New Story! Troubled Joy

February is always my darkest month.  Winter is eternal and spring is nowhere near to being in the air.  As I shuffle through the door, tracking slush and grit everywhere, I look longingly at my front porch and sigh.  I’ve forgotten what it feels like to pop outside in shorts and bare feet, a gin and tonic lemonade in hand, to spend a lazy day lounging on wicker furniture as I write.

So I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, is what I’m trying to say. (I also have TONS of issues with the commercial and normative aspects of the holiday, too.  Mainly the weather, though.)  Ironically, the holiday has proven to be an inspiration for some of my work, as I write about love and loss. (I’m also a total romantic.)  Troubled Joy was just published today by Ealain.  (And look for another story out tomorrow – more on that soon.)

Troubled Joy is a companion piece to Game Changer, which was published a few weeks ago (not online). So, if you didn’t get a chance to read Game Changer, you can see a different take on a similar situation in Troubled Joy.  It’s another one of my adultery stories, which makes my husband both laugh and roll his eyes at the same time.

Troubled Joy ponders some of the same questions as Game Changer – the temptations of alternate paths and partners, the choices we make, and our responsibilities for living into those choices.  It also borrows two characters – Nick and Joy – from one of my unpublished NaNoWriMo novel.  I enjoyed taking them out of their previous context and seeing them wrestle with these questions, even if they didn’t have as much fun with it.  Enjoy!

New Story! Game Changer

Many years ago I saw the movie Waitress in the theater with some friends.  When we left, one of my friends said she just couldn’t get behind the love story because it involved adultery.

“What did you think?” she asked me.

I reflected on the degree to which I was rooting for the two adulterous leads to find happily ever after.  “You know, I’m fine with adultery, as long as it’s a plot point,” I replied.

My new story, Game Changer, which was just published by East Coast Literary Review,* explores some of the temptations of adultery, especially the lure of alternate paths.  What happens when you’re in a committed relationship but you share a spark with someone else?  What does it mean if you’re considering risking everything on a glimmer of an uncertain possibility?

The temptations of alternate paths aren’t limited to romantic partners, of course.  Game Changer grows out of some experiences on sabbatical, when I thought long and hard about alternate career & life paths. On many days I fantasized about jumping ship and writing full time…even though I had no stream of steady income.  I made a choice (for now) to maintain the path I’d selected years ago, one that provides stability for those depending on me and my income, and one that does its best to support my writing life.

Perhaps it all comes down to choice, even when we’re swept up in the emotional highs of new loves – romantic or otherwise.  Those highs can be amazing.  They can also be devastating.  If we’re receptive, they can lead us to ask new questions or down new avenues of discernment.  But in my experience they need to be balanced by responsibilities and cold, hard reason.

This is the intersection where my protagonist stands.  I’m not sure what she chooses.  All I know for certain is that this blog post is longer than the story itself (it’s a 250 flash piece).  For whatever that’s worth.

*East Coast Literary Review is published quarterly; click here for ordering information.

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.