Weekly writing check-in: Y-A-W-N

Oddly enough, I’m not that tired this morning (although, ask me tomorrow how I feel …). I’ve realized I’m at the age where any time change throws me off my stride.

Spring forward? Fall back? Meh. It’s all the same to me.

I worked on a nonfiction query/article this week and did a little bit of story work. My biggest accomplishment was pulling the taxes together (I want to add “like a boss” to the end of that). Off they go to the accountant this week.

I’m also doing a bit of pre-planning for a possible Season Four of Coffee and Ghosts. We’ll see how that goes, but so far, I’m feeling optimistic.

Also? It’s going to be 60 degrees here today! In March! In Minnesota! I’m scheduling at least one walk.

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Free Fiction Friday: Keeping Time

For March, it’s all about strange and surprising connections, unexpected friendships and traditions.

To get you ready for springing forward, I give you Keeping Time.

The mantel clock kept its own time. It was fussy, too, in the way old clocks sometimes are, refusing to work when wound in a way it found unacceptable. Because of this, in each generation, the task fell to either the youngest or oldest member of the household.

Maisey was five when her grandmother showed her how to wind the clock. She bounced on the balls of her feet, her fingers itching for their turn. She’d warm the brass key in her palm, the way her grandmother did. Every evening they’d clean the old clock with a soft cloth and lemon-scented polish.

“Pay attention,” her grandmother would say. “It will soon be your turn.”

“When, Grandma, when?”

Her grandmother chuckled. “Not soon enough for your father.”

But when Maisey’s turn finally came, her feet no longer bounced. After the funeral, she dragged a chair through the gathering, cutting off words about her grandmother—some soft, some less so—and clambered up to reach the clock on the mantel.

“Maisey!” Her mother’s voice cracked, its edges so sharp that, if it were a real thing, you could cut someone with it.

“I promised Grandma,” Maisey said.

In the middle of murmured condolences and her mother’s sobs, she pulled out the key and wound the clock.

When her father retired, Maisey offered the key to him. But he had too many golf games—and then, too many back problems—to bother with an old clock. Her mother spent so much time canning tomatoes (which no one ever ate) and volunteering (which gave her a headache) to remember the old timepiece gathering dust on the mantel.

So Maisey dug out a chain from her jewelry box and hung the key around her neck. The clock ticked on, grateful for the gentle touch of Maisey’s fingers. When she packed the car for college, she placed the clock in last, belting it into the front passenger seat.

She went through three roommates until the campus housing department found one who didn’t mind the faux mantelpiece taking up half their dorm room. After one too many broken hearts, Maisey let each perspective boyfriend wind the clock at least once. In the end, she picked the man with the lightest touch and most nimble fingers. She learned there were advantages to this well beyond winding clocks. When she graduated, she took him, the faux mantelpiece, and the clock.

Together, they built a life.

When at last her granddaughter was born, a girl whose eyes shined each time she heard the clock tick, Maisey knew her own time was drawing near. These days, she polished the clock more often, fussed over its placement on the mantel.

“We need to spruce you up,” she’d say. “Can’t have you looking your years—not like me.”

The wood casing gleamed in the light. When little Tessa pressed a finger against its side, she gave Maisey a delighted smile.

“Oh, Grandma! It’s warm.”

It always was, this old clock, warm and constant.

“You have always been my loyal companion,” she told it on the day she loosened the chain from around her neck.

Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” But what if, for the briefest moment, she could defy that rule—and even Einstein himself—by passing on the key before passing on herself? When Tessa turned five, Maisey presented the key to her, chain and all, and hovered while the little girl wound the clock for the first time.

And yes, there it was, her life, all of it, from her own grandmother’s death, the scrape of the chair across the floor, sharp braces against her lips, the whisper of taffeta prom dresses, textbooks weighing down her arms. Timothy on bended knee, the mantel and clock behind her, as if peering over her shoulder. On it went, in one great wash through her blood—all of time, all her life, all at once.

“What now, Grandma?” Tessa asked.

“Keep it well, my dear,” Maisey said, “keep it well.”

That night, the clock stopped ticking.

The afternoon of her grandmother’s funeral, Tessa dragged a chair across the floor and scrambled up to the mantel. She turned the key once, twice. Tessa inhaled lemon-scented dust, then held her breath. Behind her, the air shook. She turned, saw her mother, whose body trembled with sobs. Tessa jumped from the chair and threw her arms around her mother.

From the mantel, something shifted inside the clock. A single tock shuddered through its wood casing. Then, once again, the old clock started keeping its own time.

Keeping Time was first published by Kazka Press. It was subsequently produced in audio by The Centropic Oracle. You can listen to the story here.

Miss a story? Find all the titles here.

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Weekly writing check-in: March, in like a lion (cub)

It is seriously nice here for the start of March. Mind you, we could be getting a lot of snow at some point (it is March in Minnesota after all).

Still, it’s 41 degrees, we’re forgetting to wear our coats, and someone just jogged by wearing shorts.

In writing news, this week, I worked on some new short stories, started an outline for an article, and took a second look at the stories for April.

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Smashwords: Read an Ebook Week Sale

Do you ever buy books from the Smashwords store? If so, head on over for their Read an Ebook Week Sale.

My entire catalog is 50% off. (Well, except for the books that are already free, since 50% of free is … free).

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Free Fiction Friday: The Goblin and the Pixie

It wouldn’t be February without a pair of star-crossed lovers.

Everyone knew that pixies were cruel. Those teeth. Their words.

A conversation with one was like dying from a thousand tiny cuts. You might think: one or two scornful remarks won’t matter. But they added up, faster than you could count.

That was why Renate kept her distance. That, and because she was a goblin. And not one of those flashy lime green ones, or one a delicate shade of violet. She was brown, like the bark on the trees of the forest she called home.

Practical, but dull.

But the pixie? Oh, he would dazzle you—lithe, sultry. His talent was the piccolo, as Renata soon learned, but he could sing and dance and execute all manner of acrobatics. His wings were a glittery sapphire while his skin was the icy hue of a January sky.

He was so beautiful, his features elegant and lovely, even those razor-like teeth. Renata felt a bit chagrined for her admiration. It was shallow, wasn’t it? It made her shallow, didn’t it? She didn’t even know his name. Pixies seldom confessed such things, not even to a lover.

If you knew a pixie’s name, the saying went, then you knew their entire heart.

But never, in all the annals of history, had there ever been a goblin-pixie pairing. So Renata dreamed her unattainable dreams safe in the knowledge they were only that.

Until the day the pixie fluttered down from the sky and landed on the forest floor in front of her.

His feet barely whispered against the carpet of fallen leaves. His wings hummed, and the sound was warm and soothing, like a lullaby.

“Why do you stare at me all day long,” he asked.

Renata knew she didn’t have quick wit—if this were a conversational trap, then she would walk right into it. So she saw no reason to be dishonest.

“Because you are the most beautiful being I have ever seen.”

With those words, heat burned her cheeks, her skin so hot she might set the forest aflame.

The pixie tilted his head. “Do you like how I play the piccolo?”

“I do, very much.”

He twirled, a perfect pirouette, and landed gracefully. “And my acrobatics? What do you think of them?”

“They are lovely.”

For a long moment, he scrutinized her. Then, he nodded once and took flight.

Odd things happened after that. Sweet music—that of a piccolo—accompanied her trek through the forest. The tune changed depending on what she was doing. Slow and thoughtful for rooting out mushrooms. Lively and quick for picking berries.

When she was helping a doe birth twins on a slushy spring morning, a warm buzzing sounded above her, shielding her and the doe from rain. Renata glanced up, but all she could see was the furious beating of pixie wings.

On clear nights, when she peered into the sky, her name would sparkle among the stars.

She searched for hidden cruelty and found only kindness.

The next time the pixie landed before her, stepping lightly across daisies and buttercups, Renata could do little more than clutch her hands beneath her chin.

“Why do you always brighten my day?” she asked.

“Because you brighten mine.”

“Me?” This she could not fathom. “How?”

“You know which of the forest’s bounty is edible, and which is not.”

“Don’t pixies know this?”

He flushed, a delicate pink spreading through his entire body. “It’s a good thing pixies have strong constitutions. I only know what to eat from watching you.”

“I can teach you.” Such boldness! Renata almost swallowed back the words.

But he inclined his head and continued. “You care for the forest creatures. You care for our home when the rest of us enjoy it, use it, but far too often disregard it.”

“I love the forest and everything in it.” It was as close as she dared come to confessing her feelings for him.

He took one step closer. “And you have the eyes of a doe and the skin the color of a wise oak tree. You are beautiful.”

She was about to protest or shake her head when he took another step forward.

“I am Simon.”

Oh? Oh.

“You know I’m Renata.”

“I do. May I kiss you, Renata?”

She didn’t think twice, although perhaps she should have. She knew of the teeth, of the cuts, of the pain. Kissing a pixie was something a steadfast, ordinary goblin like herself should never do.

Renata stepped forward.

She closed her eyes.

The kiss was warm, steeped in magic and honey. When the quicksilver taste filled her mouth and blood ran down her chin, Renata gasped. She felt no pain, had no cuts.

It wasn’t her blood.

It was his.

Simon had sliced through his own lips as to not injure her.

But a steadfast little goblin such as herself had a salve for that. She tended to his wounds, and by nightfall, he was healed enough to play the piccolo.

It took until winter, with the snow piled high around Renata’s little cottage, until they discovered a way to kiss without incident.

Neither one minded.

The Goblin and the Pixie was written especially for the (Love) Stories of 2020 project.

Miss a story? Check out the titles here.

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Weekly writing check-in: (low-key) adventure time

So, I missed last week due to some (low-key) adventure. My Girl Scout Troop will be graduating this spring, and between now and then, we need to spend all the cookie money they’ve earned.

In fact, we’re not even selling cookies this year. Even after this trip, we still have money to burn. (And yes, that sound you hear is my sigh of relief.)

What we did do is book a lovely house on a lake a couple of hours north. And somehow, everyone was able to attend. It did not blizzard on us. And I think/hope a good time was had by all.

We did jigsaw puzzles and snowshoed on the lake, baked cookies in the Italian kitchen and watched movies.

We also caught a gorgeous sunrise over the lake.

In writing news, I somehow (somehow!) managed to schedule all of the stories for March. I have April’s selected. Looking into May, I’m going to need to write a few new ones here pretty soon.

All in all, not a bad week.

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Free Fiction Friday: The Burden of So Many Roses

The road to popularity at Fremont High School is paved with rose petals.

Or, to be exact (and I usually am), petals from three-dollar roses.

This year, I have a three-part plan to conquer those roses:

1. Money (Christmas, babysitting, minimum wage from the Sub Shoppe)

2. Handwriting samples (AP World History projects, chemistry lab, Spanish class)

3. Selection of boys (valedictorian, quarterback, swim team captain)

They’re all going to send me a rose on Valentine’s Day—even if they don’t realize it.

The problem? Girls from the cheerleading squad run the rose booth. I must make sure no one sees me take more than a few notecards. But a sweater with big pockets and a little misdirection work wonders. I slip in before school and give Sienna my biggest smile.

“For my best friend,” I say, a lie, of course.

One, that rose is totally for me. Two? Maybe next year at this time, I’ll have a best friend—or any friends, for that matter. First, I must tread the rose-petal path.

“Aw,” Sienna says. “That’s so sweet. Some girls don’t get any roses.”

Not that Sienna would know. She’s never been one of those girls. The thing is, everybody knows that girls buy for each other. It doesn’t make you popular. It doesn’t make guys think you’re hot. All it does is make you look desperate. I will not be that girl. Not anymore.

That night, I neglect calculus in favor of perfecting Marcus Hanson’s blocky boy letters and Toby Preston’s lazy scrawl. In the end, I spend fifty-four dollars for eighteen roses. I can always stash a few in my locker if lugging around so many roses turns out to be too much. On Valentine’s Day, I choose a pink sweater. When I walk into school and see Sienna wearing a similar style in a similar shade, I know it’s perfect.

This day will be perfect.

All morning, roses flood the classrooms. It’s a record sale, the principal announces over the PA system, with the proceeds going to Operation Smile. We are, she tells us, a most generous group of young people. Some more than others, I think.

More roses arrive, but by the time class ends, not a single one is for me. Next class. I’ll practically drown in all the roses. But by lunch, I trudge to the cafeteria empty-handed. Sienna, at the cheerleading table, has a stack of roses—red and pink and creamy white. She plucks one from the pile and hands it to a freshman girl passing by.

Oh, to be Sienna. To have roses to spare.

During chemistry, the collar of my pink fuzzy sweater chokes me. My armpits produce massive amounts of sweat. I blow an easy pop quiz. Then, I have the best thought.

All my roses will arrive during last class! I’ll stagger to my locker under their weight. When I pass Sienna, she’ll give me a secret smile, the sort only shared by girls who struggle under the burden of so many roses.

When the last bell rings, I stay rooted in my chair, convinced there’s been a mistake. Not a single rose! Mrs. Meyer clears her throat, then asks:

“Are you okay?”

I nod, but I’m not okay. I’m out fifty-four dollars. The path to my locker is strewn with other people’s rose petals. My books make my arms ache. I dial the combination, but don’t lift the handle.

“Hey, Emily.”

I turn. Toby Preston stands to one side, pink-cheeked and adorable.

“This is crazy,” he says. “But back in sixth grade, I never gave you this.” He pushes an envelope at me. “It was stupid, because we had to give everyone a valentine, but I didn’t want anyone to know I liked you.”

I hold the valentine like it’s made of spun glass. This is better than a rose.

“Would you like to go somewhere?” he asks. “Coffee shop, maybe?”

Oh! Even better. Who needs roses anyway? I nod and open my locker for my coat. Out spills a rose. Then another. They tumble out, cover the linoleum, bury me up to my ankles.

Toby’s cheeks blaze red. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice, so hard my throat aches in response.

“I guess coffee’s out of the question,” he says. Before I can stop him, he sprints down the hall.

A custodian helps me clear away the roses. She loans me a pair of work gloves, but the thorns find my skin. One pricks my cheek, and I can’t stop the blood tear that rolls down my face.

“Seen this before,” she says after I shove the last rose to the bottom of the dumpster.

“Really?”

“It happens. Every few years or so.”

What happens?” I want to know why and what it all means.

Her eyes are kind, but she shrugs. “I think that’s up to you.”

I leave school empty-handed.

A block from home, I spot a little girl at a bus stop. In the center of the road sits a smashed shoebox. Red construction paper hearts flutter in the wind. Tires grind Red Hots and conversation hearts into powder. Her sobs fill the air but do nothing to stop the cars from plowing through her valentines.

“They’re all gone,” she says, “I don’t have any left.”

Neither do I. Then I remember Toby’s valentine. I pull it from my backpack. The wind nearly steals it, so I hang on tightly. Then I wonder if I can let it go.

“What’s that?” the little girl asks.

“It’s yours.” I kneel at her side and hand it to her.

“Oh! It even has my name on it! Right here. It says Emily.”

“See? It was meant for you.”

She skips down the sidewalk, clutching Toby Preston’s valentine to her chest. I turn for home. Only when I reach the front porch, do I feel it.

I am one rose lighter.

The Burden of So Many Roses was first published in Kazka Press as part of their monthly contest. The theme was an undelivered Valentine. And it’s one of those Valentine’s Day stories for when you’re not feeling Valentine’s Day.

I was thrilled when Toasted Cake picked it up for the podcast. Tina’s narration is, as always, amazing.

Miss a story? Check the titles here.

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