We All Need Grace

 

It’s been a month since my last post.  I have been busy writing short stories and submitting them to different journals and e-magazines.  I’ve been writing my novel, and I finished one writing class on plot and have begun another on creating characters.  And I’ve been reading. A LOT.  So, though my blog here has been dormant for a while, my writing has certainly been anything but.

My reading goal for this year is 70 books.  I’m definitely going to surpass that number within the next month.  Of the 60 books I’ve read this year, this is one of the best so far.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to post the review I wrote on Goodreads.  So, enjoy!

***

“So, I don’t know how many generations on American soil you got to live before you’re called “American,” or if English has to be your first language. No matter, negroes may always be foreigners.”

“The world is too big and too strange now, they believe, and without a conflict or war holding us up, leaders are uneasy. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders and they need straps. Without them, they feel something is wrong. They could be exposed as naked at any time. Vulnerable. They need to feel secure in something familiar and taut. The strain of one thing pulling against another. This is what the new America needs to feel normal, with the wrong question being asked over and over again, “How can we have peace without suspenders?” Not, “How can we have harmony and not need suspenders?” A silly question to too many, so we get more suspenders. And now, our men and their strain are inseparable.”

Yes, this is the beautiful language that flows like a river throughout Grace by Natashia Deon.

She beautifully reveals the breadth, depth, and width of the brutal terrors that slavery and the Civil War inhumanely doled out on anyone cursed with the GIFT of being Black in this country during that time period.

And yet.

Grace also shows the love, strength, and supernatural resiliency of a people who didn’t have the basic human right of belonging to themselves. And makes me proud to be a Black woman.

Naomi, Josey, Charles, Jackson, and Sissy were raw, real, flawed, and beautiful. They each found their own ways to adapt to unspeakable crimes committed against them. They showed in different ways how a people can remain human in a world that tries to beat the humanity out of them.

The author beautifully conveys the strength of a mother’s love and how it can defy any boundaries, including death. She also makes you see the worlds that the antagonists in this book come from. She shows you that they have backstory, too, and that though cruel, they too, are still human (and my reaction to that was so visceral).

Deon has masterfully woven a tale of complex characters that any person of any color can relate to. She also took the story one step further and gave each character, evil or beautiful, their own measure of grace.

This book belongs in your personal library.

Write On!

That scene is from my all-time favorite movie You’ve Got Mail.

And this is just what I feel like right now.

I’ve been writing a short story every week and sending it out to be considered for publication.  Between that, the creative writing class I’m taking, and the novel I am also working on, my brain just hit maximum stuck mode.

The words just. won’t. come.

I need a break but my Google calendar is the devil on my shoulder reminding me of the weekly goal I set for myself.

“It’s Friday,” she says in her obnoxiously female voice.

“I know that,” I say, “but I’ve been working so hard. Can’t I have an extension just this once?”

This is her reply:

And so I sit here with Nadia, Ella, and Sarek (my characters) staring at me like

waiting for me to write out what happens next in their lives.  But they’ll just have to stare. And I’m looking back at them like:

And I’ve decided I won’t be intimidated by my calendar or my characters who all seem to have bad attitudes today.  And I have no room for that kind of negativity in my life.

I’m going to go read.

Or maybe watch You’ve Got Mail for the millionth time.

So there.

Until I write again….

 

The Drunken Bull

You may remember me telling you that I am participating in a short story challenge at 12shortstories.com.  Well, here is the story I just submitted for August.  It may or may not have been an actual event in my life. 😉

***

I made it a point to have lunch at The Drunken Bull that day after two of my coworkers told me eating there was worthwhile entertainment. I needed something to take my mind off doing way too much work for way too little money. I didn’t really want this job but I took it for two reasons: my husband’s old college roommate said I would love working there and my current job was taking its toll on my health. I walked over to The Drunken Bull around noon. It was only a few blocks from the congressional buildings and the crisp fall air did me a world of good.

The rectangular red brick building looked unassuming from the outside, like it housed offices or apartments rather than a restaurant. The entrance had an inconspicuous blue awning that jutted out over it. The lack of any wording on itgave hints of the infidelity that went on inside. Inside was a stark contrast to the exterior facade. This was the watering hole for congressmen and senators who wanted more than just the draft beers and food listed on the menu, if you catch my drift.

My khaki pants and woman’s polo shirt with the computer installation company logo emblazoned on the shoulder announced to everyone that I was not of the same ilk. The men in their suits and ties looked like desperate johns, and the women in their painted-on suits looked like expensive call girls. I grabbed an empty seat at the bar and was greeted immediately by the bartender with a menu and a glass of water. The chatter was thick and loud. The words “Lewinsky” and “cigar” and “impeachment” were on tap in every conversation. Yes, I worked as a computer installer during that scandal.

I never saw so many people in one place so concerned with who knew whom. But I guess it was par for the course, politics were all about connecting with the right people. Who were the right people? That depended on what your agenda was. I’m not sure what that girl’s was, but I’m almost certain penetration by cigar in the oval office wasn’t what she had in mind. Or maybe it was.

The scandal in the news and the reporters that crawled all over Capitol Hill like an army of ants, hadn’t put a damper on things at The Drunken Bull. This was “the club,” where our nation’s lawmakers made shady deals with rich constituents over burgers and beer and used their political prowess to get laid by women who weren’t their wives.

A tape recorder and no conscience would have made me a rich woman. My ears zeroed in on the guy next to me who called his wife and gave her some bullshit story about congress being in a special session so he wouldn’t be able to make it home this weekend. “No, no, you just stay there and have fun with the kids,” he told her. I choked on my soda. He hung up his cell phone and shot a look at me, displeased I had been privy to his plans for debauchery. I scoffed at his attempt to intimidate me and ate my fries.

This place was filled with young women, none of them more than 23 or 24 years old, who got hit on by unattractive old men whose only lure was their political prowess. They had access to places and these women wanted in. The hypocrisy of it was amusing: these men committed the same sin they were trying to impeach the sitting president for. I kept my gaze on the shelves of liquor behind the bartender to disguise my eavesdropping efforts. I picked up on another conversation, to my right this time. A congressman who convinced his new and gullible-sounding staffer to let him show her around DC to “give her the lay of the land.” She had no idea his words were a double entendre.

I heard politicians were the slimy sort and not trustworthy, but I just sat among scalawags that justified the sentiment. I shoved the last bite of my sandwich in my mouth and raised my finger to the bartender. “Check, please.” I wanted to take my exit before the slime in that place found me and tried to ooze its way over my body like that pinkish-red ickyness in the movie ‘The Blob.’

Then I heard it: “Well, haven’t seen you in here before, pretty lady.”

Shit.

The Learning Never Ends

 

I have two undergraduate degrees in journalism.  I tell you that to say I never thought I would see myself enrolling in another writing class.  But last week I began a five-course creative writing series to learn the mechanics of writing stories and novels and hone my skills in those areas.

Coursera is a great place to go to take online courses in just about any topic you can imagine.  If you go to Coursera.org, you can search their website by keywords.  It’s pretty amazing.  I was especially happy to find an email stating that my request to have the course fee waived was approved.

The first week of class was about plot and ended with me having to write a 250-350 word scene about a character with one want and one weakness. Every other sentence had to be a rising action (an event) and there were 12 words that had to be used in the story.

Whoa.

I consider myself a pretty strong writer, but that was packing quite a punch into a small space. I’m now on week two, and my assignment is to write a 200-word short story about a trip to the doctor using an ABDCE structure (yes, the D comes before the C) from a book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  I read it some years ago, I may have to dust it off.

These courses will definitely keep me busy from now through February of next year.  In the midst of all this, I am still writing one short story every week and submitting it to online literary journals and magazines that I have found, and I’m also still writing my novel.

Am I busy? Sure. Do I love what I’m doing? Without a doubt. When you finally step into your purpose, the hard work you are doing doesn’t feel like work at all.

Until I write again….

An Item On My Bucket List

One of my favorite authors is Nora Roberts.  She’s from Maryland .  Sixteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I wrote to her. A few weeks later I got a reply complete with a bookmark, a few other little keepsakes, and a short, hand-written note congratulating me on my pregnancy.  I never forgot that.

Well, Nora has a bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland.  My parents, until recently, lived in North Carolina.  I would always pass the exit for Boonsboro as we would travel to their home.  For 13 years, every time I would travel past that exit I said, “I’m going to go see her bookstore one day.”

Here’s the plot twist. Three months ago, my parents moved to a little town in West Virginia.  As I was coming home from their house the other day, I decided to finally visit her store, since it’s only 25 minutes from my parents’ house.

When I got there I was just giddy. My daughter thought I was crazy because I just kept squealing but I didn’t care.  I was just steps away from a place I’ve always wanted to visit.

The bookstore is in this quaint little downtown section that just makes you want to walk arm-in-arm with a good friend while taking in the scenery.  Here it is. Turn The Page.

It sounds so geeky, but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so excited. Don’t judge. I’m an extreme booklover and a pre-published author, so this was two worlds colliding for me. Here I am in front of Turn The Page on a bench that invited me to sit there and read one of her books.

When you walk in, there’s the main section of the bookstore that has a wonderful selection of books to choose from. When I told the very friendly employee there that I was so excited to be in Nora’s store, she pointed me to the room that is just Nora’s books and merchandise.  I swooned.  Here are some shots.

I absolutely love this sign. I need it in my life. Now.

This is me with Cardboard Nora. I am hoping to replace this photo with one of me standing next to the real Nora. She has a few signings coming up, but I’m not sure if they will allow photos.  When I meet her, I think I might be able to keep myself from fainting, but I can’t promise that I won’t be having a huge inner fangirl moment.

Of course, a trip to her bookstore would not be complete without buying one of her books.  I ended up getting The Collector. 

So, that’s one item crossed off my bucket list.  She also owns the Inn BoonsBoro On the Square. All the rooms are named after couples from famous books. Hubby and I love The Princess Bride so it’s no question that we’d have to stay in the Westley and Buttercup room.

Well, that’s it for now.

Until I write again….

 

 

 

The long and short of it….

Today I took another step toward my goal of becoming a published author: I submitted a short story to The Saturday Evening Post  to be considered for their print edition.

I never pictured myself writing short stories. My goal is to write novels. In fact I am busy working on one while I write these short stories. But I’ve been reading a lot about authors and how they got started and they all have one thing in common: they started out writing short stories.

I read an article about how to establish yourself as a writer and the advice was, you guessed it, writing short stories. Another article said to write three or four of them a month and just start sending them out, so I’ve been doing just that.  I have a long list of bookmarks for online literary journals, e-zines, and shorty story contests that I am submitting to.

My goal is to win four writing competitions and have 15 short stories published by the end of the year.  Sounds like a lot, but if I aim high I’m bound to reach at least a portion of this goal.

Now, I’m not just writing haphazardly.  I’ve been reading articles on how to write short stories and I’ve also been reading lots of shorts by authors who are considered to be the best at this craft.  People like Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Raymond Carver, J. California Cooper, and Annie Proulx.  If you’ve never read short stories before, give these authors a try. I was a little nervous to read anything by Mr. King, but I’ve managed to get through his stories…so far…without any bad dreams. Although I may or may not look like this while I read his stories:

This style of writing has really been stretching my skills. Most short stories are 3,000 words or less.  That may sound like a lot but it isn’t.  Think of how long a novel is.  That’s like a movie. Well, a short story is like a commercial. Yeah. That.

But it really forces me to be deliberate when I write and use strong verbs that elicit (I hope) a strong emotional response while also painting vivid imagery.

Hey, have you read any good short stories lately? I’d love to hear about it!  I’m always looking for another good book to read.

Until I write again…..

 

 

The Busyness of Birds

I think birds are fascinating little creatures. There are a lot of them in my backyard because my neighbor has lots of birdhouses and bird feeders. When I sit out there to let my chickens forage, I listen to those birds and watch them. They are mostly busy finding little scraps of dead grass, plastic, or whatever else they deem suitable to build their nests. They are very resourceful. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few bird nests up close and it really is amazing how they are so well-built and sturdy, despite these birds having no hands to build with.

I often wonder how those nests, made only with their beaks, always end up  being the perfect circular home for their eggs.  I really wonder how they begin the foundation of the their nests. It is amazing when you sit and think about it. They have no instruction books, no YouTube videos, no libraries to research how to build a home or where to build the best home. Yet they innately know how to build shelter for themselves and their babies.

I hear them outside my window early in the morning while it is still dark. Lots of them. What’s funny to me is that once the sun rises, I don’t hear them as much. I think that in those wee hours of the morning, before the sun rises, they are speaking to each other and planning out their day: who will go where to find various things for their nests; what humans have the best feeders and birdhouses for them to use; how much time is left before momma bird has to lay her eggs…you know, the usual day-to-day of bird life.

Though it might seem like birds depend on humans for their homes and their food, I really don’t think that they do. They do take advantage of the kindness shown to them, but they don’t depend on it. They continue to move about in their world as if the kindness of humans didn’t exist and they are the better for it. What a great lesson for us humans. We should go about the business of achieving our dreams without depending on anyone or anything to help us. Yes, we’ll gladly take any help that may come our way, but we should work fervently all the same, and not put anything on hold for any reason. We should just keep taking steps each day to build our nests so we can fill them with our hopes and dreams.

Another thing the birds in my backyard seem to do is work together. They don’t fight….most of the time. When one bird finds some worms, the rest of the birds in its little group descend upon the prime location and begin going about the business of feeding their little bellies. They are also in tune with the earth. I read that they can feel worms moving in the ground with their little claws. Once they feel a vibration, they peck at that spot until they find the worm.

Ah, another great lesson. I should be so in tune with who I am and what I want that I can feel when I am moving toward or away from my goal. In every situation I should be able to feel the vibrations of the opportunities that are being presented to me and take advantage of them immediately, wasting no time with excuses and allowing nothing to hinder me from each and every opportunity meant for me.

Birds also fly. Obvious, I know, but think about that. They don’t sit and wonder if their wings will carry them from place to place. They don’t ask other birds “do you think I have what it takes to fly?” or “do you think I have what it takes to build a nest?” No, they just hop up on the edge of their nest and trust their wings will take them where they need to go. They find the things they need to build their nests. They look for validation from no one and compare themselves to no one. They have no time for it. They must be always about the business of building their homes and feeding themselves.

I will take my lessons from these birds. I will no longer ask anyone if they think I have what it takes to be a writer, or will I be able to find an editor, or worry about how I will get published or if anyone will like my books. I will trust that my writing will take me where I want to go.  It is inevitable because I believe it and, because I can see it in my mind’s eye, it will not be long before being a successfully published author is a reality.

Who knew that a few observations about birds would have such profound life lessons?

 

And Then He Sneezed

Okay, so as a writer it’s important to write every single day.  I joined a website called 12shortstories.com.  It is a year-long challenge to write (obviously) 12 short stories in a year.

That’s harder than it sounds.

Each month a writing prompt and a word count are provided. You have one month to write your heart out.

For July, the writing prompt is “coming undone” and the word count is 1200 words. Here’s what I have come up with.

I’d love to know what you think. 🙂

***

He stood there and stared into the open grave where his best friend’s body sat in a mahogany casket. Two days ago they were together for a July 4th cookout. Now his best friend was a Black lives matter hashtag, another Black man murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve, and Mike’s world would never be the same.

Eric and Mike had no idea that cookout would be the last time they ever hung out together. They ate, laughed, and watched the fireworks. But Eric’s allergies had been unusually bothersome that day so he took a benadryl (he didn’t know that would be a fatal mistake). The benadryl made Eric drowsy so he asked Mike to drive him home. Mike didn’t hesitate to do Eric that favor and said he would just take an Uber back to the cookout to get his car.

On the way home they both noticed a police car had been following them since they got on the highway. Mike double checked to be sure he maintained the speed limit but they got pulled over anyway. Mike’s heart sank into his stomach. He had a bad feeling. But he stayed calm. He signaled, pulled over to the shoulder, kept his hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2, and he made no sudden moves. He and Eric both knew the drill. The officer approached the car and asked Mike if he knew why he was being pulled over. “No,” was Mike’s reply. The officer told Mike he was speeding and Mike said he was doing 60 in a 55. Another officer walked up on the passenger side of the car with his hand on his gun. Eric’s window was rolled down. The officer looked at Eric for a moment, then asked him if he was high.

“No,” Eric said, “I just took a benadryl for my allergies and I’m a little sleepy.”

“You look high to me.”

“No,” Eric said, “I’m not high, benadryl makes me drowsy, officer.”

The cop asked Eric to step out of the car. Eric sighed. This is bullshit he thought to himself. But he didn’t want things to escalate so he complied. Mike was busy talking to the officer on his side of the car. After about 30 seconds….a minute maybe?….Mike heard Eric sneeze, then

bang…bang bang.

He thought it was just more fireworks. But then he heard something hit the car. He turned to look and saw the other officer with his gun drawn.

“What the fuck?! Eric?!”

Mike tried to open his door. The officer pushed it closed.

“Put your hands on the steering wheel and DO NOT move!” the officer said.

“Okay, okay! Can you just tell me what’s going on please?!”

“Don’t move!”

“I’m not moving!”

Mike squeezed the steering wheel so tight he could see the veins in his arms. He focused on those. He heard a bunch of sirens. He wanted to turn around to see what was going on, but the officer had his gun pointed right at Mike’s head.

“Officer, please, what’s going on? Is Eric okay?”

“I said don’t move!”

“I’m not moving, I just want to know what’s going on!”

The officer told Mike to step out of the car. Survival mode kicked in. He complied even though he had done nothing wrong. He was placed face down on the trunk and handcuffed “for his own protection” the officer said. That’s when he saw Eric’s body laying on the ground, lifeless. He asked over and over again for help.

“Please, someone help him! Don’t let him die!”

He heard the cops as they all talked and tried to get their stories straight. Mike wanted to help his best friend but couldn’t. He did the only thing he could do: hope Eric would be okay.

“Eric? Can you hear me?”

Eric didn’t reply.

“I’m here with you man. I’m here. Don’t die, man, just don’t die. Hang on.”

Mike closed his eyes. He’s gonna be okay. He’s gonna be okay he chanted over and over. It was 20 minutes before an ambulance finally arrived to the scene. Mike watched as they turned Eric over. The front of Eric’s white shirt was now dark.

“Eric! God damnit! Eric!”

His instinct made him try to jump up, but the officer applied more unnecessary pressure to the back of his neck.

“Stay still! Stay still!”

“Stay still?! Come on, man! That’s my best friend!”

Mike’s body filled with rage. But he needed to stay alive. He closed his eyes. Mike didn’t know how long it was before the officer finally let him up and took the handcuffs off. The rest of that night and the week that followed felt like a movie Mike had watched. Every day he woke up to the nightmare of Eric being dead. The days that led up to the funeral came and went like molasses. When the day of the funeral finally came, Mike was a zombie. He didn’t cry. He didn’t talk. He didn’t respond to anyone offering to shake his hand or hug him. He helped carry his best friend’s casket out of the funeral home. He helped load him into the hearse. And now he stood at the edge of Eric’s grave and the finality of it hit Mike like a boulder. His best friend since kindergarten was gone. Murdered by a cop. Because he sneezed.

He overheard people that talked about justice for Eric and his soul died a little more, if that was even possible. No amount of justice would bring his friend back, and, as a Black man, Mike knew better than to expect that the cop that murdered Eric would be charged. The only thing Mike thought about right then was how to get his feet to move, but they were like cement blocks that anchored him to Eric’s grave. His brain tried to send a signal to his feet. Turn. Walk away. But his feet knew that life without his best friend had to begin in earnest once he moved. So Mike chose to kneel instead.

And that was his undoing.

Mike felt something wet drop on his hand. He looked down and saw a drop of water. It wasn’t raining. He looked up and hoped gravity would send his tears back to their source. It was no use. His mind filled with images: Eric’s body lifeless next to the car; the cop’s hands on the back of his neck holding him down; the red lights on the ambulance that took Eric away. All the rage he couldn’t let out that night rose up from his soul, to his gut, to his stomach, to his heart – where it lingered for just a moment too long – to the back of his throat. Then his mouth opened and a guttural, primal, heart-wrenching scream spewed out like vomit. He felt arms around him that kept him from falling into his friend’s grave. Arms that tried to comfort him. Arms that tried uselessly to keep his soul from collapsing.

But those arms came too late. A lifetime of friendship was ended because Eric Jackson sneezed.

Hello, World!

Well, hello there. Welcome to my blog.  I am a
pre-published author who writes short stories and novels.  I have gotten out of the habit of saying “aspiring” because I am 100% confident that the stories I am creating for you will be published both online and in print.  I believe deeply in that little quote you see there.

In the meantime, I want you to get to know me and the worlds I create, so I will be writing short stories and posting them here for you. I’ll also be keeping you up-to-date on where I am on this crazy publishing journey and maybe even posting some reviews on all the books I read.

This is a space I have created for you to get to know me.  Feel free to chit chat or ask questions, okay?

Yours in writing,

Audra