I’m on my way!

I feel renewed!- I have entered two contest in the last week, and am polishing my new novel to shine. Also I have begun promoting my self-published works and trying my hand at the marketing aspect of writing.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0109PNQY2/?ref_=aga_p_pl_ge_title#nav-subnav

Through Labor day only 99cents and then till the 10th at 1.99.

Wish me luck!

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Christmas from a writer

I’ve edited and sent out my latest short story for Christmas to friends and family and wonder. The whole business of writing is a mystery. You send out hundreds of queries you post blogs and fb posts- you like multiple writers pages and hope one day to make a difference.

But to make a difference takes effort. Time must be put in to show dedication. Charity from home is the closest way I have ever felt that what I actually did made a difference.

The following short story is my Christmas story  Enjoy, Diana

 

Sounds of Christmas

When I worked as a caregiver at Brookhaven Health Center the persons I cared for became my teachers. Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, spinal injuries, mentally challenged, and blindness were some of the struggles they faced. The lessons they taught far exceeded any education I could have received at the finest of universities. This Christmas day was no exception and I was presented with a special gift, a gift needing no garnishment of tinsel or fancy bows.

The band belted out the oldies. People of all ages crowded the dance floor, gyrating to the beat of pulsating drums and bass guitar. Having live entertainment was a bonus to the festivities at this annual Christmas party where no one took notice of boys dancing with boys or those who danced by themselves. The acts of celebration and movement overshadowed any set standards by those deemed normal.

That word, normal, always brought back memories of my orientation when I accepted my current job. The instructor was full of animation and emotion as he spoke.

Normal?  This is their normal!” Scott said. He pointed his finger at us like a scolding mother. “I never want to hear you say that word. Typical is what everyone else is. Normal is what you’re used to.”

His words melted into my heart. The people we helped perform daily functions knew only what they were born with. Anything else would be abnormal. One of my first lessons was, we who are without handicaps are blessed. I’d always taken the absence of handicaps for granted. Now I wondered, who was happier?

Scott chuckled before he asked, “Do you know what the disabled call you?”

All of us trainees shook our heads no.

“Walkers!” he said.

The room broke into laughter. He further instructed us to never call our people, “clients” or “patients” for they were, “Normal people who just need extra help. To show respect we refer to them as ‘consumers.’”

Orientation was a long time ago but those words always echoed back to me when I heard others describe this population with the ugly word of “retarded.” When people make jokes about the disabled, I think their normal is not so great.

I met the daughter of one of the Christmas band members in April and we quickly became friends. Watching Jen’s interactions with the mentally retarded developmentally disabled (MRDD), gave me great pride.  The respect given and received was more satisfying than any upper crust society party could ever muster. The diversity of these people reminded me how each soul was a rough cut gem—precious but ignored.

The happy atmosphere of this unusual party with its quirky music brought me back to the present. As if they had been waiting all year for this day, those in the room of the outdated VFW hall were full of holiday cheer. The laughter gave me a headache; but it was the good kind, the kind you get when you can’t stop smiling. The food and the music never ceased. Among the cinnamon and pine scents, each employee and consumer wore happy faces with one exception.

A young man in his early twenties sat in a corner next to his mother. My happiness dipped as I studied them and wondered why they isolated themselves. After working with these people who aren’t always able to communicate in the usual way, I’ve learned to read body language. The non-verbal persons are actually very communicative. The mother sitting next to her son was reserved and tentative. She wore a bright red and green holiday skirt in an apparent effort to be festive. Jen had mentioned this was Johnny’s first visit to the Christmas party.

Reasons why people were afflicted were pointless. Those not familiar with the system felt blame must be assigned. Mary, Johnny’s mother, still kept her son at home. It was considered impolite to ask, but Mary made it her duty to explain her son’s condition.

“He was born with a severe case of Cerebal-palsey,” Mary said. With pride she added, “He wasn’t supposed to live beyond his sixteenth birthday.”

“I’m glad to have the chance to meet him, “I said. Then I touched his shoulder. “Merry Christmas, Johnny.”

Johnny wiggled his face in response. It reminded me of a rabbit twitching his nose at a carrot.

Mary was talking again. “We have help come in once a week so I can have a break. He’s not in a group house. Jen was so nice to invite us.”

Mary seemed uncomfortable in a social setting. As the other consumers came by and gave Johnny and his mother holiday greetings, I saw her begin to relax.

Johnny occasionally would grin or raise his eyebrows, but more often than not, he sat stationary like a human statue. His wheelchair differed from the others scattered across the room; it had special features. Johnny was a quadriplegic so an electric model was unnecessary. Each limb was braced to plates customize along the frame with Velcro straps to secure him to the chair. He was strapped to a headrest to keep his head from falling to his chest so he had no choice but to sit and watch as life passed him by.

Mary reached over and gently stroked his forearm. His eyes were glued to his mother as Jen and another volunteer approached, bent down, and whispered in her ear. She looked at her son and nodded. Then the volunteers carefully undid the straps. Two men lifted him in a human fireman’s chair hold and took him to the center of the dance floor. A third man joined them and supported his back.

As the musicians played Jingle Bells for the hundredth time, Johnny grinned and drooled. Soon he was emitting a most peculiar sound. The guttural moaning noises concerned me. He sounded as if he were gasping for air. As I moved toward him, the loud squealing and intake of air from Johnny grew in intensity. Before I reached him, they stopped raising him up and down. The strange noises stopped. His eyebrows lowered and his face contoured into a scowl. The moans had been sounds of enjoyment! He wanted more. When Jen and her helpers resumed the twirling and lifting movement, Johnny began to groan and heave again, the spittle dropping from his smiling face. As they twirled him round and round the sounds became contagious. Soon the other consumers began to form a circle around them, clapping and chanting.

“Go Johnny! Go Johnny!”

I looked over to his mother and saw she was crying. I watched as one of Johnny’s peers approached the woman.

“Don’t cry! It’s Christmas. We supposed to be happy today,” he said.

She strained to give him a smile. “Oh, I am very happy!”

He pointed to the throng. “You should laugh then, like Johnny!”

She hugged the boy and patted his back. This seemed to satisfy him. He returned to the dance floor.

When Johnny was carefully placed back into his chair, my friend Jen was concerned. She asked his mother, “What’s wrong? I don’t think we hurt him.”

“Nothing, honey. I’m sure you didn’t.” She wiped her eyes. “It’s just, that was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.”

“You mean when Johnny was dancing?”

“Yes. You see, I have never heard him laugh before!”

Energy of pure happiness filled the entire room. Like electricity, its power spread from person to person. I had goose bumps of joy. The gift of that feeling was something I’d never known before or since.

When I’m asked about my favorite parts of Christmas, I remember carolers and singing in the church choirs, my favorite songs, and musical cartoons. Yet the sweetest sound I have ever heard was the music of Johnny’s laughter. It was the most perfect and precious Christmas sound ever made!

Revisions, edits and time

Let us look at the process of the beginning of a story- First from who’s POV should this be? After much thought I changed that… Then I learned about passive voice and active ones. Then speech tags. Construction and flow. Later a friend of mine who is invaluable to me taught me that DEEP POV… make your reader feel and see the story- They want to know the character and be there with them. Readability is key. All this and we only have words upon a page to portray this…

SO here are three different attempts- See if you agree which one is best

First seven lines…  (old a year ago)

As the tin bell clanged to announce Gina Lever’s entry to the Springtown Café, she inhaled deeply the fragrance of bacon and freshly brewed coffee.  With the millennium just around the corner it was odd to see the decor of the fifties so alive.  Not only did the diner resemble the long ago era but it actually existed, suspended in time, since many of the furnishings were brand new.  The tiny restaurant was the only place to eat in the Arkansas-Missouri border town of Springville. The old Hotel had few visitors, the bottling company had closed and the storefronts were mostly empty, yet The Springville Café was bustling with customers.

Gina looked over toward her usual booth to find it occupied by Matthew Chance.  She also knew why the young man was there; with the death of his grandfather he was alone now.

 

(newer this year)

His family was broken before he was born.  Matt knew money didn’t buy happiness; he never wanted for anything, but that.  Being the richest kid in the county hadn’t brought much joy to his family situation.  He witnessed family bonds of kids at school and now that graduation was over, Matt wouldn’t even have those examples on a daily basis.  He never knew his parents.  Sam Chance, his grandfather, didn’t share anything least of all information.  Matt would give all his money to have what so many others took for granted.

 

After study work and suggestions from a real editor…

Holding the last piece of crunchy goodness, Matthew Chance took a bite, I bet you, heaven is full of bacon, he thought as he sat in the Springville Diner. He looked at his watch for the hundredth time this morning. A fresh batch of cinnamon rolls, spread a thick blissful sugary scent over the diners. Matt visualized the huge pecans and melted gooey caramel. His mouth watered as he considering ordering one to go and stabbed the last bit of egg onto his fork. When he was finished, he’d be forced to return to the outside world, a world that thought he should be grieving over his grandfather’s death.

WIP The Tin Cup

Here is a current work in progress

A short story about a cousin who died and the memories it brought for my father.

The Tin Cup

Keith dreaded the task at hand; sifting through the remnants of yet another relative’s past.  After Sanford’s death, there were few who even remembered where he lived, and no one who wanted to help with the final details.

As Sandy grew up and his mind stayed childlike, the world ignored him.  He had lived and died alone. Walking into the crowded house Keith hung his head with sorrow and regret.  The cousins were close at one time, but that was long ago.

There were old comics and posters affixed to the walls of Sandy’s bedroom reminding Keith of a teenager’s room. In the small alcove where a desk and shelves sat, the only thing on the wall was a strange but beautiful pen and ink sketch. It was behind glass and in a custom frame, looking out of place in the messy surroundings. Keith gazed at the picture of the cowboy and smiled.

Keith preferred to remember Sandy as a child, for in his mind Sandy had always remained one. It was easier back then, playing together and laughing, as if the whole grownup world didn’t matter.

Their secret fort was under the back porch.  Carving out roads in the dirt for their cars and trucks, here the cousins escaped the summer heat.  While the older boys played ball, these two played care-free away from the hot sun.  The boys in the neighborhood went shirt-less as they rode bikes and scooters in the smoldering August weather.  Sandy didn’t.

He was big for his age; even at ten, Sandy looked as if he were a teen-ager.  On the chunky side, he was self-conscious, shy and awkward.  He heard other people call him ‘slow’ and wanting to be the same as the other kids he tried to run everywhere to prove them wrong.  Sandy seemed to be always in a hurry.

When the kids in the neighborhood needed a break they all gathered around the well at Sandy’s house.  Sandy ran to the well as if he was hosting them all.

“Come on, Sandy, let us help you,” Keith said. “That full bucket’s too heavy to lift by yourself!”

“I can do it!” Sandy shouted.

They all watched as the child toiled with the bent crank of the well handle.  Sandy continued pushing and straining as the bucket slowly came to the top.  The kids stared down the well as it rose into sight.

“You’re doing it Sandy, it’s almost here!” Keith encouraged. “Keep cranking!” Sandy put his heart into it now and Keith came around to grab the handle too.  The bucket nearly tipped over as it approached the lip of the rock wall. The kids crowded around and steadied it.  Sandy collapsed to the ground. “Let Sandy have the first drink!” Keith told the older boys.  He reached over the arms of his brother, sneering at him, and snatched the cup from him.

The tin drinking cup hung in the center of a wooden support post of the well.  It was attached to a nail by a long red string.   Keith dipped the community cup into the cool well water, filling it to the rim, and gave it to Sandy. Sandy gulped it down. “Boy that sure tastes good! Can I have more?”

“You had your turn! Wait until the rest of us are done!” one of the neighbor kids yelled.

Tommy, the leader of the group, grabbed the cup from Sanford’s outstretched hand. The pushing and shoving began, as they took turns dipping and drinking till they were fully refreshed.  They straggled off back to their ballgame. When the last of the kids dropped the cup on the ground and left, Sandy looked at the discarded cup and sighed.

Keith picked it up, refilled it and handed it to his cousin. “Some guys just think about themselves!” Keith mumbled. “Sandy are you still hot?”

“Yep, but thanks fer the drink.”

“Thanks for pullin’ up the water Sandy.” Sandy replied,

“Yer welcome.” His eyes widened in surprise by the younger boy’s appreciation.  “You still hot, Keith?”

Keith answered,”Yep, shore am.”

Sandy then dipped the tin cup in one more time and started to hand it to Keith. As Keith reached for the cup, Sandy threw the cold water at his cousin and giggled.  Keith was mad at first then he started laughing too.

“You know what? That ain’t a bad idea!” He splashed some water from the bucket onto Sandy.  Sandy shook a bit and then lifted the bucket with a mischievous look in his eyes.  He swung it back and then forward with a jerk to soak Keith. What remained in the bottom of the pail, Keith poured on top of Sandy’s head, who willingly awaited the cold shower.

The two wet boys laughed, as they turned and twisted their shirts to wring out the water over the empty container.  After replacing the cup on its nail they raced back to their retreat under the porch. Sandy had made a little bed in one corner with some old cardboard.  The two boys tried to make it like a house, though they would never admit this to any one, since ‘playing house’ was a girl’s thing.  They had a ring of boulders in the center of their room for a fireplace.  Another circle was drawn in the dirt beside it, for marbles.

“Hey, Keith you can make up stories about anything can’t you?” Sandy asked.

“I usually can, why?”

“Well, if’n you was to make up a story bout that tin cup what’d it be like ya ‘spect?”

Keith got a sparkle in his eye and rubbed his chin a bit, before he began. “I don’t have to make up no tale, Sandy… Heck, it’s already got a story.”

“How’s that?”

Keith took a big breath and sat down on the cardboard near the circle of rocks. “Ya see, way back in Daniel Boone’s time everyone had a cup. They didn’t have glasses and fancy plates like we do nowadays.”

“I even know that,” Sandy replied. “That don’t mean Daniel Boone had that cup though.”

“You’re right, Sandy,” Keith said. “How long do you reckon that old tin cups been hangin’ on that nail?”

“Always been as far back as I can member… even when I was too young to play outside,” Sandy answered.

“That’s because the well has been there probably since Daniel Boone was too young to go outside and play!  Think about it, Sandy…  Back in the covered wagon days, it’s just like you hear on the radio.  You ever heard that Lone Ranger Show?   Well, they both had a tin cup I guarantee ya.  No one had to share and wait for a turn.  Every Cowpoke and even some of them Injuns had their own cup.   It was like your toothbrush, now, everyone’s got to have their own.  I spect this one had to be someone’s!”

Sandy was wide eyed and entranced with Keith’s story.  “Tell me more bout those days, Keith. My Daddy don’t let me listen to the radio.”

“Okay…  Let’s see, they had to sleep outside under the stars.  They had a real fire too.  Not no pretend one like what we got.  Oh, and they had horses, not cars.  Every family had at least one horse for transportation don’tcha know.”

Sandy nodded his head. “Even I know that!”

Keith’s head bobbed up and down as he continued.  “They cooked over open fires and drove cattle.  There wasn’t paved  roads or fences anywhere.  It was dusty and hot, like today.  But whenever they came to a creek or a river, they’d get out those tin cups and dip em in to drink and cool off.”

“Like us!”

“Yep, cool water was like gold back in those days.  They didn’t have soda pop or even ice, ‘cept of course in the winter time.”

“Of course,” Sandy repeated.

“Cowboys would use their saddles as a pillow.  They’d make a small fire getting as close as they could to it without being burned to sleep.  They didn’t have no comfy bed to share with their three brothers like us.  They slept right on the ground!” Keith slapped the dirt for emphasis and a puff of dust rose.

“Those is what they call the good ole days ain’t it Keith?” Sandy asked.

“I think so.  Let’s play cowboys. Ya want too?” “Yeah, let’s!” Sandy and Keith played cowboys the rest of the afternoon riding stick horses and hoopin’ and hollerin’ at imaginary Injuns till it was dusk.

It was too soon for Sandy when the time came for Keith to leave.  Perched on his knees facing the rear window Keith waved to his cousin from the back of his dad’s grey Packard. Just like the cowboys of old, Sandy watched as it drove off into the sunset.

Today, Keith was looking around at the remains of Sandy’s life. There were shoeboxes stuffed with letters, garbage sacks full of clothing and old ragged books piled on every surface.  It looked as if Sandy had never thrown away anything.  It would take months to sort through the mess; there was barely a path to walk through each room.

In the kitchen, Keith saw his brother Joe come in and sit at the table. “You haven’t heard of anyone in the family wanting anything of this did you?”

Keith shook his head.

“You see anything you want in here?” Joe asked.

“Yes, that picture in the den, if you don’t mind.”

Joe nodded. “You mean the framed picture of the cowboys by the fireside? I think it’s the only thing of value in the entire place.” “You’re probably right, but I’d like it if you don’t mind.” Keith told him.

“Be my guest it wouldn’t fit anywhere at my house. What do you think we should do?”

“It would be fastest to call the garbage collectors and rent a big dumpster,” Keith suggested.

Joe flipped open his cell phone. “I can’t get any reception.  I’ll walk up to the top of the hill so I can use my phone.  It shouldn’t take long if we don’t go through it all. Yeah, let’s just haul it away.”  He let the door slam as he went out.

In the empty home Keith’s memory was given snippets of the past.  He could hear Aunt Sally yelling at Sandy, “Stay in or out, don’t let the door slam!”

In the present, Keith weaved his way to the sink and let the water run until it came out cool. As the pipes made a high pitched noise and the faucet rattled he opened a cupboard to find a glass. Plastic to go cups from all the fast food places in town lined the shelves.  Keith moved some of the cups when he noticed a piece of yarn hanging down from the top row.  Could it be? The old tin cup was at the other end of a red string.  It was bent in quite a few places but other than that it looked just as he remembered.

In this moment, Keith felt like a kid again. Some things should never be trashed, he thought.  Keith filled the cup and lifted it to his lips.  For an instant he was back at that old spring well. He swallowed the water and splashed a bit on his face.  Then tipping his imaginary cowboy hat, he made a toast to his cousin.

“Hi Ho Sandy away…  I’ll never forget you and this cup’s coming home with me too, partner.”

The End