Odyssey of a Novice Writer

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time… ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?

Cruising Altitude

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Joanna looked out the jet’s window as it achieved cruising altitude, enjoying briefly the fantasy of existing between two worlds.

Heaven and earth.

Heaven? The arbiter of her better instincts laughed. Only a fool believes heaven is for the likes of you.  Murderer!

She thought of Callie, confined to a wheelchair in a place where the poor were forgotten. Callie hadn’t been much of a mother, but even a bad mother meant something to a hungry heart.

The things we do, she thought, blinking back angry tears and crumbling a Styrofoam cup. The offers accepted.

And so it begins…

Mama.

__________________
Word count: 100

Author’s Note: This story is the fourth installment to a series of flash fiction stories I’ve written: ‘Not a Vindictive Man,’ ‘Long Live the Queen,’ and ‘Make an Offer and Then Get Out.’ I may have a bit more to say about Joanna in the future.

This new installment is written in response to two challenges: Two Shoes Tuesday (found here), which challenged writers to write a story utilizing the words ‘fantasy’ and ‘fool;’ and 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups (found here) which challenged writers to write a story with the words ‘and so it begins…’

Why I’m Not “Good People”

Kate Loveton:

Yes! Love this. Do you ever call folks on their wrong behavior? Was your intent good in doing so? Have you ever been abashed to realize your own behavior was less than honorable – and did you make amends? Any thoughts on this blogger’s compelling post?

Originally posted on Jenny's Library:

I’m not a nice person.

I’m not a good person.

I’m not a kind person.

This isn’t to say that I don’t ever try to be any of these three things.  I do, especially the last two.

It’s more to say that, for me, surviving in this cissexist, racist, ableist, heteronormative, classist, often fucked up world of ours has involved rejecting the idea that “good” and “bad” are static states of being.  I will never be a “good person” because, to me, “good” is not something that you achieve.  It’s an ongoing process that never ends.

It is, in fact, almost impossible not to be doing bad things as well as good when you are human and therefore flawed.  Especially when you are part of a messed up system, as we all are.

This, to me, is why it’s important to call out bad behavior, or hurtful language, or even…

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Making Time to Write: Not-So-Obvious Time Wasters

Kate Loveton:

In keeping with a post that I reblogged yesterday, I wanted to reblog this post as well.  As a writer who seems to struggle with writing anything publishable, I feel that I allow too much of my time to be diverted by circumstances and things other than blogging.  I struggle with finding just the right amount of time to devote to social media and still work on my writing.

What about you?  Do other writers share this dilemma?  How do you handle it?

This is a good post.  I hope you’ll read it.  And feel free to share your insights!

Originally posted on The Sarcastic Muse:

Making Time to WriteNot long ago, we had a post discussing the biggest time wasters titled called Let’s Get Serious About Time Wasters, so this time we’ll talk about the less obvious ways we lose time. This is true for everyone, not just writers and artists.

One serious time robber is lack of routine. Having structure to our day helps improve efficiency and the fitting in of several tasks to make the most of our available time and let us spend it where it matters most. There’s nothing wrong with applying a little schedule to your days.

Another less obvious time sink is lack of organization. Again, organizing ourselves and streamlining repetitive tasks gives us back the gift of time. One obvious example (cliché but true) is selecting an outfit in the morning. How much time do we lose standing in our closet? One way to combat that time loss (which always…

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To Tweet or Not To Tweet

Kate Loveton:

Interesting thoughts on a writer’s need for social media. Please read.

Originally posted on American Writers Exposed:

Social media is one of the biggest questions writers seem to be asking…Should I?  How necessary is it?  What are the steps?  After Oregon’s largest writers’ conference last summer the answer could not be clearer – an online presence is a must.

I, personally, did not even have a Facebook account and that quickly changed.  There is so much support for writers through communities and groups that your experience will be everything you put into it, within sane reason.  To be successful is not an illusion it takes time, effort and energy.  To have a following, you must be an involved follower, an active participant in building your platform.

If you don’t know how to put it all together; Google it, the needed information is out there if you are willing to look.  WordPress has blogging courses for beginners or freshen it uppers.  Do not be afraid.   Work for the…

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A Friend Indeed

quote-wallpaper43I have once again been asked by the lovely Kate Loveton to guest blog on her site. One assumes that Kate either really likes what I write or is using our deep and meaningful friendship as a means of getting a little free labour out of me while she goes and suns herself on some far-off tropical island…

No one can deny that Kate deserves a vacation, considering that she has agreed to put up with yours truly for a whole week in August. Whatever the reason for Kate asking me to guest on her blog, I am both humbled and overjoyed that she did.

I’ve known Kate for a good few years now, despite our differences in age and geography, we both have one very important thing in common:

Humor.

Being able to laugh like a couple of schoolgirls is one of the foundations of our friendship. Kate may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but some of the subjects we’ve discussed on our fortnightly Skype chats would give even the most liberal-minded of people a grey hair or two.

The building in which I live has thin walls, the kind of walls that mean that you can hear everything being said or done next door. And yes I do mean everything… Well, if I have to put up with my downstairs neighbor sneezing all day, every day (and night), then he can put up with the cackling laughter emanating from my living space once a fortnight.

It never occurred to me until now, but maybe the reason my neighbor gives me a funny look each time we cross paths is the cackling. Perhaps he thinks I’m a witch in my spare time…

Laughter-is-the-shortest-distance-between-two-peopleKate and I laugh for hours on end. I dread to think what her poor, long-suffering husband assumes we are doing during our chats.  On the rare occasions that he enters the room to say hello, he has the look of a deer caught in a hunter’s cross-hairs, frightened of what kind of insanity may spill from our smutty-minded mouths.

I have often been told that I have a sharp wit and a rather raucous sense of humor (I choose to take these as compliments and not smears against my good name) and perhaps that is true. For me, viewing life with a sense of humor is vitally important. My only other option would be to get frustrated and downhearted about the kicks that life invariably sends your way from time to time.

I won’t bore you with tales of my upbringing (just check out my Thoughts for Friday series if you really want to know), but let’s just say that it wasn’t all puppies and kittens. Life has thrown its fair share of trials and tribulations my way and I have either been too tall or too dense to remember to duck out of the way in time.

Life is hard, it’s full of the kinds of things that make you want to curl into a ball and give up. Yet there are also a great many things in life that bring us joy and pleasure; we just have to view it through the right filter.

i-love-people-who-make-me-laughi-honestly-think-its-the-thing-i-like-mostto-laughit-cures-a-multitude-of-illsits-probably-the-most-important-thing-in-a-person-laughter-quoteApplying humor to a given situation is a way in which I choose to deal with any issues that arise which make me feel nervous, uncomfortable or scared. On occasions in which I have felt threatened, I have often used my sharp wit to bite back at cruel or unkind comments thrown my way. I guess I’ve always been of the opinion that, if you can dish it out, you better be prepared to take it too.

I could provide you with dozens of examples of famous folks who are either professional comedians, or are viewed as having a humorous outlook on life, and it may surprise you to find that many of them suffer from lack of confidence, crippling self-doubt, and/or depression.

Depression is not an easy illness to live with and many folks who suffer from the condition are ashamed that they have it and therefore try to hide it through a sunny demeanor and an insistence to the outside world that all is good in their life.

The truth is often very different.

The ability to laugh at something (no matter how small or meaningless) is one of life’s great gifts, even if what you’re laughing about is seen as inappropriate by others. Much like crying, letting go and having a good laugh at something is an ideal way to release the growing emotional pressure within.

I may have periods in my life when even getting out of bed seems like too much effort, but I also know that there will be days in the future where I’ll laugh again. At times, it is this thought alone that keeps me going. The idea that there could ever be a world without laughter is not something that I would ever want to contemplate. To not be able to smile or laugh would be a life not worth living.

friendship1When I am old and grey, I know that the lines on my face will have been put there from years of loving, laughing and living. Each line will represent a time in which I laughed uncontrollably or experienced joy like never before. I’ll continue to have a dirty mind and a dirty laugh long after they cart me off to the rest home.

Friendships can be built on many things, but I believe there is no firmer foundation than that of a shared humorous outlook on life. Kate’s friendship has seen me through the hardest of times, I dread to think how many times I’ve sobbed at this or that, but I have also never laughed as much as when I spend time (via Skype) with Kate.

Zebras-zebras-35204246-1535-888I can only imagine what will happen when I step off my flight at Baltimore International Airport and Kate and I are actually in the same time zone as each other. I am assuming that there will be tears (of happiness) along with laughter, some alcohol and perhaps an arrest warrant or two. So if you hear high-pitched screeching at approx. 8pm US time on August 17th, know that Heather B Costa has landed in your fair and green pastures and is ready to make hay (and possibly the FBI’s most-wanted list).

God knows why Kate puts up with me, but I am so glad she does. I may not have a lot of money, but a person who has laughter and joy is richer in spirit and health than any amount of money could ever make you.

Make an Offer and Then Get Out

For too many years, Meredith Fitler Bradford had forgotten she was the daughter of a man who had once been a master of the universe.

Pretentious and full of chutzpah, Wallace Fitler had made his money through keen observation and manipulation of the stock market. “Gentleman Wally” was the sobriquet given him by FORBES, and it fit. A patina of sophistication belied the killer instincts that had made Fitler one of the country’s most feared financiers. TIME Magazine once derided him as the Wall Street maven most likely to mow down his own grandmother before the taking of a toast and tea. There are men who would have shirked at such negative publicity. Gentleman Wally was not one of them. Delighted by the article, he had it framed and gave it prominent display in one of the many rooms in the Fitler mansion.

Of his three children, the old man had considered Meredith the one most like him. He tried to teach all of his children the art of the deal. Everyone has their price, he used to say, you just have to be canny enough to recognize it.

Once you saw your opportunity, that’s when you made an offer. When the deal was complete, you moved on. You got out. You didn’t hang around, you didn’t elaborate, you didn’t worry about the niceties of the arrangement. You did what you had to do.

And then you got out

Savvy Meredith recognized the wisdom of this philosophy at an early age. Her father’s daughter, she was no shrinking violet. Projecting a cool elegance that hid a calculating brain, her ice blue eyes quickly sized people up, intuiting their strengths and weaknesses.

Then she met Edward, and for a time affection blinded her. So did her own pretensions.

Scion of an old New York family that had lost much of its money in the Great Depression, Edward was handsome and ambitious. He was hungry to travel again in the circles his family had once enjoyed. He was tired of trading on a name bankrupt of everything but pedigree. When he met Meredith at a sailing party one summer, she could see that he was smitten with her. And why not? She was young, beautiful – and rich. Nouveau riche, to be precise.

But that’s where the art of the deal came in.

Edward had the family connections that Meredith lacked, and Meredith had the financial means that would pay for Edward’s return to a wealthy lifestyle. It was an excellent arrangement – a merger providing the perfect blend of give and take.

And so the daughter of a master of the universe made Edward Pennington Bradford IV an irresistible offer, one he quickly accepted. She failed to take the necessary financial safeguards, however, never realizing the day would come when she’d want out.

Affection can blind a woman, even one as clever as Meredith.

Two decades into the marriage, she understood she’d made a serious miscalculation. Edward was not living up to his part of the arrangement. He began to come home late from his prestigious job on Wall Street, the scent of brandy – and perfume – clinging to him. There were some nights that he didn’t come home at all. Not that Meredith minded the empty bed in the next room. The affection had dimmed; she didn’t miss him.

What she missed was the propriety, the outer form of a good marriage. The unfaithfulness was distasteful, but it was the lack of discretion that wounded her. She was stung by the pitying glances that drifted her way when she lunched at the Club. The rumors of Edward’s peccadillos traveled like wildfire amongst their set, and Meredith felt an angry humiliation when she entered a room and conversations abruptly ceased.

It became untenable. Confused, depressed, she temporarily lost herself in a fog of martinis. Looking into one of the many mirrors on the walls of their handsome estate, she wondered who that sad woman was who stared back at her. Not the daughter of a master of the universe! Disgusted, she sat down the martini glass.

It was time to get out.

Meredith’s father had schooled all his children in practicing patience, saying that it was the key to any successful acquisition or merger. One waited patiently, searching for just the right opportunity. When that opportunity finally presented itself, only then could just the right offer be made.

After all, everyone had a price – and opportunities always presented themselves, if you were patient.

One snowy day in March, Meredith appeared in Edward’s office to sign some papers. It was there that she met Joanna Woollery and learned the truth of her father’s words.

It wasn’t hard to read Edward’s body language. Meredith could tell he was sexually intrigued by the beautiful young secretary. When he took the papers from her, his hands lingered on hers for a moment or two longer than necessary. His eyes, hungry and alive, watched every movement she made. It disgusted Meredith’s cool sensibilities, and she quickly finished executing the papers. Rising from her chair, she happened to glance over at the secretary and experienced a frisson of surprise.

It was then that she knew her patience was about to pay off.

Meredith almost missed the fleeting expression as it crossed the girl’s face. It was an odd look, a mix of disgust and feral wariness, and it was directed at Edward. The look – and the moment – was revealing. Meredith suddenly realized an opportunity had presented itself.

It was plain to see that Joanna Woollery did not like her boss. That she feared him was also apparent. Fear made Joanna interesting to Meredith. It meant she had a weakness – and weaknesses were made to be exploited.

Meredith left the office and, later, made a few calls to a man that no polite woman would profess to have contact with; it paid off.

She discovered some interesting information about Miss Woollery. Now that she had that information, she could make Joanna an offer. An irresistible offer.

And, finally, Meredith would be able to get out of a very bad deal.

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__________________
Word count: 1,000
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to the ‘Two Shoes Tuesday’ challenge (found here) to write a story based on one or each of the word prompts of OFFER and OUT.

Also, please note this is the third story in a flash fiction series. The first is ‘Not a Vindictive Man’ (found here); the second is ‘Long Live the Queen’ (found here).

Long Live the Queen

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When daylight returned, the king was dead.

Sitting on the edge of her sofa, Joanna contemplated the body that had once housed the important Edward Pennington Bradford IV. The unnatural stillness in the air made her wonder if he’d taken with him all the energy in the universe.

Her mobile suddenly chirruped and life poured back into her limbs. Standing, she reached for the phone.

“Is it done?” asked the caller.

Joanna looked at the body. “It is.”

“Good. Your flight leaves in three hours; as agreed, the money has been wired to the Paris account. Questions?”

“None, Mrs. Bradford.”

__________________
Word count: 100
Author’s Note: This is a continuation of my flash fiction story, ‘Not a Vindictive Man…’  (found here)

This story is written in response to the ‘100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups’ (found here). The challenge was to write a story of 100 words using the phrase ‘when daylight returned the king was dead…’

Book Review: The Knife with the Ivory Handle by Cynthia Bruchman

imageIn Cynthia Bruchman’s debut novel, The Knife with the Ivory Handle, she weaves together a group of unlikely characters to create a rich and complex story.

Set in Illinois around 1900, the story begins with two orphans traveling via train to meet their adoptive parents. During the journey, they discover a black man hiding in one of the boxcars. Wounded, wanted by the law, he has to trust them not to divulge his presence to the authorities. The children make the decision to befriend him and so does the young priest sent to meet the orphans and escort them to their new home.

Bruchman does a fine job with making each of the characters compelling and sympathetic. Young Jonathan is a sensitive, creative boy with a gift for seeing beneath the surface of things. Artistic and bright, he senses the moods of others through keen observation and careful listening to the timbre of their voices.  He is particularly attuned to the moods of his older sister, Annette, a secretive, ambitious girl who discovers she has a talent for healing and who dreams of being a doctor.  Jonathan’s sense of adventure and Annette’s gift for healing is what draw them to Caspar, the wounded man hiding in the boxcar.

Annette reminds Caspar of a young white girl he once saw in passing. That girl, Amelia, is the unlikely source of all his secret longings. Caspar’s fantasy life is a rich one, and at odds with his everyday reality as husband to good, solid Clementine and father to their son. I found this an intriguing aspect of Caspar’s character. Besotted with dreams of a girl he’ll never have, Caspar is dissatisfied with his life. This later changes; being on the run from the law makes him appreciate his family life more, and much of Caspar’s story turns on his quest to reunite with his wife and son.

Father Kelly, initially a pretentious young man who hasn’t seen enough of life to effectively minister to others, turns out to be a surprise. His experiences with the immigrant community he is asked to serve teach him empathy and compassion. So does the young woman who assists him in the community. She arouses feelings in him that perplex him and make him question his vocation.

The Knife with the Ivory Handle is not a lengthy book, coming in at less than two hundred pages. Even so, it’s an absorbing story full of charm and multilayered characterization.  Bruchman writes with assurance about North Central Illinois in the early 1900s. She provides just enough history to delight those who enjoy historical novels. For this reader, however, the novel’s primary charm was the vivid characterizations. I won’t soon forget the prickly Annette, or her sensitive brother, Jonathan. I developed a fondness for Father Kelly and Caspar, and appreciated the insights both men gained as the book reached its conclusion. The novel ends on a bittersweet note, and I wonder what life might have in store for young Jonathan, for the priest, and for the wanted man so desperate to reunite with his family.

I enjoyed the novel, and I look forward to reading more of Bruchman’s work.  Her sharply drawn characters and her adept story-telling have left me hungry for further books.  I’d say that’s the hallmark of a first-class author.

The Knife with the Ivory Handle can be purchased from

Amazon
Barnes & Noble

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACynthia Bruchman

Author Biography:  Cynthia has experienced a nomadic existence having lived in or visited most all states, Europe, and Australia. She was stationed in Scotland while in the Navy in the 80s, and loves all things British and Celtic. She has spent most of her life in Illinois growing up in Princeton, raising three children, or attending Illinois State University where she earned a BA in English Education and a Master’s in History. After teaching at St. Bede Academy, a Catholic high school in the Benedictine tradition, she relocated to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and taught English and history courses at the middle, secondary, and collegiate level. She currently resides and teaches in Arizona. When she is not writing, teaching, or traveling, you can find her on the golf course. She recently received her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College, Vermont. “The Knife with the Ivory Handle” is her first novel.

* * * * * *

Cindy Bruchman is one of my favorite bloggers. Her blog (here) is an interesting mix of ‘films, culture, history, photography and writing,’ and is surely one of the most entertaining that I’ve come across. If you’re not already following her, you should be. She writes engagingly about films and film actors and actresses.  Additionally, her many photographs delight the eye and add much to the topics she writes about. I’ve been following Cindy for over a year, but it wasn’t until several months ago that I learned she was a published author. Imagine my delight to learn that a favorite blogger, one whose writing I greatly admire, had published a book – and an excellent one at that.

I asked Cindy if she’d be willing to answer a few questions for me. She graciously consented.

Kate ~ Cindy, how did you come to write The Knife with the Ivory Handle? You really brought to life the era in which the story takes place. Is this a period of American history that particularly engages you?

Cindy ~ For my Master’s research thesis at Illinois State University, I spent a couple years exploring the two counties of my home state. I was interested in orphan train riders, mining, and immigrants who found themselves in north central Illinois. I studied the census and Sanborn Insurance maps of 1900 which conveyed a host of information about the mining towns and people who populated the towns and villages. A few years after I received my MA in History, I enrolled at Goddard College in Vermont and pursued my MFA in Creative Writing. I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to create the historical climate of 1900 and fictionalize characters based on the historical research I had conducted. It took three years to complete. The process of creating the four prinicpal characters, Jonathan, Annette, Father Kelly and Caspar was the best part of the experience.

Kate ~ All of your characters come to life for the reader. I was taken with how well-drawn they are, each a complex mix of good and bad. Very realistic writing. I have trouble deciding which character most intrigued me because they all engaged me. I like how you portrayed the sensitivity and creativity of young Jonathan. Annette was perhaps my favorite character because of her desire for a better life and the obstacles that stood in her way. Would you like to share with us any thoughts as to how you came up with such a remarkable group of characters?

Cindy ~ I knew the structure of the story wasn’t an easy one. Four distinct voices, each with their own dreams and neuroses, gifts and faults, each with personal conflicts; their merging at the climax was an ambitious endeavor. I like to get into the minds of characters. I find I care about them more than third person omniscient. For Jonathan, he was ten and an artist. How does a boy see the world? Quite differently from his querulous sister who is determined and inquisitive. What does a black man running from the law, trying to reunite with family in Chicago, feel? What about a neophyte priest? These were fun challenges to consider. I allowed the subordinate characters to provide insight into the principals. I switched perspectives every chapter and kept the group connected by showing how they reacted to each other.

Kate ~ Well, I was very taken with the story, and especially the multilayered characterizations. You made me care about each character and that’s no easy feat. Are you currently working on another book?

Cindy ~ I am researching and working on my second novel. The working title is Inside the Gold Plated Pistol. It is now 1927 and Jonathan has been brought forward. As an adult, he passes the narrative torch to his daughter, who dreams of Hollywood and dances on the stage at an outpost in the Old West, Jerome, Arizona. Ideally, I’d like to continue bringing forth a character every twenty years and thereby creating a 20th century history collection. I remember reading the John Jakes series as a teenager, and I suppose in the back of my mind that’s what I’m attempting overall. I already know what I want to write about for the third novel which is set in WWII. A principal character will be a WAC.

My biggest challenge is finding the time to write it. I love blogging, too, and I’m a teacher, and I have other obligations which gobble away the hours. I hope to complete the first draft this year. Wish me luck!

Kate ~ I do indeed wish you luck!  I’m  excited that you have a new story in the works.  I love the idea of a collection of novels that help us understand the 20th century from the viewpoints and experiences of a group of characters. I’m familiar with the John Jakes’ American history novels. Your proposed project also puts me in mind of Gore Vidal’s American Chronicle series.   Thanks for answering a few questions, Cindy.  I’ll be eagerly looking forward to that next novel!

Not a Vindictive Man…

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“I’m not a vindictive man, Joanna, but understand me when I say I can make your career – or break it,” said Edward Pennington Bradford IV, accepting a second whiskey.

Saying nothing, Joanna watched the silver-haired executive knock back his drink in the privacy of her small apartment and then, ever the king, hold out his glass for a refill.

“You’re rather quiet for a girl who’s decided to be charming,” he began, but stopped when a sudden, violent coughing fit consumed him.

When he dropped the glass and fell gasping to the carpet, Joanna still said nothing.

Instead, fingering the packet of powder in her robe’s pocket, she smiled.

__________________
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to Lillie McFerrin’s ‘Five Sentence Fiction Challenge.’ This week’s challenge is to write a five sentence story based on the word ‘vindictive.’ Lillie’s challenge can be found here.

The World of Henry Frick

frost-on-a-stump-sandra-crook

Long considered a crank, friends of Henry Frick laughed at his wild imaginings. Even his wife, Alice, after enduring decades of conspiracy theories, turned a deaf ear to whatever fantasy enthralled him at a given moment. Homeland Security no longer took his calls nor did the local police.

Like the boy who’d called wolf once too often, Henry was ignored.

When he saw the creeping mold leaching color from the planet, no one paid attention.

Alice, fading into muted grays, told him to be quiet.

The world had become black and white and no one noticed.

No one – except Henry.

__________________
Word count: 100
Photo credit: Sandra Crook
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story is written in response to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers in which she challenged readers to create a 100 word story based on the photo above.  Rochelle’s site can be found here.

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