why not leave your insanity at home?
Brenda didn’t sleep all that well that night. She was plagued by dreams of coffins opening, with skeletal hands gripping the edges of graves to pull themselves out. Brenda normally loved to sleep in whenever possible, but that morning she made coffee and sipped as she watched the sun rise. Brenda decided that she was getting way too involved in thinking about Jack’s situation. She was only his waitress. She should be polite to him, and treat him with respect, but there was nothing else she needed to be concerned about. If he wanted to talk to invisible tap dancing crickets, that was his business. She would be polite, and distant, and not think about him any more.
Decision made, Brenda threw herself into her workday with more energy than she actually had, considering her pre-dawn wake up. She told herself that she wasn’t thinking about Jack, but noticed immediately when he walked in, and had to admit to herself that she had been watching for him.
As was her custom, Brenda put in an order for Jack’s drink and brought it to him before he had to order. As she approached the table, she noticed that Jack was scowling at his companion and engaged in a deep discussion that looked like an argument. Brenda had to stifle an inappropriate chuckle as she wondered, Can you argue with an imaginary friend?
Jack looked at Brenda as she set his drink in front of him. She smiled at him in a detached kind of way, and said in a pleasantly impersonal tone of voice, “I’ll put your order in.”
“Wait,” Jack said. Brenda turned to look at him, a little nervous about what would come next. He studied her for several moments before he continued, “I just wanted to thank you for being so nice to me. I know what people think.” He seemed to be on the verge of saying something else, but then changed his mind and dropped his eyes. “Anyway, thanks,” he finished lamely.
Brenda didn’t know what to say, and stood awkwardly for a moment. “Um, you’re welcome,” she said nervously. As she turned away, she smelled the floral perfume. The scent was strong, as if someone had sprayed it near her and she was walking into a cloud of lingering particles. Brenda had to force her feet to keep moving. She wanted to turn to Jack and demand that he tell her what was going on.
Brenda scolded herself throughout Jack’s lunch. She wanted to be unmoved by his words, but felt as if he were asking for her help or her understanding. Part of her wanted to understand what was going on, but another part of her wanted to do exactly what she had vowed and stop spending time dwelling on him.
Brenda cleared his plates from the table at the end of his lunch. “Brenda, I…” he began. She cut him off with a smile and a steely look, then took his plates and walked away. When he had left for the afternoon, she cleaned his table with far more energy than was necessary. There were plenty of attractive men out there. Why was it that she wanted the one who was crazy? Why was she obsessing about a man who was so obsessed with his dead wife that he still talked to her three years after her death? In fact, he wasn’t just talking to her; he took her out to lunch! She wasn’t the type of woman who entertained fantasies about unavailable men.
She didn’t understand what was going on, but it was suddenly very important to her that she find out once and for all. She didn’t know how she would start the conversation in the middle of the restaurant. “Hey Jack, I have a crush on you so can you tell me what’s going on with your dead wife?” just didn’t seem to work.
Brenda didn’t know what she was going to say, just that she was determined to have some understanding of the situation once and for all. She was curiously deflated, then, when Jack did not show up for lunch for the next couple of days. At first she was disappointed, then worried. However, she couldn’t think of any reason to contact him that wouldn’t sound weird. She chuckled. She was worried about sounding weird to the man who brought an imaginary friend to lunch every day? It didn’t seem that there was much she could do to top that one.
Brenda was relieved when Jack came back to the restaurant on the fourth day. She still didn’t know what she was going to say to him, but thought about it as she brought him his martini. She set it in front of him, and he covered her hand with his own and looked at her. “She’s not there,” he said quietly.
She froze. “What did you say?” she asked breathlessly.
He looked pointedly at the chair across from him. “She’s not there.”
Over dinner, Jack explained that he had trouble recovering from the accident that claimed Grace. He had such trouble dealing with her death that she had been unable to move on. His grief and guilt kept her chained to him. Grace had worried about him, encouraging him to move on, saying that there would be someone else out there for him, and that he needed to get out into the world. The lunches at Conversations had been her way of forcing him to interact with the living. She had hoped that he would be so embarrassed about talking to an invisible companion that he would eventually allow her to move on. The plan had backfired. He had absolutely no interest in other people, and talking to someone that only he could see alienated him further. It was not until he had met Brenda that he had felt a desire to return to the land of the living. He had been holding on to her only out of habit.
Brenda didn’t know how much she believed what Jack told her. She knew that he believed it, but she wondered if grief had caused him to fabricate the experience in his mind as a way of dealing with a tragedy. In the end, she decided that it didn’t matter. Whatever device, coincidence or supernatural, had brought her this wonderful man, she was grateful to it.
They had a good marriage, and two lovely children. If Brenda occasionally smelled perfume that wasn’t hers in the house, she learned to ignore it. Jack didn’t seem to notice anything, and she never mentioned it, but sometimes she felt someone touch her arm gently when no one was there.
Portrait of an Abandoned Queen
by Emily Nelson
There is an old saying about portraits. I do not remember it exactly, but it has something to do with capturing the image and soul. My mother whispered it to me once when I was still a small child, poising for the first of my many portraits. I was fidgeting, my dress and jewels were heavy and my smile frequently fell from my face. My mother, a queen with much discipline, pursed her lips at my discomfort. When the artist raised his bushy brows for what was surely the millionth time, my mother rushed to my place and, for the first time in a long time, caressed my cheek. She told me that we had to suffer for beauty and that I must be strong. I felt a such a rush of pride and joy that I was good enough to be given attention by such a powerful women (even if she was my own mother) that I ignored the boredom and pain. I did not flinch again during the hour and expected my mother to say something about how good I was being. But she had already left.
Now I stand poising for a portrait again. The emeralds in my hair and on my neck glitter in the feeble light that shines through the window. My dress is of fine, white silk that falls into an array of pearls and feathers. But I am no longer the young, fair-haired beauty I was and the effect of the outfit simply give me a look of desperation. My hair has grayed, my skin wrinkled and I fear that my legs cannot hold me up much longer. I tremble, I feel faint, and my smile has turned into a grimace of pain. But I do not move or complain, I do not give anyone the satisfaction of my weakening. The King has taken too much away from me already. My youth, my power, and my children. But he can not taken my pride. I will wear this gown with grace and dignity and they will know that I am still the same beautiful Portuguese princess that came to this country years ago. I am still the wife of a king and the queen of this country.
My husband fell out of love with me years ago, I am wise enough to know that. His eyes wander from my aged beauty to a slim-waisted, youthful girl often. But he has never shamed me publicly before this year. He always led me out for the first dance, praised my excellence to visiting ambassadors, called me his ‘luck charm’ when we would hunt together. I was still an adored queen, even if it was simply protocol for me to be so. But my husband is a fool with a greedy heart. When a new, gorgeous, younger woman stepped onto the dance floor, he was captured. I saw him lean forward in his seat as her skirts twirled, her curls bounced in an array of gold, her smile formed a perfect Cupid’s bow. In that moment, the youthful beauty of a younger woman made me truly lose him. He never called his sweetheart again, he never led me out to dance, he never invited me to hunt with him. Every night, I must watch him dance with her, hear the men and women of the court praise her delicate beauty and wit. I feel like I am no longer a queen, but only a shadow sitting on the throne. With everyone waiting for a wind to blow me away.
I hang the finished portrait in the opening of my presence chamber, for all the see. It does not recapture my youth, but it does give the appearance of royalty, something that only I own. When my husband dines with me the next morning, he does not comment on it. I know that he is wishing to be with her, but he must settle for me and it angers him. I praise his strength, his leadership, his keen observance when he complains about the slowness of my servants. But he does not thank me for my company or bid me a good day. He simply leaves the room, ignoring my farewells. I despise his greed, his stupidity and his cruel eyes. I want to hit him, I want him to fall ill…I want him to love me again. I want him to kiss my hair and whisper how precious I am. I want him to bring back my children and to make us a family again. But petty dreams will not bring him back.
When we ride through the city, the commoners do not act as though they still love me. I know they are weary from the heavy taxes and they do not even have a beautiful queen to be proud of anymore. I throw them coins, but they do not smile as they pick them up and their eyes show hate me. They eye my rich dress and do not realize I wear it in an attempt to recapture my husband, to save our country from the disaster of a royal separation. They blame me, silently but strongly. They still love their strong, prideful king and they adore the beautiful, young woman that he smiles at. I hear her giggle and know that she is taking away my people too. Bitterness is a unattractive crown but I wear it with my shame.
As they sit close in the evening, she whispers a little poison in his ear and he hates me a little more. Her pretty giggle echoes in the hall and he wraps an arm around her waist. He calls out for a dance and they glide onto the floor, her blue dress twirling all the way. I feel my hate for them burns hot in the pit of my stomach. But I keep the thin smile on my lips clap when the music stops, and I laugh as though this dance between them was a gift to me. Tears burn my eyes and I feel like screaming. But I hold my hurt in my heart and think of my beautiful daughters and my strong sons. I feel their little hands holding mine and their heads nestle into my necks even though there are miles between us. I almost let the tears slide down my cheeks when I think about their little blond curls and dark blue eyes. My husband does not feel the pain of longing for our children. His only worry is whether or not she is happy.
After the sun has completely left the sky and the moon has taken her place, one of my ladies walks toward me and I give her a smile. She, like all the others, knows how fake it is, but she accepts it as permission to speak. She softly asks if I would like to retire to my chambers, and I know that the king or his lady has asked her to do so. My skirts brush the ground as I glide to the center of the room and a few gentlemen bid me goodnight. But I am far from leaving this scene.
“I would be so pleased if you would honor your wife with a dance, my king.” My voice comes out soft, but strong. My husband looks shocked at the invitation and I take this moment to brush her aside. His hand is warm as he holds mine and his grip is gentle. I feel young in that moment and my feet move with the music as though I were weightless. My cheeks regain their color and I know myself to be lovely in this moment. My love, my only love is holding me tight and twirling me gracefully. I am youthful again, I am a young princess in his arms. I laugh freely and hear the most wonderful sound: he is laughing too.
“Having a good time, my sweetheart?” He chuckles as he lifts me into the air. I see him smile at me and I blush like a maid. Yes, this is how it’s supposed to be. He still loves me, his queen, his sweetheart. The music stops and the court cheers at our little performance. The king releases my hand and thanks me for the dance. His smile is warm and his eyes are kind. I think for a moment that things will be alright. Our marriage will survive and we will be alright. But that happiness is shortlived. He brushes past me and goes back to her. The music starts again and there is something more in his gaze when he looks at her. He loves her, he adores her, and he wants her. I may have captured him once, he may have even loved me once, but my time is past, I am the woman that holds the most royal title in the land but not the royal heart. But I will never give up my throne or my children no matter how young the woman is or how happy she makes him.
To this day, a portrait hangs on display in the most extravagant musuems in the world. It was found hidden in a French castle and even today it’s origins are not known. A noble lady stands tall in an extragant dress of silk and pearls, her sad eyes seeming to stare into the soul of whoever gazes upon. Nobody knows who the woman is or where the painting came from. Any one who looks upon it will tell you that it must be a queen, she looks so regal and her dress is so rich. But those same people will also tell you how sad and lonely she looks. From these opinions the portrait was given a name shortly after being discovered: ‘Le Portrait d’une Reine Abandonnée’. The Portrait of an Abandoned Queen.
Have you ever participated in the Nano challenge? Every November Nano challenges authors to write an entire novel in one month. If you have participated in the Nano challenge please tell us about your experience. You can find out more about the challenge at http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/whatisnano
Poetry should be personal and imaginative. It should show your feelings and emotions.
As the freest form of writing poets often struggle to set the bounds each poem will live within. Without bounds you cannot have poetry.
Freedom is not doing what you want when you want to. Freedom is knowing how to use the rules to enhance your writing. Like all art forms, poets need practice, knowledge, and commitment to succeed.
What is poetry to you?
The protagonist has to face insurmountable odds. Pressure needs to sneak in from different angles to test his skills and strengths before he saves the day. The pressure applied by the antagonist should bend, but never break, the hero. There should always be one, and only one, helpless person in the story, and that’s the reader.
“The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything.” - John Irving
Quantity rarely produces quality in life. However, writers have to write a lot to produce quality. Your writing will be doomed if you only write a few things. You can’t craft the perfect story, poem, or book one word at a time. You have to write a rough draft of the whole thing, and then rewrite it, and then rewrite it again.
Michelangelo turned a rough stone into master piece by chiseling the rough parts off. Find your stone by writing a rough draft, and then keep rewriting it until you have transformed it into your masterpiece.
I have recently received several emails asking about the 12 hour time limit. I have apparently caused some confusion about how long you have to perform each peer critique.
When you submit your work for critique you are assigned to perform a number of reviews. Once you click “start reviewing” you have 12 hours to complete that assigned review. If you do not complete that review within 12 hours the assignment will expire and you will be given something new to critique the next time you click start reviewing.
We do not care if you let an assigned review expire. We know you are busy and sometimes can’t stomach reviewing a piece written in all CAPS. You will not be penalized for letting an assignment expire. You can do one review an hour, day, week, month, or year. Set your own pace and enjoy the peer critique process.