Things My Mother Taught Me

In June, I’ll be attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and they’re having a pre-conference contest for Mothers’ Day. In 500 words, or less, write a story titled Things My Mother Taught Me. I wish I could have written a happy, flowery, my-mother-was-the-greatest story, but I couldn’t.

scan003My mother taught me a lot of things. I still have phobias from some of them. But she also forced me to be self reliant. I know I can survive. Year ago, before she died, I forgave my mother because I know she didn’t mean to be the way she was, but that doesn’t change history. And it didn’t change her. Only me.

The following is my contest entry. I doubt I’ll win because most people buy into the fallacy that all mothers are good people.

They’re not.

~ o ~

I tell people that I was born 35-years old, that I have been an adult for as long as I can remember, but that’s not true. I was young once.

Maybe it was childish immaturity, or maybe I never put it all together until that day when I was eleven. My mother had just pulled a batch of biscuits from the oven, and just as if it were something she said every day, just so matter-of-factly, she said the words. I have to love your brother more because your father loves you more. She said I was her second choice of her two children.

It didn’t really matter why. I stopped hearing long before the because. I stood paralyzed, not realizing tears were running down my face until I felt them seep between my lips, until I tasted that saline flavored shame. Sometimes, even now, I tear up when I smell biscuits baking.

For the next three decades, I tried to earn my mother’s love, but none of my efforts were good enough. If you get all “A”s … If you work your way through college … If you get an important job… If you pay my rent every month… If, if, if. If I was just good enough. I was so desperate for her love that I would do anything for her, give anything to her. I would have let her take my last breath.

“I need $3000 to have my teeth fixed,” she said one night, her voice shrill over the phone lines between Atlanta and Seattle. Like we had a bad connection.

I had just moved to Seattle, and what with moving expenses, higher rent, and a car payment for the first time in ten years, groceries were sometimes optional. Besides her teeth weren’t the issue. She wanted money, and I was her personal ATM. Not handing it over made me a disappointment, a terrible daughter. At her knee I had learned the weight of that disappointment, had been indoctrinated into the cult of the narcissistic parent. Had been programmed until the synapses in my brain automatically translated her need into love.

I need translated into I care about you.

I want became look how much I love you.

I don’t want to be a burden meant you’re being a problem.

None of it was true, but I chose to believe it, at least then.

“I don’t have it,” I said.

A hurtful silence came from the other end of the line, making me wait so my heart could voice a thousand self-incriminations. I knew that if I were a good daughter, I’d have $3000 just waiting for her to need it.

“I always knew you were worthless,” she said, slamming her phone down.

She had said it so many times before, too many to count, but for some reason, that day as the severed connection whined in my ears, I realized I wasn’t worthless. I am not worthless.

I am good enough. Good enough. For me.

Writing — Ol’ Style

Maybe it’s because I sit in front of a computer all day for my real job, but lately I’ve had a hard time coming home and spending hours sitting in front of my laptop, even if it is in a creative outlet. I just have no desire to come home and log on, no desire to type some more.

So earlier this week, I changed my mode of writing. I went to bed with a yellow legal pad and a pen, and for some reason the ideas flowed. With just a pen and a piece of paper, I was able to capture ideas, dialogue, and blocks of story without the dread I feel when I open an empty word document, without a dull haze falling over me.

I wonder if there is a link between hand and brain, between feeling the pressure of a pen or pencil on a page and accessing that often elusive, creative area hiding deep inside each of us. That I don’t know, but I do know it’s working for me. I haven’t written this much in a long time.

Searching for the Muse…

I’m still in a bit of a low spot, writing wise. A few minutes ago, I pulled out a chapter I wrote a while back. I wanted to review it, to work it into some of the changes I’ve made in the story line. And it read like crap. Which makes me wonder if every writer does that or if am I just hyper-critical. When I’m in this mood, I want to just throw it all out and admit that I don’t have what it takes. That I don’t have the stamina, the drive… the self-confidence to carry on.

In my heart, I know it isn’t that bad. But today, my head tells me it is.

So I put it away for a day when I’m in the I’m an effing genius mood.

It’s been awhile…

To quote Mark Twain: the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

For the past few months, writing wise, I have been lazy and whiney and pretty much as pathetic as one person can be, but I have not died. Despite the fact that I have written very little, whether it be here or on my work-in-progress, I have not given up. It’s just that, for weeks now, my non-writing, paying job has consumed me mentally, wearing me down to the point that I don’t want to think about anything once I’m home, and I have allowed that to be my excuse.

I had a wake-up call one Sunday, not too long ago. I sat and watched Netflix all day. It was a really good show, and I watched a full season without stop. If you knew me better, you’d know that isn’t normal. I never, ever just sit and watch TV. Never. Ever. The TV may be on, but it’s usually background noise to everything else going on. To realize that I had given the idiot-box my full attention sort of scared me. And brought me back to my wits.

Since then, I’ve been slowly restoring my writing muscles. They’re still creaky and sore, but no pain, no gain, right?

It feels good to be back.

Flash.Fiction: Initiation

I’m a sucker for a sob story, for an underdog. So I knew I had to save this little bear from the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction challenge.

Photo by K.S.Brooks

Photo by K.S.Brooks

The prompt is:

The bear in the middle is Ursula. She always felt she was destined for a special purpose – maybe as a gift to a sick child or as a favorite toy.

Though she was passed over again and again, Ursula kept a cheery and hopeful disposition.

But at last a year had gone by since she had been unpacked and shelved. The store manager gathered up the unwanted toys and put them in a bargain bin in an effort to unload them before Valentine’s Day. As the day wore on, every toy was picked except Ursula…

And my response (250 words):

The hope Ursula clung to died as the store manager extinguished the lights and locked up. Today had been her last chance. Now she’d end up in the trash, because seriously, how long could he keep her around?

No one wanted her. Her fur wasn’t the sparkly pink little girls loved, nor was it the blinding white young men chose for their new loves. It was brown, bear brown.

She closed her eyes, wondered how many days she had left. Weariness from the false cheer, from the happy face she’d displayed for so long overtook her and she drifted into hibernation, free from sadness and fear.

“Wake, my sweet girl.”

Eyes blurry with sleep, Ursula didn’t recognize the face or the voice. “What? Who?”

“Artemis, silly bear.” As she leaned over the bin, the woman radiated beauty and power. And goodness. “You didn’t think you were left behind because you’re of no value, did you? I have plans for you, important plans.”

As Artemis lifted Ursula from the bargain bin, the world changed. The store dissolved. They stood amongst ancient ruins, washed white by the sun. Dark blue seas shimmered in the distance.

“Welcome to Brauron,” Artemis said. “You’re needed here. We guide girls on their path to womanhood.”

~ o ~

The next morning, when the store manager opened up, he couldn’t remember who bought that last bear. But never mind, at least he wouldn’t have to throw it in the garbage.

Time to put out the Easter bunnies.

~ o ~

NOTE: If you’re interested, the story of Artemis at Brauron is a historical and mythological one combined.  In ancient Greece, when girls reached puberty, many went through a rite of passage held in honor of Artemis.  You can read more at Wikipedia and Ancient Peoples.  Or just do your own search on “Artemis” and “Brauron”.

NOTE: On Wednesday (February 18th) 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.

Today at BlackBeary Condo – Magic Milk

IMG_20150214_131740Recently, BlackBeary’s human has been providing BlackBeary with one of her favorite treats, milk, every night, and there are times during the day when she is quite wary of this new event. She loves her milk, even though it has to be lactose free milk, not straight from the cow type milk, but something is not quite right about her human being so generous with the treats.

BlackBeary never got milk every night, not before. And she wonders if her human is up to one of her villainous tricks again.

Each evening her human stands in the food fixing area with a small plastic bottle, the carton of milk, and a kitty plate. [BlackBeary doesn’t like eating off of human plates. She requires her own set of plates.] Anyway, during this ritual, her human extracts something from the plastic bottle, then hovers over the kitty plate, all secretive and such. The really suspicious part is that once milk has been poured onto the kitty plate, her human stirs the milk with a fork.

Scarily, and concerning is that once BlackBeary has consumed the delicious milk, she seems too calm to worry about her human’s questionable nightly behavior. Her heart beats a little slower, and she feels quite loving toward her evil, milk-brandishing human. She can’t seem to remember why her human annoys her so much.

And she can’t understand the desire to curl up beside her human and purr, but she does it anyway.

Her human must be changing the milk into some alchemical potion. But lately, BlackBeary isn’t sure she cares enough to worry about it. It’s magic the way it makes her feel, and for now, she can live with that.

Flash.Fiction: I did it!

Flash-Fiction-Star3Whoohoo, I won this week’s Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction contest.

Check out this week’s entries here.

Believe me, the competition was tough.

At Indies Unlimited, you’ll also find lots of great articles, tips, techniques, and advice about writing, publishing, and editing.

And possibly you’ll win the next contest.

Flash.Fiction: The Sucker Punch

As soon as I read this week’s Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction challenge, I knew the story in my head. I just had to write it.

Photo Copyright K. S. Brooks

The prompt is:

Blaine slipped out the back of the wedding hall. He couldn’t believe Tiffany was marrying that no-good cowboy. Roy McCoy had slithered his way into Tiffany’s life while Blaine was in Iraq. It wasn’t right. He had emailed her every day and Skyped whenever he could. Why hadn’t that been enough? He wasn’t really gone that long. She should have waited for him.

He gazed upon the unprotected refreshments. His grip tightened around the bottle of ipecac. “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” wafted out from the hall. Blaine took a deep breath…

And my response (250 words):

The green punch, old Roy-Boy, his onetime best friend, would go for the green punch and add a hefty dose of JD to it while that lying little— while Tiffany wasn’t looking.

Blaine was pretty sure the ipecac wouldn’t hurt anyone, anyone abstaining that is. Besides, if he remembered correctly—and his memory was a bit hazy these days—Tiffany and all her friends were teetotalers. Something about the ipecac… The very bottle in his hand had been in the last “care” package she’d sent him. In his head, something flared like distant artillery.

Sure he had a problem. But barfing up what little they got to eat… Barfing in that heat wasn’t going to make Iraq a happier place. What made things better was a good dose of anti-reality, easily found in the rotgut liquor all too available in Iraq.

“—may kiss the bride.”

Too late. Blaine heard the crowd exploding as the happy couple walked down the aisle.  He pocketed the ipecac and stepped back into the shadows of the reception hall.

And who stopped right in front of the alcove in which he hid? The Bride and Groom, of course.

“Don’t cry, hon,” Rat-Roy said.

“You know I love you.” Two-Timing-Tiffany sniffed into a tissue. “But this, this isn’t what I pictured.”

“I loved him too, you know. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t—”

Something fired in Blaine’s memory.

“I’d already planned,” Roy said. “I’m going to make a memorial speech at the reception.”

~ o ~

NOTE: On Wednesday (January 21st) 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.

Book.Review: The Silkworm

silkwormThe Silkworm is Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym) second Cormoran Strike novel. In this second book, aptly named Cormoran has become more three-dimensional. In the first book, he seemed more of a “character” than a real person, but J.K. Rowling has done an excellent job of making him more well-rounded, and I look forward to reading another Cormoran Strike novel.

The plot is complex, intriguing, and well done. One of the main characters is a self-important, one-hit-wonder author who has written a grizzly, psycho-sexual novel called Bombyx Mori (Latin for silkworm). A dark, somewhat disturbing story about ambition and excess, about need and desire builds from there. About a third of the way into the book, I figured out whodunit, but not why or–and this is the clincher for me–how it was done. There were a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming, even though in retrospect, Ms. Rowling gave me all the clues. It was all there, right in front of me and I didn’t see it. So I had to keep reading to find out how it was done. And why.

Bottom line, I loved this story.

Now for the writer-ish critical part of my review: the head-hopping and author intrusions frequently threw me out of the story, and actually made me laugh in a couple of places which I don’t think Ms. Rowling intended, because this is a dark story, a story of mental and physical perversions. This isn’t Harry Potter, by no means. The prose is beautiful at times, and she’s a good enough writer that she shouldn’t be lazy with her writing. She shouldn’t depend on crutches to get the story across. Every class I’ve ever gone to has taught that both head-hopping (jumping between characters’ points of view is bad… except in romance, of which this isn’t one) and author intrusion are bad, bad, bad… and more importantly, the sign of a novice author.

The one author intrusion that literally made me laugh out loud goes like this: “Male heads turned to look at her as she walked to the bar, but Strike did not notice.” Really? If he didn’t notice, and we are in his head at that time, how do we know it happened? Sadly, this sentence didn’t add anything to the story. It could have easily been left out, and I wouldn’t have been laughing at one of my favorite authors.

And the other one that made me laugh, and worse, threw me out of the story for a few seconds because I had to think about whether it was true author intrusion or just me being picky: “Preoccupied with his own comfort, a mixture of football and murder on his mind, it did not occur to Strike to glance down into the snowy street….” Again, we are supposed to be in his head. So if it didn’t occur to him, who is telling us that it didn’t occur? I decided it was author intrusion. The one clause where it doesn’t “occur” to him to glance down, that clause could also have been left out. By that point in the book, we know the weather is awful and dangerous, especially for a one-legged man.

I won’t give examples of the head-hopping. There are too many to list.

I have to question the double standard. Can well-known authors break all the rules, and yet, we still love them because they’re celebrities? If I had written this book, would it have been panned, possibly never seen the light of day because of its lazy writing style? If well-known authors can break these rules, why are lesser- or un-knowns held to a higher standard?

With that said, I loved this book, and I will read the next one in the series.

How Raven got His Shadow

IMG_20140321_172306Remember the stories that Mother used to tell us?  The ones about Bear and Raven and all the others. In the land of Before, that’s how they always started.  So let’s start this story the same way.

Long ago, in the land of Before, in the time when the Humans were new to the earth, Raven had a twin.

Raven loved his twin, and his twin loved him so much that they never were apart. Their devotion became legendary, so much so that they became the favorites of the Humans.

“Look at how beautiful they are,” the Humans would say. “And between the two of them they share such wisdom, all the wisdom of the universe.”

“They are the wisest, the most beautiful, the most kind, most generous…” The Humans could find no fault with Raven and his twin.

And things may have been okay if the Humans had spread their love around, if they had found even one fault with the two. But they didn’t. Even Raven’s trickery became a thing of glory and humor, because the love he and his twin shared was all-encompassing.

Time went by as it does, and the Others grew tired of being over shadowed, of being viewed as Lesser. So they banded together and plotted the demise of the glorious couple.

“I can hold them under water until they lose their wings and grow fins,” Ocean said. “That way the Humans will not be able to see their devotion to each other.”

“I can trap them in a bottomless cavern,” Mountain said. “That way no one will be able to hear their wisdom.”

“I can shine so brightly, that no human will be able to see their beauty,” said Sun.

“I can blow such a breeze,” said Wind, “That they will be forever separated.”

But no one was happy because none of the solutions were sure. For each suggestion there was a chance that the twins would be reunited or that they would escape. And so they decided that getting rid of at least one of the twins was necessary.

Coyote, much like Raven, was a trickster. One night, long after the moon had fallen below the earth, the Conspirators met to listen to Coyote’s suggestion.

“We have to separate them for all eternity,” Coyote said. “Which means we have to send one, or both, of them to the After.”

“How will we do that?” Otter said.

Eagle said, “I suggest we appeal to their sense of greatness. We set them a task, a dangerous task. One they’ll want to complete for the sake of the Humans.”

“And for the sake of what the Humans will think of them.” Coyote laughed. “Because deep down, Raven and his twin are, after all, vain creatures like the rest of us.”

“I could hide,” said Sun. “And they would search for me, because the Humans fear the dark. They would fly too close—”

“No, I have the plan,” said Coyote. “An even better plan.”

And so the Conspirators began playing terrible tricks on the Humans and blaming Raven and his twin. Raven did it became their mantra. And as the years flew by, many foul deeds became attributed to Raven and his twin, so many that some Humans began to fear Raven and his twin.

Humans have short memories. No longer were Raven and his twin thought of as the generous, beautiful twins, as the funny, benevolent tricksters who stole the light and gave it to the Humans. As the two whose thievery benefitted the Humans more often than themselves.

And so, for one Chief, fear turned to anger and then hatred, so much so that the Chief plotted Raven and his twin’s death.

The Chief invited the twins to visit him, said he had planned a grand feast in their honor, but after the sumptuous meal, while they were napping, the Chief threw a bag over Raven and his twin. He tied the bag tightly, and though they struggled, they couldn’t get out.

“What’s this game you’re playing?” Raven said.

“I’m taking you to the mountaintop.”

“Why?” said Raven.

The Chief ignored him, even though the whole time he climbed the mountain, Raven peppered at him with questions.

Sensing some deception at work, Raven warned the Chief that he should be careful, that he should take care to never hurt Raven or his twin because they were loved by the Humans.

When the Chief reached the mountaintop, he threw the bag over the cliff. “You shouldn’t make a Chief mad, like that?” he shouted as the bag tumbled down the mountainside.

As it bumped against the sharp rocks, the bag ripped open and Raven escaped. His twin was not so lucky. The bag caught one of his wings and threw him off balance as he toppled out. Raven’s twin’s head smashed against a rock, and he fell to his death.

Raven gathered up his twin’s broken body and flew.

For many days and months and years, Raven stayed in seclusion because life without a twin made no sense. It was as if half of him were gone.

The Humans, now ashamed, mourned the twins and the light and happiness they had brought. So much so, a malaise fell over the world.

The Others took fright that they might all be forgotten. They worried that the Humans would learn of their deceit and shun them into non-existence. After all, the Humans had exiled the Chief who killed Raven’s twin.

So, the Conspirators met again in the dark of the night. They thought and thought, argued and discussed—for so long that the night went on for three days.

At what should have been the first hour of morning on the fourth day, Sun had an idea, and all the Conspirators agreed that it was an excellent solution.

Whenever there was light to see, Raven’s image, his spirit twin would follow him, would be there with him.

And not only would Raven have this twin, this shadow self, Sun would also give it to all the Humans so that no one would ever forget Raven’s twin.

~ o ~

*NOTE: this fable is my own creation, but is referential in style and story to the many Native American Raven stories that I’ve read. It will be used, at least in part, in my Work in Progress.