Creepy Christmas Story

I wrote a few days ago about encountering all the sadness in the world.  My plan was to follow that post with a cheery Christmas story of mine that was recently published on MicroHorror.  Then I reread the actual story (and remembered that it was published on a horror blog) and it isn’t cheery at all.  It’s the opposite of cheery.  It’s depressing and creepy and a little disturbing, to tell you the truth.  But so’s the inside of my head.  And I like living inside my head and I like this story, too.

So here it is, my flash piece, Christmas Wreath!

The story has two major influences, which is pretty impressive since it’s only a little over 500 words long.  The first is a hair wreath that resides at a local historic house in my town.  Creating hair wreaths from deceased family and friends was a Victorian funereal custom, a keepsake to remember those who had died.  (Read more about hair wreaths and other hair customs at Victorian Gothic.)  While I think this is a lovely practice in theory, coming face to face with the actual hair wreath creeped me out.  (It was dark, almost Halloween, there were shadows, creaky floorboards…and then my face was pressed against the glass of the hair wreath.  Creepy.)

I can’t explain the depth of my discomfort except to say that I appear to have hair issues.  I first saw the hair wreath years ago and it’s stuck with me, so I stuck it in a story.

If you’ve ever read Woody Guthrie: A Life by Joe Klein, you might recognize another influence in the story that grows out of the tragic events that ended Woody’s sister Clara’s life.  I read the book after a friend recommended it and because Bruce Springsteen talks about it on his Live: 1975-1985 album.  And I will do just about anything on account of Bruce.

Happy holidays!

In Which I Publish Another Story

There is nothing as cool as opening an email and learning that someone wants to publish your work.  Usually when I get an email back from an editor or agent, it goes something like this:

  • Fist of fear to the heart when I see the email in the inbox
  • Promise myself I’ll wait until I’m rational to open it, then open it anyway
  • Scan the email as quickly as possible, picking out the key words “thank you for submitting” and “but” and some version of “not a good fit” and “best of luck in the future”

So when I open one that has good news, I have to read it several times, pinch whatever skin I can find, and then find my husband so he can read it and confirm I am not hallucinating the fact that someone actually wants to publish my stuff.

(And that’s just a very tiny glimpse into my writerly neuroses.)

Anyway, I was thrilled beyond belief to learn that The Were-Traveler (one of my favorite literary journal names, hands down) wanted to publish my flash fiction piece, “Thanksgiving.” The piece has almost nothing to do with the American holiday, except that I drafted it last year a few weeks after our Thanksgiving. I was lost in a haze of turkey leftovers and started wondering what significance the word “thanksgiving” would have in a world without this pumpkin pie stuffed holiday.

Read the story and find out.

Origins Story – Home for the Holidays

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I made a guest appearance at a local writers group a few weeks ago to read some of my stuff and chat about writing.  One woman asked where my ideas came from.  “Um….” I said.  “Uh…it kinda depends.”  (I’m smooth on my feet like that.)  It’s one of those things that I hesitate to talk about, because I’m afraid of scaring the Muse away.  (And yep, I just used pretentious Muse language.)

My story ideas come from all over – dreams, conversations, images.  And there’s this really cool moment when something catches in the corner of my mind and sticks.  It whispers, hey, pay attention to me.  It’s a tremulous, dangerous moment, replete with possibilities – and potential loss.  And usually some success if I have pen & paper (or bar napkin) with me and can jot it down.  Then I cram the paper in my bag or pocket, where I’ll find it again and have a new burst of inspiration, provided it doesn’t go through the wash first.

Anyway, I recently published a flash fiction piece, “Home for the Holidays” in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine.  In the spirit of answering the question, “Where do your story ideas come from?” I thought I’d talk about the inspiration for “Home for the Holidays.”

There’s an arboretum at a college campus near where I live.  I walk there frequently.  Every year, usually in November, one of the tiny evergreen trees near the marsh suddenly sports Christmas decorations.  I’ve never seen anyone decorate the tree, but the decorations appear every year like clockwork.

For the first few years, I assumed students were putting up the decorations for fun.  The years went by, generations of students came and went, and the decorations kept appearing.  It occurred to me that maybe there was something deeper at work.  Maybe the decorations weren’t something put up on a whim but as a tribute or memorial, a sign of loss and hope against a cold prairie winter.

This past November I started thinking about the circumstances that would lead someone to decorate a tiny tree.  As a parent of kids who were busting at the seams with excitement about the upcoming holiday season, my mind flitted to an image of a woman who had lost everything, a woman who was debating the wisdom of holding onto hope.  The story was born.  (You’ll have to read the story to see what she decides.)

The Bucket of Death

I promised in yesterday’s post that I’d talk about a few additional influences, namely a brown bat, nachos, and The Bucket of Death.

I love revising my work.  Until I get to the point where I can’t tell if it’s good or a pile of shit.  That’s when I need beta readers.  I enlisted a friend who had once naively said, “I’d be interested in reading your story.”  Little did he know I’d take him up on it.  I sent it off and he and his wife both read it – I got two amazing beta readers for the price of one!

It was the evening after I’d chased a bat out of the house, so I was pretty amped up anyway.  My friend and I headed to our neighborhood bar, ordered a plate of nachos, and he gave me feedback that made the story sing.  He ordered The Bucket of Death on the side.

Me: “I’ve seen that on the menu but I’ve never ordered it.  What is it?”

Him: “It’s a pail full of various bottles of hot sauce.”

Me (pause): “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”

So we talked about the story and what would make it better while peppering our nachos with various offerings from the Bucket of Death.

Huge, huge thanks to my friends for their feedback on the draft (they know who they are).  Thanks to the bar for creating The Bucket of Death.  Thanks to everyone for reading the story and being interested in where it came from.  I’m off to have a celebratory plate of nachos and hot sauce.