The Visit – A Short Story

DSCN1021© 2017 DAMSteelman

Leaves crunched under Becca’s feet as she walked toward the gazebo. She remembered to get flowers other than roses this time to spare her hands. A chill pierced through her pants as she sighed and sat on the curved, marble bench under the big oak tree.
“I can’t believe I am here again. I swore I’d never come back,” she whispered and looked at the gazebo on the hill, amazed at the thick mass of starlings that sat atop looking back.
“You’ll always come back. Always,” Charlie said, a touch of exasperation in his voice.
“What’s your problem?” Becca asked as she laid the lilies on the bench next to her.
“My problem is you said you were gonna come with me and yet here we are, still arguing about it. The flowers are pretty. Too bad they’re not roses.”
Becca pursed her lips, “Yeah, well, I had second thoughts. And the roses hurt my hands, not that you give a damn.”
“Second thoughts? We made a pact, remember? A promise?” Charlie said and stood in front of her.
“Did we? I don’t remember saying anything of the sort. Besides, you know how I feel about heights.”
Charlie laughed and moved closer. “You know how I feel about roses. And it’s not like you’d feel anything.”
“I guess I am supposed to be afraid of you now or something?” Becca scoffed and stood up.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, please don’t leave yet. I just want to talk,” Charlie pleaded and knelt on the ground. “Please.”
“Fine. But I already told you that I am staying here,” she said. “I like it here.”
“What? Are you kidding me? Six months ago you told me you hated it and wanted out. Remember? Remember that conversation at the cliff? We cut our hands and joined them for eternal solidarity? That conversation is why I’m here and you’re there.” Charlie walked over to the tree and tried to lean against it, his efforts in vain. “You’ve got no sense of loyalty.”
“Yes, Charlie. I remember. I remember everything. That’s the problem. Do you know what else I remember?”
A stiff breeze raked the temperature down as storm clouds claimed victory over the sun.
“Don’t.” He said and laid on the ground.
“Why are you lying down?” Becca asked as she zipped up her jacket. “I’m trying to tell you how I feel.”
“It’s exhausting, all this walking and talking. It’s different for me now.” He sat up slowly and looked at the flowers.
Becca laughed, “Different.” Her upper lip quivered as she rubbed her arms. “Seems the same to me, always blowing me off.”
“Are you going to cry? Don’t cry. I’m telling you, if you listened to me, things would be great.”
“I always listened to you and things were never great,” Becca shouted.
“Come on, it’s wonderful, I promise. I keep my promises,” he said. “Do you still have the bottle? Did you bring it?”
Becca looked back at the car on the dirt road, “No.”
Charlie stared at her emotionless. “You’re lying. I know when you’re lying and I can tell you’re lying. Go get it. Come on, go get it.” He said and crossed his arms.
Becca walked over to the headstone, “Why are you doing this to me? You haunt my dreams, I smell you all the time and…” she trailed off as she watched Charlie move slowly toward her.
“Don’t you miss me, Becca? Don’t you miss me touching you and kissing you?” Charlie said as he extended his arms in her direction, a solemn look crossing his face.
Becca plopped down on the bench and pressed her face into her hands, “Yes. I miss you, I swear I do.” She sobbed.
“Then come on, we can be together forever. We can be lovers again and not worry about anything. It’s so beautiful. Please, Becca. Don’t be selfish,” Charlie said as he sat next to her on the bench.
Becca stood up. “Okay,” she said and walked back to the car.
She returned holding a small, brown bottle with a tattered ivory label. The typeface had been worn off from years of handling.
“You did bring it!” Charlie said.
“Yes, because I had to show you how I really feel.”
“Oh sweetheart, finally we can be together forever,” Charlie whispered and stepped close to Becca’s body. She expected to feel heat or cold – something, emanating from his body.
She opened the bottle, looked into Charlie’s empty, black eyes and placed the cap into her front pocket. Then, she turned the bottle upside down and watched the liquid pour out onto the parched grass.
“What are you doing?” Charlie gasped. “I thought you wanted to be with me forever? Are you insane?”
“I changed my mind, Charlie.”
“You can’t do that. You promised. I’ll keep haunting you. I told you we’d be together forever. I wasn’t kidding, you know.”
“I know. It’s a chance I have to take, Charlie,” Becca said and threw the flowers on the grave. The starlings chattered and flew off together as Becca walked away from the grave.
“It’ll be different for me now too, Charlie.” She said as she got in the car and drove away.

The Asset of Defects

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Love/Hate (Photo credit: guevo)

I never knew what a character defect was until I stepped into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I am breaking my anonymity, but it is no secret I am sober almost eleven years and I didn’t get sober alone.  No one gets sober alone.

I found an interesting list of character defects in my research of things I’ve not committed to memory.  Check out the list and see which ones might be screaming at you on any given day. This can be a kind of liberating fun (alkie or not) and if you are a writer, a great tool.

One of my chief character defects is laziness…  interpreted through the Seven Deadly Sins: SLOTH.  But my laziness is an asset in moderation.  For example, it’s Sunday (as I write this it really is Sunday – this will be posted on a Tuesday) and I am feeling sleepy, unmotivated and well, lazy.  I can turn my laziness into an asset by assessing why I am feeling lazy.  Am I just being a tree-climbing sloth or am I legitimately tired and need some rest?  Once I do an honest inventory of my sloth-like ways, I can make an honest judgment and figure out: Is my slothiness justified? 

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How does this relate to writing? Because any great character is full of defects… I don’t know about you, but reading about perfect people with perfect lives and perfect meatloaf is borrring.

I would much rather read about people I can relate to in real life. Do they curse a lot? Make sandwiches instead of hot meals three times a week? Maybe they always have the best intentions, but then that little sloth on the shoulder whispers “It’s okay, naps are more fun.”

Damn you Sloth… and your Slothy wisdom.

Defects are unchecked assets. An asset is saving money… but if you save too much? You’re no better than Scrooge McDuck and his miserly ways.  Maybe you like eating ice cream or chocolate cake… maybe you like casinos. Moderation? It’s all alright… Overkill? they have groups for that if you have a serious problem.

Sure, that glass of wine tastes good and by the second one, you’re feeling alright… But by glass number seven? Um, welcome to my old world when drinking and stupidity synonymously were my things.

Our characters need to be screwed up so much that they are interesting but not unbelievable. Like, Suzy might have a fetish for her own blood… but she can’t cut off an appendage and leave it to fester. Honestly, I’m not sure what defect that would fall into, except totally f**king weird.

Get lost, Weirdo Suzy.

Check out the list of character defects/assets… are any familiar to you? How do you research defects for your characters? 

 

Clown Pajamas Halloween – A True Story

When I was little I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I wanted to be a mechanic. Somewhere in between, I wanted to be a stuffed animal so I could sit on the radiator all day and look out the window with my polyester friends. It turned out I needed more than a love for arguing and gear lube to achieve either occupation.  And the stuffed animals, well, I haven’t figured out how to shapeshift… yet.

It was Halloween 1978 and I was a second grader in this terrible elementary school that looked more like a tuberculosis hospital turned insane asylum than a learning place for children. Back in the day, many schools were tall and intimidating with dark gray and brown stone exterior walls, grates over the windows and a wrought iron fenced school yard – some with pointed tips. I mean, it did seem fallout shelter-esque, though I never noticed the three triangle sign on the building.

So, I was in second grade, autumn was upon us and so was Halloween. Wonder Woman was huge that year and I remember wanting to be Wonder Woman so bad. Nothing else mattered but the Lasso of Truth and the Bracelets of Submission!

il_340x270.657554852_868eWonder Woman Gear – Pinterest

Despite me not having friends in grade school, I had overheard some of the other girls talking about what they would be for Halloween and it was unanimous. Wonder Woman! This was great because… I loved Wonder Woman, too! If nothing, maybe I could get one friend out of this.

I burst through the door after school: “Mom!  I wanna be Wonder Woman for Halloween!” I beamed.

I was going to be something much better my mother told me and my brain rolled with anticipation. What could be better than Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman was the s**t! Nothing nor no one was better than Wonder Woman except Santa Claus who was only better in December!

It turned out that because we were so poor, a Wonder Woman costume was not in the cards for me. My mother told me this while holding a pair of pastel-colored pajamas in yellow and green.

“What are they?” I asked while my stomach flip-flopped like a dying fish.

“It’s a costume.”

“It looks like pajamas,” I corrected her.

“Well, not really. It is a costume. You’re going to be a clown.”

“A what?” My face flushed. “A clown?”

“Yes. A clown.”

I pondered this for a bit since clowns were creepy and maybe that would scare all those little brats at school into submission!

“Okay. Where is the rest of the costume?”

My mother never spared my feelings so instead of hemming and hawing she told me straight up: “There is no rest of the costume.”

The next day I went to school with my costume in a bag like all the other kids and at lunch time changed into my costume just like all the other kids.

“But it’s not even clown colors. Where are the clown shoes? The clown nose? Where is the clown makeup?” the brattiest girl mocked. “Look, everyone, Darlene is wearing pajamas for Halloween!” and all the little brats erupted with laughter.

Dear Lord, please turn me into a dustball right now!

But there I stood, searching my little brain for an answer, an excuse – something to get me out of this 3 x 6 hell.

I told them my mom forgot to pack it, that “my costume was gonna be great but we were in a hurry and I couldn’t miss my bus.”

After they pointed and laughed until the teacher came in to see what was going on, they let me slide, this group of future head cheerleaders and devil women. I went on to eat candy corn and potato chips and get silly little toys that day. However, the humiliation I felt in that coat room followed me for decades along with the “it’s great to be like everyone else” worm that wriggled into my brain.

I’ve since killed that worm, but there were so many moments like this one that shaped who I am today.

Stay tuned.

Got any embarrassing moments? Share in the comments below. 🙂

The Moment I Rejected Christianity

What you believe is your business.  This is not a judgy post… This is about how the interpretation of my Higher Power changed around the year 2015.  If you’re interested, read on my friend.  If not, no harm… have a blessed day.

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I was baptized Catholic and grew up in a place called Bridesburg – a small Philadelphia, Pennsylvania neighborhood tightly nestled in a corner between the Delaware River and Frankford Creek. Less than 10,000 people live there and while some moved out, generations of families linger like the smell of freshly smoked kielbasa.

This neighborhood, roughly five blocks by eight blocks, has eleven churches and three cemeteries (two are connected to churches – one is not).  Two of the churches are Catholic, one is non-denominational, then there is a Baptist, Emanuel, Presbyterian, and Methodist church.

I left Bridesburg in 2005 and have visited less than five times since my bittersweet departure.

Anyway, I met this local guy when I was fourteen and his family was very Catholic. Like, so Catholic that they were all blinded by the God thing (when it served their purpose) and when I got pregnant at fifteen, we had to get married or the baby would be born out of wedlock and I’d go to hell. This chaotic, close-minded, archaic thinking would envelop me for the next twenty years of my life (even though that guy and I divorced when I was 24).

It was so bad (memoir-worthy, which I am writing) that one time (and only one time) I said ‘Bless You’ when my mother-in-law sneezed and the look I got, well, you may have thought I asked if she would be so kind as to stick her face in the garbage disposal.

“It’s not Bless You. It’s GOD Bless You. What the hell is wrong with you? Heathen. You’re a no good white trash heathen.” I mean, I had no religion. I didn’t know then that the word Heathen was not a nickname for the Devil. So, I basically thought she called me a devil… when I was a teenager. Oh, and she didn’t talk to me for two weeks after my blasphemic faux pas.

In retrospect, I should have gotten up and punched her in the face or maybe doused her face with her terrible homemade iced tea (way too many lemons), but I didn’t.

Instead, I clung to the notion that my life sucked because I sucked. I was a rotten human being and had done vile, unspeakable things that afforded me a lifetime of suffering and misery. I guess this is true if smoking pot and dropping out of high school is a heinous, shameful act.

Oh wait… I stole a pack of gum when I was seven. Shit.

My torment continued into my forties and into my sobriety in 2006, blaming every bad thing that happened to me on some unseen force that was displeased with my human nature. My drinking, lost jobs, lost relationships, everything that happened to me was because I was a bad person: A HEATHEN.

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Then, a proverbial anvil hit me in the face in 2015. None of my bad choices were anyone’s doing but my own. When I stopped putting all my eggs in the sin basket and took responsibility for my actions; when I decided that while sometimes extenuating circumstances could creep in and mess up my day, I ultimately, am responsible for everything that happens to me – good or bad.

So, I did a test of sorts. I stopped praying to the Christian idea of God for a few weeks. And started talking to my higher power as I understood it. And lo and behold, nothing changed except for one thing.

My guilt had vanished. I no longer felt pangs of regret because I forgot to pray, or because I said ‘bless you’ instead of God Bless You, or because – gasp! I ate meat on a Friday during Lent!

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No meat for you, Heathen!

The first time I ate meat on Lent (not on accident) was this year. And I have to say, I am still here to tell the tale. It was absolutely the best Buffalo Chicken Pizza I ever ingested in my life.

Again, I am not knocking Christianity… believe what you need to believe. That is your right as a human being. I believe in the earth, the universe, the elements. I believe in good begets good and evil begets evil. I believe that everyone has the right to pray to whomever – or whatever – they see fit.

It’s none of my business who your God is.

Do you consider yourself religious or spiritual?

Flash Fiction – The Visit

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©2017 DAMSteelman

Leaves crunched under Becca’s feet as she walked toward the gazebo. She remembered to get flowers other than roses this time to spare her hands. A chill pierced through her pants as she sat on the curved, marble bench under the big oak tree and sighed.

“I can’t believe I am here again. I swore I’d never come back,” she whispered and looked at the gazebo on the hill, amazed at the thick mass of starlings that sat atop looking back.
“You’ll always come back. Always,” Charlie said, a touch of exasperation in his voice.
“What’s your problem?” Becca asked as she laid the lilies on the bench next to her.
“My problem is you said you were gonna come with me and yet here we are, still arguing about it. The flowers are pretty. Too bad they’re not roses.”
Becca pursed her lips, “Yeah, well, I had second thoughts. And the roses hurt my hands, not that you give a damn.”
“Second thoughts? We made a pact, remember? A promise?” Charlie said and stood in front of her.
“Did we? I don’t remember saying anything of the sort. Besides, you know how I feel about heights.”
Charlie laughed and moved closer. “You know how I feel about roses. And it’s not like you’d feel anything.”
“I guess I am supposed to be afraid of you now or something?” Becca scoffed and stood up.
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, please don’t leave yet. I just want to talk,” Charlie pleaded and knelt on the ground. “Please.”

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“Fine. But I already told you that I am staying here,” she said. “I like it here.”
“What? Are you kidding me? Six months ago you told me you hated it and wanted out. Remember? Remember that conversation at the cliff? We cut our hands and joined them for eternal solidarity? That conversation is why I’m here and you’re there.” Charlie walked over to the tree and tried to lean against it, his efforts in vain. “You’ve got no sense of loyalty.”
“Yes, Charlie. I remember. I remember everything. That’s the problem. Do you know what else I remember?”
A stiff breeze raked the temperature down as storm clouds claimed victory over the sun.
“Don’t.” He said and laid on the ground.
“Why are you lying down?” Becca asked as she zipped up her jacket. “I’m trying to tell you how I feel.”
“It’s exhausting, all this walking and talking. It’s different for me now.” He sat up slowly and looked at the flowers.
Becca laughed, “Different.” Her upper lip quivered as she rubbed her arms. “Seems the same to me, always blowing me off.”
“Are you going to cry? Don’t cry. I’m telling you, if you listened to me, things would be great.”
“I always listened to you and things were never great,” Becca shouted.
“Come on, it’s wonderful, I promise. I keep my promises,” he slid the dig in and Becca narrowed her eyes. “Do you still have the bottle? Did you bring it?”
Becca looked back at the car on the dirt road, “No.”
Charlie stared at her emotionless. “You’re lying. I know when you’re lying and I can tell you’re lying. Go get it. Come on, go get it.” He said and crossed his arms.
Becca walked over to the headstone, “Why are you doing this to me? You haunt my dreams, I smell you all the time and…” she trailed off as she watched Charlie move slowly toward her.
“Don’t you miss me, Becca? Don’t you miss me touching you and kissing you?” Charlie said as he extended his arms in her direction, a solemn look crossing his face.
Becca plopped down on the bench and pressed her face in her hands, “Yes. I miss you, I swear I do.” She sobbed.
“Then come on, we can be together forever. We can be lovers again and not worry about anything. It’s so beautiful. Please, Becca. Don’t be selfish,” Charlie said as he sat next to her on the bench.
Becca stood up. “Okay,” she said and walked back to the car.
She returned holding a small, brown bottle with a tattered ivory label. The type face had been worn off from years of handling.
“You did bring it!” Charlie said.
“Yes, because I had to show you how I really feel.”
“Oh sweetheart, finally we can be together forever,” Charlie whispered and stepped close to Becca’s body. She expected to feel heat or cold – something, emanating from his body.
She opened the bottle, looked into Charlie’s empty, black eyes and placed the cap into her front pocket. Then, she turned the bottle upside down and watched the liquid poor out onto the parched grass.
“What are you doing?” Charlie gasped. “I thought you wanted to be with me forever? Are you insane?”
“I changed my mind, Charlie.”
“You can’t do that. You promised. I’ll keep haunting you. I told you we’d be together forever. I wasn’t kidding, you know.”
“I know. It’s a chance I have to take, Charlie,” Becca said and threw the flowers on the grave. The starlings chattered and flew off together as Becca walked up the path.

The Character Sketch

 

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Sticks of Personality

I am doing the 2017 Book Reading Challenge hosted by GoodReads.  Feel free to go over to the site and hop in on the fun.  I was going to try for 100 books, but then I realized I have things to do like work and sleep and eat and maybe pet my cat once in a while, and oh yeah, write my own book, so I went with fifty books.

So far, I have read thirteen and am really proud that I picked an underachievers number to keep my self-esteem higher than that of an eel in a snakepit.

I digress.

So far, some of the titles I have read include ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ along with some other swell reads.  I usually only read true crime.  However, as a writer trying to get her first book published this year, I have to read other genres.

I was reading Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches… but the main character yammered on too much and I got bored. I just put that one down and am now reading The Girl in the Ice which is listed as a gripping thriller. The writing is decent, and it is just now getting into some back story, but the POV is a flawed (it jumps back and forth in the same chapter at times). As far as the MC, she is screwed up which is good, because we’re all screwed up in some way. No one wants to read about a perfect person.

So my question is: Do you do a basic character sketch or a full detailed chart and backstory for them before you start bleeding at your desk writing? Or maybe you wing it and just feel them out as you go? I have always done a basic character sketch, but this time… this time I did sketches in more detail and it helps.

You can find blank sheets at Writer’s Digest.

Sketches help because as I write, I know which character would stop to let a squirrel cross the road and which character would run it over. I have tons of character sketch worksheets at home, but mostly use Scrivener, and I use real people.

Not like that! I use real people I see every day.  I ate lunch at a grocery store today (they have a lunch area, which is nice) and there were two employees sitting and talking at another table as I ate my salad, and skimmed my WIP for the second time this week. I listened to their conversation and peeked over at the woman real quick to see how she set her table for her lunch, her mannerisms, etc. You can read all the books you want about character traits, but the best way to get the real dirt is to go be among the people.

How do you give your characters character? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Draft

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The first draft. The revised draft. The final draft.

I completed my second NaNoWriMo project in November 2016 and am happy to say I just finished the revised draft of the same manuscript.

What does that mean? First, it meant a lot of cursing, tears and wanting to drive to the Grand Canyon just to throw my laptop in there. Then I could come back home and set the hard copy on fire.

After I calmed down and figured out that hey, this is the part that makes you a writer, buddy ol’ pal, I exhaled and…

While in Scrivener, I looked for ways to format it and pretty up the cover page. And how do I label the chapters for an e-book and, and… I had to slow myself down.

Whoa there, pardner.

I jump the gun sometimes… okay, a lot. And this is one of those times I want everything to go as smooth as possible! I can’t forget to dot one ‘i’.

So, in November, I wrote the first draft and when I was done I printed it out and put it away… for two months. While it sat I decided to do other things and…

  • I read books.
  • I painted things.
  • I tried to walk my cat (and still have scars to prove it).

Then, I took my printed manuscript, grabbed a highlighter and a red pen (and a giant mug of coffee. OK… several) and old school edited. Afterward, I made the changes on the computer copy and then…

It sat for another two weeks.

Then…

I put the whole damn thing in Scrivener. Yep! Chapter by chapter, I put it in there and that is where I edited, rewrote, and deleted parts of this manuscript that I am so nervous and excited about.

I wrote three books before this one and wherever they are, they taught me a lot and maybe I’ll get back into them one day; maybe not.

This manuscript, though… this one is the best one so far and I cannot wait to go back in and polish it up nice and shiny.

Do you have any manuscripts that never made it past the first draft stage? How long do you let your first draft sit before editing?