Monday, July 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Emily Brontë

Today is Emily Brontë's birthday. Born in Thorton, Yorkshire, England, in 1818, she is the author of the literary classic, Wuthering Heights.

For some reason, I always imagine the Brontë sisters sitting in their drawing room, gazing out at the Moors for inspiration, then sharing their work, discussing plot lines and ironing out tough scenes. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. But it must have been an intense atmosphere, all of those creative siblings under one roof. Patrick Branwell Brontë, their brother, was an artist and also a poet who painted this famous portrait of his three sisters.

When it comes to the Brontës, readers seem to fall into two camps — Team Jane Eyre or Team Wuthering Heights — so I decided to check out Amazon's ratings. Wuthering Heights has 3.8 out of 5 stars, while Jane Eyre has 4.4 out of 5 stars.

That seems to echo a short documentary I saw recently, that said Jane Eyre was very well-received, while most of the critics did not like Wuthering Heights at first. It was only later on that the novel gained its momentum.

Poor Emily.

Yet, although penning only one novel and contributing to a small volume of poems, she is regarded one of the greatest authors in the English-speaking world. Figures it would happen after her death, right?

Sorry to say, although I think Wuthering Heights is a solid piece of work, I much prefer Charlotte's Jane Eyre.

How about you?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Intense

Today in Tel Aviv
By Cleveland W. Gibson

The door was locked.

I struggled, yet instincts said nothing changed. The door stayed shut like a steel rat-trap, right there in my mind. The shutter tampered with my sanity, blocked off an escape route I needed to follow.

One major stroke had slammed that door shut forever; it caused my lack of speech, my loss of movement. ‘If only’ covered such a massive area. Yet all I wanted was a clear road to my mind.

Dumb, still as a statue I sat, a scared weak-livered chicken, in the darkened room. Becky, my helper, lay curled up at my feet. I heard the shot, her brief scream as the two men killed her. I rolled my eyes in shock and horror. I showed my displeasure.

The men laughed. One stuck a pair of sunglasses on me.

Death meant no new danger to me. I'm Max. Max the Big Guy, the Israeli of French Foreign Legion campaigns, then the Belgian Congo. I laughed at myself. I’m Max the military expert living here in Tel Aviv, but now it’s Max in a wheelchair, Max the cripple unable to move anything but his eyes. I'm damn Max looking at poor Becky, dead at my feet.

After the stroke, I managed to survive but my active days ended.  Months, years later my condition worsened. Each day Becky took me to Jimmy’s, next to Lord Wingate’s statue. Then when I sat there watching the world pivot around me, she’d go across the cafe to talk to her boyfriend.

I always wore a twisted look on my face. People hated the look. I couldn’t help it. Now Becky can’t help her looks either. She is dead. Her beautiful face uncovered. She’s silent too.

The two men took out bomb-making materials. One fiddled with my chair. They boasted about their clever plans. The men wanted to kill my friends, in fact any Israeli in the same cafe I visited each day with Becky.

Their plan sounded simple enough. Using a few tools, a mobile phone, and explosives, they hoped to turn my electric chair into a lethal bomb.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

I knew the outcome and cried to myself.

The Arab girl with long, black hair dressed in Becky’s clothes. Once the men finished talking, she set off with me. I still wore sunglasses, but underneath my eyes started to roll. Faster and faster. Round and round. As each minute passed, I became more petrified.

The girl tucked the mobile phone into my useless hands. Everybody saw it, but they never knew what it represented.

Once in the cafe, the Arab girl found me a spot right in the center where people chatted. Loud voices, mixed with the cacophony of street sounds, started to frighten. I trembled. I shook. I rolled my eyes. More visitors flooded the cafe, laughing and joking, perhaps from a coach. The Arab girl left. As I waited, sweat sprouted on my face and hands.

My mobile rang persistently. I got the whiff of expensive perfume.

“Shall I get that for you?” A gentle voice asked. I wept.

Death beckoned, a click away.

I failed to answer as the door in my mind stayed shut.


My friend, the Major, raced forward, grabbing the woman's hand. He also removed my sunglasses. I rolled my eyes.

Nobody said a word.

They stared in horror at my rolling blood-shot eyes.

Then they saw the thin red and yellow wire connected to my phone.

The Major shouted.

In the now-empty cafe, I knew.

Others knew too. We stayed listening to that phone ringing in Tel Aviv.

Cleveland Gibson has published many short stories, poetry, flash fiction, and anthologies. He has an exciting work in progress, a middle-grade novel, the House of the Skull Drum. He can hardly wait to finish and send it off to an agent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

England Revisited

As millions descend upon London for the Olympics later this week, I cannot help but remember my family’s glorious visit during these very same weeks two years ago. I frequently replay this trip in my mind because a) I am an anglophile, and England is my happy place, and b) we have not gone on vacation since. Last year, we were looking at colleges for my oldest, and this year, we are paying for that college.

We spent five days in London, then set out exploring the countryside through Chawton, Hampshire, of course, to visit Jane Austen’s house and grave (a part of the trip that has been dubbed “the holy pilgrimage”), followed by a stop on the ancient grounds of Stonehenge, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, through the Peak District in Derbyshire, to York, and into Scotland, where we spent our last four days in and around Edinburgh. My husband’s own pilgrimage took place at St. Andrew’s, the home of golf, and my aforementioned oldest’s was visiting his first of many historical studies — the Wallace Memorial and the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, William Wallace’s defeat of the English in 1297.

Two years ago today, for instance, we drove through the lovely English countryside to explore Chatsworth, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, which has passed down through sixteen generations of the Cavendish family, and allegedly was the inspiration for Jane Austen’s grand Pemberley estate. The Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice was filmed here. Do you remember the sculpture gallery where Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet sees the bust of Matthew Macfayden’s Mr. Darcy? That is a room at Chatsworth. The bust is now on display in the gift shop, not for sale, of course, but as a decoration.

Chatsworth has one of the finest art collections in Europe. You know all of those long halls in estates that have ancestral portraits hanging on both sides with all of the family members seated quite formally, looking very regal? In one such hall, we came upon this painting.

Isn’t it wonderful? If I were a duchess, that is how I would like to be painted.

Yesterday is the second anniversary of the day we paid hommage to Master William Shakespeare at his grave in Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford-upon-Avon, where there are lovely swans on the river. There was no one else in the church when we arrived, so the tour guide allowed my younger son, a huge Shakespeare fan, to go behind the velvet rope and place white and red roses on the Bard’s grave.

Then we ventured to Warwick Castle, where the four of us took turns shooting English longbows (very cool) and climbed the castle ramparts and towers.

Afterward, it was back to Stratford for a performance of As You Like It by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Witnessing Jacques deliver his famous “All the world’s a stage” speech in the town of the Bard’s birth, well, there is nothing like it.

I think I will go look at the pictures for the umpteenth time and plan our next journey, whenever that may be.

What was your favorite summer vacation?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Retribution

The Pile
By Katrina Byrd

September 15th — the day Linda Carter would see freedom.  

Seventy-five degrees, partly cloudy. Linda rushed down the walk, her purple robe gaping with every stride. The soles of her bunny slippers scrubbed against the pavement, the purple belt whose only purpose was to hold her robe together worked free of its loose knot and hung on either side of her round hips by the time she reached her driveway. “Damn,” she said under her breath when she noticed her newspaper was once again in the grass and not at the end of the driveway. “I’m gonna kill that little twerp.” Linda started out across the tall grass with her fists clenched.

She needed to cut the grass. That was one reason her neighbors didn’t like her. The other was because she simply didn’t belong in Cedar Hills, a ritzy subdivision for the rich and stupid. She inherited the house six months earlier when her mother died. She was grateful for the house and in some ways grateful for the death of her mother. Linda often felt a wave of guilt each time she thought of how much better her life was with the absence of her mother’s constant insults and daft ideas on how Linda should conduct her life.

“Lose weight,” her mother would always say. “No man wants a fat woman.”  

Conveniently Linda’s obesity was never a problem when her mother needed help with something.  Anyway, she was dead now and Linda had a wonderful life except for the neighbors, the paperboy, her job and…

Linda stopped suddenly. Under her left foot was a soft mound of…“Shit!” she said angrily. Her bunny slipper sunk rapidly into the brown aromatic ick. “I know who did this,” she growled, her fleshy pie face red and contorted in anger.  Instantly a line from Dolly Parton’s song "Nine to Five" popped into her head.  “…it will drive you crazy if you let it…”

“Well, I’m letting it,” Linda said angrily.

With one shoe on and one shoe off, Linda marched toward the shed at the back of her house. “I’m tired of being treated like dirt,” she mumbled as she went through the gate. It slammed behind her. Wood banging against wood. Pop! Pop! A noise loud enough to roust Simon, her black tom, who had taken to resting in the mum bed near the entrance into the back yard.

When Linda made it to the brick walk leading to the small 10x14 shed that her mother painted puce, she was barefoot. Her feet slid along the bricks until she reached her destination. Linda snatched the door open. Her eyes danced around the room until she saw what she was after. A red-handled shovel stood on the south wall between the pick axe and the sledge hammer. She snatched the shovel, tipping the sledge hammer and causing a domino affect. The sledge hammer went down knocking over the pick axe knocking over the weed eater knocking over…

By the time the can of white latex paint fell and turned the floor of the shed a bright white, Linda was on the driveway unconcerned with the mess. Today was her day of freedom. The day Linda Carter would grow a pair.

She stood over the huge pile.  Her eyes fell to her poor, helpless bunny slipper, all of its pink hue now brown. Only the tiny ears poked through. With a grunt Linda jabbed the shovel underneath the pile and lifted up. It was fresh. It stank. Linda thought she’d vomit before she reached the neighbors’ front door. She didn’t. Two bumps on the wooden door. Thump! Thump! The lock clicked. The knob turned. Jackie Lewis’ slim frame stood behind the half-open door.

“Good morning,” Linda said sweetly, a smile on her lips, the red-handled shovel in her hand nearly chin level with Jackie.

“What…what…” Jackie’s voice trailed off as she realized what was at the end of the shovel. She took a step back. Linda took one forward. Jackie took another backwards, and Linda another forward.

“I’ve asked you not to allow your dog to do this in my yard.”

“I tried to… I didn’t have a pooper scooper …I…“

“No problem.” In one smooth motion, Linda flipped the blade of the shovel and with a little shake the pile slipped from the shovel and landed on Jackie’s white rug with a thud.

“My rug!” Jackie sank down to her knees with a small yip. Tears filled her dark brown eyes as they searched Linda’s harden face, seemingly asking why have you done this. No answer came forth, only the back of Linda’s purple robe and the red-handled shovel swinging merrily from her right hand.

Artwork: Purple Robe and Anemones by Henri Matisse.

Katrina Byrd is the author of One HOT Minute, a collection of flash fiction.  She graduated Millsaps College with a B.A. in History. She has written several short plays that have been seen locally. Katrina served as the The Center Players’ Playwright in Residence for the 2010-2011 season. One of her short plays, Dinsmoor’s Last Stand, was written at the request of The Center Players Community Theatre. Dinsmoor’s Last Stand was performed at a ceremony hosted by the City of Ridgeland to commemorate Silas Dinsmoor, a Choctaw Indian Agent. Several of Katrina’s ten-minute plays have appeared in Fondren Theatre Workshop’s Ten-Minute Play Projects. Katrina has also received four Artist Mini-grants from the Mississippi Arts commission. Her last Artist Mini-grant helped to fund a staged reading of Death Rattle, a full-length play that was started at a writing workshop hosted by the SonEdna Foundation. Two of Katrina’s short stories were published in the 2010 issues of Black Magnolia Literary Magazine.

In addition to being a writer and playwright, Katrina is also an actress and performer. Some of her most memorable roles were Dutchess in the Center Players production of HATS! The Musical, Grandma in the Millsaps College production of Fabulation, and Mrs. Gluunfridget in the Fondren Theatre Workshop production of Legal Mumbo Jumbo written by Oppie Cooper.

To learn more about Katrina, please visit her blog.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cosette's Tribe

Friend of the blog and Flash Fiction Fridays contributor Leah Griffith's novel, Cosette's Tribe, is out, and it is wonderful. Cosette takes on a life filled with misfortune and dark secrets with such fortitude, it is impossible not to love her.

Here is a brief description.

Inspired by a photograph of a happy tribe of Indians, young Cosette decides to start a tribe of her own by playing matchmaker for her divorced mother in hopes of finding a replacement for her absent father. Unaware of the repercussions her meddling will bring, Cosette triggers a series of dark events, which isolate her from her family, forcing her to deal with the life-shattering consequences of her actions on her own. With an unshakable sense of hope and humor, Cosette navigates through the hippie culture of the mid-1960s, facing off with life and death, while stumbling upon things both terrifying and beautiful.

In his review, Garrison Somers, editor of The Blotter said, "It’s a lot of fun to find a book that pulls you in like a sneaky friend does when you stand a tad too close to the edge of the swimming pool. Leah Griffith writes like the words are just up there on a shelf, all flour and sugar and shortening. I gotta warn you though; Cosette’s Tribe made me mad, and it also made me cry. I’m proud that The Blotter Magazine was able to award the 2011 Laine Cunningham Novel Award for such a book."

Cosette's Tribe is available at and

For more information about Leah, please visit her website and her blog, Eating Life Raw.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Loss

The Doll by the Graveyard Fence 
By Kathy Handley

On a murky day in November, Rosalie ambled down the dusty road three miles to the tiny enclosed graveyard one would almost miss, as the bulky-branched bushes criss-crossed like arms and saplings grew unnoticed between tall scrubby oaks nearly — all of which secluded and encased the squiggly path to it. She took the trail and stopped to lean against the waist-high, black wrought iron fence — her usual rest station. Glancing casually into the area, where leaves and brush had covered many of the gravestones, she spied a flash of color, a tiny triangular flag of blue material poking out on one plain, flat unmarked gravestone. Easing over the fence and shuffling through the debris, she lent crunching sounds to the silence before she bent to discover a doll. The torn-worn blue dress had lost most of its lacy, yellowed trim. Her matted hair, reminiscent of forties dolls that once delighted children back in the day, held a touch of its original shape. The doll by the graveyard fence had hazel eyes that defied understanding.

Speaking to the doll, Rosalie said, “Oh Dearie, you look so cold, but I dare not take you home. And who left you here, sweetie pie?”

A beloved child already passed…  a mother who has experienced a killing loss.

Rosalie knelt by the doll, as if to pray for her.  The white barn owl watched, the birds, in spirit, clumped together silently on a wire above her. The spin of an airplane engine, that was faltering, clunked by. Rosalie’s knees were damp. Her trousers took on the earthy smell of the forest and her eyes dampened with sadness. Was she meant to understand loss? 

to come…

Kathy Handley, a Grub Street member, writes fiction of all lengths. Her short fiction has appeared in many literary magazines, including and Her writing placed in many contests, most recently she placed in Press 53 2010 Flash Fiction and won the Word Hustler’s Page-to-Screen contest. Handley currently serves as Prose Poetry judge for the National League of American Pen Women Soul-Making Contest. She is the author of Birds of Paradise and her collection, A World of Love and Envy, Short stories, Flash Fiction, and Poetry. To learn more about Kathy, visit her website.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Editing for Grammarphobes: Really?!?

A mid-week quickie for you.

Did you know the word is memento, not momento, which is how most people pronounce it?

This is not to be confused with Mentos mints, which, when mixed with Coke can cause quite a sticky situation.

Photo courtesy of

Monday, July 9, 2012

On This Day In...

Periodically, I thumb through A Book of Days for the Literary Year, a wonderful source of author information, significant dates in literary history, and fascinating quotations, all beautifully illustrated with lovely portraits and photos.

Its editor, Neal T. Jones, calls it "...a compendium of literary lore including notable quotations, scores of birthdays, myriad marriages, some romance (and quite a few deaths) all relating to the literary life profusely illustrated with photographs, paintings, and drawings."

Today, for example, there are items about Samuel Johnson and Anne Frank, but I find this one most intriguing.

"1842: Nathaniel Hawthorne and his bride, Sophia Peabody, move into the Old Manse in Concord, Mass., to find the garden already plowed for them by Thoreau."

I don't know why, but that little tidbit made me smile.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: The Heat is On

Well, dear readers, you are in for quite a treat this month. Coming right off of a fantastic June,  July is also jam-packed with powerhouse writers. First up is best-selling author Karen Cantwell.

Little Red Boots
By Karen Cantwell

Geraldine Hinkle would be meeting her maker any day. The doctor said it could be weeks, but Geraldine knew better.

Leaning one frail hip against the wooden counter of Watson’s Western Wear and rubbing a hand over her bald head, Geraldine didn’t think about dying.

“Can I hold one?” Her coarse voice was weak.

The lanky man behind the counter waited a few beats before responding. “Beauties, ain’t they? Hand crafted, ever inch. Three thousand dollar pair a boots right there.” He scratched his crotch.

“Are ya gonna let me hold one or are ya gonna just stand there all day playin’ with yer balls?”

The lanky man frowned. His long arm extended toward the shelf as he issued a warning. “Don’t think about runnin’ off with this. I got a gun.”

Geraldine’s spontaneous laugh quickly turned into a wet, spittle cough. That was the funniest thing she’d heard all week. Damn funny, this bony man.

By the time her coughing fit had subsided, the boot stood proudly on the counter. Geraldine picked it up with both hands, gently caressing the fine, silver snakeskin foot.

“That there’s the belly skin of a python come from Thailand.” The man nearly scratched his crotch again, but stopped mid-air. He scratched his left butt cheek instead.

Turning the boot on its side, Geraldine traced the intricate detail. Turquoise blue waves under a yellow sun stitched and painted on soft brown leather. She closed her eyes and remembered.

Waves crashing on hard sand. A young girl laughing. The laughing girl was running back and forth along the sand, her little red boots carrying her effortlessly. Her red skirt and vest fluttering with the wind. A tiny cowgirl frolicking on the shore as a coral sun dropped toward the sea like a colossal balloon pulled down by an invisible string. Sky the color of rainbow sherbet. Orange, pink, yellow.

A man swooped up from behind the laughing girl and threw her high into the air. “Who’s mah little hedgehog?” he said catching her in his strong, safe arms. The laughing girl laughed harder. “Geri is, Daddy! Geri!”

Geraldine’s sides hurt with the remembering.

Her heart ached with the longing. The rainbow sherbet sunset and little red boots.

Geraldine had lived a long, hard life, drinkin’ way too much drink and smokin’ way too much smoke. Good memories – they were far and few between.

The lanky man blew a hard breath, waking Geraldine from her reverie.

“I’ll take ‘em.” Geraldine smiled.

The man scratched his five o’clock shadow. “You got three thousand dollars, lady?”

Geraldine coughed into her elbow before answering. “First, I wanna thank ya fer callin’ me a lady. Been a long time since someone’s been so kind. Second off . . .” she pulled a wad of bills out of her jeans pocket. “. . . money – you can’t take it with ya, like they say. But these boots, they can go with me to the grave. I’d like to wear ‘em now, if you don’t mind.”

With his bony fingers, the man counted the bills. When he was satisfied, he put the other boot on the counter then watched as she slipped each boot on like a knife slicin’ into warm butter.

Invigorated with energy she hadn’t felt in weeks, Geraldine slapped the counter and hooted, “Hot damn! Like they was made for mah feet!”

A hint of a smile on his pointed face, the man held up the wad of money as he slid his way to the cash register. “This here’s over four thousand dollars. I’d say you got some change comin’.”

The shop door opened, triggering a tiny bell. A small girl bounded in followed by her mother who tried to grab a chubby hand before it could break something.

Seeing the girl, Geraldine turned to the man. “You got little red boots?”


“Fer girls. Little red cowgirl boots. Maybe a skirt and vest too?”

“Yeh. We got somethin’ like that.”

“See that girl gets the sweetest little cowgirl suit and boots she desires. Same for every little girl that walks through those doors until the money’s gone.”

“That’s a kindly gesture.”

She shrugged. “Maybe they’ll bring her good memories when she needs ‘em.”

Geraldine’s boots clopped on the wooden floors as she left Watson’s Western Wear. She looked up at the sign above the door that said, Come Back Now, Y’Hear?

With a laugh and a cough, she answered, “Not in this body, I ain’t.”

Karen Cantwell is the author of the wildly popular Barbara Marr Murder Mystery series, which includes Take the Monkeys and Run, Citizen Insane, and Silenced by the Yams. To learn more about Karen, visit her website.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Book Talk at the EP Library

Last Thursday, I had the wonderful opportunity to do an author talk for a packed house at the Elmwood Park Library.

I discussed my series in general, read the first Bibliophiles book club meeting scene from A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One), gave a brief introduction to Catherine by reading the beginning pages of Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two), signed several books, and even posed for a few photos with readers.

All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend a Thursday night. My thanks to the EP Library and all who attended.