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 It also borrows two characters – Nick and Joy – from one of my unpublished NaNoWriMo novel.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!
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.
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.