Sunday Blog Share: The Flower Girl

This flash fiction piece by Richard Ankers was so poignant and beautiful that I asked for more… and he acquiesced and gave me Part 2.
Comments are closed; please read part 1 here and click through to part 2 below.

The Flower Girl

by Richard Ankers

She’d braided daisies into her hair with the skilled fingers of a seamstress.

“How old?” I’d gasped.

“She’s five.”

“Where did she learn?”

“Not from us. One day, she just wandered into the meadow behind our house and started picking flowers. We watched from the garden gate with smiles from ear to ear. She left us dumbstruck when she began weaving them into her hair.”

Colleen placed her cup back on its saucer as the little girl laughed and danced and sang her chirping songs.

“Well, I’m staggered,” I said. And I was.

“Everyone says the same. She’s a very talented child.”

“You must be very proud,” I commented.

“Oh, we are. The best thing that ever happened to us was planting her.”

“Planting! I’ve never heard it called that before.”

“She still sleeps in the same pot,” Colleen continued as though in a dream. “We fear for her every frost.”

I don’t know what it was about the little girl but whenever the weather grew cold, I feared for her. The sun never seemed warm enough after that.

(Continue Reading: The Flower Girl, Part 2)

Obelisk – #Writephoto

The horror on my mother’s face earned her a compromise, and I hauled my keepsakes into her attic. The rest I sold or trashed—all my belongings, from my gabled home and rusted car to my laptop and half-squeezed tube of toothpaste. Then I emptied my bank account and donated every red cent to the cause. I wouldn’t need it where I headed, and it would help spread the word of salvation among those left behind.

We gathered by the obelisk, thousands of us, believers young and old, some in homemade robes but most in jeans and rolled up sleeves. Anticipation crackled in the air and prickled the nerves. The sun dipped toward the burnished sea and the sky turned to brass. The moment was nigh.

Some fidgeted and grasped at fleeting minutes with fretful yearning. Others reconsidered the wisdom of their choices, whimpered their regrets, and lobbed breathless pleas to the ether with white-knuckled fingers, but not I. My veins pulsed with intrepid hope, dreams of pristine worlds, a homecoming with my ancestors, a vibrant vision of a future among the stars.

The sea shaved slices from the sun and the horizon deepened to green. The moment passed and our ship never came. I watched faith peel from the devout like onion skin, tearful and pungent, the betrayal palatable and mutating faces with grief, anger, and despair. A few backpedaled with delicate reasoning; others scratched for ways to undo what they’d done. Most vowed vengeance. The buses had departed hours ago, and as twilight faded, the horde of disillusioned started the long walk to town.

My back to the obelisk, I waited as night drew up its coverlet, not the only one to remain on the rocky point but one of few. The sea lapped on the shore to the rhythm of my breath, and the stars winked on. The prophet had promised us a life of spirit and relieved us of our worldly possessions for the start of our journey. There never was a ship, intergalactic or otherwise; I knew that now. But he hadn’t betrayed me. He’d done as he promised—freed me of the heavy trappings that weighted my life, and set me on an altered path. I faced a new future. Like it or not, I was reborn.

**

Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto prompt. Visit her site to see other creative entries.

Ordinary Handsome Review – A Stunning Read

Steven’s New Cover! Global Link to Amazon

With my shift into some breathing room, I’ve begun indulging in some overdue reading. My TBR pile is teetering, and I’ve had to purchase more books to prop it up. I’ll be posting reviews now and then when I surface from a really great read. I read this one a while ago, and it’s a book I still think about. If you love the beauty of words, I highly recommend it. 

My Review of Ordinary Handsome

I just finished this book and sit here collecting my thoughts. From the first page, I knew I had happened on something special, something that would sweep me into the otherworld offered by a talented author and his beautifully written book.

The story is grim, about the dying lives that labor on in the dying town of Handsome, Oklahoma. Ghosts in a ghost town. The book follows ordinary men dealing with the epic struggles that shape human experience: love and death, failure, fathering, poverty, murder, and lost hope. It revolves around a young man, Euart Monroe Wasson, and the men who participate in the tragedy made of his life.

The book isn’t one to speed through. Baird writes with a style that requires one to pay attention. He slowly draws aside the veils that reveal the interconnection of each man’s story. I had the impression that I was piecing together a mosaic, the tale assembled from the shards of shattered lives, memories, impressions, and illusions.

The narrative is informal and appropriate to the rural landscape. At the same time, the writing is textured, rife with precise detail, stunning imagery, and raw emotion. Baird is a master at finding the perfect word and painting a picture that shifts and clears with each new perspective.

I highly recommend Ordinary Handsome to any reader who wants to get lost in an exquisitely written tale. This book will stick to your heart.

***

I picked up Ordinary Handsome after following Baird’s blog and falling in love with the quality of his writing. I’ll also happily recommend his book, A Very Tall Summer.

hey__steve__by_angeink-d813x0kSteven Baird is an author, amateur photographer, and 36-year newspaper compositor. He has published three novels, including his latest, A Very Tall Summer, and has been writing since the age of 10. Steven is a native Canadian living in southwest Virginia with his wife Angela, a horse, dog, cat, and a Neurotic Band of Chickens. He does not take himself as seriously as his portrait would suggest.

Global Link to Amazon: Ordinary Handsome Amazon

Link to Steven’s Website: Ordinary Handsome Website

 

Sunday Blog Share: Steel Venom

I thought maybe I’d start sharing why I picked a certain piece for the Sunday Blog Share. In this case, Almost Iowa gave me a hysterical reminder of the crazy, dangerous things I did as a kid.  Prepare to laugh (or cringe).

Comments are closed here, so click through and enjoy.

Steel Venom

by Almost Iowa

Every summer my wife tries to get me on an amusement park ride called Steel Venom.

She loves the contraption – about as much as I hate it.

Last summer was no exception and one afternoon we found ourselves bickering in the shadow of a half roller-coaster half catapult.

“You’re chicken,” she taunted.

“Not at all,” I said.

Overhead, the ride flexed and moaned as a trolley corkscrewed its way up a high tower. When it reached the top, it paused for one heart-thumping moment to dangle its riders above a flock of confused birds – then it plunged into a wild spiral that ended only inches from the ground.

The riders flashed by us, howling in terror. A few wore faces whiter than death and I thought for a moment that I recognized an old friend among them.

Without the slightest hesitation or remorse, the trolley fired up a companion tower then repeated the process over and over – until everyone, rider and observer alike, was nauseous.

“Don’t look like much fun to me,” I observed.

“Chicken,” she repeated.

Believe me, Steel Venom did not frighten me. I’ve dodged bullets, survived a car wreck and endured an audit by the IRS and not one of those things even quickened my pulse – because nothing, absolutely nothing will ever come close to the ride I took on a Radio Flyer wagon when I was six years old.

***

At first, I simply put things into my wagon and towed them around the yard. But I soon discovered it was more fun to hop in the wagon and roll down our backyard hill…

(Continue Reading: Steel Venom)

Kari’s Reckoning

She abandoned the view and walked, arm outstretched, slender fingertips leaving invisible ribbons where they glided across the smooth surface.

The unseamed gray of the floor, the cool walls, and flat ceiling held no memories of those who’d trod the halls before. They demanded no care, no cleaning, no mending, or maintenance. How long would the alien cities last unchanged, impervious to the passage of time? Another three hundred years? A millennium? Lives came and went, washing from the tiers’ petals like rainwater to the porous, wet world below. Was her life within these walls any more important, other than being hers?

Perhaps, only a world of wrinkles and grooves could capture the fragmented stories of wounded souls, hold them tight in the ashes and rubble. One required pitted stone and cracked wood, ragged bark and churned soil to heal a heart’s broken flesh. Her lover and daughter lived in that foreign world.

Her skin matched these walls, smooth and serene. Yet, the emptiness of her expression, the monotony of her smile hid a secret fire within her that would one day flare and burst forth in a conflagration of pent up desperation.

***

The final book of the Rose Shield Tetralogy is live.

Thanks to all for your kind comments and support along the way.

Start at the beginning with Catling’s Bane, Book 1 – Global Link

Writers’ Critique Groups

I just had the great pleasure of visiting my old writer’s critique group, a few people who became dear friends over the five years I was part of the group. It seems a good time to revisit the importance of peer feedback:

My first book was a masterpiece, of course. I poured my heart onto the pages, begged my family to read it, and labored over revisions until it was undeniably sublime. Then I sent my newborn tome to agents and publishers, certain they’d coo with delight and sign me up with a fat advance. The result: Reject…Reject…Reject…Reject…Reject…

“What went wrong?” silly, starry-eyed me asked, a clueless look on my face. Little did I know (literally).

I discovered the answer to that question when I joined a writers’ critique group. With tender support and pointed criticism, my peers taught me that my baby was far from beautiful. Apparently, I was determined to describe every character’s point of view in every scene. Among other lame verbs, I found “was” extremely handy. I overwrote with reams of tedious detail; I could sink an insomniac into a coma. This embarrassing confession encompasses only a teeny-weeny sliver of my writing transgressions, but you get the idea. My baby was a toad.

The good news? After two years with my critique group, the toddler emerged transformed. I landed a publisher and the rest is history. I know now that well-informed, honest feedback is essential to learning and refining my craft, and joining a critique group was the smartest step I took in my writing career. Without hesitation, I advise all new writers to find one or start your own.

Group Composition

Not all groups are alike and finding the right group is like finding the right therapist, sometimes you have to work at it to get a good fit. You want the truth, but in a way that’s helpful and encourages you to grow. Some groups are loosey-goosey, others more formally structured. Learn as much as you can about the expectations of a group and be honest with yourself about your needs and the time commitment you’re prepared to make.

A few considerations:

  1. Not everyone in a critique group needs to write in the same genre, but there may certain drawbacks to being the only romance writer in a group of military sci-fi writers.
  2. Four to five members is ideal, providing sufficient feedback while not overwhelming members with critiques.
  3. A mix of male and female participants is great for garnering different perspectives.
  4. Though some writers may prefer a group with equivalent experience, a mix of new and seasoned members can be extremely rewarding.
  5. If a group experience leaves you discouraged or angry, don’t stay. Groups are supposed to vitalize your love of writing, not drain your enthusiasm.

Structural Norms

Structure varies group to group. Some meet face-to-face, others are entirely on-line. In general, guidelines for effective critiquing are the same, but I’m a strong proponent of in-person feedback where it’s easy to elaborate on comments, ask/answer questions, and take advantage of group brainstorming and discussion.

However a group is structured, there will be norms related to timing, length of submissions, and how critiques are returned to the authors. My critique group met twice a month for approximately three hours. We emailed submissions and received critiques between meetings. During our meetings, we elaborated on our critiques and answered questions for the author. (Set time limits if meetings run over. Don’t skip someone’s work.)

Receiving Feedback

Rarely do two people provide the same advice, and sometimes what one person loves, another would “suggest tweaking.” Sally may be great at tracking emotional themes; Margo is the queen of punctuation. Larry gives a man’s perspective of … well, everything. Jenny adores lurid descriptions, and Katie is the verb-police. Everyone brings something to the table and the author uses what’s helpful and dumps the rest.

Some writers submit first drafts, others a final product, and most something in between. What a writer turns in for critiquing will flavor what comes back. A critique of an early draft may point at awkward dialog, holes in the story, and believability of action and emotion. For a later draft, the critique may focus on word choice, phrasing, grammar, and/or punctuation. Remember, a critique group does not eliminate the need for careful editing prior to submission or publication.

Giving Feedback

A critique group is different from a support group, though they overlap. My mother is a one-woman support group; she loves everything I’ve written since I was six. Critique groups, on the other hand, should offer a balance of support and criticism. Writing is personal, and when a writer shares his work and asks for feedback, it’s an act of trust, worthy of respect.

An effective critique starts by emphasizing the strengths of the work. An initial focus on the writer’s successes makes hearing suggestions easier on the ears and heart. There’s always something positive to comment on – story, scene, character, dialog, a description, humor, rapport, tension, punctuation, word choice, grammar, pace. A critique is successful if a writer feels good about his or her work and eager to tackle the hurdles.

When we critique another person’s writing we are commenting on the work, not the person. We are cognizant of our personal preferences and writing style and separate these from our critiques. The most helpful criticism is specific to the piece. It points to a word, scene, or paragraph and explains what isn’t working for the reader. Then the writer can see exactly where the challenge lies, learn about another’s perspective, and make a choice. Broad negative statements aren’t only signs of a poorly-crafted critique, they’re unhelpful and demoralizing. Broad positive statements are fine, but grounding positive feedback with examples shows the writer the strengths they can build on.

A note of encouragement: When I joined my critique group, none of us were published. Five years later, we all were! Happy Writing!

Sunday Blog Share: Photograph

Photograph

by Michelle Cook
Putting my Feet in the Dirt

Hidden away

In the recesses

Of a forgotten room

There lies a young

Misplaced soul

Fair and bright-eyed

With an angelic smile

She awaits

An unexpected admirer

Sheer panels

Of wispy white fabric

Flow fluidly

From a bare window

Gently reassuring her

That the breeze

Has not abandoned her

Tiny elbows rest firmly 

(Continue Reading: Photograph)