Friday, May 27, 2011

Flash Fiction Fridays: Parenthood Month Draws to a Close

A big thanks to Jules Carey, Stephanie Haddad and Camille LaGuire for their great stories this month. Please join us next month as four writers explore the theme of "escape."



Nicky
By Karen Wojcik Berner

At approximately three o’clock, on the morning of December 22, cries of “MOM. M---O---M!” woke Sarah. She got up, almost walked into the bedpost, and shuffled to Nicholas’ room.

“What’s up sweetie?”

“My head hurts. I can’t sleep.” She bent down and checked his forehead. He was really hot.

“I’ll get the thermometer. I’ll be right back.”

Sure enough. 102°F. “Let me get you some medicine to help bring your fever down and help with the pain.”

Nicky sneezed and looked at her through watery eyes.

“Let’s get you some decongestant too.”

“Will you stay with me?”

“For a little bit. I’ll be right back with your medicine.” 

Sarah re-tucked him in and put a cool patch on his forehead. She stroked his hair and sang softly to him. He fell asleep fairly quickly, but Sarah stayed with him awhile longer.

It was rare that she was up with Nick during the night. She was so used to baby Alex waking up.

Sarah looked down at him – somewhere in between little and big – and remembered when he was first born. The awe and fright of it all! The nurse came in the second morning to give her the “good news” that she was going home that afternoon. “Okay thanks,” she had mumbled in a state of shock.

What do you mean, go home? I’m quite happy where I am now, having someone else cook meals, shipping the baby off into the nursery at night, taking naps whenever I please. Who’s going to take care of the baby when I get home?

Sarah couldn’t believe it had been six years since then. People tell you to enjoy the time when the kids are little because it goes by so fast, but you never believe them, especially not when you are sleep-deprived. She bent down and kissed Nicky.

And in those quiet moments, suspended between day and night, Sarah knew how lucky she was.

Then she remembered that it was less than three days until Christmas.



This story is an excerpt from my first novel, A Whisper to a Scream, available for Kindle and Nook and coming to paperback next month.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chat with Sarah today on Breakout Books

Dawn Judd over at Breakout Books has been posting interviews with characters from various novels. Today, Sarah Anderson, the overwhelmed stay-at-home mom from A Whisper to a Scream, gets a chance to have a conversation with someone over the age of six. But the children are not taking too kindly to someone else having their mom's attention.

Here is the link

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: What the Heck?


Language is fluid. It evolves and changes as generations add their own words to the mix. Many people write like they speak, which causes trouble when certain statements have been uttered incorrectly.

Watch out for these phrases in your writing.

Wrong: That’s a mute point.

Correct: That’s a moot point.

Mute means silent and incapable of speech. When something is moot, it is debatable, doubtful or has little or no practical value, which is what the speaker wants to say, right?

Wrong: Nip it in the butt

Correct: Nip it in the bud

The phrase refers to stopping something while it is in its early development, not while it is up someone’s posterior.

Wrong: bob wire, barb wire 
Correct: barbed wire 

Unless they are your neighbors down the street, bob wire and barb wire do not exist. The fencing material is called barbed wire.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Flash Fiction Mondays?

I am pretty excited this morning, which is unusual for a Monday. Over the weekend, the winners of the WOW! Women on Writing's Winter 2011 Flash Fiction Contest were announced, and my story, "Sheep Boy," received an Honorable Mention. 


It was the first flash fiction contest I have entered, so I am happy I get to build up my microfiction street cred. It is such a great form and a wonderful challenge, especially for novel writers. Focusing on making every word count helps writers of all styles tighten up their prose. 


I added the contest icon to the right, so you can read the winning stories. Just click on it, and the link will take you to the WOW! site. 


I will be posting "Sheep Boy" for next month's Escape theme, as it is better suited for that than this month's Parenthood.


Speaking of June's theme, I still need two more flash fiction pieces on your interpretation of Escape. The deadline is 5/30, but it can be extended to 6/8 if you need more time. Remember 500 words or less. E-mail it to me at karen@karenberner.com. Thanks.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Flash Fiction Fridays: Mother and Child


One Frayed Corner 
By Stephanie Haddad

The moment I saw the blanket, I loved it. Mama found it at the bottom of the bin, hidden beneath the donated coats, just one frayed corner sticking out. It was blue and soft, a well-worn square of cotton and wool.

It was also warm. The warmest blanket I’d ever held.

“Here, Chloe,” Mama said. “Someone nice wanted you to have this.”

I swept the soft fibers across my cheek, happy to have something just for me. The hunger in my belly, the fear in my heart, both disappeared as I clutched the tender cloth to my chin.

“I love it,” I whispered, thrilled by the fabric’s absorption of my breath. Mama smiled and kissed my forehead, shooing me back to our corner of the shelter.

That night, I slept well, tucked into my fuzzy blue cloud. I was protected from the chilling draft and the other children’s muffled sobs as they in fright, clutching clumpy, tear-stained pillows in their fists. I slept soundly until breakfast.

With my blanket around my shoulders, I savored every bite of my toast and butter and pretended my water was creamy milk. This blanket had enough magic in it to make my whole life better, and Mama should know how it felt.

“Mama,” I said changing into my other jeans. “You need a blanket too.”

“I have one already.” She pointed to our cot on the floor and the thin, scratchy blanket on top. With my blanket, I could be warm and happy, maybe even save us from this awful place. Hers was nothing compared to mine; it couldn’t even stop her from crying at night.

“That’s no good. I’ll make you one. You’ll see.” She smiled kindly, but she didn’t believe me, I could tell. I would prove her wrong.

Her blanket should be bigger than mine, so I searched all the donations to gather material: ripped sweaters and scrap fabrics leftover from the unwanted goods of the better-off. One of the volunteers found me a needle and thread just the right size for my small fingers, and I started working.

It took a long time. For days, I worked as long as we had sunshine on our corner. I sent Mama away so she wouldn’t see, and then I would hide it beneath the cot. She couldn’t see it until it was ready.

When I finished, I stretched the blanket out flat onto the cot. It was so big it folded over once and still fit across! I admired my crooked, misshapen handiwork. My creation wasn’t blue and soft, or well-loved like my blanket, but it was warm. The colors and the fabrics didn’t match, but I thought it was beautiful.

“For you, Mama. I made it with one frayed corner, just like mine has.”

I watched Mama’s face closely, as a single tear fell from her eye. She reached out and pulled me against her chest, hugging me tightly. She sniffled once, then said, “It’s perfect, sweetheart.”




Stephanie Haddad writes fiction while living and working as a freelance writer in the Boston area with her husband, their dog and their toddler. Her work has appeared in New Hampshire Writers, The Write Place at the Write Time, City Lines Magazine, The Broken Plate at Ball State University, and has won several awards at Notes & Grace Notes. She has been writing since age seven, but also enjoys many other creative hobbies including knitting, quilting, baking and acting. Stephanie graduated from Bentley University with a bachelor’s degree in business communication. She is currently working on her third novel while completing her master’s degree in education. To learn more about Stephanie, visit her website or blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Since When Was This Part of the Deal?


I was almost done styling my hair, fluffing the strands at the base of my skull.

“Me see too?” My then-toddler son was growing tired of waiting.

I handed him my hand-held mirror. He smiled immediately upon seeing his face, moving the glass from the left to the right, then upside down, all the while his eyes sparkling. He was absolutely delighted with himself.

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and were happy with what you saw?

It is not only you being super-critical, you know. Every form of media, from television to magazines, has decided to be tough on us also. You see it all the time. A major publication flaunted Hollywood moms, bragging how fabulous they look after regaining their pre-pregnancy shape. Adulation simply for fitting back into a size-two designer gown for an award show really bothers me. Like it doesn’t matter what kind of parent you are, how successful you might be, how intelligent you are. It only matters what you look like.

Men do not have to deal with that. How many times the does a fat guy get a hot chick in movies or on TV? There are plenty of examples of okay-looking, albeit talented guys who do very well in the entertainment industry, which is great. But, when was the last time you saw an unattractive woman in anything besides a reality show?

The double standard has seeped into our collective psyche and a paradigm switch has taken place. When I was growing up in the 1970s, it was accepted that women’s bodies changed after childbirth. None of my mother’s friends ran ten miles every morning or worked out at health clubs on weekends. There was no such thing as a “mommy tuck.” Were these women any less wonderful? Of course not.

Women used to be allowed to age gracefully until “fighting aging every step of the way” became a battle cry. Where did that phrase come from? That’s right. A television advertisement. 

And we are all buying into it.

Am I saying moms should not strive to be healthy? Of course not. It’s just that mothers don’t need anymore pressure heaped upon them. Life’s great “To Do” list grows longer and more unobtainable by the day. Do you spend enough time with your kids? Do your kids receive the proper nutrition? Do they get good grades? Are they reading enough? Do they know how to play every sport and musical instrument, plus fully understand art theory? What have you done today that will land them in therapy eighteen years from now? When I was a kid, your child going to college marked successful parenting, now all offspring must attend Harvard.

This is insane.


Thank you for indulging me with today’s rant. Our regularly scheduled topics will resume two days from now, when “Flash Fiction Fridays” serves up a great piece of microfiction from Stephanie Haddad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pyle Releases Chilling New Novella


It might be spring in the United States, but author and friend of the blog Daniel Pyle has a new novella sure to send shivers down many spines.

A raging snowstorm has stranded Tess and Warren in their mountain home with no power and little heat. When an accident leaves Tess coughing up pools of blood, Warren has no choice but to brave the storm in search for help.

He's afraid he'll be too late.

But what he should be afraid of are the creatures slinking through the blizzard and watching his every move.




In his review, Joe Hemple writes,"Daniel Pyle seems to start with a bang and never let go! Freeze is quite a great quick read, clocking in at about 111 ePub pages, and I read it in one sitting! Pyle creates a story in which what ISN'T being told to you stands out and adds to the suspense. Every room that is entered, every breath that they take an implied sense of urgency is displayed. There are not that many characters in the book, and I consider the winter storm a background character in this book as much as the monsters that appear in the night. He takes on the fear of being isolated, and unable to get help, and it all blends together into a satisfying conclusion, especially for the type of tale that's being told. Highly recommend it!"

Freeze is available for Kindle and Nook e-readers. For more information on Daniel, visit his website.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Flash Fiction Fridays: Parenthood Month Continues


Learned in the Cradle
by Camille LaGuire


Ryan was a carefree sort of man, even though he was poor. He never gave a thought to money or savings, or what would happen the next day. This, in spite of the fact that he had a wife and an elderly father to care for.

"Where'd you learn to spend so freely?" said his wife in exasperation, the third time he'd overspent his pay.

"I learned it in the cradle," he said. "Dad was a free and easy man himself when I was young. Always spending the milk money. But we pulled through, didn't we, Dad?"

"Well, you'd better rethink it," warned his wife, "because we'll be having our own child soon."

That was her way of telling him she was expecting, and he was delighted. The prospect of a child affected him strongly. He began to take care of his money and pay attention to his spending. When he toted it up, he saw what a loss they'd have had from his wasteful ways.

And then when the child was born, he became downright frightened. What was he to do? He had a child to care for now. He started to count every single penny and measure ever bite of food he and his family ate. The child needed milk and more milk. And the mother needed good food to stay healthy to care for him.

And as winter came on, it was getting very cold. He'd have to replace their worn clothes...and that's when Ryan looked at his father. An old man who didn't add much to the household.

"I've been taking care of you for years now, but I can't do it any more," he said. "I've got a child. You'll have to go out and fend for yourself."

The old man was shocked, but having lived a profligate life of his own, he took things as they came. He got up and picked up a blanket to take with him, but Ryan snatched it away.

"That's for my child," he declared.

"But son," said the old man, pleading. "It's cold outside, and I'll freeze."

"I have to think of my own son now, like you never did."

And here there was the sound of a child fussing, and both turned to look. 

A voice rose of the the cradle, the tiny piping voice of a babe, but with the diction of a grown man, "Aye, and think of what I learned in my cradle," said the baby, "when I take that blanket from you when you're old!"



Camille LaGuire is the author six novels and two short story collections, which you can find here. To learn more about Camille, visit her blog

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: Good Versus Well


How many times have you heard the following statement on television or in conversation?

He played good.

Too many times to count? Well, it is wrong. The correct usage is as follows.

He played well. 

But why?

“Well” is an adverb. Adverbs describe verbs. When used as an adverb, “well” means “skillfully.”

“Well” as an adjective means “healthy.” You would not say someone played healthy, would you?

“Good” is an adjective. Adjectives describe nouns, not action verbs.

Examples

She did a good job.

My breakfast tasted good this morning. 


Coming Friday 

Parenthood month on "Flash Fiction Fridays" continues with a great fable from Camille LaGuire.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: It's All Academic


The graduation season is upon us, with the first of universities having bestowed degrees upon their seniors this past weekend, and will remain well into June.

But, how does one cite academic degrees and honors? What about the terms for academic years? Capitalized or not? And what is to be done with honorary degrees?

The words for the four years of high school or college — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior — should be lowercased.

Examples 

Joe Smith is a junior in high school.

Susie Jones completed her freshman year at Northwestern University. 


When academic degrees are referred to in general terms, they should not be capitalized. Remember to use an apostrophe for bachelor’s and master’s.

Examples 

Bob has a master’s degree in chemical engineering.

Katherine has a bachelor’s degree in English. 



However, the names of academic degrees and honors “should be capitalized when following a person’s name, whether abbreviated or written in full,” according to The Chicago Manual of Style.

Examples

Pamela Gleason, Doctor of Law

Ira Mansfield, M.D. 


It is redundant to put Dr. before a person’s name and then follow it with the academic degree.

Examples 

Wrong: Dr. Catherine Spark, Ph.D. 

Correct: Catherine Spark, Ph.D., a renowned Shakespearean scholar, will speak at North Central College this evening. 
Or
Dr. Catherine Spark, a renowned Shakespearean scholar, will speak at North Central College this evening. 


Do not put Ph.D. after the name of someone who has received an honorary doctorate. It was a gift, not earned.



Sources

The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1969. Print.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Norm Goldstein, ed. Cambridge: Perseus, 2000. Print.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Flash Fiction Fridays: Parenthood

Today begins Parenthood month, a topic near and dear to my heart. The relationships between parents and children and their long-term ramifications are at the core of both A Whisper to a Scream, and my work-in-progress, How Long 'Til My Soul Gets It Right? After doing the research to create Whisper's Annie Jacobs, the PR executive who would trade it all in for a baby of her own, I am very aware that each child is a miracle and am grateful for my own two sons. Jules Carey starts us off with a brief moment in which everything can change just that quickly.




Three and a Half Minutes 
By Jules Carey


Molly had run out of ideas. She kept smacking him, over and over, pounding her little son’s back. Was he turning blue? No, it hadn’t been that long. Had it? She wished for someone to be there who knew what the hell to do. Nothing she did worked.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

She had heard that the brain could only last four minutes without oxygen. How long had it been? The panic in her chest distorted time, making it difficult for her to track. Ten minutes? An hour? Couldn’t be or the paramedics would have arrived already.

Wouldn’t they?

Molly feared something would break if she kept hitting him so hard, but the desire to free his airway outweighed any other concern. She couldn’t see the obstruction while looking down his throat. It must be deep.

Bang! Bang! Harder. Softer. Change the rhythm. Higher on his back, then lower. Still nothing popped out of the little boy’s throat.

What the hell did he swallow?!

His eyes rolled up and closed. She flipped his little body over on her legs, his face to the ceiling. She shook his shoulders desperate for something to work.

“Open your eyes! Open your eyes, dammit! Grayson! GRAYSON! OPEN YOUR DAMN EYES!”

Her voice grew horse; her face soaked. The room blurred from through the tears. Sobs wretched from her lungs making her whole body shake.

“God! God! God!” she begged. “Don’t take him. Please, don’t take him!”

A powerful force flung her to her back and whisked the boy from her lap. Without hesitation, Molly bolted upright to see a man in dark clothes turn his back to her, blocking her view of Grayson. A fearful rage sprang from somewhere deep inside. She’d be damned if someone would take him away from her now. The last few moments of his life were hers to witness.

Bolting for her son, Molly was again thrust to the floor. This time the hands that grabbed her didn’t release. She thrashed her body, squirming and hitting the arms that pinned her down, but as quick as it had come, the rush of adrenaline was spent.

A short cry pierced the room. Molly’s heart skipped when she realized her voice was too hoarse to have made it. She stopped breathing for fear that any movement may disturb the room and prevent the sound from coming back. The hands that held her eased up, but she remained staring at the popcorn plastered ceiling.

One second... Two seconds... Three seconds...

There it was! The cry rang out again, softer this time. Small and scared. She would know that sound anywhere.

Renewed adrenaline flipped her over and sent her scrambling on hands and knees. Nothing stopped her this time as she clawed her son away from the man in uniform and clutched the boy to her chest. Her continued sobs filled the room, now accompanied by words of praise and gratitude.

“That’s alright, Ma’am. Just doin’ our job.” The paramedic laid a gentle hand on her shoulder while his partner gathered the equipment they had dropped rushing into the room. “Don’t think he has any permanent damage, but we’d like to take him in just in case.”

Molly only nodded as she wiped the back of her hand across her face. Neither man attempted to take her son from her again. She rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance with Grayson, crying and thanking the paramedics the entire way.


This piece was originally published in Zouch Magazine.


Jules Carey spends most of her time in a world whose language has no translation for the word “normal." Five kids and a self-employed husband keep life full for this Ohio-based author. After spending five years writing technical documents for marketing companies, Carey decided to embrace the craziness surrounding her and pursue creative fiction. Her most recent flash fiction appears in May's issue of
AntipodeanSF. When she isn’t reading, editing, revising, or setting her keyboard on fire, you can find her tutoring math and reading to young children. To learn more about Carey, visit her blog.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: Was Versus Were


Reader JeanK. raised a great question regarding the use of was versus were in last Wednesday’s post entitled “Miscellany.”

“If I was...” or “If I were...” Which is correct?

Well, Jean, after doing some research, I found it is a matter of subjunctive versus indicative mood. The subjunctive is used to express wishful thinking. The indicative should be used for statements of fact.

Example 

If I were president, I would never make any cuts in the national budget for the arts.



If you have a hard time remembering this, think of “If I Were a Rich Man,” the famous song from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Jean, along with several grammar columnists, refers to this when in doubt. Handy, right?

Thanks, JeanK., for bring this up. Please keep those comments coming.




June Flash Fiction Fridays Theme Announced 

Calling all flash fiction writers! The June theme is...drumroll, please... Escape.

Are you up to the challenge? Remember, 500 words or less on your interpretation of escape.

The deadline is May 30, 2011.

Please send your submissions to me at karen@karenberner.com and put “Flash Fiction Fridays” in the subject line. Don’t forget to include a short bio and links. The only thing I ask of you is to sign up to follow Bibliophilic Blather so we can build up our online writing community.

As always, I am looking forward to reading your work.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Editing for Grammarphobes: The Play's the Thing


Saturday, my husband and I attended Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of The Madness of George III. Harry Groener treated the audience to a formidable performance in the title role, as he brought us down the descent with him and back up again, only to hint at another impending spiral downward yet to come.

It was powerful, and sometimes uncomfortably intimate, to witness this in a small venue. Groener brought majesty when necessary, but his true brilliance was at the feeble times when King George’s illness affected him the most, through his body, his slurred speech, and, most poignantly, through the vulnerability that shone in his eyes.

Playwright Alan Bennett created a character with so many layers, one could not help but be intrigued and awed by him. That is good writing. In two and a half hours, my heart ached for this man and what he had to endure.

Novelists can learn a lot from the theater. Playwrights do not have the luxury of several chapters of introduction in which to hook their audiences. It must be done right away or they lose them, and the yawns begin.

There is one scene in The Madness of George III in which the King has his staff read King Lear aloud. The irony, of course, is not lost upon them as they speak the lines of the Cordelia’s reunion with Lear toward the end of the play. Although he writes it for a few laughs, Bennett skillfully draws the parallels between the two men, further cementing the fact that, ultimately, this play is a tragedy very much in the Shakespearean tradition.

What makes Shakespeare and Bennett interesting? Characters that are at once powerful, yet flawed. Vulnerable, yet mighty. You don’t always have to like them, but you will be moved by them.

After watching something so wonderful, it stays with me, and I cannot help but try to figure out why. What worked? How was the plot crafted? What is the overriding theme? How was that theme illustrated?

Writers of all sorts can learn a lot from the theater. I hope you go see a drama soon. You will be all the better for it.

On Another Note... 
After you have ordered your tickets to whatever great theater is in your area, feel free to stop by and browse at an online book fair on A.M. Kuska’s blog. Kuska is a Y.A. fantasy writer whose new novel, Ordinary, has recently been released. It is a great place to find some new fiction, and there are many different genres represented, including A Whisper to a Scream, of course.