Runner’s (Contact) High

ProfilePic_small by Joshua S. Robinson

I’m twenty years older and about a hundred pounds heavier than I was the last time I ran any significant distance. My brother, on the other hand, has been training for a little over a year, and I recently went out to support him at a race.

I’d never been to an event like that before, and I didn’t know what to expect. Would I have to fight through a crowd of spectators for a good spot? Would I be able to look for my brother and talk to him before the race?

Grey clouds hung low in the sky, but there was no hint of rain in the air. I crossed the highway toward the West Virginia University Coliseum, where the start/finish line was located. A handful of others walked with me, some of whom already had race numbers pinned to their clothes. I was the only one carrying a poster board sign.

In front of the Coliseum, a few empty tables and folding chairs sat behind temporary fencing, surrounded by several unoccupied tents. I followed the sound of announcements being made, the speaker’s amplified voice echoing off concrete to break the early morning stillness. On the other side of the building, I found a giant inflatable arch that marked the starting line.

Runners of all ages filled the parking lot. The athletes were stretching, doing warm-up drills, and filling hip pouches with little snacks. Some prepared in solitude while others stood in groups wearing matching tee shirts. The subdued din of the crowd, punctuated occasionally by laughter or a cheerful greeting, hid an undercurrent of reserved energy, an anticipation building.

I found my brother and we waited at the starting line for the first race to begin. The full marathon runners lined up in rows, and WVU’s mascot, the Mountaineer, fired his musket in the air to send the first wave rushing past. We cheered and clapped wildly as they set out to run 26 winding, hilly miles.

Fifteen minutes later, we cheered on the half-marathon runners. Fifteen minutes after that, I held my sign and shouted encouragement at my brother and his friends as they lined up for the 8K. Once they were off, the inflatable arch over the starting line came down, and the few of us that remained meandered toward the finish line.

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Runners at the starting line

I wanted them all to succeed. I hoped the ones trying to make certain times would do so, and that the ones just trying to finish would cross the line proudly. Every runner out there was participating as an individual, with his or her own goals and motivations. Yet there was still a sense of community, of camaraderie. Even among strangers, they all understood one another.

A little over half an hour later, the first finishers arrived to cheers from the small but enthusiastic crowd. My brother finished fifth overall in the 8K, and I couldn’t smile wide enough. I congratulated him with a high five, then wrapped my arm around his sweat-soaked shoulders.

As the racers came in, the crowd grew in both size and energy. Every person who crossed the finish line was greeted with cheering, clapping, fist bumps, and words of congratulations. I made it a point to wave at or high-five as many of the finishers as I possibly could. They panted and let their bodies slump, arms hanging limply from their sides, smiling all the while. Despite the exhaustion, the entire crowd buzzed with positivity.

The experience reminded me of the writing community. We all have our own goals, we work at our own pace, and we support each other despite the inherent competition. This sense of belonging helped start me on my writing journey with NaNoWriMo in 2010. It grew when I joined West Virginia Writers and when I found the writing community on Twitter. Even though writing is typically a solitary endeavor and writers are stereotyped as introverts, something magical happens when we come together to inspire and support one another.

Whatever your goals are, in writing or otherwise, I truly believe finding the right community is a big help. Whether you’re looking to shatter records or just cross the finish line, know that there’s a high-five waiting for you when you get there.

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Joshua S. Robinson holds a Master’s degree from West Virginia University and works full-time as a systems engineer. He also writes fiction and published his first novel, Separate Waysin 2017. He is a native West Virginian and still lives there with his wife, Anna.

Book Review:  FULL DARK, NO STARS by Stephen King.

 renee kimball dog photo Written by Renee Kimball

 “From the start . . . I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive.  It gets in your face.  Sometimes it shouts in your face.  I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as both a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations.  I want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers.  Making them think as they read is not my deal.” (Full Dark, No Stars. p.365).

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“Stephen King” by Stephanie Lawton licensed under CC BY-SA-2.0, via Flickr

There are some who avoid works by Stephen King.  Literary elitists have shown disdain towards King for years arguing his writing is story-telling for the masses.  This review isn’t about the literary merits of King’s works, or his overwhelming success, or even about the monumental effect King’s life-long dedication to writing has had on the horror genre.  This brief review is a discussion of four novellas which are found in Full Dark, No Stars, released in 2010.

Short stories and novellas are not a new format for King.  King has published very successful short stories and multiple novellas over his 35-year long career.  He has clearly succeeded yet again, with Full Dark, No StarsFull Dark contains a common theme of each novella, a theme that explores the darker human psyche, retribution, revenge, and a sense of twisted justice.  Redemption is not found, but retribution appears in each.  Even evil acts can result in a twisted kind of justice–a black and damaging kind of justice, but justice nonetheless.

1922: NOVELLA ONE

The first novella, 1922, is set in Depression era Nebraska.  The story involves a barely solvable working family farm, a life of constant work, brutally harsh and unrelenting.  The wife and mother, Arlette, is a bitter and manipulative character who constantly harps to her husband to sell the farm and a plot of 100 acres that Arlette inherited from her father.  Arlette’s dream is to leave the country life and start again in the city of Omaha.

09-19-2018 WWW RENEE KIMBALL PIXABAY CC0rodent-3229592_640The husband, Wilfred “Wilf,” verbally dominated and hen-pecked, is the browbeaten beleaguered husband whose only desire is to stay on his land.  Wilf tells Henry, their only child, of Arlette’s plan.  Wilf then convinces Henry to help him murder Arlette.  Wilf intones that if Henry does not help with this, then they will be forced to leave the farm, and Henry will never see his girlfriend, who lives on a close by, ever again.  Henry, a meek and obedient boy, resists but finally agrees to help with the murder of his mother.

As Arlette’s demands to sell increase, Wilf and Henry determine it is the time for murder.  It is a clumsy and brutal murder; both father and son are deeply shaken afterwards.   Arlette’s murder becomes the prelude to the story that evolves into a twisted tale of backwoods justice and supernatural interference.  Their deed results into the ultimate destruction of both father and son.  The darker psyche of Wilf bobs and weaves throughout the tale, and in the end, destruction follows. (Spoiler:  If you have a phobia against rats, you may not want to read this dark tale).


BIG DRIVER: NOVELLA TWO

09-19-2018 WWW RENEE KIMBALL Semi double truck trailerBig Driver is the second story in the collection.  The main character, Tess, is a resourceful and successful mystery writer.  She is the author of a “cozy” mysteries series and well known for her work in that type of genre.  To ensure a little extra for retirement, Tess travels and gives readings of her books.  She receives an invitation to read in a small-town library not too far from her home, and readily accepts.  After reading, she takes a shortcut home on the advice of her hostess, the local librarian.

Things become dangerous when she has a flat tire in an isolated and abandoned area.  When a seemingly well-intentioned good Samaritan stops to change her tire, instead of helping her, Tess is beaten and raped.  Left for dead, Tess awakes to find herself in a culvert along with several decomposing female bodies.  Pulling herself together, she leaves the area on foot and begins walking towards her home.  She reaches her home and begins to plans her revenge.

Tess shows both sharp intelligence and quiet bravery, and no one portrays a woman’s strength better than King.   Tess is a force who leaves the reader applauding her quiet inner strength and problem solving skills.  When she meets up with her rapist/ would be killer, Tess achieves her revenge on a much larger scale than she imagined.


FAIR EXTENSION: NOVELLA THREE

While King’s Tess is resourceful and brave, the third novella, Fair Extension, is written from the perspective of a male, Streeter, who is a bitter and unlikable character.

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“Faust” by Harry Clarke. (Project Gutenberg Open Library System) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Streeter, suffers from incurable cancer secretly blames his bad health, career, marriage, and lack of income, on the twisted idea that if he had not promoted and helped his best friend, Tom Goodhugh, through high school, Streeter would have had all the successes that Tom enjoys –money and success and a perfect family.  Streeter believes that Tom should suffer the trials and tribulations Streeter has endured, after all, it is only fair.

Late on evening on his way home, Streeter takes an unplanned detour to a kind of roadside market.  He had seen a sign reading “FAIR EXTENSION,” and became curious.  A lone man named George Elvid, sits at the table with the sign.  When Street asks what kind of “extensions” Elvid offers, Elvid responds all kinds but the type of extension depends upon the requestor.  All extensions are tailored made and could be anything–credit extensions, love potions, to corrective eyesight.  A Faustian trade ensues, and Streeter exchanges the extension of his life for the life of his best friend, Tom.

The Streeter story is a black tale of harbored grudges and selfishness.  As Tom experiences horrific setbacks and death, he is slowly physically and mentally broken.  As this is happening to Tom, Streeter becomes healthy and rich.  In the end, Streeter remains unrepentant by his part in Tom’s tragic decline.  FAIR EXTENSION fails to arouse the reader’s sympathy, and there is no retribution, rather, it is a tale of cruelty and Jealousy.


A GOOD MARRIAGE: NOVELLA FOUR

The fourth and last story, A Good Marriage, is thought-provoking and believable.  The main character is a stay-at-home wife, Darcy, whose children have gone to college and left to start their lives. Darcy has been married to the same man, Bob Anderson, (who she believes she knows well), for over 25 years.  She thinks she is living the American dream, or a semblance there of – not perfect, but predictable.  Then, by sheer accident, she trips over a misaligned carton in the garage.  Darcy then realizes that the man that she believes she knows as well as herself, has a double life and is a serial killer.

09-19-2018 WWW RENEE KIMBALL Wedding_ringsOnce Darcy does her research and confirms her suspicions, she realizes that there has not been a killing for 16 years.  She attempts to come to grips with what she knows for certain.  Her husband, Bob, intuits that she knows about his secret life realizing that the carton has been moved.  Bob confronts Darcy, and manages to convince her that it is all up to her what happens. But that as long as she keeps quiet, he will suppress his killing urges, he then promises he won’t kill again.

Bob explains Darcy is the reason he took a break from killing, being with her has allowed him to suppress and ignore his need to kill.  Bob also says that it can all start up again if she doesn’t keep quiet and if she turns him in, then the children’s lives will be ruined and Darcy will suffer the consequences and will be ostracized by the very people she believes to be her friends.

Several years go by with both partners ignoring their shared secret and no killings.  But Darcy, never feels at ease and in limbo.  Darcy is ashamed and feels responsible because she knows she is the only one that can reveal the truth and bring Bob to justice.

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“Winder stairs” by Martin2Reid, licensed under CC SA-BY-3.0 via Wikipedia

Finally, Darcy stages and then succeeds in killing Bob.  When a bit too tipsy from an evening celebration, Darcy manages to push Bob down a flight of stairs.   Darcy is cleared of any foul play, but she knows there will be someone knocking on the door sooner or later who knows she staged Bob’s murder.  And the day did come, and someone came knocking, but it wasn’t who she expected.

There is retribution in the end, and a good dose of twisted justice, but you have to read the book.

You will enjoy this collection; it is something that will make you think, even if that is not King’s aim, and may even surprise you.  One can never really know what they might do if pushed to the absolute edge.

Happy Reading . . .

 

From the Afterword:

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Via Amazon

I have tried my best in Full Dark, No Stars to record what people might do, and how they might behave, under certain dire circumstances. The people in these stories are not without hope, but they acknowledge that even our fondest hopes (and our fondest wishes for our fellowmen and the society in which we live) may sometimes be vain. Often, even. But I think they also say that nobility most fully resides not in success but in trying to do the right thing…and that when we fail to do that, or willfully turn away from the challenge, hell follows.” (Stephen King).

“Stephen King has proven himself to be one of the finest chroniclers of the dark side of the human psyche over the 35 years of his successful career. While literary snobs sometimes cock a snoot at his mainstream appeal, there is no doubt that on his day he can spin as compelling a yarn as anyone . . . These tense tales delve into the dark heart of a knitting society and a serial killer’s last stand.” Doug Johnstone. Independent. November 14, 2010.

References

King, Stephen.  FULL DARK, NO STARS, 2010Simon & Schuster, New York., New York.

Kirkus Review.  “Deals with the darkest recesses of the human soul. . .” Kirkus Review. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/stephen-king/full-dark-no-stars/ Nov 10, 2010.

Johnstone, Doug. Independent. November 14, 2010.  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/full-dark-no-stars-by-stephen-king-2130460.html.

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Image of semi double truck licensed via Wikipedia under CC0
Image of wedding rings via Pixabay under CC0
Image of rat via Pixabay under CC0

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A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate, fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters, and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

 

Expanding Your Cast of Characters

20160618_183444a (3)As a fiction writer, I am sometimes asked by readers “where do you get your characters?” Usually that question is followed by “are they based on real people?” My answer is “I make them up.” Followed by, “I would never use a real person that I know as a character.” However, all of my characters are based on the sum total of my knowledge of humanity. I build my characters’ appearances, personalities, speech patterns, and behavior based on humanity as I know it or can imagine it. The limitations on my ability to create characters, then, are the limits of my own experience plus my ability to imagine and extend my knowledge to its extremes.

Part of my job in writing fiction is to create fully formed, believable characters that people can recognize, identify with, or at least be able to envision as a functional being. The more types of people I can imagine, the wider will be my casts of characters. So how do I improve and increase my casts of characters? I have to improve my knowledge of humanity as a whole by increasing my knowledge of the unique individuals whose quirks and personality extremes exemplify the wide variations in human behavior. I have to read. I have to read widely on varied topics, particularly about people who aren’t like me, people who live in places I would never live, doing things the I can’t imagine doing. This means reading histories, biographies, memoirs, news stories, and magazine articles about people from all walks of life.

For example, I am a reader and writer of mysteries. Mysteries are what I prefer to read most of the time. However, a diet of strictly mysteries wouldn’t be enough to help improve my writing, so I  read a lot of nonfiction in an effort to broaden my horizons. I read Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha, American Sniper by Chris Kyle, and 13 Hours by Mitchell Zuckoff. These books gave me glimpses into the lives of ordinary soldiers, special forces soldiers, and former soldiers working in dangerous parts of the world. They also illustrated the varying responses of people, both trained and untrained, when pushed to their absolute physical and emotional limits.

books on bookshelves
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

I read Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches by S. C. Gwynne. Only the most stubborn, most fanatical people were willing to settle on the Texas frontier in the 1800s, an area that saw 300 years of territorial conflict. The brutality of modern warfare could be matched blow for blow by what was historically referred to as the ‘depredations’ of the Comanches in Texas. That people, like Quanah Parker and special forces operators, can go from the visceral brutality of killing in warfare and step into lives as businessmen says a lot about the plasticity of human nature.

I also read The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis about the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, a pair of Israeli psychologists whose work developed the field of behavioral economics. I read The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb about the random, unpredictable events that impact our lives in huge ways. And I read Isaac’s Storm by Eric Larsen about a meteorologist’s failure to predict the 1900 Galveston hurricane. These three books include the issue of scholarly hubris. They discuss how wrong scholars and scientists can be when they think they have all necessary data, but don’t, and the damage to society as a whole that this overconfidence can cause.

Writers, be diligent readers, particularly of nonfiction and particularly of subjects that aren’t already familiar to you. See the world through someone else’s eyes. Expanding your reading horizons will expand your ability to imagine new, unique characters to populate your own stories. Many people live in neighborhoods that are socioeconomically homogenized, work with people who do similar work, volunteer with others who support the same causes, and participate in hobbies, sports, or social activities with those who enjoy those same activities. When you look beyond your own circumscribed lives and interests, you may find personalities that you never knew existed and a range of people you never could have imagined. Step outside your own world and into a wider one to improve your writing.

Let me know your suggestions for great nonfiction books. I’m always looking for more great characters.

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N. M. Cedeño writes short stories and novels that are typically set in Texas. Her stories vary from traditional mystery, to science fiction, to paranormal mystery in genre. Her debut novel, All in Her Head, was published in 2014, followed by her second novel, For the Children’s Sake, in 2015. In 2016, For the Children’s Sake was selected as a finalist for the East Texas Writers Guild Book Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. Most recently, she has begun writing the Bad Vibes Removal Services Series which includes short stories and the novel The Walls Can Talk (2017).

2017-TheWallsCanTalk-eBook-2250X1500-c

The Terrible Swift Sword of Hurricane Florence

Mike StatonThis post written by Mike Staton.

Terrible news coming from friends living in Duplin County, North Carolina.

I’m writing this Friday morning in Henderson, Nevada where I live. Five years ago I lived in Wilmington, North Carolina and worked as a weekly newspaper reporter at the Duplin Times in Duplin County’s courthouse city, Kenansville. I sat down at my laptop and took a look Facebook, and what I saw shocked me.

landfallAt the time I wrote this post, Florence was a category 1 storm, yet was acting as a category 3. Gary and Debby Scott, Marlane Carcopo, and Alan Wells are friends I worked with at the newspaper in Kenansville. Friday morning Facebook posts from them were not good, in fact depressing.

From their home in Warsaw, Debby Scott wrote: “Yikes. The wind! Fortunate to have power. Roof cap on our tin roof is gone and that means gallons of water will be pouring through and underneath rest of the roof for the duration of this storm. The worst is yet to come.”

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A fallen tree took out a portion of my friend Alan Wells’ house.

In nearby Wallace, Alan Wells wrote, “There is something about a giant pine dropping on your house 20 feet from where you are standing that will make you hurry up and get to a better house in the neighborhood quick… ‘cause I know it’s just the first one to fall.” The tree took out part of his house. Later, he wrote, “… a tree just dropped on my house. Not sure I can drive into Friendly Acres now, but my house is gonna get destroyed and I can’t be in it when it does.”

Marlane Carcopo, who also lives in Wallace, experienced the same heart-thumping experience as Alan. She wrote, “We are OK. The tree and the back of the house not so much! We are still here. Wish this would stop so we can get tree cutters here!”

Just learned that at least five people have died in the storm – including a Wilmington mother and her infant when a tree fell on their house (the death toll in the Carolinas now stands at 17). Sad news, and reinforces just how lucky my friends have been not getting injured.

Marlane tree damage
The house of another friend, Marlane Carcopo, took tree damage.

I’ve lost count of the number of hurricanes I went through while living in Wilmington from 1989 to early 2014. I’ve had trees fall on the house, knock down a shed, and have gone without electricity for a week or longer. I know the roar of generators in the neighborhood, know how it is to wait in long gasoline lines and the frustration of driving on streets without functioning traffic lights. My heart goes out to my friends. Not only will they soon be repairing the damage, they will also have to contend with all the lingering rain and flooding, predicted to be the worse in decades, maybe worse than Hurricane Floyd.

An observation made Saturday by a Duplin friend Debbie Scott: “It’s bad, Mike. Worse than Matthew from two years ago. I think worse than Floyd. So much water. And dumb people riding around. Roads are washed out and people keep on driving through water where they don’t know what’s underneath.”

Sunday Update: Eastern North Carolina is largely shutdown. I see fewer people from New Hanover, Pender and Duplin counties on Facebook, apparent victims of electrical outages. Fast-moving rivers, streams and creeks continue to rise and wash over banks. The waters are crumbling roadways’ asphalts and concrete. Houses and businesses near the waterways are getting inundated. I just saw a photo of the Pink Supper House restaurant, a place where I’ve eaten, and it’s underwater. A friend just reported on Facebook that the ceiling in one of his upstairs bedrooms collapsed. The Weather Channel says the tropical depression remnants of Florence should soon head up into the Ohio Valley and then through the Middle Atlantic States into the Atlantic Ocean. However, the rain-free weather in Eastern North Carolina will not suddenly mean calm rivers and their tributaries. Inundated in some places by more than 25 inches of rain, the catastrophic flooding will continue to frustrate Tar Heel folks for days to come.

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I’m an author with four published novels that include a sword-and-sorcery fantasy trilogy – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The fourth novel is a historical romance set during the Civil War. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. I’ve begun writing my second Civil War novel – Deepening Homefront Shadows. All my novels can be purchased on the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Talking Dirty by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Thanks to the Magic of Stories for inspiring this post. Karen J. Mossman talks, in a way, about creating a balance between being realistic and providing an escape for our readers.

Can you think of any scenes where people go to the bathroom? I’m going to be vain and tell you that in my memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, I talk about going to the bathroom a lot. In one scene, I’m making oatmeal, and my husband Bill, totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes, is sitting at the kitchen table in his wheelchair. Suddenly, he says, “Oooh, I gotta pee. Oh, it’s too late. I wet my pants.” This gives my readers an idea of what I went through as a caregiver.

What about farting? In Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, there’s a scene in which a high school football coach flatulates while lying in bed, reading the newspaper, much to his wife’s annoyance. This gives you some idea of what kind of guy the coach is. Bill also liked to expel wind through his posterior, but I couldn’t find a way to bring that into my story since it wasn’t related.

How about belching? I’m going to be vain one more time and give you an example from a short story I wrote several years ago that hasn’t yet been published. It’s called “Living Vicariously,” and it’s about a Catholic family dealing with issues related to religion. In one scene, a teen-aged girl who has lied about attending confirmation classes, is eating dinner with her father in a pizza joint. She’s drinking Dr. Pepper, and she says she doesn’t want to be a nun because she doesn’t want to give up the beverage. Then, she belches for emphasis. Again, I’m showing you her character.

Eating is another bodily function often portrayed. One great example of this is in the book, Prizzie’s Honor. Charlie, a mafia crook, is eating lunch with his boss. It’s an Italian ten-course meal. This emphasizes the irony that evil people enjoy the good things in life.

I suppose we ought to talk about sex, but I’d rather not. None of my work has vivid descriptions, and frankly, such scenes bog a story down. Hand holding, kissing, and embracing are enough to show the reader two people are in love.

What do you think? Do bodily functions, including sex, enhance a story or slow it down too much?

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I’m the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir and am currently working on another novel. My work has appeared in The Weekly Avocet, Magnets and Ladders, and other publications. I have a visual impairment and live in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, I cared for my late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes soon after we were married. Before that, I was a registered music therapist, working with senior citizens in nursing homes and other facilities. I also taught braille, facilitated a support group for the visually impaired, and served on the advisory board for a state trust fund that allows people with low vision or blindness to purchase adaptive equipment. For more information, please visit my website and blog.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

To Give a Sensitive Critique

IMG_1659aby Neva Bodin

I have sat through a lot of goat and sheep judging since my grandchildren joined 4-H and then FFA about seven years ago as their ages qualified them. And I think I’ve learned a couple things: about critiquing someone’s writing; and also about the appreciation of how we might look at ourselves and each other!

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My grandkids getting those four-legged kids just right

For almost every showing, a very diplomatic young judge has critiqued hopeful young people ages nine to 18, managing to let them know how they could improve showmanship and their animal while letting them know they “did a fine job” and he appreciated their showing their animals. I see tears on small faces sometimes when the animals, who can’t figure out what in the world they are being led (or drug) out into a ring with other animals and made to stand a certain way, manage to break away from the young people hoping to make a proud showing. But the judges usually show great sensitivity.

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My grandchildren at State Fair and one reluctant goat, until it was heading out of the arena

So, when critiquing someone’s manuscript, maybe I can use phrases like, “That’s in really great shape, I’d like to see a little bit more of that scene by the water, maybe it could use a little more fullness in the front,” etc. Instead of perhaps, “You need more information, you have the scene too short!”

And as to how we look, imagine if we could hear phrases like these: “I like the weight; I’d like to see a little bit more to her; She’s long-bodied and super attractive; She’s got some width, she’s got shape; She’s good on her feet and legs.”

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A polite, sensitive judge and my granddaughter working to get her sheep “Posed”

So, as animals are being led (or drug) around the circle, and young faces are watching the judge while straightening four legs and posing their goat or sheep, I am busy writing comments and thinking, “How can I apply all this wisdom to my writing life?” And someday, there will be a novel utilizing some of the ideas I learned sitting in the bleachers, learning how to judge/critique and appreciate my shape. And applauding all the young people who have fed, groomed, and exercised sometimes stubborn animals who like me as a writer, think everything is just fine the way things are, and no improvement is needed!

Where’s Your Happy Place? by Abbie Johnson Taylor

 

Believe it or not, even though I live in Sheridan, Wyoming, my happy place is a beach in Jupiter, Florida, where my brother and I often go when I visit him. I sometimes swim but am mostly content to walk alongside the ocean and feel cool waves wash over my feet, cleansing them of the tension from which I’m retreating. I also enjoy sitting in a lawn chair with a picnic lunch or lying on a blanket. Once when I got sick during my visit, my brother and his family encouraged me to accompany them to the beach. I went, against my better judgement, and to my surprise, the ocean breeze and the roaring waves plus the occasional cry of seagulls made me feel better.

I recently red an article entitled “5 Ways to Re-Start a Bad Day.” One suggestion given here is to think of your happy place. This could be a place where you went as a child with happy memories associated with it. It could be a place where you’ve never been but would like to go. It could even be a made-up place. Now that summer is waning and fall is approaching, I want you to think of your happy place and tell me about it.

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I’m the author of a romance novel, two poetry collections, and a memoir and am currently working on another novel. My work has appeared in The Weekly Avocet, Magnets and Ladders, and other publications. I have a visual impairment and live in Sheridan, Wyoming, where for six years, I cared for my late husband, who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes soon after we were married. Before that, I was a registered music therapist, working with senior citizens in nursing homes and other facilities. I also taught braille, facilitated a support group for the visually impaired, and served on the advisory board for a state trust fund that allows people with low vision or blindness to purchase adaptive equipment. For more information, please visit my website and blog.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

I Love You, Peter Guillam…Thoughts on Point of View

helen-currie-foster-hotxsinc Written by Helen Currie Foster

 

2018-09-16 HELEN FOSTER WWW IMG_1910Okay, I’m addicted to John Le Carré. I’ve repeatedly re-read his “Smiley Trilogy.”  As you may know (but no spoilers), the seminal Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tells us how George Smiley unmasked a mole in the British secret service (the “Circus”). Remember Alec Guinness as Smiley? Wonderful, but not as short and tubby as we imagine Smiley to be. When Smiley’s People was reissued, Le Carré wrote a preface referring to his completion of a trilogy: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974); The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), and Smiley’s People (1979). Was he done, then? We’d hear no more about finding the Circus mole and foiling the Russian mastermind Karla? Could Smiley retire to study German poetry, maybe retrieve his beautiful unfaithful Ann?

John Le Carré will be 87 on October 19. In 2017, with A Legacy of Spies, Le Carré reaches back before Tinker, Tailor into The Spy Who Came in from The Cold (1963), where Alec Leamas (Richard Burton starred in the movie), is killed at the Berlin Wall. Indeed, Le Carré goes back to his 1961 debut, Call for the Dead, where we first meet Smiley, his subordinate Peter Guillam, and the German assassin Hans-Dieter Mundt.

Part of Le Carré’s genius is his use of point of view. Legacy is all told, first person, by Peter Guillam—described as “tall, tough and charming” in The Honourable Schoolboy, but always just a supporting character, never at the seat of power. In Legacy, the aging Guillam (white hair, hearing aids) is called back to a hostile Circus from his Brittany home. and informed he’s a defendant in a lawsuit concerning Leamas’s death. In Legacy Guillam is protagonist, not just narrator. He’s thrown into painful memories of the Leamas (apparent) debacle as, at the instruction of the current unlovable Circus bureaucrats, he slogs through years of records, some of which he wrote himself, including the one he wrote about the loss of his beloved—never mind. No spoilers.

In contrast, Tinker, Tailor builds the story with three points of view: first, that of George Smiley himself, forced to retire from the Circus by the nefarious Russian “Witchcraft” plot, and currently abandoned by his beautiful and unfaithful wife; second, that of Bill Roach, a “new boy” with “no friends” at the horrid Thursgood school where the wounded spy Jim Prideaux now teaches French; and third, that of Peter Guillam, another “Witchcraft” victim now banished to a dead-end Circus assignment in Brixton.

Roach’s observations of the new teacher, Prideaux, show us both Prideaux’s strength and charm, and the daily pain and fear left by his capture and torture. Prideaux names Roach a “watcher,” the “best watcher.” Roach worries himself sick, watching, fearing for Prideaux, and he’s the one who tells Prideaux that his peaceful isolation at this school has ended. Strangers are asking about Prideaux in the village. With sinking stomach Roach watches through the rainy window of Prideaux’s trailer as Prideaux reassembles his gun.

2018-09-06 HELEN FOSTER WWW IMG_1909Guillam’s narration, as he helps Smiley undertake the search for the Circus’s Russian mole, tells us how he lies for Smiley and, heart thumping, sweat pouring down his back, steals records from the Circus that Smiley asks him to get.  Guillam shares thoughts about Smiley that Smiley himself could never convey—his brilliance, his invincible calm in interrogation, his vulnerable invulnerability. We see Guillam as a romantic, still attached to the Circus by idealism and the drive for adventure that (we suspect) also characterize the author.

All three points of view build purpose and suspense. Without Roach, we could not share Roach’s acute terror about Prideaux’s situation. Without Roach we would not have seen Prideaux try to level his trailer in the rain, drink vodka to dull the pain of the bullet in his back, teach perfect French to his students, engage them in wildly wonderful play. Roach has made us care about Prideaux.

Smiley sees himself as a fat balding spy, cuckolded by his beautiful wife. Without Smiley’s point of view we would not feel his guilt as he opens bills reflecting his wife’s unfaithfulness, feel his irritation with the pompous ambition of the not particularly competent men running the Circus, feel his terror at waiting, feel his satisfaction as pieces fall into place, feel his conflicted but unshakable determination to find the mole.

Without Guillam’s point of view, we might not understand that he so admires Smiley that at Smiley’s instruction he’ll attempt the perilous theft of records about the Witchcraft plot, and coolly lie about his presence in the building (sweat running down his back) while he’s interrogated by superiors.  With Guillam we feel a field man’s terror and joy in completing a successful field operation, but also his puzzlement about the multiple layers of the plot.

Back to the first-person narrative Le Carré uses in Legacy.  One character, the reliable but somehow removed Peter Guillam, suddenly bears the emotional weight of decades of deception. We like him. Perhaps we feel he’s one of us: a field man, not a cerebral strategist like Smiley; still human, still romantic, but longing for rest. In Legacy we, with Guillam, come face to face with the secret he has suppressed for so long.  We so want him to find rest. No spoilers., though.

John Le Carré! I’m drinking a toast to you tonight. Happy almost birthday!

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Helen  Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer mystery series: GHOST CAVE, GHOST LETTER, GHOST DOG, and GHOST DAGGER. She works as a lawyer in Austin. Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros.

 

 

Sports, sports and more sports

Mike Staton
This post written by Mike Staton.

September means lots and lots of sports for folks like me. Last Saturday I overdosed on college football. In less than a week, the NFL season gets underway. And the Major League Baseball season is drawing to a close… fewer than 25 games remain before playoffs begin.

On Saturday I ensconced myself on the living-room recliner and in front of the HDTV watched the Ohio State football team defeat Oregon State 77-31. I’ll be honest… I actually thought the Buckeyes might lose the game. The Buckeye coach, Urban Meyer, is serving out a three-day suspension for the inept way he handled a spousal abuse allegation made against one of his assistant coaches. Meyer kept the assistant coach on his staff even though the allegation was turned out to be true. After it became public, Ohio State investigated and suspended the head coach for three games and the athletic director until Sept. 16. Plenty of critics think the punishment was laughable and Meyer should have been fired.

Ohio State
Ohio State opened their season minus their coach.

With one of the assistant coaches handling the coaching duties, I thought Meyer’s absence might have a more serious impact on the players. It looks like they took it in stride. Next up for the No. 5 Buckeyes is Rutgers. Maybe that will be the game where the players will stumble. But it’s a home game where fans consider the coach a god.

Now onto the NFL. Come Sunday the Cleveland Browns entertain the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’ve been a diehard Browns fan since the mid-1960s when my family moved back to Northeast Ohio. I even remember watching the 1964 championship game (pre-Superbowl era) on CBS when the Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts 27-0 on December 27. It was the last championship for the Browns, and they’ve never made a Superbowl appearance.

Browns
The Cleveland Browns entertain the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

For Browns fans, rooting for the hometown has been a dismal experience since the original Browns left for Baltimore in 1996. The city of Cleveland got the name and the colors, and the reborn expansion Browns began their excruciating existence in 1999. They’ve only had two winning seasons since their inaugural season. The last two years have been the worse – 1-15 in 2016 and 0-16 in 2017.

This year the Browns brought in a new, highly respected general manager. I feel hopeful the team will turn things around this year. With some topnotch free-agent signings and a good draft, the general manager has put together a team capable of winning some games, perhaps even string together a winning season – 9-7 or 10-6. The Steelers are a potential playoff team. It’s a home game for the Browns, so I should soon learn if the Browns have shed their losers’ image. When their offensive and defensive units played during the preseason, they looked good, especially the defense. The Steelers game should show if my optimism is misplaced. We Browns fans have been disappointed so many, many times.

Indians
The Cleveland Indians will make the baseball playoffs — unless they collapse in the final 25 games of the season.

If the Browns tank, I can always turn my attention to the winding-down baseball season. I have two favorites – the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Indians are a shoe-in for the playoffs, although I have my doubts they’ll make it to the World Series. The Boston Red Sox are having a season for the ages. As of Sunday, the Red Sox are 94-44 overall. They’ll probably cruise to the World Series, but who knows… the Yankees, defending World Series Champs Houston Astros and the Indians are good teams and any of them could turn out to be spoilers.

With 26 games left as of Saturday night, the Dodgers are in one heck of a pennant race, tied for first place with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies just a half a game back. Two weeks ago I thought the Dodgers were in trouble. They were struggling, their middle relief pitching suspect and their closure in the hospital with some kind of heart ailment. But their closure is back and they’re winning again. Do they have enough in the gas tank to win the division? Frankly, I don’t know. It’ll probably go down to the last few games before the division is decided. And if they come up short, it’s not a given that they will be a wild-card team in the playoffs. That too is way too close to call.

I’ve been a Dodgers fan since 1962 when I was in elementary school in San Bernardino, California. Like many boys back then, I collected baseball cards. Most mothers threw them away. Mine didn’t. I still have them – Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Will, Jim Gilliam, Willy Davis, Tommy Davis, Ron Fairly. They were the team of my childhood, and I continue to root for the current crop of Dodgers. I began rooting for the Indians in 1965 when the family moved back to Ohio. My Grandpa Frog Franks took me to an Indians-Detroit Tigers game in 1967 in old Municipal Stadium, and soon I found myself turning into a fanatical fan of the Indians. Until the mid-1990s, the Indians were perpetual losers. Not anymore. That’s why I’m hopeful the Indians can win their way into the World Series.

bowling

Talking about sports, I took up bowling a couple of weeks ago – the first time since the mid-1980s. Back then, I routinely bowled above 150 and sometimes in the two hundreds. At age 66 I’m struggling to get back my form. I’ve bowled 10 games so far, and do feel I’m getting better. But I’ve yet to bowl 100 or above. I came close last week. I had a score of 95 in the 10th frame, and had just spared. That left me one more ball to roll. Five or better and I would have my 100 game. Hold back the tears please. I put the ball in the gutter. Nerves I guess. I haven’t given up. I’ll be bowling more games at the Sunset Station Casino bowling alley near where I live.

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I’m an author with four published novels that include a sword-and-sorcery fantasy trilogy – The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. The fourth novel is a historical romance set during the Civil War. It’s called Blessed Shadows Dark and Deep. I’ve begun writing my second Civil War novel – Deepening Homefront Shadows. All my novels can be purchased via the website of my publisher, Wings ePress, as well as the websites of Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I Regret Nothing: My Love Affair with a Punctuation Mark

 Kathy Waller UnCon 10 06 2016 written by M. K. Waller

2018-09-03 www semicolon (2)

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

“With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say I have a great respect for the semi-colon; it’s a useful little chap.”
― Abraham Lincoln

LEWIS THOMAS

Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines farther on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.
 Lewis Thomas, M. D.

KURT VONNEGUT

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” 
 Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

GEORGE WILL

Semicolons . . . signal, rather than shout, a relationship. . . . A semicolon is a compliment from the writer to the reader. It says: “I don’t have to draw you a picture; a hint will do.”
— George Will

KATHY WALLER

I love semicolons.

My master’s thesis was rife with them.

But my critique group says I mustn’t use them any more. They say I should follow Kurt Vonnegut’s rule.

Mr. Vonnegut is wrong. The semicolon is not a transvestite hermaphrodite, representing absolutely nothing.

It is a compliment from the writer to the reader.

It is a wooden bench, where you can sit for a moment, catching your breath.

It’s a useful little chap.

When Mr. Vonnegut called the semicolon a transvestite hermaphrodite–well, bless his heart, he must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.

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This post originally appeared at Telling the Truth, Mainly, under the title “Abraham Lincoln, Lewis Thomas, George Will, & Me: Great Minds Think Alike; or, Kurt Vonnegut, Go Fly a Kite.”

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M. K. Waller’s stories appear in Austin Mystery Writers’ crime fiction anthologies, MURDER ON WHEELS and LONE STAR LAWLESS, in DAY OF THE DARK: STORIES OF ECLIPSE, and at Mysterical-E

She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly [http://kathywaller1.com]