The Year of Playing FreeCell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADepression has a way of flipping my perspective. When I’m in its grasp, it’s like no matter how hard I try to appreciate the beauty of the roses, I only feel the bite of  the thorns.

No, I don’t feel sad. No, I’m absolutely not suicidal. But there are times, like now, when I just feel tired, of living. On and off, over the course of my life, I’ve had these spells. Many people do. So I have no notions that I’m special or handicapped by this.

The problem is that these bouts of depression interfere with my productivity. With my creativity. Especially with my writing. It drives me bananas to have all these thoughts in my head and not have the energy to write them down.

It’s like my brain invited me to a slumber party. “Let’s just lay around all day and do nothing,” it says. “We’ll have a pajama day, just me and you. It’ll be fine. You can write tomorrow. Or next week… Or never. You don’t have to write, you know.”

And so I sit, doing nothing other than watching TV and playing FreeCell Solitaire. There are days I don’t even have the energy to read a book or cook a meal. Lately, I’ve developed a pattern of either ordering out or going through– ugh! –the drive-thru for dinner. Nothing tastes great. So why bother.

I put on a good face, or try to, when I’m around friends. I make an effort to go out and do things. I don’t want my friends to worry. I don’t want anyone to worry. I’m not going to do anything stupid. Other than waste precious time. Which in turn, makes me feel like a shit for doing nothing. For not doing more, not being more. And so it becomes a pathetic cycle because beating myself up only makes me more tired.

I hope that writing this post is an indication that I’m coming out of it. I’ve never been able to figure out the whys or hows of it.

A good friend once told me that we celebrate anniversaries, whether we realize it or not. The anniversary of my father’s death is coming up, July 19th. I also carry the recent pain of having to put Ms. BlackBeary to sleep. We feel these things, internally, mentally. Even if we don’t acknowledge them, they’re there affecting mood and energy.

And then there’s all the soul-sucking, routine events. My regular job is frustrating, and draining, for no good reason, which only makes it more draining. There’s the novice writer who has decided to publish under my name. There’s falling short of expectations, mostly my own.

And there’s the doubts, especially the doubts about the quality of my writing.

There are lots of things I’ve internalized over this year of playing FreeCell. And they can and have become overwhelming at times.

But they’ll pass.

They always do.


Fathers’ Day: Get His Story

img161Nearly thirty years ago, nearly half my lifetime ago, my father died of lymphoma. I was twenty-nine years old and dumb as a post, emotionally, at least.

But I thought I was all grown up. I was about to graduate engineering school and go to work in the corporate world. I didn’t know just how dumb I was. I wasn’t yet mature enough to know, to realize how people can influence our views with a word here, a word there. How people can instill their own hate and anger, their own bitterness into us just by repeating their catalogue of fear, day after day. I was raised to believe my father was a sorry, good-for-nothing man. And for a long time, I accepted it as truth. But as I grew older, I started to doubt it. Even before he died, I started to doubt it, but I wasn’t strong enough to act on it back then. Now I know. I finally recognized the truth for what it was. I was conned.

I allowed myself to be conned.

My father was a gentle person, an uneducated farmer kind of guy. But he was smart. I got my math genes from him. He was also wise enough to know that hard work means everything. That being generous and kind is far more important than being smart or right. He loved animals. And he loved me and my brother. More than I realized, until it was too late.

Some of my fondest memories are of treehouses and fishing, of following behind him as he rounded up the cows for milking, of walks through the woods looking for Christmas trees. Of him showing me just how beautiful bell peppers get when they ripen to red and purple.

I regret not getting to know my father better. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to him more. I’m sorry I didn’t learn more about him, his life.

I’m sorry I was so stupid.

Don’t waste the time you have. Trust your instinct about people. And talk to your father… your mother, your brother or sister. Whoever. Take pictures. Record their stories.

Maybe you’ll look back and think it was a total waste of time. But I bet you won’t.

Do it. While you still have time.



Now Available: IU 2015 Flash Fiction Anthology

indies-2015-flash-fiction-anthologyThe Indies Unlimited 2015 Flash Fiction Anthology features a year’s worth of winning entries from the weekly flash fiction challenge [including two from yours truly]. It contains 51 stories by 36 different [awesome] authors from around the world, with full color pictures by award-winning photographer K. S. Brooks and thought-provoking prompts by five-star author Stephen Hise.

From a war veteran’s revenge to the misadventures of Og – everyone’s favorite caveman, there are a myriad of genres and stories to appeal to every taste.

Included in the anthology are stories by Susan Berry, Robert Capko, AV Carden, Victoria Ann Carr, Thomas Diehl, Leland Dirks, Jules Dixon, Stephen Douglass, Ed Drury, S.K. Fischer, Kira Flynn, R.B. Frank, Christine Frost, Terveen Gill, Dusty May Jane, A. L. Kaplan, Zack Lester, William Lewis, S.A. Molteni, John D. Ottini, Rachel Palmer, Brenda Perlin, Daniel Peyton, Greg Phelan, Diane Selby, Hannah Selby, S.B. Smith, Chris Sparks, Sara Stark, Kat Stiles, Steven M. Stucko, Janni Styles, James R. Tate, Richard Trisdale, Byron Wade, and M.P. Witwer.

Check out my two entries:

Forever Hold Your Peace, 17jan15, and Bargain Bin Valentine, 14feb15


What about the dog? or the Writer’s Friend: Why? and What if?

Needless to say, I’ve been stalled lately, not writing, not even writing blog posts. I’ve been thinking a lot about writing, but never able to get a firm grasp on the story, until this morning.

The tools to pull myself out of this slump have been there all along. I’ve known about them since I first started writing, but in the midst of other things going on in my life, I somehow forgot about them.

I just needed to start asking myself the questions. Why? What if?

Usually the what ifs come first. What if there was a girl named Beryl who … ? Then the whys come, a natural progression in the process of asking what if.

In this case, since I know the basics of the story, since I know its quirks and turns, I started asking myself the whys today, bigger whys. I won’t give you a list of them because it would give the story away. But as I answered the whys, more what ifs emerged.

I will give you one example:

The dog must move the story forward or there is no point in writing some lovely prose about Beryl finding a dog. So why is there a dog in this story? What role does the dog play? How does it move the story forward?

The crazy thing is I haven’t answered that question yet, but I’m doing the what ifs, in my head, even as I write this. I know that the dog is important, important to Beryl, hence important to the story. And to me.

Now I have to figure out why.

Flash.Fiction: Naked Ambition, or Form of a Lizard

Today’s Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge goes like this:


Photo by K.S. Brooks @

As B-List superheroes go, Lizard Man was not exactly a frontrunner. He sat on the door handle and sighed, wondering if there was a C-List.

The power to transform into a tiny lizard had a very narrow set of advantages.

Sure, he could squeeze into places most other superheroes could not go, but lord help him if there was a cat waiting on the other side.

His young ward, Turtle Boy, looked expectantly at him. “I’ll keep lookout while you slip under the door and get the Psybernetic Crystal.”

It would not be Lizard Man’s finest hour…

And my response is:

Or so he thought. There were too many disadvantages to being Lizard Man. That gecko on TV made everything look easy, cool. It wasn’t.

From the crack beneath the door, he surveilled the room. No easy task from lizard height. No cats, thank goodness. That would have been disastrous, possibly fatal.

He scurried across the evil scientist’s hotel room, hoping to catch sight of the elusive Psybernetic Crystal. Once it was in his possession he’d have the ability to control machines, maybe even robots with his mind. For good. Not evil. Surely that would make him an A-List superhero.

Once sure he was alone, he transformed into his human body. He shivered. The room was darn cold. Perhaps the crystal would also allow him to rematerialize fully clothed.

He scanned the room again, this time with the advantage of human height.

The crystal shimmered like an unfulfilled wish. This was too easy. As he lifted it from its pedestal, electricity surged though him, energized him. His hair stood on end, and he nearly dropped the crystal when the alarm went off.

He had to get out, quick. But how?

“Turtle Boy,” he shouted. “Trip the security guards.”

He hoped Turtle Boy wasn’t taking one of his numerous naps and was relieved to hear the scuffle in the hallway.

Now to exit the window and climb down the fire escape.

Stepping onto the ledge, he cursed the evil scientist for visiting in winter. Chicago Januarys were darn cold. Especially naked.


NOTE:  On Wednesday afternoon (February 10th), IU opens voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

I’d really really — really —  love it if you’d vote for my entry. No login / user account creation is required to vote.

When is it too much?

I just emailed the most graphic scene in my work-in-progress to a couple of pre-book reviewers. Friends I trust to point me in the right direction, who see things (mostly) the way I do, but who stand as the voice of reason. Because anyone who’s written a book, especially a fiction novel, knows that it can get away from you. That reason and creativity aren’t the closest companions.

I sent these friends the first draft of what has to be the most horrific event in the book, the event around which seventy-five percent of the story spirals. So this event, this scene should be disturbing, right? But I have to ask myself (and them) when is it too much? I posed to them the question: is this scene too graphic for my style of writing?

I usually don’t have a problem with graphic scenes, where warranted. I love detective novels and TV shows. I’m sad to say it, but I enjoy stories about serial killers. I enjoy the psychological part of the story. But there are also instances of books, TV shows, etc. that are overly graphic for no reason.

I’ve put down several books (and decided to never buy from that author again) because of gratuitous violence, violence that doesn’t add anything to the story other than shock value.

There’s a big difference between alluding to what’s behind the curtain and ripping the curtain down and shoving my face in it.

For a long time, I would buy Minette Walters’ books as soon as they came out. But I almost stopped following her completely after reading the animal abuse scenes in one of her books. I can’t deal with violence against animals. It’s another sad to say situation that I can deal with violence against humans, that it’s become not so shocking for me. But, to me, people who abuse animals or children deserve an especially hot place in hell. And I don’t want to think/read about the things those people do, or why. There’s no valid reason to harm something that vulnerable.

And I know it all a matter of what you enjoy. I’m not judging. Really. But I also know that I have certain expectations of the genre and the author. I don’t like it when I’m disturbed enough by what I’ve read that I have to put a book down. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. I don’t want to turn off my readers by making them think I’m including things just for shock value.

Getting to the middle of what starts out to be a good book and then not wanting to finish it is like finding that half-eaten worm in your apple. Like having the friendly-looking bee buzzing around that beautiful flower sting you on your nose.




It’s Okay!

I know every writer, every person out there has experienced it.

You see, I’m having a bit of a pity party, but it’s going to have a happy ending even if it kills me. I’ve been in a real slump the past few months. I’ve been tired and sad, and mentally exhausted from my soul-sucking day job. And I’ve given myself every excuse not to write.

IMG_20140807_091353But it’s all on me. I know that. I let stuff to get to me, stuff that really doesn’t matter. I let a bunch of shit affect my writing… or not writing to be more accurate. And now, I’m saying, fuck that. If flowers can grow from shit, if a good pile of fertilizer can make them bloom beautifully, then so can I.

And if what I write sucks, if it’s shit, well, it’s okay–at least, to a degree. I’m doing this for me. And that’s all that matters. Wish me luck!

Flash.Fiction: Tom’s Turmoil, or A Bad Day for a Sauna

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. And if I wrote memoir, you’d know more about why it’s been a long time. But I’d prefer to write fiction, to distract myself from the problems, stupidity, and banality of the real world. But thanks for reading my posts.


Anyway, today’s Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction challenge intrigued me. The title that went out in the email was “Bad Day for a Sauna” while the title on the website was “Tom’s Turmoil”. I thought, sauna in the middle of the woods, really?

And here’s what transpired.

The prompt is…

Photo by K.S. Brooks

Photo by K.S. Brooks

Ah, finally! This was what Tom had been waiting for: true wilderness.

Right at this moment, quitting his job and selling everything became totally worth it. Tom had gotten absolutely disgusted with the rat race and couldn’t deal with it anymore. He wanted to get as far away from people as possible. And now, at last, he was.

As he pondered where to set up his tent, there was a loud noise behind him. Quickly turning, Tom’s jaw dropped when he saw…

And my response (250 words):

… a gigantic black bear totally unconcerned about the noise it was making, or about Tom, walking within ten feet of his truck. Tom’s heart raced. Man, being this close to something so wild was awesomesauce. This was why he’d come. This was why he’d left those city rats behind. That Walden dude’s the man.

The urge to follow numbed Tom’s fear of appearing on the next episode of When Bears Attack.

 Light-footed as possible, he snuck through the heavy brush, tracking the bear at a safe distance. Each step enhanced the euphoria he had longed for back amongst the daily drudgers. When the forest thinned, he slowed, then squatted at the edge of a clearing and took in the intoxicating vista.

Near the river, back dropped by mountains, steam rose off a small pool. Even though he’d heard of local hot springs, this was the first one he’d come across.

Tom froze, slow blinked twice. The sauna-like pool wasn’t what had him blown away.

Dumbfounded, he watched the bear lower itself into the pool beside three other bears. His bear leaned over and kissed one of the other bears on the muzzle.

“Bad day?” The kissed bear smoothed Tom’s bear’s fur.

Tom’s bear stretched, then spread its arms on the edge of this wilderness hot tub. “Do bears poop in the woods?” It growled, “SOS,DD. Some idiot camped in the passing lane.”

Tom turned away, pushed toward base camp. Man, I got to stop smoking so much dope, he thought.


NOTE:  I know Thoreau wrote Walden. Tom does not.

NOTE:  On Wednesday (October 14th) afternoon, IU opens voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

I’d really really — really —  love it if you’d vote for my entry. No login / user account creation is required to vote.

Still – Follow Up, Writing Fodder

Sigh, it never ends. Or should I say, it’s started all over again.

But all this drama is good fodder for writing. I’m sure I can use this in one of my novels. And in my blogs.

And I’ve learned a valuable lesson, that sometimes the shitty things that happened to us in the past really are for the good. Back then, I was too in love to see just how big a narcissist he is. That it was all about him. But I learned. Oh, yes, I learned a hard lesson.

So you guessed it. I received another middle-of-the-night email, from the guy who dumped me like trash, who told my friends that he never cared about me, never loved me, the guy who made me feel like crap for a very long time. The guy who, in the end, automatically sent my email to the deleted folder and sent my phone calls straight to disconnect. I received an email, from that guy, whining about how I was hurting him just because I suggested he go fuck himself. Actually I wasn’t that mean or that blunt in my reply. But I was direct. I explained how he had hurt me and that I wasn’t particularly happy to hear from him after nine years of silence, nine years of him pretending I didn’t exist, that we didn’t exist. And that I hated him for hurting me, again.

He said, and I quote, “If you wanted to sucker punch me in the gut and watch me writhe on the floor, you succeeded. I had no idea you harbored that level of ill feeling and hatred for me over all these years. My memories hold something far different.”

I’m sure his memories are different. He’s a narcissist. And if he didn’t know I was angry and hurt, if he didn’t know that he nearly destroyed me, then he apparently wasn’t paying attention to anyone but himself. I’m not a particularly forgiving person, not then and not now. And I’m certainly not going to forgive or forget someone treating me like that. Not going pretend he wasn’t a dick all those months he jerked me around. Not going to pretend it was okay for him to act like I meant nothing to him in front of everyone and then turn around and send me emails in the middle of the night saying how much he missed me.

And I’m not going to welcome him back with open arms just because he misses me after nine years.

But as I said, even though I feel really stupid for ever caring about this guy, for still harboring enough love for his emails to screw me up all over again, this gives me tons of writing material. Although, if I were to use his personality, verbatim, no one would believe it, because it seems improbable that someone could be that self-involved. So, sadly, if I use him in a story, I guess I’ll have to give him a couple of redeeming qualities.

Thanks for listening.


I was visited by a ghost today.

Late at night, in that mutable time between lights out and succumbing to sleep, he haunts me, still. He whispers of the things that could have been, and I remind him of all the things that were and were not, of all the small cruelties we inflicted on each other.

But today, after all these years, his voice whispered words across the page. No one else. There’s been no one else.

How I hate him for the things he did to me, throwing me away like foul-smelling trash. Denying my existence. So for him to reach out after the years of silence, for him to assume that I would be overjoyed by his missive, that has thrown me into a vortex of what-ifs. Has pushed me back into that frozen wasteland of unrequited love. And anger.

How I love him, still, for so many reasons. That’s what my heart says. But my head says that I must be strong, must take the good and leave everything else behind. To recognize that if it were not for the things he did, I wouldn’t have found the way to love me first.

His actions drove me to write, and I did.

Writing became my escape, my salvation. I allowed him to push me into such a dark place that I thought I wouldn’t survive. Only by submersing myself into someone else, only by writing their words and their sorrows was I able to fight my own sadness and climb out of that hole.

Now writing is my life, my joy. I do it for me, because I want to, because I love it. And me.

For that I am thankful, still.