Thursday, June 10, 2021

Guest Essay, "Embracing the Challenge": A Tale of Perseverance on the Page with a 100 Submissions Goal in 2020 (Storytellers Continuing to Strive in 2021)

 


Editor's Note (NMB): I recall it was in the winter when I came across a Facebook post from an editor colleague I'd worked with on something in 2011, an NLAPW sister, who had set what seemed an insurmountable goal in an incredibly difficult time. I used the word "inspiring" in my comment on the post and we briefly chatted about it before I decided to approach her to write yet another thing morea piece about her experiences. Without revealing the outcome, I wish to share a bit about what went into my request. 

Ms. Vonnie Winslow Crist had set the goal of one hundred submissions in 2020. In a normal year, it could be considered an amazing ambition. In 2020? It was nothing short of extraordinary in my eyes. Through the many things I've learned and experienced in different areas of life through these times with a continual intention to bring back to you what treasures I can, this was something I wanted my writers to see when so often many were understandably confronted with the difficulty to create. Writers ranging from new to established were frequently saying the same thing to which I could respond with a solemn nod of recognition, and then I came across that Facebook post and its outcome at a time when I was interested in pursuing the theme of writing in challenging times prescriptively in various ways with some possible different authors and tools like prompts on the Facebook Holiday "Bizarre" page or experiences in different mediums. I saw this and thought how I would love a piece from Vonnie for the page that put things in a very engaging, relatable, encouraging way. 

I rather liked the idea of making it a more intimate, gently conversational, "how I did this" piece about her work patterns and specificity about the sending out/submittingwhile in the midst of what was 2020. Thinking of it as, How I Managed Generating (X amount) of Published Pieces in 2020 and Other Miracles... or something to that effect was envisioned. I wanted her to go internally, capture and convey that mindset she'd utilized, drawing on a well of perseverance undeterred and have the external part of the piece be mindful of motivational impact on others. Vonnie exceeded expectation while gracefully and eloquently underscoring the most important elements in her own magical way with reminders of who we are, what we do, and oddly enough, through the process of doing the piece, mentioned to me that it reminded her "once more" of her why.

The circle goes round in our sharing and creating and on this day of the solar eclipse, the ring of fireour passion, our creation, our love and connectedness as creatives burns bright in the dark. Our initial conversations about this piece took place in the winter and Vonnie's recent words in our correspondence said that she "continues to embrace the challenge and persist." So should we all. The next eclipse is in December as a fun fact, so around again in time and creation we go. Let's see what we can all do in 2021. Ignite your heart and your art, storytellers.     




Image of Vonnie Winslow Crist featured with permission


Embrace the Challenge

by Vonnie Winslow Crist


Life presents writers with obstacles all of the time. That said, the year 2020 was filled with more roadblocks to creativity and publication than usual. Little did I know on New Year's Eve 2019 when I decided to write and submit 100 stories or poems to publications in 2020, that a pandemic, fierce politics, and personal challenges would try to stop me. I soon discovered all of those things and more did stand between me and my 100 submissions goal. But I was determined to persist.

I began 2020 with lots of reminders designed to inspire me pinned to the bulletin board behind my computer. Quotes like: “Finish the things you've started,” (a hard one for me). “Everything is possible” – Deepak Chopra. “Know thyself! Know your limitations, habits, and strengths.” “Do your best.” “Persist!” I also hung a calendar (on which to jot deadlines) with animals and inspiring quotes on the board.

Beside the bulletin board I hung two legal-size clipboards. On each of these, I clipped a handmade chart titled, Project Planner. Under the title, I made three columns, exactly the size of postable notes, labeled: Projects, Next Action, Pending. Then, I used three different colors of sticky notes to fill in the charts. In the Projects column, I placed 100 Submissions and the names of several stories I was in the process of writing, Beneath Raven's Wing, Dragon Rain, Writing for Anthologies, and two other untitled books I was working on. In the Next Action column, I listed what step needed to be done to reach that goal. Things like: edit a story, finish a poem, pull together research, or look for a market. Under Pending, I placed tasks which weren't pressing, but I could address when writing seemed difficult. Examples of what I listed: update bibliography, update website, write a blog post, enter data into Internet Science Fiction Data Base, rewrite a flawed story/poem...

Why the bulletin board and Project Planner charts? I'm a visual person. I need reminders in front of me of tasks to be done. Also, it was positive reinforcement when I took down the title of a finished story which had been submitted to a market, and replaced it with the title of another story I'd just begun.

But where to find 100 stories or poems to submit? I had a few pieces of writing in my files which just need to be revised. I revised those, then looked for markets. While searching for suitable markets, I jotted down the submission information on several anthology calls I spotted on Ralan.com, the Submission Grinder, or in Facebook's open submission call groups. I used the themes of those submission calls as inspiration. If I was going to write more stories, why not write with an anthology in mind?

Which brings me to drabbles. You might ask, “What's a drabble?” Answer: It's a piece of flash fiction exactly 100 words in length, not including title or byline. Having written poetry, a genre which requires every word to earn its place, writing a story in 100 words seemed an easy task. Wrong! But I'd decided 2020 was the year to embrace challenges, so I tried my hand at drabbles.

Sometimes, I took a longer story I'd already written, and condensed its core narrative down to 100 words. Other times, I wrote a 100-word tale knowing I wanted to expand the drabble into a longer story later. Committing to only writing 100 words never seemed a huge mountain to climb—rather it seemed a few minutes of scribbling. An unforeseen bonus to drabbles, markets for the little stories usually allowed multiple submissions and acceptances. Ta-dah! I was moving toward my goal.

My go-to word for 2020, persist, became more important as acceptances and rejections arrived in my in-box. I had to remind myself, whether an editor loved or hated my story/drabble/poem, it was one person's opinion. I signed the contracts for the acceptances, and immediately found a new market for the rejected pieces of writing—while continuing to write new work.

The continuing to write new work part of the formula to reach 100 submissions was sometimes difficult. The world seemed to be crashing down. How could I worry about writing?

Every day (and sometimes more than once a day), I reminded myself stories were not only important, but necessary. From childhood on, I'd always valued the family stories I was told. From the moment I taught myself to read, I'd read books brimming with story in every spare minute. As soon as I was able to string together a few sentences, I'd told stories and recited nursery rhymes (one of the first narratives we discover) to younger sisters, family, and friends.

What I still remind myself, and encourage others to remember, is: Story, whether told in prose, poetry, or paint, is one of the things which bind all humans together. Therefore, storytelling is important. And those of us who wear the storyteller's sweater, are essential to this world. Remembering you and your writing are valuable, makes those hours spent in front of the computer or at your desk worthwhile.

To complete the 2020 writing puzzle successfully, I not only needed a 100 submission goal, the knowledge that storytelling was important, and markets to send to—I needed inspiration for stories/drabbles/poems. Discovering new themes while looking for markets was helpful. Researching those themes often helped even more. When I spotted a call for drabbles about ancient societies, I leafed through a book on my bookshelf about lost civilizations. I discovered many civilizations I'd never heard of before. Reading that book and doing a little online research gave me far more information and ideas than could be used in 5 drabbles.

After writing the 5 ancient societies drabbles and submitting them, I wrote an “extra” drabble as a replacement in case of a rejection. Then, I wrote several poems based on the research. One society in particular appealed to me, so I began a longer story based on its possible demise. Before I could complete it, I spotted an anthology looking for flash fiction (up to 1,000 words) about Easter and other spring holidays.

A little research generated not only ideas for four short Easter and St. Patrick's Day stories, but fascinating information about uncommon folk customs. I managed to write about one of those customs before I spotted an anthology call for 500-word stories with witches, magic, or spells as the theme. Five-hundred words didn't seem too long. So I wrote three witchy tales and submitted them.

The research for these three submissions calls had given me an idea for a long story featuring a magical woman, folk customs, and an ancient society. I added the challenge of setting the witch/folk/ancient tale in the future on Earth after the grid had been destroyed. After writing so many drabbles, flash fiction stories, and 500-word tales, I was ready to sink my teeth into a novelette!

What else kept me writing when others found it difficult to put fingers to keyboard? I signed up for a writing contest! With no expectation of winning, I wanted the challenge of writing four stories of 4,000-6,000 words, in four different “surprise” genres, assigned one after another, with only three weeks to write each tale.

You might ask, “Why?” Because I knew after I'd paid the $10 entry fee, I wasn't going to waste my money! Remember the “Know thyself!” saying from my bulletin board? I knew if I invested money, I'd complete the contest. So while recovering from surgery (I did mention 2020 was a tough year), I wrote four new stories.

But I still needed more motivation to write! Remember the list of projects from my bulletin board? Beneath Raven's Wing and Dragon Rain were story collections I hoped to pull together. I focused on the raven stories first. I had almost enough stories published and unpublished for a 45,000+ word collection, but they needed to be edited, ordered, and slightly revised to eliminate repetitive imagery. Also, at least two more stories needed to be written to increase the word count to an acceptable length. No sooner had the task been completed, then I spotted an opportunity to submit Beneath Raven's Wing to an Indie publisher. The book was accepted, and the editing process began. Two stories were pulled by the publisher, so I had to write two more stories to replace them. Remember the research I'd done months earlier and the extra ideas not used? Here's where they came in handy.

No sooner had I sent off the raven story collection, then I pulled together Dragon Rain. Again, stories needed editing, ordering, and revising. Again, I had to write additional material. The dragon story collection was sent off, and currently remains in the hands of a different Indie publisher.

I must say, it was with great relief I returned to writing a few poems and drabbles. I needed to catch my breath. That was until I spotted a call for a Weird Western anthology. An idea, which required lots of research, popped into my mind. And so, the cycle began again.

Though my writing output might seem large to you, some of my writing friends completed more than one novel in 2020! I can't even imagine doing that—or maybe I can.

When 2020 put up obstacles, I viewed them as challenges. When it was near-impossible to muster the drive to write, I persisted. When rejections hit the in-box, I sent the stories to another market. When writing new material seemed impossible, I revised old work and did writerly “chores.” When ideas seemed scarce, I researched. When the world seemed to be falling to pieces, I reminded myself storytelling is part of what makes us human.

Now, the all important question: did I write and submit 100 stories/drabbles/poems in 2020? Yes! In fact, I surpassed that goal (not counting the stories/drabbles/poems resubmitted after rejection). As for the contest? I was one of the winners, and those four stories will be appearing in an anthology this spring. Counting reprints (which as a constant reviser, I revise before sending out again), over 100 of my stories/drabbles/poems were published in 2020. A bonus of persisting I never expected.

What's in store for 2021? I've modified my new stories/drabbles/poems goal to fifty. Why? Because I want to complete a novel and at least one non-fiction book. Do I expect 2021 to be easier than 2020? No! I expect this year to come with its own roadblocks and detours. Still, I will persist.

In conclusion, I say to each of you reading this essay, be proud of being a storyteller. Remember, as our long ago ancestors gathered at night around the fire to chase away the shadows and warm not only body, but soul, it was the storytellers who helped the world make sense. It was the storytellers, with little more than a stick with a glowing red tip and their imagination, who wove the threads of our society and inspired our future.

Be that storyteller. Persist despite setbacks. Find inspiration in the ordinary. Cheer on the successes of fellow writers. Don't allow a closed door to prevent you from knocking on another door. Seize opportunity if it shows up on your doorstep. And challenge yourself to weave the warp and weft of story—which make up the fabric of who we are and who we want to be.


Updates regarding the essayBeneath Raven's Wing, the 1st story collection mentioned, was published Jan. 30, 2021 by Fae Corps publishing, and continues to receive good reviews. Dragon Rain, the 2nd story collection mentioned, is under contract with Mocha Memoirs Press, and should be published in September 2021. I've also begun working on another story collectionthis one containing magical horse stories. There is a publisher interested in reviewing the manuscript this summer for possible 2022 publication. 


BIO: Vonnie Winslow Crist, SFWA, HWA, SCBWI, NLAPW, is author of The Enchanted Dagger, Beneath Raven's Wing, Owl Light, The Greener Forest, and other award-winning books. Her writing appears in publications in Japan, Australia, India, Pakistan, Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Canada, the UK, and USA. She's also an artist with over 1,000 illustrations in print. For more information: http://www.vonniewinslowcrist.com

Friday, February 14, 2020

Valiant Valentines with Alluring Alliteration

Image designed by NMB 


By Nicole M. Bouchard

Our Christmas Eve social media communication to you had lines in its closing that are most appropriate for this holiday’s blog post opening: “[T]onight, just know a simple thing, a fundamental truth—you are loved. We're working on communications to get out to you soon. Please keep us in your hearts as you shall be in ours. Be kind, be warm, be blessed on this and all nights… Love to you all.” These wishes, these sentiments remain the same. On a holiday for and about love as well as unity, we wanted to reconnect with you in a very special way.

Our WPWT family is never far from mind and in fact, the work we’ve been busy doing behind-the-scenes is really our continuous valentine to you. It is one which will endure and keep delighting with things shiny and new as well as retaining that which is treasured and true. 2020 is the dawning of a new decade. We in this world are standing at the forefront of change. What better time, what better opportunity to seize the momentum and aim for new horizons? We are indescribably excited to share how we chose to infuse the magazine with new innovations, new ideas, new components…all to invest in its new incarnation. We will be speaking more about this and factors outside of us that necessitated temporary shifts in focus and timing to do what we have wished to in the way that we like to do things. As we’re going for latest and greatest, we will communicate to you in further detail and talk timelines, but for now, we want to reconnect in the spirit of play. There are variations of this quote and it has associations with the 1800s, the 1600s, and even Plato, but the essence is this: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

So, dear ones, we came up with something to bring vibrant fun to Valentine’s Day that is partly rooted in family tradition, partly a nod to our mag’s signature Home page wording alongside our dove logo, and partly a way to celebrate one of our fantastic interviewees, the ever-inspiring Ms. Naomi Epel (The Observation Deck, Writers Dreaming).

A tradition of your editor-in-chief is to gather with family and friends for a Valentine’s dinner, followed by a sometimes elaborate dessert (yes, I love to bake), and then to put a bunch of supplies on the table to make Valentine’s Day cards. It began as a quirky tradition that involved a lot of humor and rhyming with cutouts, stickers, pens, and paper, but it has evolved to colored pencils and cardstock where even those in attendance who cannot draw, do so, much to the good-natured entertainment of those present. We always try to make one another laugh and this is because we feel the more serious emotions throughout the year and those are unchanging. This, we see as a time for joviality and cake. However, what we at WPWT plan to do with you is rather different. We still want levity but your creations are more to fire up your creativity in this cold season and to convey whatever kind of message you like to one particular recipient. Keep in mind the concepts of feasting and merriment, supplies covering your table.

Now, imagine that you are seated at a table in a chic café much like the one described aside our magazine logo on the Home page. The difference is that instead of one person pulling up a chair to tell you a story, there is a buzzing atmosphere of many people and they are all the writers and artists of our community. It is a warm, welcoming atmosphere and everyone knows you and enjoys you because they’ve seen your art or read a piece of your writing. We are there too, visiting every table and talking about all of the great memories of over ten years. There are sounds of shuffling decorative papers and cardstock, the snipping of scissors, the shading of pencils dragging over surfaces. People are sharing items and passing different colors or tape or glue. When the time to write comes, conversations are muted, but friendly smiles are caught by wondering glances. Everyone is comfortable and there is an electric charge in the air with all the incredibly powerful collective creativity. Helping as generous guardian and guide to all, we are so honored to have Naomi Epel with us in the café

We had interviewed Naomi in the summer of 2011. During a recent call, I loved how fitting it seemed when she described how she literally was in a café on the West Coast. We got to talking about new directions and projects. When hearing that her new work dealt with alliteration and excavating the essence of individual letters in full expressive, communicative capacity, I half-jumped up because it’s not only a fluid, beautiful way of expressing and stressing poignant messages, but frankly, whatever new tool springs from the great mind of Ms. Epel is going to ignite excitement in the heart of a writer. Her works, such as The Observation Deck and Writers Dreaming, continually give fresh insight and stand the test of time, applicable not only to creative work, but to life, really. Sometimes when I feel stuck at a crossroads, I shuffle my Observation Deck which has graced my shelf since I was a young girl, and whatever card I draw, I can derive some literal or metaphorical action to help me step forward. As an adult, it holds all the same power and wonder to me that it did when I first utilized it. Thus, discussing possibilities around a new tool with Naomi was exhilarating. Alliteration, used by masters such as Edgar Allan Poe, is a spellbinding literary device. We’d like this first exercise we’re doing, our first foray into this, to honor Ms. Epel and herald future opportunities for her exciting presence amongst us.

Alliteration comes from the Latin, littera (or latira).  It was fascinating to discover that this term means “letter of the alphabet,” according to Wikipedia. After researching various articles in-depth for some time to check some of my examples and learn more, I found that it is more of an art form than a specific science. The portion of it that is “science” references the science of sound. There was a piece on how it is differentiated by our breathing and movement of parts of the mouth. Though it can have varying parameters around its use and slightly different interpretations, we want the inherent inclusive freedom in how a multitude of reputable sources and some input from experts define it. We do, however, offer options to further increase the challenge.

Ready to play? Okay, break out any art supplies you have (and of course this is optional). Organize these first and proceed to the designed printable chart we have featured below. Its blocks are numbered 1-26 to account for all of the letters of the alphabet with their associated numerical values. A=1, B=2, H=8, Z=26, and you get the picture. It adds to the suspense to see which letter you get (wink). You don’t even have to print the chart if you’re working solo on your computer. You can just close your eyes and point with one finger to a number on the chart. You can print the chart and cut out the individual blocks of numbers to shuffle in a bowel and pick that way. You can roll a small pebble or bead across the printed chart and see what number it lands on. Whatever its letter equivalent, that is the letter you have to work with. The only letter for the purposes of this particular exercise. The focus of this is fidelity to one beginning letter, one theme or tone of your choice, and one recipient of your choosing for your Valentine’s Day card. For a trickling, almost melodic sound the letter adheres to one sound at the beginning of each word. A quick example (don’t judge, this is being done near midnight) might be a valentine from a fellow to a gal that references the mythically beautiful Helen of Troy in her positive aspects: Heavenly Helen habitually harbors hale heroes in hallowed, halcyon days. We won’t be too strict on this, so small words of different letters are allowed to string things together.

This is really for you and how you choose to do this in terms of increased complexity to jump-start your imaginative engine is left to your discretion. It could be serious, it could be comical, it could be ardent devotion. You decide. You could make it a haiku, a poem, just a phrase, just a few lines. Color outside the lines if you want. Use festive or plain paper. You can hand your work to the intended recipient ideally if they are present or mail it to them (getting mail, as Naomi and I discussed, is so lovely and rare in these electronic days). You could do all this on your computer if you truly wish and e-mail it or take a picture of what you made and send/text that image with the wording. The MAIN rule is this: Have fun. Charge your creative batteries and create something. You can even make one of encouragement addressed to Y-O-U in honor of self-love. You choose.

Should you wish to share any of them, feel free to send the wording through the magazine feedback form on the Feedback and Questions page.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my darlings, from our hearts to yours.

Image designed by NMB

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Nostalgic Charm: A Fiction Short of Sweet Simplicities, Summers Past, and Tender Youth

Like a preserved glimmer of sherbet-hued warmth from a past summer sunset, this fiction short is a reminder of simpler, sweeter times. Despite its gentle levity and charm, it poses important questions about how and why we can overcomplicate something as fundamental and essential as love. It asks what is true, what is real, and asks about the worthiness of intent concerning the worlds we create to thrive in. The piece is itself a depiction of the beauty of memory, of the moment, and an insulating space created to live and think differently about the important things within. The characters' innocence makes them rather wise beyond their years and full of sincere conviction. It is sure to bring a knowing smile to the youthful spirit in all of us. 


Moonlight Takes Over

by Mark Joseph Kevlock

"Don't you think we're too young for this?" Dorothy said.

"No," Cleveland said.

They walked along the shoreline at sunset. Cleveland wanted to take her hand. But he was afraid.

"We're kind of just kids," Dorothy said.

She was at least a foot taller than he was.

"Kids used to get married in olden times," Cleveland said. "Kids used to rule the world—young princes and such. Princesses."

Dorothy could not imagine herself that way.

"I can't imagine myself that way," she said.

Cleveland paused, then said it anyway: "You can be my princess, Dorothy."

They kept walking. The sun kept sinking behind the waves.

"Love is a big thing," Dorothy said.

"The biggest," Cleveland said.

"People don't treat it with enough respect."

"No," Cleveland said, "they don't."

"We'll be different," Dorothy said.

Cleveland smiled. "We already are," he said.

It wasn't a real marriage, both of them knew. But what was real, anyway? The whole world was built of made-up concepts and imaginary structures. Maybe the truth inside was the only one that counted.

They piled three rocks on top of each other and used seaweed for hair. This was the minister. Two seashells and half of a boomerang were the witnesses. Dorothy and Cleveland stood on the rocky clifftop. The ocean provided their music.

The vows were simple and short. No one shed a tear. Love wasn't a prison to the young. It was a way of life.

Dorothy and Cleveland were wed.

"I don't feel any different," Dorothy said.

"I hope you never do," Cleveland winked at her.

The last light faded. Moonlight took over.

"It's like our own little world," Dorothy said.

"Everybody builds that," Cleveland said. He almost thought it sounded wise.

"It's depressing to think about leaving here," Dorothy said, "about going back."

"We won't ever go back," Cleveland said. "Not really. We'll live here in this place we've created. No one else can know about it. That makes it ours."

Dorothy wore the pull-tab from an old soda can around her third finger.

"Love makes the world a better place," she said.

"Especially our love," Cleveland said.

The moonlight gave everything a glow, a superior sheen.

"Do you ever think about the rest of our lives?" Dorothy said.

"Nope," Cleveland said.

"Me either," Dorothy said. "Why is that?"

Cleveland thought maybe he should stop and kiss her, his bride. "Because," he said, "our lives are right here in this moment."

Dorothy closed her eyes. "I suppose they are, aren't they?"

"Yep," Cleveland said.

Some force like romantic gravity seemed to be propelling him into action. Cleveland didn't fight it. He kissed Dorothy under the moonlight. The universe approved.

"Wow," Dorothy said.

"Yeah. Wow," Cleveland said.

The next month they both turned eleven.

END


Bio: Mark Joseph Kevlock has been a published author for nearly three decades. In 2018 his fiction has appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including 365 Tomorrows, Into The Void, The First Line, Toasted Cheese, Literally Stories, The Sea Letter, The Starlit Path, Fiction on the Web, Bewildering Stories, Ellipsis Zine, Yellow Mama, Down in the Dirt, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Friday Flash Fiction. He has also written for DC Comics.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Synchronistic Surprises: Books That Found Us in The Write Place at the Write Time

Cover image of The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale

Ever have that subtly life-shaping experience of going into a bookstore and randomly happening upon a book you were not seeking, but one which reflects a personal theme, need, want, dream, question, or thought? We're a community of ardent readers, writers, and artists, so the chances are high (despite the fact that brick and mortar stores are becoming rare gems). We understand this sort of sychronistic phenomenon—we love it, we invite it, we're used to "being found" by these little powerhouses called books. Yet what if the books take the trouble to package themselves and embark on a journey to travel all the way to you, unexpected and unbidden? There's a kind of wonderful magic to that.

This is our decade milestone year of the magazine. A decade of having poured much of our lives into this endeavor which is as alive as the extraordinary souls spanning the globe who make up its very essence. Yet the other parts of our lives have asked much of us and we've been pulled by the gravitational force of the infamous, albeit well-intentioned, work/life imbalance. Often, when called away temporarily from the mag world, we consciously or unconsciously record, note, and bring back in metaphor, symbolism, or theme, our outside revelations, discoveries, lessons, and observations. We do this because there is a never-ending correspondence between what we live and feel, what much of the WPWT community lives and feels, and what the magazine decides to impart to us all. The themes and the "magic" live there in the in-between spaces because it always turns out that what we need to experience, learn, or absorb is never in a vacuum—it's always, in one sense or another, universal, something with a meaning affecting many in the WPWT sphere.

We'd tended to think that the magazine held tight and dragged us by the wrist in one direction, life tugging the other another way, with some divine (higher than us) inspiration connecting points we touched along the paths of will and resistance. It only took a decade to drive home the revelation that it's all interwoven—you, us, our/your experiences and feelings, all the work as creators, a shared state of the world, and that higher presiding thread tying it all together. How does this relate to parcels we'd like to imagine are delivered by owls (Harry Potter style), arriving to surprise us? Read on, my friends.

We keep receiving these hardcover beauties (links below for further info) that are answers to individual issues of the magazine. Following the release of the winter-spring issue, April brought about the appearance of a brilliant green shoot in the form of a debut novel from Knopf. The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale in a contemporary kind of almost inner conversational candor, grabs a sub-theme of the issue through exploring our most important relationships—those we share and outwardly seek and strive to work on with the ones we love, and those we safeguard, continually search within for, and strive to work on with ourselves. Through the protagonist's feelings and choices in the novel, we saw an echo of two of the l's of the winter-spring issue. One to do with transforming loneliness into an understanding of transient phases of the human condition, a sometimes deliberate journey of solitude  or a return to self for survival. The other, to do with the strain and salvation of love.

For modern women, the novel captures the distinct challenges and phases, the plans and alternate paths, the still-prevalent pressures, and the liberations stemming from the inherent growth of awareness, embracing the everyday, and reflective acceptance. Also, the book has a nice tie to our beloved New England (MA in particular) as does the author. We made plans to run a book giveaway and we're going to include the details further down so you can enter to win this lauded 2018 release!

The second synchronistic surprise arrived only a short time ago and it was a face-to-face greeting of sorts regarding the upcoming issue and my own work. During a pre-autumn cleaning, I spent time kneeling down and truly looking through the bookshelves in the guest room that contain years of my life, countless memories...whole ages and stages. The books that surround me now are from more recent incarnations and hold different, quite specific meanings. I was doing other tasks in that room, but found that I'd unwittingly opened a door to the past to find something I needed. I was reminded of all that led me here, what I'd wanted, who I'd been, what wonderfully came to pass, and yet also what I'd forgotten. Some of the titles I hadn't seen in some time.

Running my fingers over the spines with nostalgic ease felt like going back through a pictorial timeline of pivotal years on a touch screen. I could visualize the formative moments and the volumes were the faces of old, cherished friends. Two were bought on the same day in a used bookshop around the time that I chose this road and they influenced my fate. (Fitzgerald and Doctorow, how can I thank you?) Suddenly I was nineteen in NYC visiting NYU to have a conversation with the latter author who kindly took time to answer some questions of a young writer. A snow globe of the city I grew up near purchased in the train station, and a poem, were my humble tokens of gratitude. I remember my father and I talking on the return trip home about the fact that one life goal of mine (meeting the brilliant author) was checked off.

I remembered that youthful fervor for the written word and wanted again to put pen to paper just for me. Being an editor is incredible in a number of ways but if not kept in moderation, can, at times, stifle the writer identity—they struggle for space and time and supremacy in one person, one mind. Sometimes they feed one another and thrive harmoniously, sometimes it's just war. I'd been reading The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (this vital book could get its own commentary when I finish it so I'll only mention it here) and it occurred to me that I didn't recall what I was fighting and where/how I should allot my service or allegiance amongst the roles I juggle. I was retrieving some parts of myself that had, for one reason or another, been placed upon the shelf. Needing something "of one's own," I was drawn to another image in time. To the Lighthouse beckoned and I stopped there, shy and curious, like a child lingering on the threshold of a space where something important is happening inside. What did Virginia have to tell me?

Not more than a week later, a huge package containing a giant treasure of a book that had her face on the cover was sent along. This book, Writers: Their Lives and Works from DK (Foreword by James Naughtie), this reply to an unasked question and an unnamed longing, is the consummate inspiration, the companion of companions, the creative coach. Why? Because it opens conversations and consultations with centuries of creative compatriots. They show up to be there for you, understand, and remind you why you love the written word so much. Virginia was a comforting catalyst showing up at a crucial time. Hemingway whispered something about a protagonist I'd neglected for over a year and an empty notebook was suddenly graced with black ink. Camus commented on the upcoming magazine issue and prompted me to firmly further develop the central theme I was working on, coloring in its lines to define its deeper message. It's like meeting and spending time with them. Seeing images of their work spaces, keepsakes, and much more, you're transported in a visit—and however well you think you know them, you learn something new and are so eager to read, research more beyond what you discover. We'd like to do different features on this book and are still brainstorming. Stay tuned.

These were the books that found us in the write place at the write time, delivered (at least in our imaginations) by wise, helpful owls from the Hogwarts castles of publishing houses in the mystical land of New York City. We received them by surprise. The writing universe has no shortage of "magic" and according to Caroline Myss, the wizard archetype can "produce results outside the ordinary rules of life," and has the ability of "converting matter into some form of altered and enhanced expression." Other interpretations talk about the power of the will and intention of the archetype for a purpose. What are writers if not wizards with their pens as wands to render extraordinary aspects of life by converting feelings, experiences, world events, beliefs, and countless other elements into forms of "enhanced expression," so we might all speak a universal language of human understanding... So close to October, we'll embrace the idea of enchantment with a grateful nod to higher inspiration, the power of words, and the way the world of creatives unifies, assists, and operates beyond "the ordinary rules of life." Cheers to that. ~NMB

BOOK GIVEAWAY: What to do to be entered in a drawing to win the debut novel by Jana Casale (pictured above)? Simple. Just e-mail us your comments (use the Feedback form on our magazine Feedback page, link below) about our milestone year of the magazine and each name will be entered into the drawing with the winner chosen at random. As we prepare for our decade anniversary issue that carries not only the significance of what's transpired here but all the stories and bonds beyond the pages that we've shared with you, we intend to celebrate in the same way we started—together. Thus, we'd love to hear your words about what you've enjoyed about the publication, what you feel makes it unique, what has affected you, and what anecdotes or memories you'd like to share about WPWT. Deadline: October 12th

Feedback form link:

http://www.thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org/feedbackandquestions.html


Links to further book info:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550905/the-girl-who-never-read-noam-chomsky-by-jana-casale/

https://www.dk.com/us/book/9781465474773-writers/


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Fiction from the Heart: I Only Have Eyes

This short story is an emblematic exploration of what we do for love and how we endeavor to search, to wait, to strive for the right—and the best—things in life. It is an ode to every romantic and every romance on this last day of February and, as we were informed by its author, it was penned on Valentine's Day last year. A number of synchronicities surrounded its acceptance, so we share with you a tender bit of fond fate in the form of a tale about what keeps us going in life. 


I Only Have Eyes

by Mark Joseph Kevlock

"You can't just stand around here waiting," Charley said.

"I can and I will," I said.

"What if she never comes by?" Charley said.

"She will."

And so I began my street corner vigil, in the heart of the city. They say perhaps a hundred thousand people pass through City Square on an average day. I say those were pretty good odds.

I had no particular type in mind. No certain hair color, education, or mannerisms. She would simply be the love of my life. I'd know her when I saw her.

The first few hours turned up nothing. Charley came by again around 10:00 a.m. to offer more encouragement.

"This is ridiculous," he said. "How long do you plan to keep this up?"

"How many hours are there in the day?" I said. "How many days in the year?"

"Incurable," Charley said. And waved his hand dismissively.

Charley was no romantic. But I was no fool. I knew it sounded crazy, looked crazy, even felt crazy. But I wasn't giving up.

She didn't show up, that first afternoon.

Ah, but the second....

She didn't show up then, either.

A stadium full of people passed me by, one face at a time. None of the faces were hers.

"How do you know?" Charley said. "If you don't even know what she looks like? Why don't you just pick a nice-looking girl, and get a courtship started? Isn't that easier?"

"This is easier," I said. "It's easier to wait and make sure. Then there can be no mistake."

Charley didn't come by the third day. Or the fourth. I began to believe I might have to hang in a while longer than I thought.

What made me execute this somewhat foolhardy plan? you ask. How did I ever concoct it in the first place?

Age 5: I remember hearing my first love song on the radio. Love seems like a good idea in the world. I come out in favor of it.

Age 8: romantic daydreams push away a lot of other stuff, like playing sports, learning how to shoot with a hunting rifle, watching game shows.

Age 12: women are out there. I've seen them. The young ones are called girls. I might just get up my nerve and speak to a few.

Age 14: still waiting for my nerve to get up.

Age 16: the pop radio songs are like a bible. I study them. Broken hearts. Hearts aflame. Look what you've done to my heart. Conclusion: romance is deadly dangerous. Actual romance.

Age 19: three years into my fantasy romances. No broken hearts yet. No flesh and blood women either. I draw them in my mind. I can love my own creations easily enough. But they don't love me back. Even if I imagine it.

Age 22: college graduate, degree in Romantic poetry. Big money in that. During the Renaissance.

Age today: I'll wait it out, as long as I have to. Intuition tells me my true love is out there. Lady Luck says she'll pass me by, on this corner. Unless she lives in Zurich. I've given it a week. Is it time to be discouraged? There are many lovely women, smiling at me. But not the right woman.

If I told you about my job, it would be boring. I worked in the evenings. Slept at night. Manned the corner all day. My legs got pretty strong, the second week. I didn't just stand there. I moved around and got exercise.

Charley came back, the third week. "I'm going to pull you out of here soon," he said. "Forcibly remove you, if I have to."

"Five minutes after I left with you—that's when she'd come by."

Charley held his mouth open as long as he could. No words came out. Charley left.

There was a stoplight on my corner of City Square. This made all the pedestrians pause, waiting for the walk signal. This gave me a good look at everyone. No one appealed to me.

Week four: she didn't come.

Month four: she didn't come.

What was I standing here for—if I didn't believe it? I had to believe it. The pop radio songs said so.

It was a rainy day in October. Then it was a rainy day in November. Rainy days seemed more likely to yield results. I don't know why.

Charley almost got hit by a car, because he was busy yelling at me. "One of these people must be a shrink," he said. "I'll start asking." Then he turned toward an oncoming group. "Excuse me, sir, are you a psychiatrist? My friend here needs one, A.S.A.P."

The next day a patrolman walking his beat asked me what I was doing there.

"Waiting," I said. "Just waiting."

"Gimme some details on that," he said.

"I have to wait here to meet someone," I said.

"Maybe your wife," he said, "Mrs. Vague."

I started getting afraid he was going to boot me out of there. Then my life would be over.

"I'm not causing any trouble," I said.

"So far," he said. Then walked away.

At least if I had a few close calls to keep me going.... A woman here or there who I thought, for just an instant, might be the one....

But no one ever came close. It would be all, or nothing at all. Pop radio lyrics.

So now a year went past. I worked the holidays. I came in on weekends. I got older.

Charley took a job in Vermont. No one visited after that.

How could I be sure I wasn't going crazy? A lethal dose of lovey dovey intentions.

It came to be my existence. I found my life in the details. The precise number of seconds it took the light to change. The monthly changing of the billboards overhead. Who overdressed for the weather. Who underdressed.

It was a sad day in mid-February.

It wasn't the first year on the corner.

It wasn't the second, or the third.

I was like a lamppost that could think. A fire hydrant with a beating heart. A City Square fixture.

Then she came.

I saw her from all the way down the block, approaching. She had an aura that matched mine. No BS. She had hair and legs and all the rest of what she needed.

What made her special? you ask. What made her the one? Look to your own romance for that impossible answer.

She walked right up to me with everything she had. "Hey," she said. "Hey," I said.

"I've been walking past every corner in every city, for years," she said.

"I've been studying every face walking past this corner," I said, "for years."

"What have you been waiting for?" she said.

"You," I said.

"What have you been searching for?" I said.

"You," she said.

"I almost gave up," we both said, at the same time. "I'm glad I didn't."

The patrolman from years ago came by.

"See?" I said. "She's here at last. My wait is over."

"Jesus, kid," he said. "I've seen statues with less patience than you got. Glad it worked out for ya'."

"Me too," I said.

The day was still a sad one. I was leaving my corner. I left a note for Charley, in case he ever came looking:

You were right, my friend, about just what I needed. Turns out she's a shrink. And now I'm her lifelong patient.


Bio: Mark Joseph Kevlock (used to spell it: Kiewlak) has been a published author for more than two decades. His work has appeared numerous times in The Bitter Oleander, Wild Violet, The Oracular Tree, Cezanne's Carrot, and A Twist of Noir. He has also written for DC Comics.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Writing Prompt: The Sounds of Headlines

The YouTube video shared below (scroll to bottom of this post) blends music and lyrics from two talented, powerful contemporary female artists. The song you are about to listen to features the tune of "Gasoline" by Halsey and the words of "Savages" by Marina and the Diamonds. When listening to one of the artists, this video came up as a suggestion. It seems that YouTube users can create what are referred to as musical "mashups" of various artists, blending their work to mix sounds and phrases. This mashup, compiled by user Gingergreen, is one of the most dynamic we've come across in how it stresses the message of "Savages" with the melodic force of "Gasoline." The song "Savages" depicts the dark aspect of man and refers to much of what is seen in the headlines. It asks provocative questions of human nature and attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible.

For this writing prompt, click on the video below and develop written responses in the forms of poetry and flash fiction (under 1,000 words). Do not post your responses in the comment section of this blog post. If you'd like to share them with us, please use the Feedback form on our magazine website feedback page (as we may choose to feature a few of the responses, please also glance at our submission guidelines page).

http://www.thewriteplaceatthewritetime.org/feedbackandquestions.html

We are also featuring links to the song lyrics as well as the original, separate songs of both artists for further perusal.

Mashup link (if shared video doesn't play): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-uCMCzVkTI

Original songs and lyrics to "Savages":

"Gasoline" by Halsey (audio): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRHNi3QfFlE
"Savages" by Marina and the Diamonds (audio): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxaTAFXgykU
Google search on "Savages" lyrics by Marina Lambrini Diamandis: https://www.google.com/search?source=hp&ei=x9OVWu1-h8SwBebPsIAN&q=savages+by+marina+and+the+diamonds+lyrics&oq=savages+by+marina+and+the+diamonds+lyrics&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0j0i22i30k1l5.584.12101.0.12296.42.39.0.2.2.0.172.4250.11j28.39.0....0...1c.1.64.psy-ab..1.41.4268.0..0i131k1.0.xtxYQlT2Feg




Saturday, October 28, 2017

Special All Hallows' Eve Feature: The Return of the Flutews

Last Halloween, we featured a post about a visit to a reportedly haunted athenaeum, frequented by literary greats in its history. This year, we are featuring a work of fantastical short fiction by a new contributor which echoes the sentiment in these famed words from FDR's 1933 inaugural address: "[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Happy Halloween, everyone!


The Return of the Flutews

by C. B. Heinemann

The first time I saw one of those little creatures up close I nearly jumped out of my own skin.  I’d heard about them, and had even seen one here and there from afar, but one evening as I sat hunched over the kitchen table going over my stack of unpaid bills I looked up and there it was, crawling up the wall next to the refrigerator. After jerking out of my chair I took a few deep breaths, removed my glasses, then replaced them over my nose, convinced I was either hallucinating or my home was being invaded by space aliens. "How’d you get into my house?!” 

Covered in what looked like blue and green fur, it seemed to be a cross between a large bug and a gecko. The way it moved in slow motion was strange for either an insect or a lizard, but what really got my attention was the sound it made. At first I thought I heard a conversation out in my yard, but realized that the sound came from the thing itself—like a tiny person making talking noises without saying any real words. The tone was distinctly human-like, and I hoped I was merely having a very weird dream.

“Holy crap!”  I said, trying to catch my breath. “Where did you come from?”
         
The thing twisted what I assumed was its head to one side before skittering down behind my stove.
         
I backed away, knocking over a trash can. “Hey, you can’t go there! I don’t want some weird frigging giant bug-thing living behind my stove. What are you?”

The thing didn’t reappear, and I felt no urge to go after it.  I didn’t quite know what to do about it and felt a headache coming on. “I’m not hanging around here. I think I’ll have dinner out tonight.”

Closing the kitchen door behind me, I pulled out my phone to call a friend. My hands were trembling.

“Hey Paul, feel like going out for a bite to eat?”

“Thanks, but I’ve got to work tonight. Plus I just ate.”

I took a breath. “Um, I was wondering...I think I found something in my kitchen...like a big insect only with fur and no wings.”

I heard a chuckle. “Oh yeah, I found one of those on my porch. Cute little thing. Never seen one before.”

“You think it’s cute?”

“Well, yeah. Darned thing almost talks.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t find that cute at all. What is it, exactly?”
        
“No idea, but I’m not an expert. I’m going to ask Sandy. She’s a vet so maybe she’ll know. Did you catch it?”

“No, but it’s hiding behind my stove.”

“I caught mine and put it in a jar so I could look at it, but it made so much noise and buzzed around so that I let it go. That thing is pretty powerful for a bug or whatever it is.”

“Are you going to the pub later?”

“I’ll be there about nine-thirty. I’ll see if I can get Sandy to come with me.”

I rode my bike into town and stopped at the Lotus Garden Restaurant. Over my plate of shredded pork and Lo Mein, I stared idly at an antique Chinese painting of a man riding a donkey on a mountain path up in the clouds. I nearly flew out of my chair when I noticed a sinister figure on a tree. “Oh my God, it’s one of those...things!”

The couple at the table next to me looked up.  “Excuse me,” said the man.  “Are you all right?”
         
“I don’t know.” I peered closer. “My God, it looks just like it.”

I paid my bill and biked to the local pub, The Old Draft House, ordered an IPA, and sat trying to think. After a beer and a half I felt better, but when Paul sauntered in with his girlfriend Sandy, I felt stabs of anxiety. I could barely get through the how-are-you bits before I blurted it out. “Anybody know what those weird blue and green bug things are? Sandy, you must know. I just found one in my house, and it’s even weirder than I heard.”

“Calm down, man,” said Paul with a smile. He was a big, gentle guy with graying hair tied back into a ponytail and a pink face free of guile. “That thing has really gotten under your skin, hasn’t it?”

Sandy, an attractive woman with long honey-blond hair and big green eyes, sat next to me and began digging through her purse. “I know what you’re talking about,” she said in her Louisiana accent.

“They’re turning up everywhere, but I’ll be darned if I know what they are.”

“I’ve got one in my kitchen and I’m afraid to go home.”

A young guy sitting on a nearby stool turned to us. “You talking about those salamanders or whatever? Everybody I know has seen them.”

“I’ve seen two of them in my yard,” said another guy.  “I don’t know if it’s a bug or a lizard or what.”

“That’s what we were talking about,” said Sandy with laugh. “I’m a veterinarian and even I don’t know.”

The bartender brought our round and chimed in. “I’ve got one living in my basement. I tried to put it in a terrarium, but it went berserk.”

“I did the same thing,” added Paul. “I had to let it go.”

“The craziest thing is, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same,” the bartender said looking up and down the bar and leaning closer, “and I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or what, but mine's not only getting bigger, it looks different. It’s down to four legs from six, with little feet.”

“Like a salamander?”

“Yeah, and that’s not all. It started off like a big grasshopper or cicada. Now it’s got a head. And that voice...”

“Yeah!” I cut in. “Like a baby trying to talk.”

Sandy grabbed my arm. “Speak of the devil.”

I followed her gaze to the television above the cash register. News 8 was showing some guy holding something that looked like what I had in my kitchen. “Turn it up, quick! This is it.”

“They’re appearing everywhere,” said the man.“They were thought to be extinct, but as we all are finding out, they’re making a comeback. In case you haven’t yet heard, they’re called flutews, and they originated in China.” The word flutew flashed on the screen.

“Flutews,” I said. “Why do they have to give it such a stupid name? How did he pronounce that again?”
         
“I didn’t catch it.”

“Flute-ews?”

“From China? How did they end up here? I just was eating in the Lotus Garden, and I swear to God I saw one of those things in an old painting. I nearly tossed my noodles.”
         
“They’re completely harmless. They don’t bite or sting, but they will try to get into your food, so keep everything in the fridge or in Tupperware.”

“I can’t believe this,” I muttered.  “It’s like the Twilight Zone.”

“Hold on, I’m trying to hear this.”

“According to Chinese legend, these flutews started off being considered good luck, but that changed.” The camera pulled up close to the man’s face. “It seems that the flutews were almost completely wiped out centuries ago, killed off by the citizens of the areas they inhabited. Some survived, kept as pets, and were brought over here by immigrants. Remember, these are only legends, and we still know very little about these creatures. We here at News Eight will keep you updated on our new brightly-hued invaders.”

The station switched to news of a fire in an apartment building. “No other information?”  I looked around incredulously. “We’ve just got to learn to live with these things crawling around everywhere?”

“I guess you haven’t seen many yet, but now that you’ve got one living with you, you’re sitting up and taking notice,” said Paul. “They’re like little pets. They do have a silly name, though.”

I ordered another beer. “It reminds me of that Star Trek episode about the furry things that multiplied everywhere.”

“Hey, what about the seventeen-year cicadas?  Every seventeen years they pop out of the ground, zillions of them over the trees, the bushes, the streets, the gutters...”
         
“In your hair, clinging to your clothes,” Sandy added.

“Buzzing all day and all night long. Yeah, maybe it’s like that. Maybe they’ve been dormant for decades. Or centuries.”

“Lucky us they decided to wake up now.”

“I wonder if you can eat them?” The bartender grinned. “I don’t think I could do it myself. I’ll talk to the chef. Might be the next big thing.”

I shook my head. “Maybe it’s just psychological, but their size and that talking sound has me worried. If they were, like, half their size, they would be more interesting and less creepy.”

“I know what you mean,” said Sandy. “They’re a little intimidating. It’s hard to pin them down. I wouldn’t mind doing some research on these things. Think of it—it’s essentially a new species! It’s totally unheard of, except in Chinese legends.”

The headache returned. “I wish I could share your enthusiasm, Sandy, but this gives me a bad feeling.”

During the next few days I noticed more of them—on a tree, one crawling on top of a car. I even spotted one dangling from a woman’s purse as she walked down the street, oblivious to her hitchhiker. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of the flutew in my kitchen, and I could have sworn it was getting larger. Like the bartender said, it developed four legs with tiny feet and a distinct head. I wanted to get a better look, but I couldn’t bring myself to get close to it. I didn’t care what the so-called expert on the news said—I didn’t trust it.

People at work talked about their encounters with the flutews and everyone had a story. One woman’s dog chased an extraordinarily fast one through the neighborhood. I overheard a man telling someone on the phone that his four-year-old son caught one and tied a tiny toy harness on it, but it managed to escape. One of my buddies stopped at my desk. “I hear you have one living in your kitchen.”

“Yeah. Now I keep the kitchen door closed.”

“So you’re already giving up your place to him?” He laughed. “He’s probably eating cockroaches. I read somewhere on the Internet they do that. Slugs, cockroaches, things like that. Just be careful and don’t let him see you too much.”

“Why not?”

“Some scientist was on last night talking about how they’ve got some kind of survival thing where they try to look like whatever other animal is living nearby.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a camouflage thing, you know, like some fish do. They try to look like whatever they’re living near.”

The headache returned. “So you’re saying that if it lives with me long enough, it’ll look like me?”

“If your flutew starts losing his hair, I’d say he’s halfway there.” He laughed again. “And keep him away from the beer.”

“Very funny.”

I decided that it was time to catch the thing and release it somewhere because I didn’t like mysterious creatures lurking around trying to impersonate me. “Enough of this,” I muttered on my way home. “This is getting out of hand. I don’t want to have anything to do with these stupid flutews.”

Spikes of alarm jabbed my nervous system. As I drove, my eyes were on the verges and woods. After a moment of adjustment I realized that there were dozens of flutews clinging to the brush, and even on some of the other cars. “Harmless? Are they sure about that?”
         
My jittering fingers reached for the radio and I tuned it to another news station. "It seems the flutews are  everywhere, and are getting larger and altering their appearance." Another voice came on. “In a riding stable near Potomac, several flutews were found with horse-like heads.” The first guy returned. “Researchers are calling this the most puzzling phenomenon they’ve ever seen.”

Yet another voice came on. “The flutew is neither insect, lizard, nor mammal, but a kind of blend of the three. It has an incredible ability to take on the characteristics of whatever dominant animal lives nearby in an attempt to protect itself. And one of the strangest aspects is its ability to mimic the voices of other animals, including humans. In fact, reports are trickling in that some may have learned actual words, in the same way parrots and some other birds do.”

I turned off the radio and glanced at a cluster of trees. Three flutews, green and blue, dangled from a branch. I felt afraid, though I wasn’t sure exactly what I was afraid of. After all, the things were harmless. But that fear ran to the core of my being. It was a feeling unlike anything I’d ever known, and I had to fight against it. “Come on, man,” I told myself. “Don’t let this get to you. Think of it as...interesting.” The fear didn’t budge. “They’re not hurting anyone. This is just silly, irrational fear—fear of the unknown.”

When I got home my heart was pounding and I panted for breath. Without planning or thinking, I rushed into the house, pulled back the stove, and there it was, clinging to the wall next to the gas line. I didn’t want to look at it, but I could see that it was the size of a Barbie doll and had developed a large, round head. While horror tore through my system, I reached for the dustpan and a newspaper, scooped the thing into the dustpan, and covered it with newspaper. I could hear it chattering and felt the vibration of its body. I could have sworn I heard a little human voice saying, “Wha er ou, wha er ou.”

“Oh my God.” Praying I wouldn’t pass out, I staggered on legs of rubber to the front door, ripped it open, ran across the street and into a small park, where I tossed the dustpan, paper, and flutew into the bushes before turning and racing back to my house.

After slamming the door shut, I stood for a moment. My vision flickered and I felt lightheaded. Sweat gushed down my face and onto my shirt. “This thing is messing with my head. This is crazy—it’s harmless.”

I searched through the house, from the basement to the attic, to see if I could find any more flutews. I even listened for that baby-voice, but it seemed that flutew had been my only roommate. Collapsing onto the sofa, I turned on the television. “Maybe I should have named it,” I said, trying to make myself laugh. “At least now I’m finally flutew-free. I never want to see or hear any of those things again. I’m not going to look for them or even talk about them. They’re out of my life forever, I hope. Poor little bastard. He can’t help it, but...I just don’t like them.”

On Friday evening I decided that I had to watch a special report that had been advertised. Not thinking about something can be far more difficult than thinking about it, and I began to feel that I couldn’t live my life until the flutews either disappeared or I learned to accept them.

When I turned on the television, however, what I saw was so horrible that I wished I hadn’t. Heaps of dead, mangled, flutews lay by the side of the road—like strange toys, beaten to death and tossed into piles.

“Unfortunately, this has become part two of the flutew invasion. Although they are harmless and even friendly to humans, people who are disturbed by the flutews are going out and killing them in great numbers. There even seems to be an organization coordinating this on the Internet. Disturbed people have been going out and killing as many of the flutews as they can—in the woods and fields, going into yards, everywhere they can find them, and usually at night.”

“That’s right,” said a woman as the camera showed more crushed flutew bodies. “In fact, police in some areas describe it as a ‘killing mania.’ Some lawmakers are rushing to pass bills protecting the flutews before they’re wiped out.”

I thought of my flutew and realized he might end up beaten to death if he wasn’t dead already. As uneasy as I felt about them, I wished them no harm, and the violent reaction others had to them revolted me. That poor flutew never did anything but purr at me and eat the bugs behind my refrigerator.

Before realizing I had already taken action I was out the door and halfway across the street with a flashlight and dustpan. Carefully, I stepped into the park and called out the only thing I could think of—“Wha er ou! Wha er ou!”          

The sun had just eased below the horizon, so the light was dim. A bunch of guys in hoodies tramped up the street in my direction, and I saw bats and sticks in their hands. “Come on—here, flutew!” I urged. “Come on! Wha er ou! Wha er ou!”

A chirp erupted from the tree beside me, and I turned and saw my flutew. He had a round head and plump belly—I knew damned well he was trying to look like me. It wasn’t flattering, but for the very first time I felt a wave of empathy for him. I poked the dustpan under him. “Come on, flutew. I’m sorry I kicked you out. I had no idea. I still don’t, but come on anyway. I’m not letting anybody hurt you. You’re my flutew, after all, so come on!”

To my amazement, he hopped into the dustpan. I covered him with the newspaper in my other hand and made my way back to my house, trying to walk casually to avoid suspicion. The guys in hoodies laughed and hooted, thrashing their sticks through the bushes. My heart started slamming again, but they didn’t challenge me. When I reached my front gate, I turned to them. “What are you doing, anyway?”
         
“Looking for flutews,” one said with a hesitant laugh.  “What’s it to you?”

“What did they ever do to you?”

The guy turned away, ignoring my question.

Once inside, I ran down into the basement with the flutew and crouched beside my storage refrigerator. “Okay, flutew, you can live down here. I know you like fridges, and there are plenty of cave crickets and stuff you can eat. I guess I’m going to have to get used to you.” I watched him crawl on four legs to the back of the refrigerator. He turned and blinked at me. 

“I guess you’re not so scary after all,” I said. “I just didn’t know what you were and it freaked me out. But you’re okay. You can live here and I’ll take care of you.” I looked at him for a moment. “I’d better give you a name. Maybe you’re a girl flutew—how can I tell? Judging from your appearance, I ought to call you Frank. Strange as it is to both of us, though I thought I needed protection from you, it’s now my job to protect you. Hell, for all I know, you guys could be the best friends we humans ever had.” A strange, deep sorrow flooded my heart. “We were just too frightened and ignorant to give you a chance.”


Bio: C. B. Heinemann has been performing, recording and touring with rock and Irish music groups for more than 30 years. The Washington Post said his songs are “. . . among the best coming from either side of the Atlantic,” and Dirty Linen called him a “virtuoso.” His short stories have appeared in Florida English, Berkeley Fiction Review, Cigale, Rathalla Review, Howl, Ascent, Lowestoft Chronicles, Outside In Literary Journal, Storyteller, One Million Stories, Whistling Fire, Danse Macabre, Battered Suitcase, Fate, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Cool Traveler, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Car & Travel. His stories have been featured in anthologies published by Florida English, One Million Stories, and Whereabouts.