Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Back of the Drawer - W.E.P. Flash Fiction Challenge


This post is for the Write...Edit...Publish Flash Fiction Challenge. It's a blog hop so wander on over (after reading, of course) and read all the submissions :D Thank you, Denise and Yolanda, for hosting such a fun blog hop! I'm happy to be back at it <3

***
The Back of the Drawer
by Jennifer Chandler
(987 words)

The back of that old drawer tempted me, taunted me. Like an all-seeing eye it watched from the far corner of the study. Grandfather said it was jammed, wouldn't close, but I knew the truth. He wanted to bait me, catch me, trap me.

“Just like your Grandmother,” he'd say. “Curioser and curiouser,” he'd laugh.

“Curiosity,” he'd say every time he caught me looking towards the table. “It's why she's gone.”

Yes: he was laying a trap.

He refused to elaborate, refused to give me any more. I'd ask, beg, but he'd disappear behind the paper and a fog of pipe smoke. I understand now that it was necessary, understand that it was the only way. But I'll never, ever forgive him.

It was a Sunday when it happened. Gloomy and grumbling the sky churned. I couldn't leave the house. The wind whipped like the Furies and moaned through the chimneys, the telling cry of a ban sidhe.

Grandfather had to go out.

“Urgent business,” he murmured as Butler helped him with his coat.

“What's so urgent that you have to go out in a monsoon?”

He patted me on the head, “The Gallery. A new acquisition.”

Of course, always The Gallery. Grandfather was in charge of the antiquities department. Old, dusty artifacts came by dark means to the back cellar and he would be summoned. No one questioned. No one dared. The Gallery got antiques, some ancient relics; Grandfather got notoriety and the occasional, personal collectible.

Like the table.

It came from Cairo, so he said. Oh, I believe him now but I didn't back then.

When he was gone, Butler smiled his solemn smile and headed back upstairs to finish the rooms. Me, I wandered to the kitchen for a bit of breakfast. Thunder clapped and flickered the old lights. The electricity, the water, everything was antiquated. Grandfather firmly believed older was better. There was even an original gas lamp on the porch. Thankfully inside the house was electricity, even if it did go out in the slightest breeze.

Sure enough, a gust took out the lights and I was left to comb through the dining room for matches. I found a box, half full, and took one to a small hurricane lamp. I decided the best use of my time for that day was rummaging about the library. Until I passed the study. Until I saw, in the flashing lightening, the flickering flame, the slightly open drawer.

My mind screamed. I remember hearing the warning, like a far off bell keening for the recently departed. The voice was feminine, not unlike my mother's, but she'd been dead for all but one of my fifteen years. I was dreaming; the storm, spooky and ominous conjured some long dead memory of a mother's words. Urgent, insistent, I brushed them off like cobwebs.

Somewhere something thumped, a picture falling off the wall. I stood in front of the table and shivered. The room was so very cold. The fire. I looked at the dark hearth. Strange: Butler always made the fires up before we woke, before we came down. Guess Grandfather's sudden departure distracted him. I took a blanket from the arm chair and threw it over my shoulders, careful not to upset the lamp.

The drawer gaped. The lightening popped and I jumped as something else tumbled somewhere in the house. I could hear Butler's slow, heavy footsteps above. He was in my room now, probably fluffing the pillows and fluttering the curtains. Picking up my books that lay scattered to my liking.

What could it hurt? I wondered. Really, if I pried open the drawer who would know?

I sat the lamp on the table and gave the drawer a tentative tug. Nothing. I tried again. Not even a squeak. I put the lamp on the floor and rattled it, knocking off a letter opener and a bust of Poe holding down a bundle of documents.

The letter opener winked in the lamplight and I obliged it's hint. It would fit easily into the drawer, hopefully pry it open. Slowly it slid but not much wider. I put the opener down, afraid I'd bend it if I continued. It was now open enough for me to put my hand inside. That was perfect. I'd reach inside, take a look, no one would be the wiser.

That's what I thought.

Like a criminal I watched over my shoulder, watched for the shadows of tell-tale eyes. My hand went in and I held my breath.

Then I screamed, screamed until the roof shook and the windows rattled. Screamed until Butler rushed down to find me cradling my arm. There was blood everywhere and the last thing I remember was his pale, horrified face.

When I woke up there was a woman there. She looked like a photograph that hung in the stairwell. Grandfather was there; he didn't look happy or angry. His eyes betrayed gratitude and that's the reason I can't forgive him.

“An eye for an eye”, the old adage states. In this case it was a hand for a hand. My grandmother's returned as did she, from the hospital in Switzerland that kept her deformity hidden. Now, that deformity is mine. Slowly I've acclimated to one usable hand; slowly I've come to grips with the blackened, dead thing that sits at the end of my left arm. Mummified, skin tattered. I refuse to bandage it; the other patients refuse to come near me. That suits me just fine.

Grandfather and Grandmother send their love, books, and postcards from their travels. All I can send them is contempt. I know I'll never leave this sanitarium. I'll never get my hand back. Grandfather's last letter told me the table is now at The Gallery, encased in glass in the Egyptian room.

Safe, he wrote. Where no one again will discover what's at the back of the drawer.

***

To the other participants: feel free to critique as you see fit. I'm open to full critiques and brief comments/suggestions. The choice is yours. 

Thank you all for reading :)


Monday, February 13, 2017

Shakespeare and Co.


Sometimes you pick up a book and it changes your perspective. It moves you to become a better person in some way and it urges you to not only achieve your goals but to achieve them in such a way that the community around you benefits because you were there. That's what this book, Shakespeare and Company: A History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, did for me.

That obscure realm of "Literary" labeled books in the back of the Fiction section at Barnes and Nobel appeals to me. It sits at the end of the alphabet and precedes Mythology and Poetry. It's an odd little nook filled with essay collections, "Best of" short stories, and treatises on everything from Dante's Inferno to How to Read Literature Like a Professor.

The spine is a lovely, mustard color and leapt at me from a sea of black and white. I'd never seen it before. I'd never heard of it. Wrapped in cellophane proclaiming to tell the tale of a book store in Paris, the Siren's call was overwhelming.

I flipped through it a couple of times before I actually sat down to read it. It looked like a lovely collage of siftings from a life well lived. Turns out it's actually a steamer truck filled with one man's life of traveling the world, helping strangers, and urging folk to READ.

The story doesn't start with him, however; it starts with the first owner of Shakespeare and Co.: Sylvia Beach. An American ex-pat, Beach opened Shakespeare and Co. and thrived until Nazi occupation of Paris. After her release from an internment camp, she was forced to close the shop. This, of course, was after entertaining the likes of Hemingway, Huxley, D. H. Lawrence, the Fitzgeralds, and James Joyce. Oh, yeah: and she was the first person to publish Ulysses. (!!!)

Fast forward to the 1950s. Another young, American ex-pat named George Whitman opens a bookshop in Paris after traveling the world and fighting in World War II. With 1,000 books from his own collection, George opened the Librairie le Mistral. Ten years later, Sylvia Beach sold the name Shakespeare and Co. to George and the rest is legend. For over seventy years this tatterdemalion shop facing Notre Dame has held court for Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Anais Nin and so many more. It has been a home way from home for authors and artists, college students and struggling poets and, yes, you can STILL go there, shop there, and sleep there.

The story of the shop is beautiful. It's told through narrative, yes, but mostly through the letters, journals, flyers, and interviews of the people who visited, worked in, and lived in Shakespeare and Co. I cried with longing, reading of the Lost Generation and the Beats all hanging out with one another. An enchanted time it seems, filled with heart ache and hard ship, yes, but also with great artistic achievement and all those giants of literature rubbing elbows, meeting for drinks, and gathering at George's shop for readings, lectures, and protests. Oh to have that sort of community! To gather with writers from all over the world in one labyrinth of books to discuss, debate, and even argue the social issues, the humanitarian issues of the day. I admit it: I'm jealous.

This book opened up a world of books to me. I've been a confirmed reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Murder Mysteries and Ghost Stories my entire life. I realize that my refusal to venture into "real life" literature has been to my detriment. I am at a great loss but it is one that I am in the process of rectifying. I picked up a  copy of Ulysses and am reading it along side Proust. Crazy but deliciously so!

If you want to add a beautiful, lyrical, delightful, aching tale of longing to your bookshelves, FIND THIS BOOK! It was published last summer, June 2016 by Shakespeare and Co., Paris. It's not paperback cheap but worth every single penny.

And if you ever, ever get the good fortune to go to Paris, pay a visit to the shop. George's daughter Sylvia now runs it. And for the love of all that is holy, TAKE ME WITH YOU!

I do have a big "0" birthday coming up this year. I would not be opposed to spending it in Paris at a rambling old bookstore. I'm just sayin'... (hint, hint, nudge, nudge)

Happy Reading,

Friday, February 10, 2017

In the silence between the thunder

How does writing become habitual?

How do we set our minds to the page?

Every time I look at my writing shelves - burgeoning with folders and notebooks of half worlds and half-formed things - I get stunned. I am quieted by the cacophony of ideas. I can't find a foothold. I stare; I freeze; my mind aches, my fingers itch. I feel I should do something. I should fill a binder with winged and beating things.

Yet I walk away with aching and I wander aimless, not wanting to lose myself in the words of others but in the words of me.

I grope and gasp for an avalanche of my words but I have yet to find the breaking.

My fingers could tear hair in their frustration. I am lost!

How, how, I wail, gnash teeth - how do I give birth to an endless stream?

Suddenly, in the silence between the thunder, I hear:

remove
      one
stone
   at
      a
    time.

***

Keep writing,


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

An Interview with Erika Beebe



Wednesdays are for writers, it seems. The Insecure Writer's Support Group gathers its posts on Wednesdays. As a fan of alliteration, it's a given I'd decide to start posting [W]riting posts on [W]ednesdays :) To kick off these Wonderful Wordy Wednesday posts, I'll do a series of interviews with my fellow Anthology authors. Today, I sit down virtually with author Erika Beebe.

[J]en: Do you believe that the concept of a “lost hero” is relevant to our times? Do you think the idea of a “lost” or “fallen” hero, in light of the current social climate, appeals to society as a whole? If so, why do you think we feel an attraction to these heroes and cheer for their redemption?

[E]rika: I think the concept of a “hero lost” relates to all human and animal kind. We all fall at some point, even our heroes. Greek Gods were always squabbling with each other to steal power or push power in an effort to show someone their level of importance. As an adult my view of the hero has changed, but I do believe society wants to believe in someone when the world gets hard. I think I call them our “every day heroes.” Great leaders who rally people together to support a cause, firemen and policemen who do impossible deeds some days to keep the population safe, or teachers and parents, neighbors, friends, anyone who has ever inspired someone and given back hope when it was desperately needed. The fallen hero theme is one of my favorites. I think we all want to see the possibility of human nature in our heroes so we can relate. No matter hero or not, we all take steps back and could have made better choices. Even superheroes.


[J]: Do you think that perceived heroes (in real life and in fairy tales) should uphold their position as heroes regardless of personal challenge? In other words, if a hero has an important role to play still, not just “I saved this place or that person once upon a time”, do you believe that person is responsible for continuing their heroics or should they be “allowed” by society to fade quietly into the background?

[E]: I think heroes, like humans should be able to do whatever they want as long as they’re following their hearts and doing what they feel is right for him or her. The more you push someone, speaking in my own experience as a mom and a child at one time, the more one rebels. I don't want the heart of a hero to change because they feel they have to do something. I also think our heroes change with our needs. Maybe power also changes with personal needs.


[J]: Lost heroes could be perceived as anti-heroes or heroes that descended into the realm of the villain. Were you tempted to allow your hero to do that? Was there ever a moment when you considered letting your fallen hero fall to the “dark side”?

[E]: Nope. I want my characters to find the light no matter how dark. They may visit the darkness for a while, but I want them to eventually learn and grow for the best so they can find their way back.


[J]: I'm a hard and fast believer in the need for villains. Without villains, we are unable to truly understand the dichotomy between “good” and “bad” and the war that has raged in every story since their first telling. How do you feel about the need for darkness in stories to find the light?

[E]: It's my favorite theme. We all have dark parts and places in our pasts. Historically and Biblically speaking, human nature is flawed and we fall into common pitfalls because of our own free-thinking abilities. Every creature has a learning curve. We make mistakes and hopefully, we find the light in the darkness and use that knowledge to change and teach for the better.


[J]: Are you a fan of fallen heroes who DO become villains? And if your fallen hero was to become a villain, what might that look like?

[E]: Yes, as long as they find redemption at some point. Ethan, the fallen hero in my own story, "The Wheat witch," becomes a villain by losing faith in his family and himself. He becomes a larger villain to society on an emotional whim in a bar while defending his sister’s integrity, accidentally killing someone. He copes with his action by running from the law, scared to face his own truth, until the truth finds it’s way to him whether he likes it or not.


[J]: For kicks and giggles: What TV show would your fallen hero binge watch on Netflix?

[E]: The Ranch

****

Thank you so much, Erika, for taking the time to answer my rambling questions!

You can find Erika's story, The Wheat Witch in the upcoming Anthology, Hero Lost: The Mysteries of Death and Life. The Anthology will be available May 02. Until then, stop by Erika's blog Cloud Nine Girl and learn more about her story on the Lost Hero Anthology website.


Happy Writing!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Mondays are for Bluestockings

delightful photo found HERE

A Bluestocking or, because everything sounds more charming in French, a bas bleu. It is a term brought to us from the long ago days of Salons and communities of people who would gather simply to enjoy intellectual conversation revolving around books.

I've come to adopt this moniker as I like quirky labels and enjoy wearing blue socks. There's a MARVELOUS mail-order book shop called Bas Bleu and if you haven't heard of it, you simply MUST wander over. Oh, and they send out REAL catalogs. My inner nerd just did a happy jig :) Their blog The Bluestocking Salon is a delicious labyrinth of literary fiction, social exploration, meet and greets with their editors and readers, wanderings through books old and new, even commentary on the Danish concept of Hygge, about which I learned two years ago and have adopted as my own, cozy, winter-time mantra.

All that to say, I'm dedicating Mondays here to bluestocking pursuits! I'll wander along the rabbit trails of my own, intellectual pursuits and record them here. There will be books, links to fantastic sites, books, tea, the odd article of whatever curiosities I am currently researching, books and...did I mention books? Book reviews aren't really my thing. They always tend to be too critical-ly for my taste. I'd rather present a book I've read and DISCUSS it, wax poetical about it, or offer it up on a pyre of complete misunderstanding.

Learning is my greatest passion. I need an excuse to stay curious and a place into which to tuck all those bookmarks.

What are your thoughts, Dear Reader? Do you consider yourself a Bluestocking? By the way, guys, this is not just for the ladies. The salons of old invited both sexes to be a part of the intellectual free-for-all. So hitch up those socks and garters, kids! It's going to get even more nerdy up in here :)

Wander well,


Friday, February 3, 2017

The Power of Fantasy

Many times I'm asked why I write what I write. My work tends toward the darker side of things. I'm not pessimistic; it's not that kind of dark. I appreciate the darkness in the fantasy that I read. I'm a firm believer that you cannot have a believable story without the conflict of a truly terrible entity pressing against the protagonist and everything they hold dear. Evil is a part of life. It lurks and creeps and screams in your ear. Darkness hides in the very corners of your house and we, like the good citizens we are, push the dust bunnies into them where they are ignored, forgotten, left to breed.

Why write about it? Why not write something light and fluffy? There's nothing wrong with light and fluffy writing. One of my favorite series is a cozy mystery with Beatrix Potter as the main characters. Every other chapter of the seven book series is filled with talking animals. There's a dragon and even fairies. I love it and it's what I go to when I need reassurance that life really is beautiful.

But guess what? There is darkness there.

Murder most foul.
Emotionally abusive parents.
Over-bearing grandmothers who "just don't understand" their young charges.
Animal abuse.
Hatred.
Bitter revenge.
Death.
Relationships that seem doomed from the beginning.

"But," you argue, "these are plot elements. Without them, where would the story be?"

Exactly.

"But, horror? Gothic fantasy? Weird, obscure, terrifying mythological creatures who roam about out modern world, part and parcel with the very hills beneath our feet?"

Yes, a deep, resounding, yes.

Because without them, where would the story be?

There's a lovely interview with author Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, over at Lit Hub. The entire interview is marvelous, but when asked about fantasy in light of our current social situation, Mr. Grossman says this:

By its nature fantasy focuses on power relationships a lot, whether that power is political or military or magical in nature. You get a lot of monarchies, with the usual abuses. It also deals with outsiders a lot, and the question of who is human and who isn’t, who matters and who doesn’t. These issues have always been important, but right now in this country they are urgent and central.

Ahhh. So you can lose yourself in fantasy without dealing with the REAL issues.

Au contraire, my Dear. It is precisely because of the real, of the here and now, that I turn to fantasy. Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time must battle a disembodied brain in order to win back her little brother. A disembodied brain? That doesn't make much sense. It's not that scary. Really? Imagine life without feeling, without sentimentality. Imagine a world where everything is ruled by ONE mind, with ONE agenda, without heart, without feeling, without regard to anything other than the obvious, the functions of the ONE MIND. The ONE AGENDA.

Sounds frighteningly like communism doesn't it?

L'Engle was speaking out against just such a regime. She was crying out against the world of her time: NO! We must have HEART as well as MIND. Writing about it in the form of a disembodied brain was fantasy, but it hits terrifyingly close to home.

Fantasy isn't always escapism. Horror isn't always about blood, guts, and gore. I'll go so far as to say the great fantasy and horror are NEVER just about those things. They take the real horrors and issues we face and give them names, faces, horrifying actions that can be fought against with physicality. It's easier that way, when we  can see the monster and jab it with a hot poker.

Remember all your favorite fairy tales? Remember the villains? The monsters? Where would the story be without them? Think of your own life: think of the challenges you face. Where would your story be without them? No, really...where? It is through the struggle that we find ourselves.

Happy weekend, Dear Readers. Happy writing
xo






Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Insecure Writer's Support Group...AND A NEW WEBSITE!!!

Good morning and welcome to the February edition of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We meet on the first Wednesday of each month to broadcast our insecurities and offer up support and encouragement to those in need. It's a wonderful little group; if you're not already a part, please consider joining us!

As always, a great, big, HUGE thank you to Alex for putting this group together and letting it run wild and free :).

***


My insecurities this month are Everest. I am the world's worst self promoter. The IWSG Anthology: The Mysteries of Death and Life has been one huge lesson and one that I'm still grappling with. Let me say now with utmost sincerity: I am among giants! The other authors in this Anthology are amazing at marketing, at coming up with promotional ideas, and at getting balls rolling, whips cracking, and every other "forward moving" cliche you can think of. I am humbled and eternally grateful for their genius and their patience. The M.E. flared up the past two weeks with a vengeance and I've been couch bound every afternoon after work and each weekend. The pain is one thing: I can deal with that. It's the debilitating fatigue that keeps me from even getting online that is hard to handle. Along with feeling insecure, I've felt inadequate, frustrated, angry, and far, far behind.

TELL ME: How do you handle book promotions? Do you prefer the online to the personal or the other way around? What are your feelings on marketing and promotion? Is there a University for Clueless Writers? If so, send me the info :D.

ALSO: How do you handle setbacks due to health? If you have a chronic illness (or, God forbid, an Auto-Immune disease like me), how do you find the grace to allow yourself the room you need to get over the flare-ups and speed bumps?

I'm learning to have GRACE for myself. I'm learning to ASK this disease what it is trying to teach me. I'm also learning how to let others take the reigns and guide. Thank you, thank you, thank you EVERY ANTHOLOGY AUTHOR. You know who you are!

And with THAT said...

... WE HAVE A NEW WEBSITE!!!



The Insecure Writer's Support Group's soon to be anthology, The Mysteries of Death and Life now has it's very own website! On Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life you'll learn more about the authors, about our stories, and read up on topics pertaining to our theme. Join us as we count down to the publication of the Anthology in May!!

aaannd MORE confetti tacos!!!

Happy Writing, Dear Readers!

xo