Dear Gap…

The other day I was published by The Washington Post! I am so excited. You can find my article about how my youngest son felt insignificant after school shopping at The Gap.

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Finding Beauty in Death

photoMy husband suffered– while he lay dieing of pancreatic cancer.

For the last three months of Michael’s life, his back pain grew exponentially every day. For most of that time, we didn’t know cancer was ravaging his body.

Once it was determined Michael had adenocarcinoma and only days left to live, his pain intensified to such a degree that we kept him sedated.

During those last few days, there were no more two sided conversations. He was no longer able to acknowledge me when I cried or told him I loved him or when I told him how much I would miss him.

His hospital room stayed quiet most of the time. Few nurses entered, and they only came when called. His vitals were no longer needed. Visitors had stopped coming. Only the people closest to him kept vigil.  He no longer spoke or opened his eyes.

In those last days, I rarely let go of Michael’s hand. I knew as long as it felt warm, he was still with me. But I longed for him to not only be by my side but for him to be present.

I became desperate to find a way to make what little time we had left beautiful.

Then the answer came to me. Music. Michael loved music.

For the last few months, Michael spent more hours with headphones in than I had probably spent in my entire life. Music calmed him, helped him tolerate the pain. It allowed him the space to hold on to the small piece of himself that remained a healthy man.

So I searched for our song, and when I found it, I turned up the volume.

At the first note, with his eyes still closed, Michael smiled, not just a little twitch at the corners of his mouth, but a full toothy grin. He bobbed his head to the beat of Brother Iz’s song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. I cried while I caressed the back of his hand.

This was our wedding song, and the lyrics wrapped up our life and what was coming for Michael.

We had lived a life full of seeing “red roses”. We were the “friends shaking hands”. And soon he would fly “over the rainbow”.

But for one more day, Death waited outside Michael’s doorway.

As the song ended, my husband raised his hand and motioned for me to come closer. He opened his eyes. They were still bright blue and still full of so much life. His gaze drew me into his heart. He cupped my cheek and pulled me to him. His lips were gentle and weak. We shared one last kiss as husband and wife.

My Michael’s final moment of lucidity and strength was spent reminding me of the power of our love.

We didn’t have any control over his cancer, but we were able to go back in time to the day we bound our hearts and celebrated the future we had planned.

Death only gave us a quarter of that time, but when you share a life so rich in love, you become grateful for every last moment you are given.

My Metamorphosis due to the Death of my Husband

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My husband died. Yes, my loving husband whom I only knew for thirteen years is gone. I can’t string words together to create sentences or even phrases that can amply describe the sadness I feel, even as a writer, there are no earthly words that can capture my grief. All I know is his death has changed me, and it has changed my writing.

Michael became ill in mid-May of 2014. At the time, we didn’t know what was really going on. He was experiencing back pain that steadily got worse. Much to our detriment, we trusted our family doctor. He told us time and time again the pain was nothing to worry about, and Michael would be fine. He was wrong to the worst degree. My husband ended up at Beth Israel in Boston two months later where we were told Michael had pancreatic cancer eight days before he died.

Through all of Michael’s sickness, his hospital visits and stays, his home-bed-ridden days, his tests, and the vials and vials of blood drawn from his body, I stopped writing.

In the hospital, Michael told me to make sure I didn’t stop. I said, “I can’t right now, but don’t worry, it’s percolating” and then I laughed because he frequently used this as an excuse when I caught him playing on his iPad during work hours. My story was in fact brewing, and I now understood that he wasn’t playing hooky.

The moment I had left off in the novel, I had to decide if a main character was going to die.

It’s been two months and a week since my beloved died, and I’ve returned to the opening of the book because I’m not the same person, and I know my writing has changed. While reading chapter one, I was hit with how superficial the novel is. It needs meaning behind the actions and I need to add layers and layers. The page once lived contently as a two dimensional space, but now I can see the possibility of an infinite amount of dimensions, and it’s my job to put words inside those worlds. I don’t know if I’m up for the task yet, but at least now I can see the empty space where as before I didn’t even know it existed.

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Just like my real life, I have to find something to fill the emptiness. There has to be more to this world I’ve created than just the words I’ve used to express it. Something lurks beneath my sadness, something greater than my grief, and I think when I search with a bright enough light, I’ll find out just what that is.

My Writing Process

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A few weeks ago my friend and colleague, Andrea Lani, tagged me on her blog, Remains Of The Day, for the purpose of participating in this writer blog meme. Since Andrea is an avid blogger, I’ve had the opportunity to read about her family, her writing, her political views, and her concern and care for the environment. Andrea is a writer who is able to capture the heart of all things she’s passionate about and translate her passions into words. Her blog is filled with rich texture of our world, and she has created a place where anyone can go to feel like their sipping a warm cup of tea even when their not.

1. What am I working on?

Hmmm… I’d have to pick a day in order to answer this question with great accuracy because on Mondays and Fridays I write something for this blog or a piece for Crazy Sisters Hiking the Maine Woods. Five days a week, my short story, “Next in Line” sounds off in my head on repeat to the tune of, “Feed me, feed me,” so I periodically drop morsels of round vowels and shards of consonants for as long as the brain will allow. But the main focus is my novel, The Midnight Thief. Seven days a week it is my heart and soul. The characters, Blue and Dolly, call out every morning at roughly 4am, just to remind me they need to get to the end of their story soon. Their wake up call helps me to remember the importance of their message, and it helps me remember what it feels like to be a kid who is waiting to open a gift that promises surprise and magic. The days I don’t allow their story to move forward causes such a tidal wave of guilt that I find myself eating Swiss Rolls and chocolate chip ice cream at regular therapeutic intervals: 10am, 3pm, and one more time at 10pm, much to my chagrin right before bed.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Midnight Thief is a southern gothic novel filled with heartache and loss, just like all books of this style, but TMT also looks at the affects of pollution that surrounds the coalmines of Eastern Kentucky and the rich culture that flows through the veins of its inhabitants. My novel also acts as a basic survival guide, teaching adults and children simple ways to start fires, find dry wood, fish without a fishing hook, and how to trap small animals. Appalachia doesn’t need to be seen as backwards, uneducated, and poor anymore. There is so much culture in that region that needs to be explored by more people than the experts. The world needs to see the art and talent that is often playing out on porches and in living rooms across countless counties. I’d like to help my readers understand there is so much more to coal mining families than moonshine and banjo picking.

3. Why do I write what I do?

About twenty years ago, a man walked into my life that I instantly connected with. A few years later, he became my stepfather. Mike changed my life. He filled our visits with stories of his childhood, growing up in Harlan County, Kentucky, a world far away from Waterville, Maine. Starting when he was only three years old, Mike ran the woods with friends often climbing up steep rock faces, so he and his friends could sleep on ledges under the stars. Mike carried a gun and hunted squirrel and coon while his father worked back breaking hours in the coalmines, the same place where men breathed in coal dust for countless hours. Most of the men ended their time here on earth with Black Lung and permanently hunched backs. Mike’s life couldn’t differ more from my own. After twenty years of me listening to Mike’s stories, a young boy named Joe knocked on my writerly walls and started telling me his own stories about growing up in the 1940s in Kentucky. Eventually, Joe introduced me to his daughter Blue who became the main character for my novel, The Midnight Thief. 

4. How does my writing process work?

Read, read, read. That’s what we writers hear and repeat frequently. I find inspiration in Janet Burroway‘s Writing Fiction and anything written by Flannery O’Connor. I love William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. I find reading the old stuff, the classics, inspire me the most. I think its because their language is carefully chosen, every single word serves a purpose. But those writers had the time, they wrote with ferocity just like writers today, but I don’t imagine they had the pressures to produce that we writers face today. My goal is to keep the organic pace that my words call for, not the one established by an impending doom. Hopefully, that will work for me. I’ll let you know. But until then, I write five days a week and think about writing for all seven. I try to encorporate some form of exercise every day, so that my body helps my mind stay healthy. I listen to converstaions even when people don’t know I’m listening, and I take mental snapshots of images of water caves and acorns, grainy snow melting over ice and men carrying ten plastic grocery bags, five in each hand, that are filled with other grocery bags. A few months ago I picked up the guitar because I think writers should have more than one artistic medium. A few weeks ago I began watercolor painting, a hobby I loved years ago. Art is part of my process. I’ve noticed the more I practice, the more I notice, and the more I notice, the more I have to give to the page.

Next up on my writing blog tour:

K.T. Bryski is a Canadian author and podcaster. She made her debut with her apocalyptic fantasy novel Hapax (Dragon Moon Press, 2012) and she has stories in Black Treacle, Tales from the Archives Vol. III, and When the Hero Comes Home Vol. II. Select playwriting credits include various scripts for Black Creek Pioneer Village and East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon: a Children’s Opera (Canadian Children’s Opera Company, 2014). K.T. also manages The Black Creek Growler: the official blog of the Black Creek Historic Brewery. She is currently at work on her next novel while pursuing her MFA through the Stonecoast Creative Writing programme at the University of Southern Maine. As you may have guessed, she has a slight caffeine addiction. Visit her at www.ktbryski.com.

Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

My Writing Process

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A few weeks ago my friend and colleague, Andrea Lani, tagged me on her blog, Remains Of The Day, for the purpose of participating in this writer blog meme. Since Andrea is an avid blogger, I’ve had the opportunity to read about her family, her writing, her political views, and her concern and care for the environment. Andrea is a writer who is able to capture the heart of all things she’s passionate about and translate her passions into words. Her blog is filled with rich texture of our world, and she has created a place where anyone can go to feel like their sipping a warm cup of tea even when their not.

1. What am I working on?

Hmmm… I’d have to pick a day in order to answer this question with great accuracy because on Mondays and Fridays I write something for this blog or a piece for Crazy Sisters Hiking the Maine Woods. Five days a week, my short story, “Next in Line” sounds off in my head on repeat to the tune of, “Feed me, feed me,” so I periodically drop morsels of round vowels and shards of consonants for as long as the brain will allow. But the main focus is my novel, The Midnight Thief. Seven days a week it is my heart and soul. The characters, Blue and Dolly, call out every morning at roughly 4am, just to remind me they need to get to the end of their story soon. Their wake up call helps me to remember the importance of their message, and it helps me remember what it feels like to be a kid who is waiting to open a gift that promises surprise and magic. The days I don’t allow their story to move forward causes such a tidal wave of guilt that I find myself eating Swiss Rolls and chocolate chip ice cream at regular therapeutic intervals: 10am, 3pm, and one more time at 10pm, much to my chagrin right before bed.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Midnight Thief is a southern gothic novel filled with heartache and loss, just like all books of this style, but TMT also looks at the affects of pollution that surrounds the coalmines of Eastern Kentucky and the rich culture that flows through the veins of its inhabitants. My novel also acts as a basic survival guide, teaching adults and children simple ways to start fires, find dry wood, fish without a fishing hook, and how to trap small animals. Appalachia doesn’t need to be seen as backwards, uneducated, and poor anymore. There is so much culture in that region that needs to be explored by more people than the experts. The world needs to see the art and talent that is often playing out on porches and in living rooms across countless counties. I’d like to help my readers understand there is so much more to coal mining families than moonshine and banjo picking.

3. Why do I write what I do?

About twenty years ago, a man walked into my life that I instantly connected with. A few years later, he became my stepfather. Mike changed my life. He filled our visits with stories of his childhood, growing up in Harlan County, Kentucky, a world far away from Waterville, Maine. Starting when he was only three years old, Mike ran the woods with friends often climbing up steep rock faces, so he and his friends could sleep on ledges under the stars. Mike carried a gun and hunted squirrel and coon while his father worked back breaking hours in the coalmines, the same place where men breathed in coal dust for countless hours. Most of the men ended their time here on earth with Black Lung and permanently hunched backs. Mike’s life couldn’t differ more from my own. After twenty years of me listening to Mike’s stories, a young boy named Joe knocked on my writerly walls and started telling me his own stories about growing up in the 1940s in Kentucky. Eventually, Joe introduced me to his daughter Blue who became the main character for my novel, The Midnight Thief. 

4. How does my writing process work?

Read, read, read. That’s what we writers hear and repeat frequently. I find inspiration in Janet Burroway‘s Writing Fiction and anything written by Flannery O’Connor. I love William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. I find reading the old stuff, the classics, inspire me the most. I think its because their language is carefully chosen, every single word serves a purpose. But those writers had the time, they wrote with ferocity just like writers today, but I don’t imagine they had the pressures to produce that we writers face today. My goal is to keep the organic pace that my words call for, not the one established by an impending doom. Hopefully, that will work for me. I’ll let you know. But until then, I write five days a week and think about writing for all seven. I try to encorporate some form of exercise every day, so that my body helps my mind stay healthy. I listen to converstaions even when people don’t know I’m listening, and I take mental snapshots of images of water caves and acorns, grainy snow melting over ice and men carrying ten plastic grocery bags, five in each hand, that are filled with other grocery bags. A few months ago I picked up the guitar because I think writers should have more than one artistic medium. A few weeks ago I began watercolor painting, a hobby I loved years ago. Art is part of my process. I’ve noticed the more I practice, the more I notice, and the more I notice, the more I have to give to the page.

Next up on my writing blog tour:

K.T. Bryski is a Canadian author and podcaster. She made her debut with her apocalyptic fantasy novel Hapax (Dragon Moon Press, 2012) and she has stories in Black Treacle, Tales from the Archives Vol. III, and When the Hero Comes Home Vol. II. Select playwriting credits include various scripts for Black Creek Pioneer Village and East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon: a Children’s Opera (Canadian Children’s Opera Company, 2014). K.T. also manages The Black Creek Growler: the official blog of the Black Creek Historic Brewery. She is currently at work on her next novel while pursuing her MFA through the Stonecoast Creative Writing programme at the University of Southern Maine. As you may have guessed, she has a slight caffeine addiction. Visit her at www.ktbryski.com.

Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light and launch a new venture—One Stop Writer Shop—offering a variety of services to up-and-coming and established indie authors.

 

Flash Friday: On this day in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated

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Where were you when the news broke that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot? Were you home baking cookies? Were you getting off your shift at the plant? Or were you running home from a friend’s house so you’d make it in time for dinner?

So many of the traumatic events in our histories have been seared into our minds. Most of us can still feel shards of our own events that will forever be embedded in us.

Do you remember where you were standing when the Towers came down?

Do you remember the first thing you looked at after news of a loved one’s death washed over your ears?

Do you remember who you were with when Kennedy was shot?

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How about Lennon?

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Bin Laden? Saddam Hussein?

What if some event in our life never actually happened, but you knew it was should have? Would you be better off knowing what was supposed to be? How would your world be different if history was rewritten?

What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had never been never shot? Where would we, as a country– as a world, be today? How has his death affected the society we live in today– not his life but his death?

Writing Prompt: Pick a traumatic event that you experienced full on. Write a piece of flash fiction based on the event never actually happening but knowing it was supposed to happen.

Post a line and link to your story in the comments section below if you’d like. I’d love to read them.

The Birds are Singing

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Saturday, Anna and I trekked up Mt. Appetite in Auburn. The air felt warm, and we could hear the trickle of snow melting as soon as we stepped out of the car.

For this trip, I decided to bring Sophie, my boxer, along. Even though Anna and I are both capable women, and Maine is a relatively safe state, a bad man in the woods may keep on walking if he hears my boxer calling his name. Sophie is bad ass, and everyone knows it!

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Since the day reminded us spring is here, we shed our snow shoes and adorned our spikes. (Nothing better than my friend Dave’s Stabilicers!– he invented them, doesn’t own them) I can’t say losing the snow shoes turned out to be a good idea. You see when the snow is melting at a fast pace, it becomes soft, and the weight of an adult woman easily punches through, sometimes at a depth past her knees. Fortunately for us, this only happened about every hundred steps or so… on our four-mile hike. And Anna only caught her boot toe good enough to propel her body forward so she nearly missed a face plant twice on this trip– Well done, Anna!

Within a few minutes of walking, we heard our first bird call. On our last hike, on top of Bradbury Mountain, we saw our first bird, a young bald eagle, but we had yet to hear the song of the forest. I don’t consider myself a bird person, they kind of freak me out when up close and personal, but from a distance… I love them, I love them so much. I can seriously see myself becoming a bird watcher, and not even in my old age, it may be in the near future. Michael, my husband, even lent me his monocular, a cherished Father’s Day gift from our youngest son.

Anna and I admitted we had no idea which songs belonged to which birds, but all the sounds are beautiful, especially our beloved “Mary” bird.

Anna and I grew up hearing about the “Mary bird.” Mom had a sister-like-friend from the time she could walk, and her name was Mary. When Mom went to meet her friend to play, she often heard the sound of a Black-capped Chickadee call her friend’s name, it sounded like Marrr–y. To this day, we all call the Chickadee the “Mary bird,” and it has always been a call associated with love even though Anna and I never met the actual Mary until we were well into adulthood.

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The birds are proof that spring is in fact here, it’s just that winter has her claws in deep and is fighting to not be forgotten.

So I say, Winter, I acknowledge you. For the first time ever, thanks to winter-hiking, I will actually miss you. I will not forget you, and I will be happy to see your return next year. Now please go away!

FRIDAY’S FLASH WRITING PROMPT: WHAT COULD’VE HAPPENED?

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                                                             AP Photo/Paul Vathis

AP Highlight in History:
On March 28, 1979, a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at the Three Mile Island plant near Middletown, Pa., released a small amount of radiation, but caused no serious injuries. It was America’s worst commercial nuclear accident.

My friend Renee Young DeCamillas came up with the idea to write a piece of flash fiction every Friday. It turned out to work well for my own writing, so I figured it could work for you too.

Take a few minutes and write a piece of flash fiction about the picture above and/or the little piece of history.

Sometimes our writerly brains need a little bit of time at the end of each week to write for fun. Have a good time. Don’t worry where your writing takes you. Dare to be free.

In the comments section, if you so choose, paste in a line or a paragraph. Then paste the entire piece on your blog. (Please let readers know if you are including your flash on your blog, so others can go read it.)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Ghostly Desires

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Scene: In A Midnight Thief, a new character has been introduced, Dean. He’s a teenage ghost.

The Problem: Dean wants to leave this earthly plane but needs forgiveness in order to pass on to the next realm.

Fortunately, his victims, Blue and Dolly, don’t know who he is since he was a grown man when he attacked them, and they don’t know the boy standing in front of them is a ghost.

Dean needs the girls to stay until nightfall, a time when he can reveal himself to them. But once he reveals himself, they will most likely be frightened because he hurt them so badly. Dean has to find a way to convince them to forgive him at a time when their wounds are still fresh.

Will Dean be able to convince the girls to forgive him?

Will Blue and Dolly see past his earthy desires and find forgiveness?

Will they all be able to part ways peacefully?

Oh… and there is a loaded gun in play.

The Child Kills the Man

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Over the last several weeks, I’ve struggled to write a scene for my work in progress where my main character, twelve-year-old Blue’s little sister has been attacked by one of the moonshine still watchers whom the girls refer to as “the dirty man.” Thankfully, Blue hears her sister’s screams, but she doesn’t know if she reached her sister before he hurt her. Blue’s little sister’s shorts have been torn off, and the dirty man is on top of her when Blue rushes in. Blue has a gun and knows how to shoot. The question remains, does Blue shoot him? If so, does she kill him, or do she and her sister just get away? This is the second time the dirty man has attacked the girls, and he’s crazy, so Blue knows he will follow them and try again.

When I asked my trusted Facebook friends “what should Blue do?” they all said, “Kill him!” Since this is not the end of the book, Blue has to move on with her life. What would life be like for a twelve-year-old girl who just killed another human being? Could she live with the memory? Could she continue to protect her sister from other dangers in the world?

Well, I wrote the scene. I won’t tell you what happens, but I think I’m going to write the scene again. Maybe I’ll write twelve different scenarios to see where my words go. As Mike Kimball told me once, “As a writer, you have to walk through the fire, not just stand beside it.”