Whispering Wind: A Short Story

Hello, hello! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday? Things are normal here. I couldn’t think of anything to blog about, so I dug through some of my old writing assignments and decided to post one from my Intermediate Fiction class at SMU. It’s from 2010. I haven’t revised it since then or even read through it to see if it’s worth posting. I vaguely remember the premise. Sorry in advance if it sucks, but at least you get to see how I’ve grown as a writer if you’ve read my recent stuff! It’s just under 2,000 words, so it’s not too long. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts or comments here or on my social media pages.

Whispering Wind

It was a crisp autumn afternoon and the sun was shining brightly through the leaves of the trees that surrounded the pond.  Just visible through the trees was a wrought-iron fence that encircled the water and the sea of markers, some simple and others ornate, that named the ones sleeping beneath them.  The gravestones stopped near the edge of the pond; about halfway between the last markers and the water, a little girl sat in the sun where the grass was green.

Though alone, the girl was laughing and smiling and talking away.  As the shadow of a cloud passed over her, the girl looked up and asked, “Are you happy?”

The only response was a breeze that rustled the leaves of the nearby trees.  The leaves shone like jewels in the sunshine and the girl smiled.  She sat quietly for a few moments and stretched her arms towards the sky.

“Do you love us bunches?”

A ripple in the pond made the sunlight dance over its surface.  The girl stared out over the pond in awe, her bright green eyes sparkling.  She broke out in laughter and clapped.

“Yay!  I love you too!”  She paused as her laughter died and continued to stare over the water.  “Hey… do you miss us?”

A gust played with the ruffles of her black dress and caused her long, auburn hair to drift across her face.  Two leaves, one gold, the other reddish-orange, swirled around her as the wind died; they settled softly on her lap.  The girl smiled and picked up the leaves by the stems.  “I miss you too…”

The girl’s conversation continued for awhile as she described the events of the past few days to her unseen companion.  She explained that everyone had been sad and that they had tried to hide their tears from her… that she didn’t understand why everyone was sad when they told her that Heaven was a happy place.  She giggled as she talked about her puppy, Mickey, and how cute he looked when she put her dolly’s hat on him.  As she talked, she would occasionally hold the leaves out in front of her as far as her arms would stretch and smile.  Each transition in her conversation was acknowledged by a light wind, a rustle of leaves, or a ripple of the water.

A tall woman in a black pantsuit approached the girl and knelt nearby.  A breeze blew the woman’s reddish-brown hair across her face, and as she brushed it back, an older version of the girl’s smile and bow lips appeared.  The woman stretched out her arms and said, “Come ‘ere booger bear… what’re you up to?”

The girl got up, careful not to drop the leaves, and ran to the woman.

“Mommy!  Lookie… I got a present!”  She held the leaves up so that her mother could see them clearly.  “This one’s for you, though…”  She held out the gold leaf so that the woman could take it.

Taking the leaf, the woman asked, “Where’d you get these?  They’re very pretty.”

“From daddy.”

The girl said this so matter-of-factly that a frown flickered across the woman’s face.  “From daddy?”

“Yup… he misses me and you, mommy… but it’s still okay because he’s happy and he loves us bunches.”  The girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and hugged her tightly.

“I see… but… it’s time to say bye-bye to daddy.”  The woman hugged the girl close, tears glistening in her eyes.  She kissed the girl’s forehead and, as soon as she was sure that she wouldn’t cry, she rose and shifted the girl to her hip.

They each held their leaf securely as the woman carried the girl towards a group that surrounded the newest stone marker.  As they approached, the people separated, revealing a few rows of chairs, a dark casket, and a picture of a man in his early thirties with the same vibrant green eyes as the girl’s.  The woman sat close to the picture and cradled the girl in her lap.  The others gathered, some sitting and others choosing to stand, and the pastor took his place next to the casket.

As the man with the white collar spoke, the girl stared at the picture next to her.  She remembered that every Sunday he would make waffles for her and her mother and he would give her extra syrup… she remembered the day that he brought Mickey home for her and how cute Mickey was with the red bow around his neck… and she remembered the bedtime stories that he told her.  She also remembered getting in trouble for running out in the street… and she remembered getting sent to time-out for not listening to him and her mother when they told her that it was time to turn off the TV.  The memories flooded through her mind but one stuck out to her.

It was a stormy night a few months ago and she couldn’t sleep.  She had picked up Mickey and had gone to the study where there was still a light on.  As she peeked through the half-opened door, Mickey whined softly and she squeezed through the opening.  “Daddy… Mickey’s scared…”

The man behind the oak desk looked up and smiled.  He stood and moved to the sofa, beckoning her to him.  “Well, what’s wrong with Mickey, booger bear?”

“He doesn’t like the angry rain… it scares him so he can’t sleep…”

“So he’s scared of the thunder and lightning, huh?  Well, let’s see what we can do about that.  Do you want to sleep in here?”

“Yes, please!”  The girl smiled and held the puppy out to her father.

The man took the puppy so that she could climb onto the sofa.  After she stretched out, he set the puppy in her lap and took the quilt that was lying over the back of the sofa and tucked it around the girl and the puppy.  The man kissed the girl’s forehead and nuzzled her nose with his.  “That better?”

The girl nodded and grinned.  “Hey daddy…”

“Yes, booger bear?”

“Will you sing the song?”

The man chuckled and poked her nose.  “Anything for you.”

He went to his desk and pulled the chair around next to the sofa.  As he sat down, he began to hum her favorite tune and was soon singing “Hush a bye… don’t you cry… go to sleep my little baby… when you wake… you shall find… all the pretty little ponies…”  She had fallen asleep before he could sing anymore but she had felt the gentle pressure of a kiss on her forehead.

A moist drop on her cheek had brought her out of her memories and when she looked up she saw that her mother was crying.  The casket was being lowered into the ground and her mother helped the girl off her lap, standing next to her.  As they approached the grave, the girl looked up at her mother then at the leaf in her hand.  Her mother had told her that she was supposed to take some dirt and sprinkle it on the casket but she just stared from her mother to the leaf then to the hole in front of her.  With her mother watching her, she looked up at her once more then took a step towards the grave, holding the leaf out in front of her.

“Bye-bye daddy… I miss you, too.”  She opened her fingers and watched the leaf drift down and settle on the casket.

The woman smiled at the girl as she wiped her eyes then followed the girl’s example.  The girl watched as the other people dropped handfuls of dirt into the hole and said their goodbyes.  She was hugged by each person at least twice before her mother said that it was time to go home.  She went back to the grave one more time before her mother directed her towards the car.

“We’ll come back soon, daddy!”  She smiled and waved at the headstone.

The girl ran back to her mother and they walked to their car hand in hand.  As she was getting in the car, a breeze blew across the cemetery, rustling the leaves of the trees and rippling the water of the pond.  A bird sang from a nearby tree and the girl giggled.  She just smiled at her mother’s questioning look and, as the car door was being closed, she whispered “I love you too, daddy.”

#

During the following months, the girl and her mother visited the gravesite every Saturday.  The girl remained the same, always laughing and smiling but the woman had lost weight and bags had formed under her eyes and her hair was unkempt.  The girl watched as her mother said less and less to the stone marker.  The length of her own conversations never diminished and each week her mother would have to tell her multiple times that they should get home.  Every time that her mother said it was time to go, she would think of something else that she had to tell her father.

It was still the same after four months, her mother wouldn’t say much but they would stay for an hour or so while the girl talked.  One Saturday in late February, her mother didn’t say anything to her father.  It was cold and cloudy but the girl jabbered on and on as usual.  Her mother stood silently by, swaying slightly, with her eyes closed.

Fifteen minutes into her conversation, her mother said “Let’s go, booger bear.  It’s cold.”

“But we just got here, mommy.”  She looked up at the pale face that was staring back at her.

“I know, but it’s cold and mommy’s tired.”

“Ten more minutes, please!”

A gust of wind blew the woman’s hair across her face, hiding her expression from the girl.  “You know mommy worked late, can we please go home so I can rest?  We’ll stay as long as you want next week, okay?”

“Five minutes?”  She smiled.

“Now, please.”  Her mother took a step away from the grave.

“But I still haven’t told daddy about Mickey’s new trick.”

“You can tell him next week, let’s go.”

“But, mommy…”  She was interrupted.

“That’s enough!  I am tired and cold and I said it was time to go, so march!”  The woman pointed towards the parking lot.

The girl didn’t argue, nor did she acknowledge her mother’s command; she just stared at the seemingly dark gray water of the pond.  The wind had died completely and large drops of rain were beginning to fall from the sky.

“Great… now it’s raining.  We’re leaving.”  The woman grabbed the girl’s arm.

“No!  It’ll make daddy sad if we leave!”  She pulled against her mother’s grip as the rain worsened.

“This is getting ridiculous… daddy’s not here!  He won’t mind if we go home!  Do you understand me?”  The woman was quivering with frustration.

As tears began to fall down her face, the girl struggled even more against her mother’s hold.

“That’s enough!”  The woman’s free hand jerked upward.  A flash of lightning silhouetted the sudden movement against the sky.  As her hand was just coming down, a loud crash of thunder caused the woman to flinch.  She stared at her half-raised hand and muttered “Oh my God.”

The girl was sobbing loudly now and between the sobs she let out, “He’s not at home either.”

The woman gathered the sobbing girl up in her arms and held her.  “Shhh… I’m sorry.  It’s okay.”

They stayed huddled next to the gravestone for a half hour before the girl had calmed down.  They rocked together, the rain hiding their tears.  Finally the woman asked, “Want to go get some ice cream?”

The girl sniffled and nodded.

As they were walking to the car, hand in hand, the woman looked over her shoulder at the marker and whispered, “Thank you for stopping me.”

New Year, New Goals

Hello, hello! It’s another new year. We’re almost a week into it, so how’s 2021 treating people thus far? It’s been a mixed bag for me, but generally meh. I got some good news that I’ll share later. Aside from that, I started off the year with a rejection and am now up to three as I’m writing this (it’s just the 5th day of the year). Things have also been hectic for Dad because of some stuff with our neighbor that he helps out. So, yeah. I think meh is an apt description of 2021 so far. Anyway, since it’s the first Wednesday of the year and I have nothing to really ramble about, this is just going to be a yearly goal post.

I see a lot of people making vision boards and stuff like that for 2021, but I don’t really understand them, so I’ll just stick with written goals. But I think I’ll group them a little differently this year instead of just writing a random paragraph with multiple goals mushed together.

Writing Goals:

1. Write 3 short stories/flash fiction pieces. I need to replenish my stock of stories to send out into the slush void.

2. Finish the first draft of DS2. I lost steam on this one, but it’s not the story’s fault. I just need to suck it up and write words.

3. Dig out the sci-fi novel I stopped a few years ago because I couldn’t figure out how to fix it and see if I can rework it. I have a new idea that will require rewriting the whole thing, but it just might work. I’ll try, but I won’t force it if it fights me.

4. Pull out the “Lightning Bugs” novelette/novella that I haven’t worked on since Stonecoast (despite Nancy Holder’s cheerleading) and see if I can flesh it out and make it presentable. I’ve avoided it because, submission-wise, I don’t really know what to do with something of that length.

Shut up, Cass. I’m going to write. Soon.

Submission Goals:

1. Submit to two magazines or anthologies a week.

2. Query agents for DS1. I have about 10 to go on my list, but I’m at that point where I need to wait for responses before I can try other agents.

3. Query publishers for DS1. If I strike out with the agents, I have a few publishers I want to submit to before I debate trunking the book/series.

On my Kindle app, but yeah.

Reading Goals:

1. Read 35 books overall.

2. Of those 35, review at least 12.

3. Of those 35, I want at least 8 to be from my “want to read again” list.

Misc. Goals:

1. Finish the shawl of doom. This is entirely because I procrastinate too much, but I will finish the damned thing and move onto another project to procrastinate on.

2. Finish watching The Untamed. I don’t usually care about TV, but I’m behind on all of my foreign shows. It’s extremely rare for me to watch anything on my own (I’d rather read), but I will make time for at least The Untamed this year. I always need more adorable gay stuff in my life.

What about you? What are your goals for 2021? As always, feel free to share your thoughts or comments here or on my social media profiles!

Adjusted Goals

Hello, hello! Welcome to July! How is everyone doing? Can you believe it’s already July? This year has flown by despite (or maybe because of) everything going on. Anyway, I stayed up late with Dad while he had some stuff on the smoker last night (a couple of briskets, pulled pork, and a “prime” rib… it’s okay to be jealous), so we got a late start today, which means I’m too lazy to come up with something decent to blog about. So, since it’s actually the first of the month and I haven’t done a goals post in a while, I’m just going to give you a quick update on new goals and how my old ones are going.

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Here are my goals from January and how I’ve been doing with that/what’s changed.

1. From January: Finish revising DS1.
Status: Complete. I finished in April instead of March because I got lazy, but I finished nonetheless and I love this book.
Updated Goal: Write a first draft of DS2. I waffled about starting this book until I see how DS1 does, but ultimately decided that it’s better to have a draft started and have no one want it than to procrastinate and have nothing if someone gets interested and wants to know where I’m at with book two. I’m aiming to have the first draft done by September 15th at the latest.

2. From January: Read 30 books.
Status: I have read 20 books so far this year. Six were from my “to re-read” pile, nine have been books I’ve reviewed (no idea how that happened), and the other five were new to me, but not necessarily new.
Updated Goal: My official goal is still 30 books. I still have six months of books to review. I also want to re-read at least two more books. And I’ll squeeze in at least two new to me books. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to more in the latter two categories, but I won’t push it.

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Amazon, but yeah.

3. From January: Keep submitting.
Status: I haven’t missed a week yet.
Updated Goal: The goal is relatively the same, submit two short pieces to magazines or anthologies every week. I normally do this on Mondays, but I’ve decided it doesn’t matter which day as long as it gets done every week.

4. January Goal: Query 100 agents.
Status: In progress. I’ve queried 16 agents thus far and received a couple of form rejections as well as a couple of really encouraging personal rejections.
Updated Goal: I’m still going to query 100 agents unless I find one. I send out five queries a week and I will participate in appropriate Twitter pitch sessions. If I can’t find an agent, there are also a few publishers I will try querying before I give up and move to a new project or debate self-publishing.

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Accurate.

5. January Goal: Crochet.
Status: In limbo. I haven’t crocheted in a couple of months.
Updated Goal: I want to finish the shawl I’m working on and a hat by the end of the year. I’m just weird and can’t find the motivation for it. But I will get back to it soon.

Those are my revised goals for now. What are some of your goals? How have they changed since earlier in the year? As always, feel free to leave a comment here or on my social media pages!

Short Stories, Novellas, Or Novels?

Hello, hello!  Last week, I asked a friend to suggest a topic for my next blog post (I’m running low on ideas, so feel free to suggest some topics or ask me questions) and she brought up short stories vs. novellas vs. novels.  She wanted to know my preferences based on being a reader vs. being a writer.  So, I thought I would use today to talk about the lengths of the things I enjoy reading as well as of the things I enjoy writing.  It seemed like a good topic since I haven’t written many writerly ramblings lately.

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These are the general guidelines.

First, I suppose I’ll approach the topic as a reader.  If I’m looking for something quick to distract me for a short period of time, I love digging into a short story.  But, most of the time, I prefer to read novels.  I like being able to get lost in a new world and getting to know the characters in a way that shorter works don’t allow for.  As far as novellas go, I don’t actively search them out, but I don’t dislike them for any particular reason.  One of my favorite stories is “The Body” by Stephen King, which is a novella in his collection Different Seasons.  Overall, I suppose I’d rank my reading preferences as novels, followed closely by short stories, then the occasional novella.

As a writer, things are a little more complicated.  Let’s look at novels.  I’m still fairly new to this particular form and I’m not entirely comfortable in it.  Though, I will admit, as I work on each new novel, I’m becoming more and more drawn to it.  At first, it felt like I was rambling.  I couldn’t get a grasp on the idea of the slow reveal and how to keep it interesting while my characters were going about their days.  I’m two-thirds of the way through writing my third novel and I’m finally feeling like I might semi know what I’m doing.  So, writing novels is growing on me.

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Me when I look over my novels.

Short stories, on the other hand, are where I feel most at ease.  I enjoy the conciseness of the short form.  It’s easier to keep track of one or two plots and characters than it is to keep track of a novel full of them.  I’m not constantly stressing because I just know I forgot some minor detail that will inevitably turn into something major.  Don’t get me wrong, I forget stuff in my short stories all the time, but it’s much easier to catch those things when it happens in 20 pages vs. 300 pages.  It’s also much easier to keep the writing motivation going for a week or two instead of three or more months.  Plus, I have a lot of fun with short stories.  That’s why they will always be my favorite to write.

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Well, that was a short story.

Then, there are novellas.  I honestly haven’t ventured into this realm yet.  I stopped working on one of my fetish fairy tales because it was leaving the territory of a short story and becoming a novelette/novella.  I thought maybe it had too much backstory and I needed to cut stuff out.  But recently, I decided to just let it go where it’s going and figure out what to do with it later.  I have at least one other story that needs to be expanded into a novella, so I might try my hand at it one day, but today is not that day.

In the end, I suppose my writing preferences would be ranked short stories, novels, and novellas in a distant third.  What about you?  Do you have a preference when reading vs. when writing?  Is there an equivalent option in your craft if you’re not a writer?  Share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Word Count? Who Needs That?

Hello, hello!  It’s that time again.  Today, I want to talk a bit about word count.  It’s a subject that Lew Andrada suggested when I asked for questions and comments and all that.  It’s also a subject I struggle with, because it’s pretty arbitrary.  Anyone you ask seems to have a different answer when it comes to the correct lengths of things.

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We’ve all encountered a scenario like this one.  I actually kind of think that’s where the concepts of word counts really help (me at least).  It gives me a firm goal to keep in mind and work toward, that way I can have a more realistic idea of how long a project will take me to finish.

So, how do I approach word count?  I keep it simple!  I basically follow SFWA’s counts for the Nebula awards.  In other words, these rules:

Short Story: less than 7,500 words.
 Novelette: 7,500 words to 17,500 words.
 Novella: 17,500 words to 40,000 words.
 Novel: 40,000 words or more.

Adult

Now, I know that “novel” is an extremely broad category that can be broken down by genres or even target audience age.  In fact, the list above is just one example of many break downs you’ll find with a quick Google search.  No, none of them are the same.  Yes, it gets really confusing really fast.  On top of all that, you also have lists for middle grade, young adult, adult, and a relatively new category dubbed new adult.  It’s complicated.  I don’t like complicated things.

In other words, I don’t bother with all of that crap.  My goal is based on my story.  If I’m going for a flash fiction piece (<1000), I usually aim for 900 words.  A short story?  Around 5,000 words.  A novel?  It depends on what it feels like.  I tried for 70,000 to 75,000 for my first novel after tons of research on word count.  It is a supernatural YA, so on top of feeling like a good amount, it also turns out to be a fairly average count for that type of book.  The novel I’m currently working on is different.  I’m going more by my gut for this one.  My current aim is 80,000 to 90,000 just because that’s what it feels like it will need.  I’m sure my past research is playing some kind of unconscious role, but whatever.

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On the other hand, enforcing a word count can lead to fears of rambling.  Don’t worry!  You can fix all of that during edits.  That’s also another factor that goes into choosing my own word count.  I like to choose a middling number, just in case I need the wiggle room.  I have space to brutally cut out all of the nonsense if I need to, but I also have room to fix anything that’s not fleshy enough.

What I mean to say is that word counts are great tools, but don’t let them freak you out.  Let them help you establish a more concrete timeline for finishing your work, but don’t let them rule your work.  Keep it simple and fun, or it’s not worth doing.  At least that’s how I feel about it.  What are your thoughts on word count?