Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Wishes

This is my last post of the year. I am taking the last couple of weeks off to enjoy time with my family. "Editing for Grammarphobes" and "Flash Fiction Fridays" will return in January with more fun facts and great stories. 


I leave you this holiday season with a wonderful piece by Sharon Cupp Pennington. Merry Christmas and may your new year be filled with joy, love and peace.


The Right Thing
By Sharon Cupp Pennington


Deborah Sterling tipped the deliveryman and closed the door, sliding glittering ribbon off the foil box. Christmas was her favorite season. Carols, greeting cards, gifts wrapped to perfection by the ladies at Craig’s Ballantine Avenue store. Married thirty years, he delighted in spoiling her and their only child, Daniel.


Deborah sat, box in her lap. She lifted the photograph atop a Chippendale table and ran her finger across the handsome soldier’s face. “Where are you, son?” she whispered.


“Don’t give up on him,” Craig had said. “Daniel’s a Marine. Superbly trained. Iraq’s swarming with Coalition, Deb. They’ll bring him home by Christmas.”


Christmas. Three weeks away?


Wouldn’t happen.


She returned the photograph, studied the box. Craig’s futile attempt to lessen her grief.
Three fortune cookies were nestled inside. She cracked one open, removed its paper sliver. “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Trembling, she read the second fortune. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


She dropped the third cookie back in the box. A cruel joke from someone against the war. 


Someone who knew her father.


Reverend Albert Merriday swore by the Golden Rule. Her mother embraced it every hardworking day of her short life. In lean times they dug deeper, gave more.


“Not because it’s expected,” her father said, “but because it’s the right thing.”


Last visit home, he’d called Deborah spoiled, with scrambled priorities.


But he didn’t know her. Not then. Not now.


She stood, setting the box by the window. Snow fell again. Daniel loved the snow. Craig once swore she’d never want for anything. Well, she wanted now.


“You need busy work.” 


She hurried to her studio. For twenty years she’d designed for one of the most prestigious houses — and the most fickle stars.


She circled the mannequin, tried not to think of fortune cookies, who cruelly sent them. Every year she’d allocated one dress for someone in need, gratis. They’d met Jimmy Chang years ago. He and his wife drove Deborah to the hospital the night she went into premature labor in their small restaurant’s busy kitchen. Another night Craig worked late at his store.


In January, the Chang’s eldest daughter would wear this wedding dress.


The telephone rang. Hurrying to answer, Deborah bumped the sewing table. Seed pearls scattered. “Hello?”


Craig’s voice. “Turn on the TV, Deb.”


“Why, what channel?”


“Doesn’t matter. Networks are all running the story. Daniel, three others! All a little worse for wear, but—”


“How, where? Oh, God, when?”


“No details yet. Jimmy called to say he’d sent you the fortune cookies from lunch. God only knows why you like those tasteless things, but he made these special, a reminder of the lovely things you do for others. Deb, turn on the TV!”


She dropped the phone, ran downstairs, switched on the news.


Laughing, crying, she snatched up the box from Jimmy Chang. Hands shaking, Deborah could hardly unfurl the third cookie’s fortune. She choked out the words, “Good things come to those who wait.”




Sharon Cupp Pennington’s short stories have appeared in numerous online and print venues, with anthology contributions to The Rocking Chair Reader in the Coming Home edition (2004) and Family Gatherings (2005), A Cup of Comfort for Weddings: Something Old, Something New (2007), and Good Old Days Magazine (March, 2007). Draumr Publishing released her debut romantic suspense novel, Hoodoo Money, in May 2008 and the sequel, Mangroves and Monsters, in November 2009. She resides in Texas with her husband where she is currently working on her next project. 





Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Miss Austen

On this most momentous of days, Bibliophilic Blather celebrates the illustrious Jane Austen by re-posting a piece I wrote upon my return from visiting her home and burial site in England. I will never forget that day and am truly grateful for my time spent in Austen country.


Jane and me

It was Mrs. Berkeley’s English class, sophomore year in high school. Our first full-scale research paper lay ahead. We were to pick an author, read three of his or her books and write a term paper on recurrent themes in the work.


The list was filled with authors of the Classics, ninety percent of whom were men. I glanced further down the page and came upon a name I had never seen before — Jane Austen. One novel’s synopsis started out something like, “Elizabeth Bennet meets Fitzwilliam Darcy at a dance. Neither is too pleased with the other.” I was hooked. I quickly ran up to our teacher, securing this Jane Austen before anyone else, for fear of being stuck analyzing Homer.


Pride and Prejudice changed my life. I had never identified with a fictional character before. Most were fighting mythical monsters, wars or governments, or having larger than life adventures that to me, at age 15, were not plausible. Elizabeth Bennet was witty and sassy, and her cat-and-mouse game with Mr. Darcy captivated my teenage heart. This felt real, whether it took place in the eighteenth or twentieth century.


I sat on my bed, amid countless notecards stacked in three piles: Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice. My brain was fried. How would I be able to sum up such a writer? Yes, I had discovered themes in her literature, but which to focus on? I made a plea. “Jane, if you can hear me, please help me do justice to your genius.” 


The next day, I rose and wrote the complete rough draft in one sitting. After the proper revisions, I turned it in and received an “A,” but with a “See me” notation at the end. No good can ever come from that.

“How many Jane Austen novels did you read, Karen?”


“The three we were supposed to.” I was nervous. Did I not do enough?


“Really..hmmmm.”


“What’s wrong?”


“It’s just that you wrote your research paper in Jane Austen’s style, and I thought perhaps you had read more or studied her before.”


This would not be the last time Miss Austen would help me out. I have read and re-read her novels, biographies and copies of her letters to her sister, Cassandra. Watching movie or television productions of her stories relaxes me, brings me to what my kids call "my happy place."


Jane sparked my love of British literature, and I went onto major in English in college. She also showed me, along with the rest of the world, that women could be great writers, intelligent and interesting, not second-class citizens penning accounts of nothingness, while the men went about having the adventures. Jane Austen made it possible for me to write what I do today.


A few weeks ago, I visited her home in Chawton, Hampshire, England, while on holiday with my family. She spent that last eight years of her life there. It is a lovely cottage with a small garden to the side; “a prettyish sort of wilderness,” as Lady Catherine de Bourgh would call it.


I felt as if I had walked right into one of her novels. A display case holds some of her letters. The cross necklaces owned by Jane and Cassandra, were there, along with a lock of her hair. A quilt she had made is shown upstairs, along with a replica of the bed she shared with her sister.


The sitting room held the greatest treasure. There, by the window, was a small octagonal table, not very much bigger than a tea table. Her writing desk! It was partitioned off with Plexiglas. One could imagine her sitting upon the little chair, dipping the quill in ink, writing and re-writing, smirking to herself as she adjusts Mrs. Bennet’s rant about her poor nerves.


The mere thought overwhelmed me. I gently stroked the table, quickly though, as to not arouse suspicion. This was hallowed literary ground, and I was privileged to be there.


My family and I drove to Winchester Cathedral, about a half an hour away, to see her grave on which I placed a simple bouquet of yellow roses for my dear old friend and touched the place where her body was lain to rest.


Her gravemarker reads: 
“The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and 
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her, and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.”


Thank you, dear Jane, for all you gave the world and to me. You are truly a woman of letters and an unassuming genius.




Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Editing for Grammarphobes: The Grammar Grinch



I love the holidays, but one thing guaranteed to bring out my inner Grinch is the most common grammatical error of the season -- the use of reindeers. That’s right, reindeers.

Ladies and gentlemen, reindeers do not exist. There are only reindeer. Reindeer is a singular and plural word referring to the large Arctic deer who pull Santa’s sleigh.

I have heard this error in songs and carols, as well as misspoken on city streets, and it jolts me every time like a sprig of holly through my heart.

So, please remember to use reindeer in your holiday writing and conversations. It will make the season a more pleasurable one, especially for all of the grammar grinches like me. Thank you.


Jane Austen’s Birthday

Tomorrow is the greatest holiday in literary history. Please join me for an encore posting of “Jane and Me,” which chronicles my visit to Jane Austen’s home in Chawton, Hampshire, England.


Flash Fiction Fridays

I close out this year with a piece by Sharon Cupp Pennington. Be sure not to miss this wonderful story.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Flash Fiction Fridays: Ho Ho Ho

Here's a great piece from Richard Bon. Enjoy!


Mission Santa Claus
By Richard Bon

The boys hid their bikes and an empty duffel bag behind the bushes and knelt beside one another at the foot of the steep, grassy hill leading up to the old man’s house. 


“Remember,” Nathan said to Billy, “if you see a light go on, run back and grab your bike and ride to the end of the road and wait for me by the Smithfield barn.”


Billy nodded and hoped Nathan didn’t notice his hands, trembling.


“You ready?”

Billy nodded again, eyes wide.


“Okay, then let’s go.  Follow me.”


Staggered, Nathan ahead of Billy and to his right, the boys trotted up the hill until they reached an old weeping willow tree about twenty feet from the grand old wooden house’s long front porch.


“Just wait here,” Nathan instructed Billy.  “I’ll go get it and then we’re outta here, piece a cake.” 


Billy did as he was told while Nathan made a sprint toward the object of their desire, the reason for their stealth nighttime mission: the brightly lit Santa Claus with its waving, flashing arm. From the house’s location at the top of the big hill, the flash could be seen from all around the small town, a bright white light turning on and off with every motion of Santa’s arm. Rumor had it the old man bought it from overseas years ago, less than ten were made, and it was priceless. At least that’s what the older boys in their school told them, the fifth graders who didn’t let them play touch football at recess even though some of the other fourth graders got to play.


When Nathan reached the Santa and lifted it off the ground, Billy could see a power cord hanging from Santa like a tail. Nathan started taking slow steps toward the house and Billy understood; the cord ran to the house, and Nathan had to unplug it.


Suddenly a bright light turned on, lighting up the entire porch and the lawn where Nathan stood.


Billy recalled Nathan’s instructions to scram if a light came on, so he started running down the hill. When he looked back for Nathan, though, he saw his friend sprinting toward the house, still going to unplug the Santa. Scared, Billy kept going down the hill.


By the time Billy reached the Smithfield barn, he was completely out of breath. The five minutes he waited for Nathan seemed like forever.


“Did you get it?”  Billy asked Nathan when he arrived, nervous and excited.


Nathan removed the duffel bag from over his shoulder, and Billy could see that it was full.  The boys rode home in silence.


That Monday in school they told the fifth grade boys about their adventure and the priceless Santa they stole. The older boys laughed out loud for a few minutes, bewildering Nathan and Billy. 


“What’s so funny?”  Nathan asked.


One of the fifth graders asked, “Haven’t you ever been to K-Mart?”



Richard Bon lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.  He posts a new micro story, written to be read in five minutes or less, every other Monday at LiminalFiction.com.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Editing for Grammarphobes: Sick Day

Due to unfortunate circumstances, I am taking a sick day today. "Editing for Grammarphobes" will return next Monday.


Please join me for Flash Fiction Fridays in two days. This week, Richard Bon shares a great story called "Mission Santa Claus." You won't want to miss it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Editing for Grammarphobes: Misspellings

You know you have them. No matter how many times you put those words on paper or type them on your computer, you pause for a second. Hmmm... does that look right? 


Here is a list of words to watch out for, all of which should set off a wee alarm in your head while you edit your work.


Desperate (not desparate)


Disastrous (not disasterous)


Explanation (not explaination)


Fourth (not forth for the number placement)


Harass


Embarrass (Go figure?!? Why would harass have one “r” and embarrass two?)


Miscellaneous (Using misc. is not appropriate and does not let you off the hook.)


Privilege (not priviledge)


What are some words you just cannot seem to remember how to spell, no matter how many years you have been writing? 


One of mine is vacuum. One "u" or two? Is it "cc" or not? I never know.


Please share your red flag words in the comments section, so all of us can have a head’s up while we write. Thanks.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Flash Fiction Fridays: Ho Ho Ho

Ahh, December. The smell of cookies baking in the oven. Christmas lights twinkling. A snowflake or two dancing across your windshield. A sudden yearning for hot beverages in the middle of the afternoon. Okay, well, I always need a pick-me-up around 3 p.m., but that is besides the point. It is cozier now, and the iced teas have made way for peppermint mochas. I do not know how it is where you live, but the winter cold definitely has set in here, and I love it. 

Today, Flash Fiction Fridays begins a month-long celebration of the holidays. Enjoy.


A Blizzard in the Mojave, an Old West Christmas Story
By  Travis Haselton

The night was cold. It was the first heavy snowfall anyone had seen in the Mojave Desert. He thought he had steered clear of this weather; it was rumored it was hotter here than in hell itself. 

Zane Anderson had traveled to St. Thomas, Nevada, about two years after the Mormons left and went up to Utah on account of Nevada issuing a tax they didn't agree with. Settlers started claiming the buildings left behind as soon as they got word. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, they had all been grabbed up.

There wasn't much work this time of year, and he had no money, so he would head to Yellowstone. Ulysses S. Grant had declared it a national park the year before, and he knew they would have work.
 
As Zane started out of town with his slicker buttoned up real tight to combat the wind, he could see people staring at him, probably wondering what nut was out in a blizzard. 

His heart sunk at the thought of spending Christmas on the trail. It was his first year so far from home, and he hoped he would at least meet a couple of people here to spend the time with.
 
Before he got too far out, Zane noticed a faint, flickering light up into the hills overlooking the Muddy River. As he rode closer, he saw a small, beaten up shack with a fire inside it. Not much of one, though. 
 
He tied off his horse and stepped inside, noticing only a few pieces of creosote for fire. It wouldn't do. Even in this desert, one could die of cold. They had but one rabbit’s worth of meat. He needed the food, but not as much as them, so he dropped some of his venison he had gotten crossing Arizona. 

The woman had two young children, one boy and girl. Couldn't be more than two years between them, and the oldest was not more than six. She was at the last of her energy. Her husband had gone up state in hopes of getting cattle to start their settlement with. Without a man in the house, they would not make it through the night.
 
Zane knew there would be some cottonwood where the Muddy River met the Colorado, so he rode hard to get there.There wasn't much for animals out, so he picked up some of the nourishing "Mormon Tea" plant. Dipping his canteen and his coffee pot into the river, he got plenty of water for the boil.
 
After about ten inches of snow and many stories of the trail and of his father’s Texas Ranger days, they finished off the venison and tea and said their goodbyes. He left, knowing even though he would be alone on the trail, he would be in the hearts of that family for the Christmas season.
 
 
 
 
Travis Haselton is a writer and an outdoorsman. He grew up in the middle of the Mojave desert and has traveled across the United States. His novel, Hell on a Mesa, is available on amazon.com, along with his short story, The Man with No Past (A Path to Nowhere)


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Editing for Grammarphobes: Dialogue #1

I recently received an email from a writer struggling with punctuating dialogue, something that many us face on a regular basis. So, out of these sentences, which is right?


“Sure, whatever,” he shrugged.


or


“Sure, whatever,” He shrugged. 


The first sentence is correct. Always end your quote with a comma if you have an identifier (he said, she said, she spit, he shrugged), and make sure the comma is inside the quotes.


A good overall rule is commas and periods always go inside quotation marks.


I will cover quotes and other punctuation next week.


Flash Fiction Fridays
December's Holiday month starts out with an old West Christmas story by Travis Haselton. Be sure to check it out on Friday.