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.

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”

Rules

I read a blog post recently about the use of correct grammar in creative writing, where the author was questioning if there are any hard and fast rules.

It depends…

Are you writing only for pleasure or a hobby? If so, it doesn’t matter whether or not you use the correct verb tense, misplace a modifier, or use quotation marks when you should have used italics, or vice versa.

But if you are a serious writer, are self-publishing or looking for an agent, you can’t pitch the rules out the window. Some think if you tell an engaging story, your manuscript will be snatched up, and an editor will fix the poor grammar; that’s not going to happen unless you have a unique angle, such as being raised on a remote island by a family of seals. A few grammatical mistakes and typos most likely will be overlooked; but a manuscript littered with errors will not. And as for self-publishing, yes, you can publish your book sans editing. But do you really want your sloppy grammar out there for all the world to see?

It all boils down to whether, for you, writing is an avocation or vocation. If it’s an avocation, you can throw caution—or nouns and verbs—to the wind. Write with impunity. But if writing is a vocation, tread that grammatical mind field with care, even on your personal blog. When considering whether or not to take you on, literary agents and publishers have been known to google your name or byline, with many asking outright for the address of your blog/website. So it’s best that any piece of writing with your name attached to it is as error-free as you can make it.

Some use blogging as a pastime. Some use it to stretch their creative legs. How you use blogging should dictate your adherence to proper grammar.

©2019 KT Workman

Listen and Observe

Listen and observe…

I think a lot of writers do this naturally, without even thinking about it. We see a young girl in the checkout line at Walmart paying for a cart of groceries, and we wonder, where is the adult? Why is the girl alone? Where in the world did she get that big wad of cash? (This actually happened to me, and from it, a short story was born.)

In another store, we’re in line behind two elderly women, in their mid-seventies at least. One says to the other, “I think I’ll wait awhile before I get me another husband. The last three about done me in.” Another husband? Just how many husbands has this old woman had? What happened to the last one? And the ones before him?

While walking down the street, we see an old woman in layers of tattered clothing clutching a doll to her chest and crooning a lullaby. Who is the woman? Is she homeless, as it appears? Does the doll replace a child she lost in the past? How did she lose the child?

We hear a work colleague telling another that when his great-grandfather was a teenager, he killed a man, ran hundreds of miles away, and started a new life with a new name. Who did he kill? Why did he kill? Did he kill again?

We hear on television that the moon is moving 1.6 inches away from the Earth every year. What if it sped up its departure? If so, what caused it to accelerate its retreat? How would this affect Earth? What would be its impact on human life?

Like most writers, I always have pen and paper handy—or my smartphone with its handy-dandy notes app—where I can jot down the things that make me go “hmm…I wonder…” I know better than to trust my memory; like dreams fade when waking, story ideas can slip away as well.

We watch, we overhear, and we store those nuggets away to be pulled out at a later date and inspected. We turn them over and over in our minds as the words form around them, layer upon layer, until the why, what, where, when, and how takes shape.

A story unfolds, and the magic begins.

©️2019 KT Workman

Off and On

Let me start by saying I’ve been a writer for many years—off and on—and am just coming out of a lengthy period of “off.” I wish it weren’t so, but I tend to let life in general get in the way of writing. And I procrastinate. To my shame, “Don’t do today what you can postpone until tomorrow,” seems to be my rallying cry.

A few years ago when I was “on,” I had quite a few short stories published, but the forward momentum didn’t last when life hit a difficult stretch. The road has since smoothed out, so now, I’m trying again.

Writing is a lonely endeavor. Not everyone is cut out to sit alone in front of a computer for hours on end, pulling words out of wherever they come from and forming them into something they hope someone will find pleasure in reading. And there are so many distractions: job, kids, spouse, family obligations, friends, TV, lovely books, and of course, the computer (with an internet connection) right in front of you. It takes a lot of willpower to push it all aside and focus on your writing. It’s not easy. And don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

But when everything comes together, when you read back over what you have written, and it’s good, damn good, in fact, it’s all worth it. You got the story/poem/ article out of your head and onto paper. To me, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Except maybe getting paid for doing it.

Money and recognition are fantastic things, but to be honest, most of us don’t write for those reasons; we write because we have to. The words, plots, and people are there in our heads, and they demand to be heard. We give them a voice and in doing so, find our own unique voice.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

©️2019 KT Workman