Archive for February, 2014

Busy busy busy

She told me she needed to do something. She said she was busy. She had “things to do.”

I never followed her. I didn’t need to. She (being my friend Rachel) went, she was busy and came back in a better mood. I didn’t really know her, either. I may have thought I knew her but, looking back, she was about as constant as the wind.

It all happened so fast. Everything changed.

I was avoiding class one day in high school, walking aimlessly down the halls, when I saw her chug a Mug root beer by her locker. It didn’t occur to me until we were talking after school on why that had been odd. She hated root beer. She was constantly telling us how she hated root beer. She also said she hated it when people bothered her when she was busy and that she was afraid of water.

How much of what she told us was true?

I was curious. The root beer incident was the day I wondered. So I followed her after school. Along the walk I silenced my mind and didn’t let myself think about what I was doing or why she went.

We came to the river that ran about a mile away from our little town. Rachel stopped in front of the river and smiled. I saw her take a deep breath and as she let it out the tension disappeared from her body.

So she did relax. Good to know.

And then she went a little ways back into the woods and started pulling a canoe closer to the river. It had been hidden in the underbrush and she pushed it out into the water and started to paddle away. I almost ran after her and asked if I could go with but I was too afraid to put myself out like that.

I never said anything to her about it but I let myself become a closer friend of hers. I let her in like I usually didn’t because I thought she was lonely. Independent with her canoeing, (and who knew what else) but lonely all the same.

One day, years later at a high school reunion, I asked her if she had really feared water and hated root beer like she always told us in high school.

She laughed, “Of course not. I just wanted to see who would figure it out.”

Rachel was lonely. She pretended she was busy but deep down she was simply lonely. I guess we all are, in some ways.

Listen for the Music

 

“Lisa. Lisa.”

My fellow co-worker’s call grated against my tired nerves. I quickened my pace as I raced towards the elevator. Maybe if I acted like I didn’t hear, then Calvin would give up.

“Lisa, it’s an emergency.”

I slowed. I turned. Calvin’s innocent boy-like face was turned innocently towards me. “Ha! I knew you could hear me.”

“What is it?” I said, eyebrows raised.

“I’m still confused about what you want me to do with my manuscript. I’m not sure that I agree with your comments about my main character.”

“Calvin, can’t this wait until Monday?”

“I just don’t get it,” he whined.

“We talked about this. I gave you suggestions.”

“But I tried to create her to be so real, so life-like, but you said she comes across as flat. She’s like a ‘talking stick.'” Calvin quoted my words.

“Yes. Yes, that’s because she is. Readers need to believe that she’s human. They need to see her emotion.”

“But how? I don’t know how to do that. Please, you’re my editor; you’re supposed to help me.”

I gave Calvin a gentle glare. The elevator beeped and the doors opened. Employees scrambled in. “Yes, and you’re a writer. You’re supposed to use my advice and write better characters, okay?” I gave him a small smile, a nod, turned on my heel. I made it into the elevator just in time.

The doors closed on the crowded silver elevator, and I blinked my eyes closed. It was Friday. My two-day vacation had started. I was going camping – hard core camping, none of that RV or pop-up camper nonsense. This weekend I would canoe around in the wilderness and think about everything other than work. That last part sounded pretty great.

It was pitch black when I fell asleep that night. Pitch black as in so dark I couldn’t see my hand if I held it in front of my face. I’d reached my destination earlier in the afternoon, and I was officially on vacation. My lips curled into a smile. I had driven up north several dozens of miles, planted my canoe in the water, and found a suitable campsite. I was too exhausted to even set up my tent fully. Instead I sprawled out, on top of my tent. I lay under the stars with the mosquitos and the wolves cooed me to sleep.

I woke with a start. I had overslept. I had missed something. I realized with great glee that indeed the only thing I’d missed was the sunrise. It must be in the late morning by now.

I dug for worms and then took my old pole into the canoe. Two hours later my stomach was rumbling, but a fish was frying over the fire pit.

I ate my fish down by the unmoving waters. I was still surprised at how silent it was up here. I always was. Compared to the boisterous downtown district that I lived and worked in, this place was a desolate void. Then I remember something my grandfather said, the first time he took me camping. I was nine. I had complained that it was too quiet, that the silence hurt my ears.

“Silent?” Grandpa had looked at me like he thought I was off in the noggin and dissolved into guttural chuckles. When he had regained his composure, he implored me with one question: “Listen.”

“For what?” I asked.

“For the music.” He grabbed my hand. “Close your eyes.”

The wind in the mile-high trees. The tiny, watery ripples lapping against the rocks. A loon calling from somewhere, its mate answering. A small splash from somewhere; a fish jumping. A rustle in the bushes. I peeked open an eye and saw a mouse scurry past my feet.

“Unlike the city’s noise, the music up here is beautiful,” Grandpa said with reverence. “Lisa, wherever you are, listen for the music.”

I inhaled quickly as a shooting pain ripped through my heart. It still hurt me to think of him. He’d died years ago. Suddenly. Heart attack. It shouldn’t have happened. I suppose that’s why I still came up here every year. Grandpa had engraved in my heart a love for the peace. I didn’t get much of that now. I needed to remind myself of the music.

I brushed those thoughts away now, looking at the serene scene before me. In a day and a half, I’d have to go back to real life. But it didn’t matter. During my meetings – arguments, really – with Calvin, while meeting with new writers,  I’d think of the music.

Picture Prompt – Canoe

Introducing: this week’s picture prompt!

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Here are a few questions to jump start your creativity: Where is this picture taken? Who owns the canoe? Why would a person go to  such a desolate looking place?

Writing Prompts

by: Rebecca Taylor

One word can trigger an idea that can lead us to an infinite number of possibilities. Where can we find words to inspire us? Everywhere, but that can seem overwhelming because all day, every day we hear, see, think and write words.  A thought might be brewing in your mind and one word can set the whole story in motion. That one word may lead to a web of other words which will make an amazing writing experience. For example, if you have been thinking of doing a story about some sort of party – the word surprise might pop into your mind, so you grab a notepad and pen and go with that for a few minutes and come up with balloons, gifts, streamers, games, no show guest etc. At first, maybe you thought that this party might be a simple scene leading from one place in the story to another, but now with your no show guest, you might have something more complete – the story could take place at this party, where everyone is there and the guest isn’t showing – did someone forget to invite her to her own party? Did she not believe the “fake story” to get her there and blew off the party because she hates surprises? If it’s a wedding shower, did she and her fiancé elope?

 

You can also ask people to help you out with story ideas – for example, ask friends to give you one word – it could be a random word or it could be one word to describe the sunset. You might have written the couple looked up at the pretty sunset and you think that it too boring for your scene – and your friend might describe it as the magnificent sunset, and to you that feels more fitting.

 

Sometimes a letter of the alphabet can prompt us to write a great story. I wrote a children’s story that is full of letter “s” sounds. It was fun and I think that if children ever get the chance to read it that they will enjoy the way it sounds too. It could be sentences like Sam slurped his spaghetti or Sara sang sensationally at school. They are not long sentences, nor are they complicated but they definitely have their own unique sound. It doesn’t have to be s’s either, any letter would create a similar affect like Carrie coloured cardboard with crayons. This can be a good writing exercise to warm us up. By keeping a list of words by some alphabetical phenomena, we could find a hidden story idea.

 

Some people clip words they like out of magazines or write words they’ve seen in newspaper articles or journals down for future reference. We are all drawn to different words for different reasons and we can make this work in our favour.

 

Wherever you are, know that words are waiting for you to find them. For a writer, a word search is more than a puzzle you get in your newspaper or word seek book. 

Intentional Thinking

Sometimes I don’t write as much as I should. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes I’m busy.

But that doesn’t mean my stories go away. It means that I’m not actively working on them.

However, it doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about my story.

And herein comes my writing advice for the day: When you’re bored or just sitting or in the car or zoning out during class, THINK. Think about your characters, your setting and where you plan to go with it. Don’t just sit and let yourself be bored. Be smart about it and use your time to think about your story. This will allow you to be more productive in your next writing session.

Think think think!

How to Come up With Story Ideas – Part 2

1. Start with a question.

This could mean one of two types of questions.

a. A conceptual question you truly want the answer to.

This is how Francine Rivers, New York Times best-selling author says she starts writing a novel. In the writing book A Novel Idea, Rivers says:

“I usually have something going on in my own life, something that is eating at me, nudging me. I use writing to try to figure it out. … For the book I am currently writing, the theme is “Love one another.” But when we say that, it sounds like a bumper sticker. So I’m exploring “How do you show that? How do you live that out?”

b. An exploratory what-if question.

A “what if” question is magic in fiction writing. Here, anything goes. If you can think it, write it. What if someone’s dreams (or nightmares) came true? This is where my Dreams Come True and the ensuing story series came from.

2. Use prompting tools.

a. Pinterest. Use writing prompts on Pinterest boards. Find pictures of an intriguing setting or character and create a story around it.

b. Non-Pinterest Journaling Exercises:  Free write using one word as a starting point. There are plenty of story idea generators (sites that generate a phrase, a name, a setting, etc.) for use free of charge.  Google will be your best friend when looking for these resources. 🙂 With a little work, one of these things just may spark a story.

I’ve heard people say that using writing prompts is cheating. I say not using them is cheating. There are countless story ideas that you may never find without a certain prompt.

Tip: Don’t rule anything out. Don’t limit yourself, saying “I could never write that kind of story.”  Inspiration can come from unlikely sources, and it will come when you least expect it.

Changing a Life: The Comunico Invoice’s Story

by: Rebecca Taylor

**Previously published by Perspectives Magazine**

 

            I am invoice 7742 for the Comunico Telephone Company. Usually the life of an invoice is unpleasant, it is sent out to the customer who proceeds to pay it and then file it away in case it is needed for reference at a later date. Life in a filing cabinet or stuck away in a drawer is a dark and lonely life except for the company of any other invoices or miscellaneous correspondence that is kept there. I am one of the lucky ones. I was sent to Miss Camryn Yates in a plain white envelope with a computer-generated peel and stick label and the address and logo of Comunico were in the top left hand corner and the stamp, a picture of a ballerina at the right. This was my home for five days, jostling around in mailbags and large trucks to get to my final destination. Finally, I arrived in Miss Yates mailbox and she took me out of solitary confinement. She sighed when she looked at me, shaking her head in disbelief.

            “They’ve done it again,” she said, “how hard is it to enter the correct phone plan in a computer system? I’m going to have to call Comunico and explain it to them again; I have the magenta long distance program, not the bronze one. In a year, I would never make enough long distance calls to need the bronze plan. I’d had the fuchsia plan for five years, and then one day someone decided that the plan’s colours needed changing. This is the third time, I’ve had to call and get a credit on my bill, and each time someone tells me the problem is fixed. And apparently it hasn’t been yet, do they forget to hit the save button or what? Last chance, Comunico, or I’m switching to the Snowden Phone Group.”     Tossing me down on the desk and picking up the telephone, Miss Yates dialled Comunico’s toll free number. When Stella the automated service guide came on, Miss Yates asked for English, but Stella must not have been working properly because she kept repeating, “I am sorry I did not comprehend your selection, please try again,” even though Miss Yates pronunciation on the word was very clear. I could tell by the way her facial expression was that she was not happy, eventually after trying for a long time with no success, a prompt came on the phone saying “press 1 for English.” Miss Yates pressed the button so hard that I could feel the telephone tremble from where it was sitting on me, somewhere in all of her trying to get Stella to comprehend, a wind had come up and tried to blow me away, so Miss Yates was using the telephone as a paperweight for me. The phone’s shivering was more frightening to me that being stuffed inside the envelope and sent on a lonely bumpy journey. For a few minutes, I felt the information that is printed on me stiffen. Finally after what seemed like an eternity to me, Miss Yates was put on hold and thankfully a good radio station was playing, none of the supposedly calming chamber music, that’s enough to put a person to sleep.

           After about half an hour of listening to the music and drumming a pen against the desk, thankfully not on me, Miss Yates was transferred to customer service representative.

            “Josh, speaking, how may I help you?” said the friendly voice at the other end of the line.

            “I got my phone bill today, and my phone plan is wrong on it again.”

Josh proceeded to take Miss Yates telephone number and asked her a few security questions to confirm her identity, she gave them her account number, and current owed amount by reading the information off of me, who she was now holding in her hand, phone cradled between her neck and ear and pen in the other hand.

            After a few more minutes, Josh had found Miss Yates account in the computer system. He said, “Are you the Camryn Yates who went to Englewood High School and graduated in 1996?”

            “Yes, but how would you know that?”

            “Because I was there, Cam; Josh Weiler.”

            “I can’t believe it, it’s been over ten years since we’ve seen each other. Can you fix my phone problem?” answered Miss Yates switching from nostalgic back to her reason for calling.

            After a few minutes of button clicking on the other end of the line, Josh Weiler had Miss Yates’ phone plan fixed up and it stayed fixed this time.

            “Cam, if you’re not married or anything like that, can I call you sometime?” asked Mr. Weiler.

            “You have my number.”

            After a few more brief minutes of conversation, Mr. Weiler and Miss Yates hung up as Mr. Weiler had to respond to more customer service questions. Mr. Weiler called Miss Yates and they clicked. After several months of dating, they got married, and I now sit on the first page of their wedding album surrounded by beautiful pictures and happy memories. When I think of all of the telephone invoices that end up stuck away in the dark, and sometimes eventually shredded I shudder and know how fortunate I am to have been invoice 7742 for Miss Camryn Yates. I changed her life and because of that day, my life’s path was changed too. I will be around forever to be a treasured matchmaker that will be shown to children and grandchildren in the years that come. If anyone ever asks me if I believe in destiny, I will tell them yes, how could anyone with a life like mine believe differently. 

The Express Lane to Danger (pt. 3)

The following is third of four installments in the series. Stay tuned for part four, coming out in March!

Read Part 1: Dreams Come True

Read Part 2: Integrity International

 

“I had two dreams this weekend,” I said when my turn came. “First, Seymour found out about us.”

“Is Seymour the manager of Express?” A girl whispered to another.

“Yes, Seymour was my boss,” I replied. “I don’t know how he found out, but he did. His face was as red as an apple That dream was on Friday night. By now, he most likely knows we exist and that we’re are after him. Second dream was last night. There was this guy. Red shirt with the Express logo on it, blue jeans, and a Cubs baseball cap. He was walking out with a package…”

“A special delivery package? With a fatal message inside?” Someone interrupted.

I nodded. “The address label was printed in red ink, and I learned when I worked there that red denotes a special delivery. The guy had a widow’s peak, slicked back almost-black hair, and a freckle below his left eye. We need to find him.”

The room sat in wait. Finally the silence was broken.

“I’m so jealous,” cried one girl.

I could only stare in surprise.

“I’ve never had a dream so clear before,” she continued.

“Me either,” complained a man sitting across from me. “Do you know how many dreams I’ve had of special deliveries tacking place? Two hundred and six. I could never see the face. Never got an ID.” He shook his head and his frown deepened. “And I’ve worked here for 12 years.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Now Bob,” Skylar jumped in. “Give the girl a break. She may be new, but if she’s helped us get solid evidence on this case, then we all owe her one.”

Bob rolled his eyes. I swallowed. I wasn’t anticipating the hard feelings.

“You may want to know where the package was addressed to.”

Bob threw his hands in the air. “She can even see the writing on the package?”

“It was addressed here.” A solemn silence set in. “I’m only saying that because it ought to make us feel grateful. At least we know we can catch him before the package gets here.”

“Cammie’s right.” Skylar nodded and put a hand on my back. “We’ll catch this guy for sure. We have to.”

Things happened fast at Integrity International. I sat down with a sketch artist and we identified and found the man in my dream within minutes. By lunch time, the man in my dream was brought into custody.  We had some of our agents as well as FBI agents interrogating him as to where the package contents were. It took six hours, but our suspect broke. He told us where the package was, and he took a deal. A chance of probation if he pled guilty and told us everything he knew. He was looking at a hefty sentence, and we had enough to know he was guilty of conspiracy and attempted murder, so the odds were in his favor to spill the story.

Before the day was over, the FBI investigated the Express building and hundreds of unshipped poisons, explosives, and booby-trapped, knife-filled packages. Every case that had been suspected to be done by Express had never had solid evidence. They cleaned up their crime scenes well. At last we had more than heresy.

And so, Express Shipping – the worst shipping company in all of history – would be no more. I knew I should be ecstatic. I’d been there one week and already we’d cracked the biggest case our company had ever seen. Still, I could help but feel a sense of foreboding. We’d only solved one of the world’s problems.

That evening Adam called me into his office. My mind had cleared a bit and the dream from last week was on my mind. I had to be proactive about this. Just as I’d learned with the dreams of crimes that would take place, the dream didn’t mean the action would take place. If nothing changed, then the dream would happen. I needed to change this course of action. I took a deep breath and walked into his office.

“I’ve just bought this shirt, what do you think of it?”

“Excuse me?” The shirt was a striped button down; it was bright and blue and brought out his eyes perfectly.

“I’m the young one here, you know. I keep trying to look professional but can’t seem to get it right. What do you think?”

“It looks… fine. Professional, I guess.”

“But?”

“But I… I hate blue.” Maybe if I was mean to him, he wouldn’t want to flirt with me. I would change the current course of things and the dream of him flirting with me would mean nothing.

He frowned. “What? How can you hate blue?”

“Well, I do. It’s just not a very… pretty color at all. Sorry.” I wanted to punch myself. I’d always been terrible at being mean.

“Well. To each his own, right?” He sighed and shrugged. “I really called you in to say congratulations. You performed wonderfully today.”

“Thanks.”

Suddenly a thought came to me. When I first met Adam, he knew I was a dreamer, and he knew what I dreamt about. I leaned forward and looked him in the eyes. “So, do you still know what I’ve dreamt about?” I asked, looked him in the eye. “What did I dream about last night?”

“What?” He chuckled.

I eased back a bit. “Sorry. I just had a hunch that you could tell what my dreams are. I mean, when you met me, you told me everything I had dreamt about so far. If you can do that, you don’t need me here.”

He shook his head, still chuckling. “You’ve got it all wrong. When mentors are assigned to a budding dreamer, they discover their first couple dreams. It helps with credibility, you know, if a mentor can tell the dreamer that they know they have dreams.” He shrugs. “You’re no longer a mentor, so I’m no lover privy to that information. Does that clear things up?”

I nodded, slowly taking this in. “Thanks.”

He looked at me with an amused gleam in his eye. “Are you dreaming things you don’t want me to know about?”

“Not at all,” I said coolly.  “I better go. I need to regroup with… my group.” One question was answered. I still didn’t know why I had that dream in the first place. I certainly had no feelings for him now.  I had too many other things to worry about.

Journey of an Umbrella

by: Rebecca Taylor

I am blue and covered with yellow stars. I have a handle that is shaped like a ‘J’ and it is padded with soft luxurious waterproof foam. I am an umbrella, and until last week, I belonged to Jade Pendleton. Jade had just finished work as a nurse at Pinedale Hospital; she had stepped out onto the sidewalk and pressed my button so I covered her from the pelting rain falling from the sky. We began our ten-minute walk from the hospital to the apartment where we live. When we were half way there, near the intersection of Klassen and Grand Streets, Jade saw a kitten crying in an abandoned parking lot and reached down to pick up the sopping ball of orange fur. When she bent over to scoop it up, she lessened her grip on me, and when a gust of wind brushed over us, I flew out of her hand and up into the air. She couldn’t come after me because she was holding onto the kitten. She must have headed for home, fighting her way through the brisk winds and cascading rain, holding securely to her new friend. I flew through the air, landing a few moments later in a river. I floated downstream with my heart caught in my handle as I attempted to steer myself out of the way of rocks and keep myself from being pulled under by the forceful current. Even though I am waterproof, I should not be immersed in large pools of water and drowned. I am meant to protect humans against basic rainy conditions, but dislike swimming.

            I fought for my life in the water for at least an hour before I washed up on shore. This is where I lay muddy and shivering listening to the claps of thunder, flashes of lightening and changing speeds of the raindrops falling to Earth.

            “We’ve got some storm here,” said Thunder. “Ready Lightening? I love the brightness you project, and you make a great light in the dark.”

            “Here we go,” answered Lightening sending a streak of light downwards. I curled up in a ball hoping that it would not hit me.

            “I’m falling,” shouted the multitude of raindrops. “I love the rush I get from it.”

            “This is the life,” answered Thunder sending another powerful bang towards me.

I just lay there, dirty, soppy and frightened thinking about Jade and how good it would be to be home with such a kind caring person instead of alone and lost. Whenever I was with Jade I felt like a good umbrella, because Jade helped me have a better life. She let other people on the street take cover beneath me when they were headed in her direction, and she was always happy regardless of how her day had been. I heard her talking with her colleagues sometimes about her the struggles of caring for patients in a hospital but her mood never seemed to waver, she was a calm person, and it made me feel at peace. Thinking about Jade helped me forget what was happening around me for a few minutes, and after a while the sounds of some of Mother Nature’s elements withdrew their presence and I lay quietly wondering what was going to happen to me. I could smell the change in the air, like a musty room that had been refreshed.

            During the next three days I stayed washed up on the shore watching the sky change with the rising and setting of the sun and the clouds becoming all sorts of different things, from fish to mountains and almost anything imaginable. On the forth day of being stranded, a woman and a dog were playing Frisbee when the dog brought me back to his owner instead of his red plastic saucer. The dog held onto me with his teeth but he didn’t hurt me just held me firmly, proudly handing his catch to his owner.

            “Good boy, Hugo, an umbrella. Wonder where it came from. It looks like it was a pretty one once, let’s get it home, and cleaned up so we can see what it’s supposed to look like.”

            The woman whose name was Emma Murray, took me home, and put me in the bathtub to soak in hot soapy water. It felt good against my cold muddy bones. She changed the water a few times until I had been restored to my usual lustre. She dried me with a towel and then she opened me in the house. I’d never been opened inside before, too many superstitions about bad luck had fluttered around with that theory, but Emma didn’t seem to care, she only wanted what was best for me. She laid me on the floor in the spare room and let the breeze from the fan circulate around me so I would finish drying. When this process was complete, she folded me back up, tied me with the snap, and lay me on the dresser by the front door to be used as needed. I knew that this would now be my new home. I was floored by the kindness she had shown me, a stray object that had been washed ashore. She didn’t have to clean me up or give me a home but she did. I couldn’t help but think how ironic it was that I had been lost when Jade performed an act of kindness for the kitten that had needed her, and I needing a new home had been found and given a chance by Emma Murray and her dog Hugo. I cannot help believe that there are angels on Earth looking out for even the smallest of beings. 

Seller of Brothers

“Did you meet her?”

“Is she insane?”

“Why would she do that?”

The school was buzzing with the sound of a million questions. That morning, some Mother had been watching the news and her daughter Ellen had been sleepily shoving Captain Crunch into her mouth.

Then the story came up. “Girl tries to sell her brother on Ebay.” The young girls head shot up and some of her cereal fell out of her mouth. The mother grabbed the couch seat with a death grip.

“Did I hear that right?” Ellen asked her Mom, who nodded back at her. And the mass media sharing began as other students in other houses read Ellen’s twitter post and as other fathers heard it on the radio and text their wives who, in turn, told the kids.

It was an odd day at school. Everyone had that awkward laughter that only happens when no one quite understands something but feels the desire to respond.

The girl was gone from school. None of the kids knew where she was but it wasn’t a long shot to think counseling although some kids thought she’d gone to jail. What else were you supposed to do with a brother seller?

Siblings started to get paranoid. What if their sister or brother tried to sell them? Did their other siblings hate them? How much would they even get sold for?

Parents tried to explain it to their kids but it was like trying to explain why the world was round. Who really knew?

One day, the girl showed up back in school as if nothing had happened. Ellen, being the main player in this story and the spunky one, asked the girl why she had tried to sell her brother.

The girl replied with a simple answer. “I didn’t want him anymore.”

Ellen simply looked at her, confused. And so the response, short as it was, was added to the young students’ list of “mysteries never to be solved.” They were a little bit less innocent and a little more confused. Overall, they were headed down the path of maturity which meant accepting that there was no real, true explanation for it.

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