An Ache, Instead of a Heart

It was 5:47 in the afternoon. Not an ominous time, not even an interesting one. It was just an afternoon, almost evening sort of time. How could her heart turn from a solid presence in her chest to a throbbing mass, almost a tumor, in just a few short minutes?

It had started because of curiosity. Maybe that wasn’t right, though. Maybe it had started because she’d listened to their music the night before, and it made her think of them again. Her end-all-be-all of music. The men she fell in love with desperately at sixteen and tried feverishly to convince everyone else of their immense power and force. She’d gotten over that, though. She’d found her ken online, through forums and fan-sites – the usual place teenage girls congregate to fantasize, and avid fans come together to worship and respect. She was both – a teenage girl and an avid, serious, dedicated fan.

That was then. This was now. She’d continued adoring them, continued falling in love with the music over and over again. But eventually, her love of the men faded and became respect, admiration, adoration of a different kind. She didn’t want to kiss them anymore – now she wanted to have a conversation with them, be a friend. She’d gotten less and less involved in the online scene. She couldn’t help it that there were other things taking up her time – real friendships, real lovers, real life. So now, three years later, she still considered them the best, her favorites, the all-encompassing musicians for her, and she still listened to them.

In fact, she’d listened to them the night before. Maybe that was why, at 5:47, she’d found herself wondering about a silly detail – a cosmetic feature of one of the men that had disappeared – and through her curiosity, she stumbled back into the websites. She gaped, open-mouthed, at the changes made in her absence. She rejoiced that steps were being made, that there were new people around, that her beloved musicians were still respected.

But it turned her heart into an ache. A dull, stuttering, spluttering ache. It felt like something was pouring out of her heart, dripping on to the floor… Drip-drip-dropping, some essential liquid the heart needed. It felt like a lifetime since she’d fallen in love with stars in a vast sky, and now, rediscovering her fellow worshipers, she felt so lost.

Flash Fiction Thursday: The House on the Hill

There was a house on the hill. It was a run-down old thing, with shingles fallen off the roof, and the door halfway off its hinges. The windows were all boarded up, except for one round window at the top of the house. In front, there was what used to be a lawn. Over the years it had turned into an almost-meadow, high weeds and the occasional wild flowers growing wildly. Then there was the fence. It was tall and made of iron, and not one bit of it was rusted. The strangest thing was, there was no gate. Nobody remembered that there’d ever been one. It was as if someone had left the house to rot and built a fence around it afterwards.

The Hensley brothers sat with their backs against one of the big oak trees that kept their own house separate from the hill behind it.

“You think anyone’s ever been in there?” asked Tommy. He was ten, and his pajamas featured a pattern of Pokemon creatures.

“What, you mean like mom or dad or the kids at school?” answered Jake. He was barely six, and his world view encompassed only those people he knew. He was unfortunate enough to have his mom still picking out his clothing, and his pajamas featured multicolored, grinning bunnies.

“No, stupid, I mean anybody. Anybody in town. One of the older kids or the cops or someone.”

“But how? There’s no way to get in!”

“Bet I can figure out a way.” He got up and yanked Jake up off the ground.

“Tommy? Tommy, we’re not going up there, are we?” Jake’s hand was held so tightly that he was stumbling after his brother trying to keep up and not fall and be dragged on the ground. Tommy marched resolutely upwards, and when Jake started getting breathless, he picked him up gingerly and brought him the rest of the way. He stopped at the tall fence and plopped Jake onto the ground.

“Stop sniveling, Jakey! Look, we could make this place into a club-house, right?”

Jake looked up hopefully, wiping his dribbling nose with the pack of one muddied hand. “Could we? Could we really? With secret meetings and stuff?”

“You bet. Now, all we have to do is this. Look, you see my hands? They’re like a step now, right? So step on, and I’ll lift you as high as I can so you catch onto the top.”

Jake scrambled onto his brother’s cupped hands and held onto the fence rails as he was raised slowly up to the top. He reached out an arm, and caught hold of the one of the raised spiky bits with one little hand. Tommy saw this, gave a whoop and let go of Jake’s feet.

A moment later, there was a crumpled Jake on the floor clutching his leg and a very white Tommy sitting next to him. His mind was very focused on two things at the same time. The first was that he had to get Jake back home quickly because that leg was definitely broken, and the second was how was he going to explain this to Mom??

It was years before either brother went up that hill again.

Writing Exercise: The Portal

It’s not every day that you see a portal. Actually, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a portal in my life. Well, let me amend that; I’ve seen portals, but they were just regular doorways or windows, a portal from one normal space to another. This portal, the one I saw today, was different.

At first, I wasn’t sure that what I was seeing was a portal. It looked like a shimmer of air – like the sort of shimmering that happens above the flames of a bonfire in a hot and humid night. As I drew closer to the wavering patch of air, I realized that if I looked at it out of the corner of my eye, I could see something through it. What I should have seen through it was just the trees, tall and boring palm trees, on the other side of the park. Instead, what I saw through the patch of air was something exceedingly odd.

It looked like a kind of demonic vortex: a sort of whirlwind of dark colors, weaving through each other and around and around the spiral they made, tumbling over one another and creating frightening images if I tried to concentrate on them. Sweat poured down my face in the summer heat as I kept turning my head this way and that, trying to see where the moving tunnel inside that patch of air led to. It was no use, however. The spirals of color just kept on and on inside that portal, and the ending was so far away it just looked like a black dot at the end.

The portal drew me towards it. I took a step, and another. I wanted to enter it, get swept up in that endless darkness and see where it would lead me. Before I knew it, my hand was inches away, reaching towards the shimmering air through which I saw the tunnel.

My logic kicked in. I snapped my hand back. I shoved both hands in my jeans pockets, like unruly children who had gotten away from me and needed to take a time-out. With one last, involuntary yearning, glance at the portal, I turned away. I turned my back on the fate that would await me if I entered that darkness. Now, at day’s end, my curiosity burns for that knowledge and my logic must sooth my imagination. “There, there,” it says in my mind. “It couldn’t have been anything good. There, there. It’s alright.”

Guest Post: J.W. Nicklaus, End of Virtual Book Tour

J.W. Nicklaus was kind enough to stop by on my humble blog for an interview, as promised a month or so ago, at the beginning of his tour! I hope you enjoy the following interview.

SI: First off, just to get things warmed up, I know you’ve answered this question multiple times over the course of your blog tour, but I’d like you to give a short explanation of what your book is about, in case there are readers of mine who have only recently joined me.

J.W.: There’s an old sales maxim that says you must “ask for the sale,” so here it goes: “Buy the book!”

I guess that’s more of a declarative statement than a question, huh? Never was much good at sales.

The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between is a collection of short stories which revolve around the dichotomous themes of Hope and Love. One of the really neat things about the blog tour was seeing how clearly the reviewers picked up on the underlying messages in the stories. Most of them had descriptions for the stories ranging from “love lost” and “destructive love,” to “wishing for love.” One of them hit the nail on the head when she stated the stories weren’t so much about “romantic love, but hopeful love.” So don’t think they’re all sappy love stories. As others are finding out, there’s quite a range between the front and back covers. ;^)

SI: How do you feel now, at the end of your first online book tour? Excited? Let down? Were the responses what you were hoping for?

J.W.: I had way oversimplified the task when it first began. All the writing is done before the tour actually begins, so I thought it would be a snap to simply check the stops and make comments when needed; commenting is one of the coolest parts of blogging, getting feedback on what you’ve put out there for public consumption.

But there’s a lot of other work involved if you stand any chance of having people drop in during the tour. There’s an old advertising campaign that simply states “Know what happens when you don’t advertise? Nothing.” So I had to put the tour schedule on my web site and then come up with some entertaining way to try and convince folks to visit the stops from my blog.

I’m here to tell ya, that takes some work. And I had the easy part. Dorothy Thompson (my tour coordinator) had 4 other authors touring at the same time I was.

I’m excited and intrigued by what the future holds for the book. The tour was a good way to get my name out on the internet. Try searching for “J.W. Nicklaus” and see what comes up. Having all that online exposure now makes it easier to use as a reference as I being exploring other promotional endeavors.

On the other hand, as much work as it was I’m also a little dismayed that it’s over because it was so interesting to see all the different comments and peoples’ takes on the subject at hand any given day. I got to interact with some really nice folks. Perhaps the most memorable responses came from my post at The Bookworm, regarding RIF, and one reviewers reaction to my story 10:18. Lots of people remembered the Reading Is Fundamental organization (they’re still around today!), and the reviewer was angered by 10:18, although she’d didn’t elaborate as to why. I also received a lot of feedback on my article regarding reading devices and the shift in publishing dynamics. I didn’t think that was going to get much readership at all, but it brought out lots of passionate responses. Suffice to say that it appears most readers are definitely attached to their physical books.

SI: You’ve mentioned a wish to finish that novel you’ve been working on. Is it already in the works or are you currently focusing on The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between‘s promotion?

J.W.: Currently I’m steeped in promotional efforts for Ember Between, and likely will be so at least through the end of this year, and most likely for the foreseeable future. I already have one event scheduled for November with another author.

In the meantime, when time permits, I’ll dabble with the novel here and there, I’m sure. There’s another short story I really want to finish, too. But I’ll tell you what . . . if you and your readers hang around a while I’ll post a chapter or two of Eden when I feel it’s ready. That’ll be waaaaaay in advance of any manuscript submission. So you may get to see it in its raw form. I would really love to have it ready for submittal within two years, but there’s a lot of life to take care of every day, and only a precious small slice of it to dedicate to writing. I will get to it though, I promise you that.

And now, some lighter fare . . .

SI: Do you prefer writing by hand or with a keyboard?

J.W.: My penmanship leaves much to be desired. Does that answer your question? LOL!

When there’s no keyboard handy (I don’t tote around a laptop) I will resort to using old school technology?pen and paper. Here’s a little something for those still paying attention: The last piece in my book is titled In the Name Of Love. It’s a piece about love for one’s country. I wrote that all by hand after walking around Washington D.C. all day. Wrote it upon the banister of the north stairs leading to Capitol Hill. Of course I later typed it, but its initial incarnation was done the classical way ;^)

SI: Do you like to write at home or outside somewhere?

J.W.: At home I have all the comforts and distractions you could possibly ask for. Food or drink is never far from reach, nor is music. The surroundings are (obviously) very familiar, so it’s comfortable. I think I tend to be more focused and contemplative when writing away from here. I’ve traveled with a laptop a couple times and found it very interesting to sit in a hotel lobby and write while immersed in foreign surroundings. I’ve even sat in two different Business Centers and wrote. Simply being up and about stimulates creativity for me, so I think that plays into my external writing focus.

SI: Where would you travel to right now, if you could?

J.W.: I would love to go pretty much anywhere that would have me in for a book reading/signing. I’m  far more inclined to be attracted to areas of greenery, though, and of course, large bodies of water. I wouldn’t mind traveling to Minnesota, or New York, or even Texas (I could visit my brother). I think it would be a blast to travel to Boston and visit Fenway with my son. We’re not Red Sox fans, but it’s a classic ballpark . . . Wrigley would do nicely, too!

And finally, a couple questions about your perspective on writing . . .

SI: Writers are a self-criticizing bunch, just like other artists. Were there times during the writing process when you couldn’t stand something you wrote? Were you pleased with the final outcome of each of your stories?

J.W.: I think all of us are our harshest critics. I’ll give you a concrete example: There are a couple of stories in the book that I think are a little weak, but I also think they’re entertaining, so I’m willing to overlook my critical perceptions of them. In both cases I did some re-writing, and they are stronger for it. I could have spent months doing continuous revisions, but there comes a point when I have to step back and ask “will the reader enjoy this, or is my nit picking getting in the way of what may be a good story?”

And no, I won’t reveal which stories they are . . . evil, huh!

If ever I write something I really can’t stand, I just don’t return to it. I won’t finish a story that I think isn’t working or isn’t up to my standards. No point in it. As for the collection as a whole, I am truly proud of them. For me there is no denying that, at a minimum, this book will be one tangible thing I leave behind which will give people an idea of the kind of person I truly am. To that extent, I have to temper my desire for perfection with the acceptance that nothing in this world is perfect . . . and I’m genuinely at peace with that.

SI: Finally, has the long and grueling process of writing and putting together this book had a negative effect on your daily life, or are you ready to jump back into the fray and keep on writing?

J.W.: It’s been the furthest thing from negative. It has assuredly kept me busy, and sometimes up past my bedtime (I enjoy my sleep!), but the rewards have been worth all the effort. It’s a whole different kind of scary when you put your words and ideas out for all to see and consider?but to see people really embrace the book and enjoy it, man, is that one heck of a payback.

There really isn’t any way for me to not write on a daily basis, whether e-mails or blogging. On those occasions when I don’t write, I am always reading. Most times that means I’m reading your blog, or Joy’s, GBU’s, Laurie K’s, etc. There’s also a group I belong to that shoots stuff back and forth every day, so there’s always something interesting going on.

I once remarked to Joy that I read her blog more often than I comment, and she told me to go ahead and leave a small comment, just so she knows I was there. She adores getting comments, and she has the readership to prove it. The one thing I didn’t tell her is that I don’t comment if I don’t feel I have anything of value or interest to say. It doesn’t mean I don’t like this post or that, but I just wasn’t feeling like I had an opinion worth sharing. And that doesn’t hold for just her blog, but all blogs or sites I visit. I don’t know how some of these folks keep up with their blogrolls!

Ms. Slightly, thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to guest post and do this interview with you. Both were a lot of fun, and I hope your readers will enjoy it (and I hope my book!). I know that some day I will get to return the favor. Those who may not read my blog can find a link to it at the right in your blogroll, or they can also visit my site, http://www.avomnia.com to learn a little more about me or get a signed copy of the book!

Thank you, J.W., it was a pleasure having you!