Writing Group: March 8, 2023

We didn’t do any writing during this meeting. We were given a month to write a short story from two images, and I’ll post what I come up with next month. The following is from several months ago when my group used The Writer’s Toolbox for a creative writing exercise. Here are the three sticks I received:

  • First sentence: Helen decided to become an exotic dancer
  • Non sequitur: we were drinking champagne and losing our shirts
  • Last straw: a blue index card

We were given five minutes to write, then we shared and discussed what we’d written. My humorous bit got several laughs.

After only two months, Helen decided to become an exotic dancer because of the way she made tea. No matter how she tried, it was undrinkable. One night we were drinking champagne and losing our shirts to Sam and Ethel. Suddenly, the sound of the dishwasher was like a chewed-on pencil just as it snapped. I rushed to the kitchen, flipped off the machine, slowly opened the door. Helen’s tea leaves were clumped on the bottom.

“Don’t put tea leaves in dishwasher! They can’t be re-used!” I wrote this on a blue index card and clipped it on the fridge.

Writing Group: February 22, 2023

Club member Micheal Machung gave a presentation on his just released novel, The Empyrean. His dystopian, post-apocalyptic science fiction is available in print and ebook formats on Amazon.

Several months ago, we were given 5 minutes to write a brief story about a picture. Here’s what I wrote:

The field on the left was filled with flowers. Sunflowers were my wife’s favorite. When she saw those, there was no stopping her, so we left our broken-down car behind. She almost lost a sneaker as she climbed through the rails of a wooden fence. I hurried to catch up to her.

Though we were both in our 60s, she acted as I remembered from our 20s. She giggled as she tripped and almost fell. Brambles snagged her jeans, but she just brushed these away.

“Donna, we need to return to the road. The man should be here with a tow.”

“Oh Don! Look at the golden moon. Same as the first time you kissed me!”

I rubbed my bald patch. She needs her meds. She called me Don, not Dan. How do I get her to go back to our car?

Assignment for February 8, 2023

Why Suicide?

Billy Joel McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The haunting details of The Ode to Billy Joel are a puzzle. We know he and a girl, who looked like her, threw something off the bridge. But we aren’t told what they tossed. The brother mentions seeing this couple chatting after Sunday church. Did they have a lover’s spat? Bobby Gentry does not explain why. She tells us more about this particular day and the family than she does about Billy Joel. In a Rolling Stones article, it said she wanted her listeners to reach their own conclusion. The important thing was showing this family’s indifference to his suicide. But I’d still like to know the why.

Has there ever been a perfect family, like the Cleavers? My own was dysfunctional, like All in the Family. My sister was born seven years after me. Martha was still an infant when she went into convulsions before the doctor arrived. (When doctors still made house calls!) She survived and got average grades in school. Yet, she sometimes did odd things. Like putting the milk away in the cereal cabinet. Not a big deal, but what thinking person does that? Then, she threatened me with a serrated knife when she was in high school. I thought this unforgivable, but our lives went on. We never grew close.

After Martha graduated, she took courses to become a respiratory therapist. She moved in with a boyfriend after a family argument. Mom begged me to invite my sister into my home. Though reluctant, I did and she moved in with me. Her constant rearrangement of my things drove me crazy. I was happy when she got her medical license, then a hospital job and her own apartment.

A year or two later, Martha had a son she named Eric. Though unmarried, she allowed Jerry to take their son for weekend visits. After one of these, my sister called me. “I think he’s sexually abusing Eric. I found a pubic hair on his blanket.”

Six months later, Martha married Jerry. I thought she was crazy. Why would you marry someone you had accused of being a sexual deviant? Busy raising my own children, I didn’t see much of my sister except at family gatherings. More than a decade later, she called one day and said, “You know more about computers than I do. Jerry is helping some woman install a hard drive. What use is one of those?”

The couple divorced not many months after she called me. The 911 tragedy had a tremendous impact on my sister. She watched the news clips over and over. Martha became paranoid. She insisted her phone was wire tapped and that someone was spying on her. I told Mom that she should suggest counseling to Martha, and I began avoiding her. Exiting a room when she entered it. My sister-in-law listened to Martha’s rants, then, shaking her head, would tell me what had been said.

Martha failed to keep up with the continuing education requirements, so she lost her license. The hospital insisted my sister attend counseling. Martha finally went and also returned to school, so she could get re-certified. I thought she had her life back under control.

Angry at me, Mom called my 17-year-old daughter at 11 pm on Independence Day. After she got off the phone, Tessa told me, “Martha was supposed to help work at a bingo tonight. She didn’t come. Grandma said her answering machine is full. Martha kicked Eric out in April, so she wants me to go over there right away.”

I didn’t understand why Mom didn’t go herself. She lived much closer. Lump in my stomach, I found my car keys. “You’re not going there. I’ll do it.”

“I’d better go too or Grandma will get mad at me.”

Traffic was light on the expressway. I boosted my speed to 80 and kept it there. My daughter and I didn’t talk. The 30 some miles flew by. At last, we reached the mobile home park.

Car in the driveway. No lights on. Was Martha sleeping? We pounded on the front and back doors. She didn’t answer. All blinds drawn. Though it was in the 90s, her air conditioner was off.

“I have to call the police.”

Tessa said, “Let me call Ahren first. Maybe he’ll find a way to get inside.”

My eldest nephew lived in the next-door town. He arrived within 10 minutes but refused to try kicking the door down, so I called 911. Seeing lights across the street, Ahren went to ask if they had seen Martha. The neighbor said it had been several days.

The policeman did not arrive right away. This was not an emergency. At first, he didn’t want to break in. I repeated the same thing over and over to him. “Something is wrong. She lives by herself. Her car is parked here. Her answering machine is full. Something is wrong. Please, please break in.”

At last, he did. He found what we were dreading. Suicide.

The policeman wouldn’t let us inside. She’d been dead for at least two days. He asked, “Was Martha a meticulous housekeeper?”

I shrugged. He said, “Everything inside is spic-and-span. The bottle of her depression medication was empty. A prescription for more was on her dresser. She cut up her driver’s license. She placed its pieces beside an empty antifreeze bottle.”

One thing he couldn’t tell me was why.

Why suicide? Did her infant convulsions affect her mental state? Was there a problem with the hospital re-employing her? Was it because of her failed marriage? Jerry had recently filed suit for child support. Without a job, did this overwhelm her? Then, the hardest question of all: Was it because I wasn’t a good sister?

I don’t understand and doubt I ever will. But I’d still like to know the why.

Assignment: Chose a song of their own liking, do a bit of research on it and learn who wrote the song and why they wrote it. Find out how the song came about, then, write a short story based on that information.

Note: Our subject-matter expert, Ron Benedict, had discussed “The 10 Commandments of Short Story Writing”:

  1. Thou shall come up with a character, setting, or event
  2. Thou shall associate it with a strong emotion
  3. Thou shall have a main conflict
  4. Thou shall have an inciting incident or goal
  5. Thou shall have escalated tension
  6. Thou shall experiment with form and structure
  7. Thou shall hook with a strong beginning, and with strong action, insight, and opening line
  8. Thou shall draft a middle focus
  9. Thou shall not edit as thou goes nor have a backstory
  10. Thou shall write a memorable ending

Writers Helping Writers

Our group meets on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Sierra Vista Public Library. We give each other encouragement, share ideas, and learn the craft of writing together. Knowledgeable people sometimes give presentations on important topics, such as publishing versus self-publishing. There are times we do a round-table writing project: Each person has 5 minutes to start a story, then this is passed to the next person and continues until everyone has contributed to the story. Sometimes we are assigned a writing project to be read aloud and discussed at our next meeting.


Here Be Dragons

C M Halstead’s latest psychological thriller will be available on August 10, 2021. He describes it as “something found on the edges of ancient explorer maps, the parts of the world that the people know exist, but don’t explore. In many stories Dragons represent the big challenge the protagonist must face in order to complete their hero’s journey and receive the prize.” Here’s a brief synopsis:

Marty Roberts has an opportunity to save the world, not from itself, but from the humans that dominate it. He sits, thinking. Determined to find a solution, no idea how lost he is.

Agent Joanne Clay urgently moves forward in her career, hell-bent on making her reputation and moving on from her family’s. She, a new generation of FBI agent.

Enter a clandestine agency, a psycho or three and the race for power gets violent. A whodunit, full of power and personal struggles. Who will prevail, the young, FBI-backed agent or Marty Roberts, alone and on mission?

You may ask C M questions at Goodreads Author C M Halstead. He is @cm_halstead on Instagram, and you’ll find him on LinkedIn

C M’s Interview

Do you consider yourself (1) an introvert OR (2) an extrovert?

Introvert to the core. INTP 90% introvert, the other three teeter totter back and forth by 10% or less.

That being said, I am a trained extrovert. Survival required it. Now, at my age of 50, I’ve learned to embrace my introvert nature and to resist those that say I have to go out…. No, they have to go out, they just want me to go with them.

Why go out when I can stay in? Or in the forest? Or fishing from the shore? Other things that are quiet and recharging. Thank you nature for allowing me to recharge my energy, I’ve humans in my life that demand it. 🙂

Interesting perspective!

Do you find it (1) easy to give a witty retort OR (2) think of what you should have said after the conversation is over?

I am known for witty retorts. In my own mind I am a verbal champion at this. I’ve been labeled “full of it” by peers and customers alike. I’ve had careers where quick thought and tongue were requirements often used in the constant negotiating of written contracts and verbal agreements, both between companies and spouses, as well as customers who thought they were in charge, until I took them out of their element and into mine. From negotiating multi-million dollar contracts to enticing an overbearing customer on a jeep tour to, “sit-down, shut-up, and have a good time.” Quick thought and bantering are one of the tools of my survival and success.

Easy rhetoric!

What provides more inspiration to you: (1) art OR (2) nature?

Nature is Art. Go out in it. Get high if you need to, stare at nothing, listen to everything. Stop moving! To be still is the best way to experience the things we do not normally see. Whether it be watching the ground creatures, the bugs, lizards, and others that crawl around beneath us. Or stopping to stare into a tree to experience what crawls up and down it, what flies in and out of it, and the surprises at the top watching you from just outside your site limits.

Moving meditation, also known as hiking, is a huge part of my creative process. Sometimes I will cover miles and miles on a trail, letting my body exercise while my brain wanders. I’ve been known to skid to a stop, whip out my phone and write a note before anything can distract me and the idea disappears with the same magic that had it arrive. Juxtaposed to long distance hiking, I also love to wander off-trail in various environments, seeing what I see, hearing what I hear, without the often repeated conversations that trail hiking requires. “good morning”, “great weather”, “beware of the snake ahead” and other excuses to break the uncomfortable silences of strangers passing in the wild.

Outdoors is where I escape the distractions of the modern world, slow myself down, and remove my face from the electronics. There my thoughts flow free. There my brain hops story to story or thinks of nothing.

Wonderful reasoning!

Do you write (1) when the mood takes you OR (2) at a set time?

I write on a schedule. I put myself in my #writerscave 5-6 six days a week. I view my job (as an author) seriously and my job is to put my author butt in the writing chair, in the writer’s cave, away from life’s distractions, and keep it there. When I do, magic happens. Words come from my fingers and rough drafts appear. I DO allow myself to work on whatever my mood chooses to write. I generally have several novels in process at the same time. If my fingers stop moving I switch to a different tale, whatever it takes to keep the creative flow moving.

To be honest, some days, it is all I can do to keep ME in the writer’s cave, to block out the sounds of the humans around me, the barking dogs, garbage trucks, and other human sounds that remind me there is a world outside of the one I am creating in my stories. I often use sound deadening headphones while listening to classical music, trance, or other wordless music to keep me present in the moment.
Being a creative is different than the other jobs I’ve had in the past, they were mostly linear and judged by the perception of constant productivity, whereas being an author, some of the best ideas have come to me whilst staring at the floor and smoking a cigar. It is the uninterrupted thought that is needed to create. The quiet that requires is tough in the human infused first world I dwell in.

Awesome description!

(1) Can you name just one favorite novel OR (2) you love too many to just pick one?

Who can pick just one… of anything. Me? I have a hard time with top ten lists. How about a top ten list for each genre of books, movies, music. I might be able to come up with a top ten list for video games (Madden, Super TecmoBowl….) other than that, my loves are a long list. My music tastes go from Mozart to Metal, I’d have to come up with a top ten list for both of those catagories. Same with novels… I bet I could come up with a top ten list of Stephen King novels, or top ten authors (besides the King whom I enjoy for his in the brain of everybody story telling style, Terry Pratchett for his humor and wit, Clive Cussler for his adventurous characters, and every military veteran who told their story in print, to name a few.) Top few self improvement books: The Four Agreements, The War of Art, Peter Principle. The only thing harder than coming up with a list of top ten cheeseburgers I’ve had in my life. First let us start with locations they were consumed in….

Keen wit!

Thanks for being interviewed, C M!

HBD: Here Be Dragons book cover
HBD: Here Be Dragons