The Faded Woman

Martha was a ghost of a woman. She disappeared into her surroundings, blending in as if she were no more than a sheet of wallpaper, sporting bras, hose, and socks, pasted behind the pegs of merchandise she stocked. Like a chameleon, her form merged with her environment.

Day after day, her soft, pasty body trudged up and down the lingerie aisles of the superstore, pushing a shopping cart bristling with a flashy array of leopard-print panties, bright red teddies, and other exotic intimate apparel; but unlike the garments she put out for sale, Martha was anything but colorful.

Thin, straight hair the shade of week-old coffee hung dull and lifeless to her shoulders. Stringy tendrils obscured her downturned face. Pale and rounded and malleable, she was kneaded dough, punched down and waiting for a rise that never happened. When she spoke to a customer—and she only did that when forced to—Martha’s eyes stayed on the wood-laminated floor. Even her “May I help you?” and “Have a nice day.” were smothered things spoken barely above a whisper on good days, and on bad days, a tired, almost-inaudible sigh of sound.

And there were plenty of bad days, days when her head felt as if it were a ball of unmitigated pain that had been created for no other purpose than to punisher her because she wasn’t a good enough daughter, a good enough wife, but most of all, a good enough mother. Martha endured the frequent migraines without complaint, a firm believer that her suffering was atonement for past mistakes, and when God thought she had paid enough, the attacks would cease. And though she told none of her coworkers when she was in the throes of a migraine, a glimpse of her features told the tale—red-rimmed eyes sunk into dark hollows on an otherwise skim milk face.

But regardless of how she felt, Martha plodded through the days, doing her job and doing it well so that at the end of the week she could collect her meager paycheck. Not for herself, but for her two grown daughters and their children. She was determined that her daughters would never do without as she had. Yes, she would always be there for them, paying their rent, buying their groceries, providing whatever their respective husbands didn’t for as long as she had a breath left in her body.

Martha’s children and grandchildren were her life. Only in their presence did her eyes sparkle, her lips curve in a smile, her round shoulders square. Other employees took note of Martha’s transformation when her daughters came into the store; it was like seeing her for the first time. One worker said, “You know, I never realized it before, but Martha’s kind of pretty.” And another remarked on the lovely green shade of her eyes.

Then her family would leave, and Martha would fade away once more, becoming as translucent as the pantyhose tucked inside the packages she placed neatly on shelves. A see-through woman. Barely there at all.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

7 Mile Road

Wow! I didn’t realize so much time had passed since my last post—almost four months. Looks like my intended short break from blogging turned into an extended time off.

But I have been writing. Two of my short stories have been recently published, “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are” and “Birds of a Feather”, plus one poem, “Red”, will be later this month. “Come Out, Come Out…” was published in Tell-Tale Press, clicking here will take you straight to the story, and “Birds of a Feather” was published in The Literary Hatchet, Issue # 24. I don’t have a direct link to it, but you can go to their website here and download a free PDF of Issue # 24 if you wish to read it. I also have three brand new shorts I’m currently trying to place, so wish me luck.

And in my WordPress absence I have started a novel in my preferred genre when writing long pieces: Southern Gothic. According to a web search, characteristics of Southern Gothic literature include:

  • Isolation and marginalization
  • Violence and crime
  • Sense of place
  • Freakishness and the grotesque
  • Destitution and decay
  • Oppression and discrimination

I think my novel will include everything on that list, and then some. Truth be told, every novel-length piece of fiction I’ve turned out has been Southern Gothic to a greater or lesser degree. I am drawn to it, perhaps because it’s what I know, especially the sense of place. I am rural Southern through and through.

The working title is 7 Mile Road. And a lot of bad things happen on 7 Mile Road.

On a side note, the title was inspired by an actual road sign I saw on a recent vacation. Traveling along a state highway in Arkansas, I saw a turn off for a road called “4 Mile Creek Road”, and I grabbed my phone and typed it into my notes app (which has taken the place of the pen and pad I used to carry with me). The name intrigued me, and when I got home and sat down a few days later to work on my novel, 4 Mile Creek morphed into 7 Mile Road. I like to put a title to a piece early on; it grounds me to the story. And in this case, it served as inspiration; it cemented the setting, allowing the flow of additional plot details.

I don’t know if this novel will ever venture forth into the world, be it by the traditional route or self-publishing. I just know that it’s in my head, the characters yacking back and forth, wanting their story to be told.

Well, I’ve got some catching up to do on WordPress. I know I can’t read all the posts from all the blogs I follow that I missed. Not enough time. But at least I can get back in the flow. I’m a capricious person, and as such might drop off WordPress again in the future. But at least for now, I’m back.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Self-Publishing—my experience

A few years ago, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. Starting out, I used Amazon exclusively, but when I didn’t get good results, branched out into Smashwords. Both were a disappointment. The whole experience was a disappointment. As to why, there were several reasons.

First off, I didn’t get the sales I expected. Mind you, I didn’t have any illusions, thinking I would be an overnight sensation; I would have been happy selling an occasional e-book with hopes of modestly growing my readership over time, enough so that I could make a little money doing what I loved. That didn’t happen. Friends and family shelled out to purchase my e-books—I published a total of four—but other than a few exceptions, the only time I sold my work was when I ran deals and hawked them on my website/blog.

And that comes to number two: I hated, absolutely hated, self-promotion. To me, it was akin to begging everyone to please, please, please buy my book. For now, I’m moving on, but will come back to self-promotion later on.

Number three comes from a personal experience that was the tipping point. A blogger friend who had self-published for a number of years asked me to contribute to a science fiction themed anthology she was putting together, and I happily accepted. When the e-book was published on Amazon, I purchased a copy and started reading. And cringed. The stories were not that good, and many needed editing. Only one stood out as being both interesting and well-told. (I’m not referencing my own story here; it’s hard to be impartial regarding one’s own work as we writers can overestimate or underestimate our abilities, so I’m leaving it out of my critique of the anthology.) And I realized I should have read some of my friend’s work before I agreed to participate. My only excuse for not doing so was that she wrote in a genre that didn’t remotely interest me. I didn’t do my homework, and now my name was linked to what I considered a subpar book.

That experience opened my eyes to the world of self-publishing. After extensive research and a lot of reading, I realized that for every self-published gem out there, there were hundreds of duds. Some actually tell a good story, but sink under the combined weight of bad grammar and typos. When reading such a book, I would think, Why didn’t someone tell them they needed to hire an editor? Or in the case when everything was bad, Why didn’t a friend or family member tell them their writing sucks?

And I had an “ah” moment: No one spoke up because they didn’t want to hurt the budding writer’s feelings. I should have known because I had also been guilty of keeping silent.

That awareness caused me to take stock of my own abilities and marketability. And that was when I pulled my books off Amazon and Smashwords, and vowed that if I were to be published, it would be by traditional means: submitting my work to publishers who had no qualms about hurting my feelings.

Now back to my hatred of self-promotion—
Getting traditionally published is now a whole different ballgame than it was in the past. Authors are expected not only to write a good book, but to vigorously market it as well. They are expected to have a website, Twitter account, and Facebook page, all with a healthy following before their book even hits the shelves. And did I mention self-promoting, how one has to get out there like the hucksters of old, waving their book and shouting “Buy my book! Please!”?

All this led me to the realization that I am not cut out to succeed in today’s publishing environment. I don’t have the drive, the utter belief in my talent, to keep banging my head against a brick wall with the hope I’ll somehow, someway, knock it down. And if by some miracle I do, spend as much time branding myself as writing.

So I decided to write not for accolades or money, but for my own enjoyment, my own need. When the mood hits, I send out short stories and poetry, and have placed a few. It’s a sideline, though, nothing serious. But this blog (and previous ones) is metaphorically my garden where I plant what germinates, sprouts, and bears fruit in my mind. Sometimes my garden flourishes and the writing flows, and sometimes it hits a dry spell and the words wither on the vine. I just take it as it grows…er…flows. And when it flows, most of the time I share it here for others to read or not, whichever they choose. And I don’t have to yell, “Buy me, buy me, buy me, please!”

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Norma the Bitch

Norma was a bitch no matter how you looked at it. A god-awful, razor-tongued, snooty-nosed bitch.

Of course, Squinch Campbell hadn’t known that when he married her. Like everyone else in town, he had thought he was one lucky son-of-a-gun to be getting such a fine, upstanding woman for a wife. How could he have known that behind her angel face hid the daughter of the devil himself?

God almighty, the woman was downright mean. She was gonna drive him to an early grave, most likely planted right beside them other three husbands of hers.

If he didn’t get rid of her first.

Squinch had never contemplated murder before marrying Norma Bindie; why he couldn’t even so much as squash a bug. But he’d never had anyone pick and peck at him constantly, criticize every single thing he did and didn’t do, all the while looking at him like he was a pile of dog shit they had stepped in. Continue reading “Norma the Bitch”

A Plethora of Books

How many books on writing do you own?

If you’re like me, more than you wish to admit, especially considering the money spent on them; and if we are to be honest here, most gathering dust on the shelf, floor, chair, desk, wherever.

Years ago, I routinely checked my thesaurus, dictionary, grammar handbook, and more. All were kept within easy reach. But over time, the internet has pretty much made reference books obsolete. Why turn to a book when with the click of a mouse you can have your answer, which is up to date, not five or ten years old?

To go with the reference books, I have shelves—yes, shelves, as in plural—of books telling me how to write and sell my novel, how to create conflict and suspense, writing the paranormal, etcetera, etcetera. And though I seldom crack one open, I can’t seem to part with them. Just the thought of it hurts my heart.

Digital is rapidly replacing the printed form, and though I embrace new technology, there’s a sterileness to it. A Kindle doesn’t feel like a real book in your hands. A smartphone doesn’t have that ink-and-paper aroma. Curling up with an iPad on a rainy day doesn’t quite satisfy. Occasionally, I have to have that fix, so about every third or fourth novel, I dive into a real book.

But almost all my writing research is now done on the internet. My dictionary and thesaurus are apps on my phone. Questions are answered by a Google search. How-tos are explored through YouTube videos and web sites.

I am a modern writer.

But on occasion, I long for a simpler time…flipping through books and articles, taking copious notes on yellow legal pads, trips to the local library. This is not to say that I don’t ever use paper and pen, don’t ever read physical books, just less and less as time goes by.

I see a future where books will only be published in digital form. I know it’s better for the environment if we use less paper—save a tree and all that—but to me, that will be a sad day. I wonder what books will think when they live only as ones and zeros, having no physical form. I wonder if they will miss the feel of human hands. And I wonder if they will be lonely.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Myra’s Funeral

So this is how it all ends, Myra Dunbar thought. My whole life laid bare for the entire world to see.

Well, not quite the entire world; just her family, friends, and a good portion of Welbly, Louisiana, the town she had lived in her entire life.

It was a good turnout, and it pleased her that so many cared enough to come see her off. But it was embarrassing too. After all, who in their right mind wouldn’t turn a bright red to hear their worst transgressions read aloud.

She was glad that John had already passed. He wasn’t sitting here now on the pew in front of her and the current speaker, their daughter Lily, while Lily recounted the time Myra had gotten high and let the five-year-old cook her own dinner, resulting in a nasty burn.

But Myra got through that and a few other mortifying tales without squirming too much in her seat. And Lily moved on to more mundane memories that characterized what an exemplary mother Myra had been.

She was doubly glad John was gone when the last speaker, Marshal Whitacre, the town recorder, took the podium. As was custom, he recited her list of sins first, starting with the time in third grade she had called Milly Simpson a soulless ginger, making the redhead cry, to her third affair that had ended shortly after John’s passing. Myra had learned at John’s funeral that he’d had four flings, sort of evened them out, she supposed, but was still glad he had gone on not knowing.

Then Marshal moved on to her list of deeds.

Head held high and shoulders squared, Myra’s lips curved in a small, modest smile as he recounted her acts of kindness, and exalted her public service, respect for authority, party loyalty, and small carbon footprint.

Ending with her work history, Marshall said, “As most of you know, Myra Dunbar devoted most of her adult life to the upkeep of our library, overseeing the uploading of countless books and their distribution over the internet. And just as importantly, she tracked down and deleted books banned by the Party, even going so far as to erase all mention of them on rogue servers. Furthermore, she was a front-runner in the Party’s initiative to ferret out and destroy false narratives, from history to science that pervades the internet, poisoning our children’s minds.”

Beaming, he turned to Myra. “And so on this day, March 25, 2031, we owe her our thanks for a life well lived, and a job well done.”

The mourners clapped. Myra demurely lowered her eyes, as was expected when one was praised.

When the applause died down, Marshall continued. “Today Myra Tyson Dunbar turns seventy-five, and as is custom, she passes from us. But she will live forever in our hearts.”

Applause again broke out.

Marshal took Myra’s hand. “Come,” he said.

She stood and looked up into the smiling, middle-aged face of her son-in-law.

“Are you ready?” he whispered, tucking her arm through his.

“Yes…yes, I am,” Myra said, though now that the time was here she wasn’t so sure. But she knew she had to put on a brave front, if not for her own pride, then for that of her family. It didn’t sit well on one’s permanent record if a family member behaved badly, even at their passing.

All stood as Myra walked with Marshal down the center aisle toward the back of the room where two soldiers waited on either side of the double doors.

Among the applause and smiling goodbyes, Myra heard a woman whisper, “Can you believe that young people used to have to fight the wars? Imagine squandering productive life that way. Barbaric…”

Then white-haired, stoop-shouldered, Myra Dunbar passed through the double doors and into the Army.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Forest For The Trees

Brizzle saw them first and alerted the rest of us. I had heard about the two-limbed creatures, but had never seen one. Soon I would. I wondered if I would survive it.

Twink brushed against me. “Will they kill us, Faust?”

The agitation of the cluster vibrated through me like the passing of the furry, horned ones. Everyone was scared. Everyone wondered if the stories we had been told when we were saps were true and not just made-up. You behave now, or the two-limbs will get you, the old ones had threatened.

“The two-limbs will not harm you,” I said to Twink.

A flurry of movement accompanied a ragged cackle. “Do not lie to the sap.” Old Clartha shook a withered, brown limb at me. “They will kill every last one of us, given time.”

Twink shook. The other little saps nearby trembled as well.

“Do not pay any attention to her,” I said. “The sky-fire has affected her mind.”

Old Clartha’s good side swayed toward me. “I might be old and half-dead, but I have not forgotten what was told to me by my mother-tree, and her mother-tree before her, and farther back still.”

Twink said, “What did she tell you?” Her question was echoed over and over by all the younger ones in the cluster. Saps were so curious; they always wanted to know the whys and wherefores of everything. Continue reading “Forest For The Trees”

Safe

Ashley slipped the only picture she had of her little brother—taken in better times when their father was still alive—into the white Walmart bag on top of a couple changes of clothes, and tied it closed. Then, she turned out the light, and fully clothed, stretched out on her bed. And waited.

He had said to meet him at midnight. One more hour to go.

As the minutes ticked by, her resolve began to weaken. Was she doing the right thing? She had only known John Smith for two weeks, after all. How did she know he wasn’t an ax murderer, or worse? He looked okay in his profile picture, and in all the messages they had exchanged, nothing came off as weird. But you never could tell.

Maybe she shouldn’t go. Maybe if she talked to her mom again, when she wasn’t drinking, this time her mom would believe her, and—

The doorknob jiggled. Ashley sucked in a startled breath and sat up. Again, rattle-rattle-rattle. She grabbed Fuzzy Wuzzy and clutched the teddy bear to her chest.

“Ash…come on, unlock the door,” Jack said, his voice slurred from alcohol, drugs, or both. “Let your old daddy in.”

He wasn’t her daddy! Her daddy was dead.

“Please…” More rattling. “You know, I could…could knock the damn thing down. If I was…a mind to.”

Ashley screamed, the sound muffled against Fuzzy Wuzzy’s belly.

Something, most likely Jack’s fist, banged once against the door. Then silence.

Ashley held her breath, ears fine tuned to the hallway outside her door. She heard the faint sound of footsteps fade away. She was safe. For tonight.

But what about tomorrow night? Would her mom’s boyfriend decide then that a locked door wasn’t going to stop him? If something didn’t happen, she’d lose her virginity to the creep before her thirteenth birthday got here next month.

She had no choice. She had to leave.

Ashley picked up her cell phone and read the time—11:45–then dropped it on the bed beside Fuzzy Wuzzy, snagged the Walmart bag, and padded across the floor to the window. One leg over the sill, she paused. He said not to bring my phone, but he didn’t say anything about…

She rushed back to the bed, picked up the teddy bear, and tucked him under her arm. Then it was out the window.

Her eyes already accustomed to darkness, Ashley jogged across the dew-damp grass and through the back gate listing half-open on rusty hinges. She turned left, following the tree-shaded alley that ran behind the houses on her street.

She hadn’t told a soul about John Smith, even Emily, her best friend. He had told her not to, that people wouldn’t understand. She didn’t even understand herself, but was grateful that John Smith had wanted to help when she told him about Jack.

Ashley saw the dark shape of a man standing at the end of the alley. Right where he said he’d be. She slowed, a niggle of unease rippling along her spine. Then stopped.

He moved toward her. Come, young one, she heard him say. Time is short.

Clutching her bag and Fuzzy Wuzzy, Ashley watched him approach, wanting to turn and run, but her feet were rooted to the spot. What have I done? “Mama…” she croaked. “Daddy…”

The man stopped in front of her, and she recognized John Smith from his picture. But there was something more to him that shone beneath the surface of his skin and moved in his dark eyes. Something…something…

He smiled, and all the fear drained from her body. He held out his hand and Ashley took it.

In the night sky behind John Smith, a light winked into existence. Ashley tracked its lightening-fast approach, and in seconds, the landscape was bathed in its silver light. She looked up into its glowing heart. I’m safe.

Dogs barked. Car alarms jangled. Lights blinked. TV sets turned off and on.

Ashley McKinnon’s feet left the ground, and with one hand in John Smith’s, the other clutching Fuzzy Wuzzy, she flowed upward into the light. On the ground where she had dropped it, the Walmart bag bounced once, twice, and followed.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

Voice

If someone were to hand you a sample of writing and ask you to identify the author, would you be able to do it? Probably not, unless the writing happens to belong to a person whom you’ve read extensively. If that’s the case, you can make an educated guess because of how they tell the story, in other words, their voice.

New writers know of the elusive voice, but often struggle to find their own. They feel as if their writing is too cut and dried, has no flair, so they try this style, then that style, emulating authors they admire. And that’s okay, it’s practice.

Writers are not born with their literary voice; it’s shaped over time while penning countless pages of work. To know that, all one has to do is go back to an author’s early work and compare it to her latest. The emerging voice is there in the first published piece (after many unpublished ones), but much the same as fine wine, time has bred character and depth to the writing.

How the author describes, structures a sentence, his use (or lack) of metaphors and similes, are some of the many ways voice can be discerned. And the more one writes, the more a skeletal pattern unfolds that binds the story together. A writer uses that skeleton, again and again, covering it with muscles, tendons, and skin to give his words life.

That skeleton, also known as voice, holds it all together.

Time and practice forms one’s own unique voice. There’s no shortcut to it, just lots and lots of hard work. And it doesn’t matter how much education one has or how much innate ability, one will invariably write badly before one writes well. That fact holds true in writing as it does for about anything a person chooses to pursue. Do you think Tiger Woods won a championship the first time he picked up a golf club? Or Paula Deen cooked a scrumptious, butter-dripping meal on her first attempt? Or people went wild the first time a young Bruce Springsteen picked up a guitar and belted out a song?

Nope. All of them put in the necessary years of practice to hone their craft, and you, dear writer, have to be prepared to do that as well. No more than singing is just about mouthing words in tune, writing isn’t just telling a story; how the singer sings, how the writer writes is equally as important.

Discover your how, and you discover your voice. 

©2019 KT Workman

A Raccoon Problem

“It’s the goddamn ‘coons,” Maynard Threlkeld said. “That’s what’s getting in your trash.”

Jeffery Kopek smoothed back his thick, dark hair with a nervous hand. “How can you tell?” He eyed the slimy salad greens, moldy tofu, and assorted takeout containers scattered around his overturned garbage can.

“Shot plenty of the rascals back home for making a mess like this.” Maynard waved a hairy, muscled arm toward the scattered trash. “Took a while, but they got the message.”

“But how do you know it wasn’t a dog?” Jeffery asked. “Or even a cat?”

“Cat ain’t stout enough to get the lid off. And as far as a dog goes—you seen any dogs around here, hoss?”

Jeffery shook his head.

“That old Mexican down the street…what’s his name?”

“Mr. Ortiz?”

“Yeah, him,” Maynard said. “He told Kara that ‘coons got into his koi pond last week, ate pretnear every one of ‘em. He restocked it and covered it with some screen wire, but it didn’t do no good. Mangy critters shoved it to one side and had themselves a fish supper.” He shook his head, scratched blond whiskers. “Saw a science show on TV the other night about raccoons coming into towns and causing all kinds of mischief. Said they ain’t got nowhere else to go ‘cause people are taking away their habitats and such.” He nudged an empty soup can with the toe of his boot. “Hate to, but if this keeps up, I might have to break out my pistol.”

Jeffery was horrified. He could just see it now, the authorities showing up at his door, wondering where the shots had come from, wondering if he was involved. They might send him back…there. “The p—police might come? Arrest someone?”
Continue reading “A Raccoon Problem”