Friday, December 28, 2012

An Article, a Review, and a Wish


We interrupt this holiday respite for some breaking news...

A lovely article about my visit to the Buttonwood Book Club this past fall is featured in the Naperville Sun today. To read it, click here. We had a great discussion on a multitude of topics. It was really a wonderful evening. Big thanks to Karen Thomas (first row, left, next to me ) and all of the ladies. 



And, if that wasn't nice enough, Christmas Eve brought the best gift an author can receive — a five-star review on Amazon for A Bibliophile Christmas.

"Great book to put you in the Christmas spirit. I am now on a mission to read 
more of Berner's books. I loved the characters and how they are introduced."
5.0 out of 5 stars

Okay, back to revelry.

Happy New Year, dear readers. May 2013 bring you great joy. I will see you on January 7th.




Monday, December 24, 2012

My Holiday Wish for You




May you be surrounded by people you love and who genuinely love you.

May you find joy in the small moments — silly laughter, a hug from a child.

May you find peace in all that was this past year and all that will be in 2013.

May you discover a great book, a fantastic piece of music, a wonderful movie.

May you be inspired to try something completely new. 

These are my wishes for you.

Thank you for spending time with me this year, dear readers. I am going to take the next two weeks off to hang out with my family. Bibliophilic Blather will return on Monday, January 7, 2013.

Happy Holidays, my friends.

Cheers,
Karen




Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best of Flash Fiction Fridays

For the past two years, writers of all genres from all over the world have contributed wonderful tales to Flash Fiction Fridays. As my gift to you this December, here are four stand-out pieces from previous years that definitely deserve another look.

Enjoy.


Exposed
By Katrina Byrd


Mary Lyn can sit up there on the front pew dressed in all white looking like one of God’s sweet angels all she wants. We all know that she’s hell on wheels. She owns Big Mama’s, the only restaurant in Hot Cakes, MS. My sister Lerleen works for her. Says she’s loud, cusses like a sailor and she’s cheap. Won’t even pay minimum wage.  Lerleen says that Mary Lyn even dares to have a mister on the side. That’s probably why she’s at church without her husband this morning.

The light from the warm sun filtered through the stained glass windows casting an array of colors over the small building and the well dressed “Christians” inside as Rev. Scucchi lifted his large hands upward. Who ever heard of an Italian preacher in a Black, Southern Baptist Church but there he was. Tall and handsome. Skin as smooth and flawless as a fresh open jar of peanut butter. Eyes black as coal and silky, dark, curly hair.  When he spoke his mellow baritone voice filled the room. Mary Lyn hung on his every word like a tick on a dog’s back. She was shoutin’ and amenin’ all over herself.

By the time the choir broke into Victory is Mine, the entire congregation was on their feet clappin’ and hollerin’. Sweat pourin’ from brown faces. Feet thumping and bumping against the wooden floor some on beat, some off. Nobody ever would’ve guessed that there are rhythmless Black folk but there are. One of them was Mary Lyn.  She was a movin’ and dancin’ to her own beat; her backside bouncin’ like a rubber ball unknowingly revealing, what I know in my heart, was only meant to be between her and her maker.        

“Lawd a mercy,” I say under my breath as I watch in disbelief. That off key singin’ gal they got leadin’ the choir hollered into the mike. I couldn’t make out what she said but whatever it was it prompted Mary Lyn to holler out and lift her hands. Mary Lyn’s long black hair swayed back and forth as she stood there with her fat hands lifted toward the sky like she trying to catch a bird. What Mary Lyn didn’t know is that all her movin’ about caused her snug white suit jacket to slide up revealing the back of her unzipped and unbuttoned skirt. I shook my head and pulled out my sewing kit.  I walked as fast as I could toward Mary Lyn without breaking into a run. The last thing I needed was to go to hell for laughin’ at a cheap, rhythmless, hypocrite jumpin’ and hollerin’ on the front pew while her shiny red drawers were a shinin’.  




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. For more information about Katrina, see her Facebook page.






Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Editing for Grammarphobes: Holiday Edition




Couldn't head into this week without a friendly language reminder about something that turns me from holly jolly to the nastiest of grammar grinches.

Please do not refer to the animals that pull Santa's sleigh as "reindeers." There is no such word. Reindeer is both the singular and plural form of the word.

That is all.

You are free to begin your holiday celebrations.







P.S. Attention Kindle owners! Flash Fiction Fridays contributor Eileen Granfor's Sydney's Story, a prequel to Dicken's classic A Tale of Two Cities, is free today and tomorrow.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Tolling Bells


When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his poem, “Christmas Bells,” his son, Charles, had been wounded in battle fighting the Civil War. Sure that Charles would die of his injuries, Longfellow penned the words that would eventually become the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Fortunately for Longfellow, his son survived.

The composer, Jean Baptiste Calkin, took out the lines that referred to the Civil War when adapting Longfellow’s work to music, therefore removing the poignancy of the poet’s words and the heart of the meaning.

After the slaughter of innocents on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, this verse rings particularly true.

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

But Longfellow, like all survivors of tragedies, ends with a message of hope, which is what we all need after yet another massacre pushes the universe out of balance, as our country mourns those sweet children and the teachers who died protecting them.

Here is “Christmas Bells” in its entirety. May the residents of Newtown someday find solace. Rest in peace, little ones.

Christmas Bells
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christmas Day, 1863


I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men!”





Friday, December 14, 2012

The Best of Flash Fiction Fridays

For the past two years, writers of all genres from all over the world have contributed wonderful tales to Flash Fiction Fridays. As my gift to you this December, here are four stand-out pieces from previous years that definitely deserve another look.

Enjoy.


Mister Courtman Heads Home      
By Jack A. Urquhart

He runs in circles, a miles-long loop through town, up into the foothills, back to where he started. As always, the last two hundred meters he takes at an arse-kicking pace —panting, arms pumping, a flat-out sprint — running for his life.

Because he is.

His wife has seen to that.

“We can’t go on this way. I’ll give you a week to decide, Mister ‘C’,” she’d said.

He’d flinched, been taken off guard by Linda’s unruffled tone, by her appearance in the kitchen at an early hour.

“After fifteen years, I think that’s long enough.”

Clearly she’d been standing there a while, watching him lace up his shoes, waiting to be noticed.

“Enough time to get your priorities—‘straight’?”

Impossible to ignore the humiliating pause or the emphasis she’d imposed on the word, much less her stoical smile — as if it were all so sadly funny.

Straight, indeed! So like Linda to condense even disaster to a single syllable.

It had taken all his will power to resist bolting past her down the hall. Out onto the street.

“Seven days,” she’d reiterated, heading over to the counter, rummaging in the dishwasher for her favorite mug.

So ordinary her behavior — like out of a movie; the scene where the long-suffering spouse calmly declares, “it’s over,” and then proceeds with an everyday act: pouring coffee, stirring in creamer.

“It’s simple,” she’d said, pausing for a sip. “You’ve got to decide, Mister ‘C’: where is home? Where do you want to sleep? Here or with him?”

Again the smile — surely not accidental.

No mischance either, the way Linda refuses to name names anymore — the way she reduces even the third party in their little triangle to a generic pronoun.

Him.

“And if ‘home’ isn’t here,” she’d thought to add, “you’ll need to hit the road.”

And so he has—six days running now.

Setting off before sunrise, he pushes himself faster, farther each time. At forty-two, the effort requires fantastical incentives:

If I break under an 8:40 mile, I’ll stay with Linda, he tells himself.  If my last split makes 8:50, it’ll be —Him.

Disaster may be postponed, he had almost convinced himself.

Until this morning.

“What about Uncle Paul?  How come he’s stopped coming ‘round?” she’d asked—his daughter, slumped at the kitchen table, watching as he stooped to double knot his running shoes. “How come Mom never mentions him anymore?”

The sound of Annie’s voice, splintered at the edges, had shattered the vision of the run already unfolding in his head.

“Sometimes I think being dead would be better,” she’d said. “Better than waiting to see how things’ll turn out.”

The sudden chilblains, like a burst of dread stippling up his legs, made his calves cramp. Bolting upright, he’d tried shaking out the knots, certain he’d not forgotten to stretch, that his daughter’s emphasis on the honorary ‘uncle’ was unintentional. Then again, how to downplay anything so fundamental as Annie near tears?


“No, you’re wrong,” he’d said at first, still clinging to the notion that she was just a child, barely twelve, still chewing at the frayed ends of her hair, still too self-absorbed to notice anything that didn’t register on her cellphone screen. Yet there it was — adult-sized despair on Annie’s pinched face. Too much knowing for a little girl.

“It will turn out okay. I promise,” he’d said.

Such a hypocrite. Such a fraud of a father, a shambles of a man heading nowhere at a steadily improving pace.

For a moment he’d thought to say so, thought to confess how lying alone in his study night after night, he’d been thinking the same as she, wondering if oblivion might be better than the shame of being ashamed, than the terrible fear of longing to be somewhere else — longing to be with P__.

He’d almost spoken to unburden himself before thinking how unfair that would be.

Instead, he’d gone running. And now, in a full sprint, he wonders—to what end?

If I break under 9:15, Annie will be okay, he tells himself, setting more reasonable odds; 9:30 or better, and she’ll be fine.

It is the last thing he thinks before it is upon him — a calamity only three strides removed.

The cyclist, the local paperboy, swerves in front of him from behind a parked car so suddenly that veering toward the curb can’t be avoided. Neither his stumbling somersaults across the median, nor his arse-slamming, leg splaying sidewalk landing.

It is over in a heartbeat.

For a moment, he sits on cold concrete, strangely clear-headed — thinking it would be just as appropriate to laugh as to cry.

But now someone else is making a fuss.

“Jesus!  Are you okay?”

The McFarland boy is yelling at him, scrambling up from his bike, tripping over the handlebars, spilling newspapers everywhere.

“Oh Shit! I’m so sorry! Is that you, Mister Courtman?”

Yes, that’s me, he thinks, standing slowly, laughing, brushing the dirt from his knees and elbows, wondering where all the new aches and pains will bloom.

“Christ, Annie’ll kill me if you’re hurt! Should I go for help?”

“I’m fine,” he answers, testing his footing to be sure. “Still alive,” he says.

“Can I help you make it home, then?”

A good kid, the McFarland boy. All gangling, legs and arms.

“No. I’ll get there on my own,” he decides, thinking for the first time that he can, that he knows where that is.

“But first, let’s deal with this mess,” he says, indicating the boy’s papers. “Get you back in business,” he thinks to add, wondering if that’s really all there is to it?

© 2011 By Jack A. Urquhart



Jack Andrew Urquhart is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories. He also wrote Irises, Purple Irises, a novella. Urquhart holds a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared at Clapboard House literary journal, Crazyhorse literary journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies Online. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Urquhart was, until recently, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in central Florida.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Classic Christmas Lit


As you know, my series The Bibliophiles delves into the lives of suburban classics book club members. In the first two novels, they have discussed such masterpieces as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, As You Like It, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales, and The Scarlet Letter.

Here are a few of favorite classic holiday reads I was reminded of when creating the Books and Baubles: Holiday Tales for Your E-reader blog with Karen Cantwell.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: This quintessential holiday story is still as relevant today as it was when Dickens wrote it in 1843. Although there are many wonderful screen adaptations, nothing beats reading the novella. Besides, you would miss out on such great prose and gorgeous descriptions as the ones below.

"External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty."

"You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"
                                               
                                                                                  —Charles Dickens

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss: You may scoff and laugh it off as only a children's book, but the Grinch, as with most of Dr. Seuss' stories, can tell us a lot about ourselves and the society around us. Besides, who doesn't tear up when his heart grows three sizes that day?

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"
                                                                                  —Dr. Seuss

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: This poem is probably most well known as the carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," but when it was refashioned as lyrics by Jean Baptiste Calkin, he omitted two stanzas that dealt with the Civil War. Longfellow wrote the piece in 1863, when it was not clear the North would win the war and his son had been wounded in battle. It's too bad, because Calkin removed the poignancy of the piece. Check out the full version. You won't be disappointed.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost: I love this poem. Cozy up with it and some hot chocolate, fireplace ablaze, snow gently falling outside the windows. Bliss.

Santa Calls by William Joyce: Although only written in 1993, this picture book is a classic in our house. Each of my boys loved this tale of inventor/crime fighter/whiz kid Art Atchinson Aimesworth,  his sidekick Spaulding, and his sister Esther, who receive a special invitation from Santa Claus himself to help him up at the North Pole for a special mission.

How about you? What are some of your all-time favorite holiday stories?




Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best Gift


My youngest son turns thirteen today. He is intelligent, self-driven, hilarious, and wonderful, all qualities he was born with, so I may brag about him free of any bravado or reflection upon my parenting skills. I am very lucky and privileged to be his mother.

I remember the happiness of bringing him home from the hospital. Our little family was finally complete! Feeding him by the light of the Christmas tree. Reading holiday tales as he cooed, cuddling into his blanket. Wrapping presents next to him as he sat, all cozy in his baby seat, Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album playing softly in the background.

I was never so content.

It might have been because I had finally stopping throwing up as I had done every day for the past nine months due to morning sickness, but I think it really was that I was getting to know my Danny, this child who would continually surprise me. This child to whom I go now for a different perspective when I need an opinion. This child who has grown into such an interesting human.

He plays football and lacrosse, violin and electric guitar. He loves Shakespeare right alongside Green Day and Avenged Sevenfold. Loves pranks, yet was the first to offer more hugs this fall when my oldest left for college.

And while we have been teasing him by playing My Chemical Romance’s song, “Teenagers,” with its lyric of “Teenagers scare the living shit out of me,” the true song that will always play in my head whenever I think of him is the same one that provided the background for our first Christmas together thirteen years ago — “The Best Gift.”

Happy Birthday, Danny. Love you so much, my teenager.







Friday, December 7, 2012

The Best of Flash Fiction Fridays


For the past two years, writers of all genres from all over the world have contributed wonderful tales to Flash Fiction Fridays. As my gift to you this December, here are four stand-out pieces from previous years that definitely deserve another look.

Enjoy.


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. 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, December 5, 2012

Running to Stand Still


Here is a piece I wrote for the Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) blog tour this past fall. It originally appeared on a great blog, Empty Nest. I thought it was particularly apropos for this time of year.



The other day, I was listening to U2’s masterpiece, “The Joshua Tree,” which I hadn’t heard in quite some time. Lately, most of the music in the house has belonged to my sons, but now with one off for his freshman year at college and the other back in junior high, I can once again reclaim the soundtrack of my days.

The song “Running to Stand Still” came on, and I paused to listen, struck by that simple, yet powerful phrase.

Running to stand still.

How many of us are guilty of that? Of going and going and going in hopes of someday being able to finally relax and breathe a bit?

There is always so much to do, an overwhelming list of grocery shopping, working, holidays/parties, exercising, laundry, paying the bills, cleaning, or running incessant errands. I don’t know about you, but I am tired.


This list is compounded by the Internet. In these plugged-in days with email, texting, instant messages, Twitter, Facebook and the rest, the willpower to ignore that little gnat-like, nagging voice urging us to check online just one more time is incredibly important.

An article in the July 16th Newsweek warned that being online too much might actually be creating biological changes in our brains. And not for the better. The article stated that “The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic.”

Running to stand still.

I’m trying to incorporate a small part of stillness into my life every day in my quest to achieve a better balance. Being a writer/editor, I live on deadlines and the adrenaline rush that accompanies them, so this is not an easy task.

Whether it is taking the time to meditate (or in my case, attempting to meditate), having a cup of tea (THAT I can do!), or lighting a lavender candle and enjoying its scent, make some time to just be. Listen to the wind rustle through the trees. Lie down under a tree and look up at the sky through its ethereal leaves. Watch rain or snowflakes trickle down from the sky.

These actions can free us from feeling like we are hamsters stuck on Habitrail wheels, our minds frantically figuring out what is next on the great “To Do” list of life.

What steps have you taken to incorporate stillness into your life?


Source
Dokoupil, Tony. “Is the Onslaught Making Us Crazy?” Newsweek 16 July 2012: 24-30. Print.




Monday, December 3, 2012

Need Holiday Gift Ideas?


Good Monday morning, everyone. Why the chipper greeting, you ask? Crazy as this may seem, it is going to be 68°F today in Chicagoland — on December 3rd! Despite a bit of early-morning fog, it should be a great day.

With the calendar turning to December this past weekend, many people have plunged into Christmas shopping. Obviously, my answer to this is simple — books. However, I am mindful that not everyone shares my bibliophilic passion.

Having been at this Christmas shopping thing for a good many years now, I am offering some gift suggestions on Karen Cantwell's and my new blog, Books and Baubles: Holiday Tales for Your E-Reader. Karen and I put our heads together and brainstormed a few unique and fun presents I'm sure everyone on your list will love. To read the post, click here.

Hope this makes your holiday shopping a little easier.

While you are there, don't forget to stop by our giveaway page. One grand prize winner will receive an amazon gift card plus all of the stories showcased. Five lucky runners-up will win copies of Karen's A Spirited Christmas and my A Bibliophile Christmas.

Good luck!