Flash Fiction Friday – Let Sleeping Cats Lie

It seemed like a good time for another installment of Flash Fiction Friday.

This is the prompt that my story is based on:

Write the beginning of a story that takes place in the protagonist’s home. Use at least 3 senses to describe your scene or set an emotion. Please write 350 words max.

I was feeling onery the day I wrote this and wanted to write something that would create an unpleasant or at least uncomfortable impression.

Let me know what you think!

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

With a sigh, she turned the key and pushed. The door opened three inches, then stopped. Crap, those damn cats must have knocked something over, she thought to herself.

Taking a deep breath and bracing her shoulder against the door, she shoved. One, two, three. It budged just a bit more. At least there was now enough of an opening that she could squeeze herself inside.

Gripping the door frame with one hand and the doorknob with the other, she stepped up onto a pile of junk mail, books, and empty takeout containers. As she began to hoist herself upwards, a black flash shot past her and she fell.

“Darnit Jasper! You had better get back here!”

She named all of her black cats Jasper, it was just easier that way.

Refocusing on the task in front of her, she pushed her substantial girth up onto the mound that was blocking the door, teetering cautiously atop it.

The reek of ammonia sucker punched her. She attempted to blink the sting away. This was another reason why she didn’t like to leave her house, any length of time in fresh air intensified the cat urine stench when she returned.

She told herself that her accumulation of things was actually a budget-friendly, cat-centric decorating technique – using found objects to craft a multi-level, feline wonderland. But the boxes she collected for the cardboard cat fort she once intended to build had become a haphazard catchall.   

Twisting, she pushed the door shut before prying eyes caught a glimpse inside. Darkness engulfed her. Last summer she had covered the windows with aluminum foil to try to keep the house cooler. It had been sort of cozy until her electricity was shut off, now it was like living in a cave. This wasn’t a problem for the cats, they could see in the dark. She told herself that the darkness was just another way that she was providing for her feline companions.

The avalanche had thrown off her established route to the sofa. She shuffled ahead slowly. After bumping into a familiar pattern of knee and waist high piles, she arrived at her destination. Her hands fumbled for the one, clear spot where she could sit. It was covered with sleeping cats.

The Writing Sprint Challenge Prompt Was: Mercy

Have you ever participated in a writing sprint challenge?

Neither had I until a couple of weeks ago. Someone was doing one on Instagram and I signed up right away because there were prizes. There are probably a lot of things that I can be motivated to do for the sake of artisanal smelly candles. I should remember that. 

Ok, back to the writing sprint.

The challenge was that there were prompts for each day and you would write for a set amount of time and then post on Instagram for accountability. The writing sprint prompt one day really captured my attention and I decided to turn it into this blog post. It was just one word: mercy.

Mercy. It isn’t an unusual or exotic word. But it struck me that this is not a word that I use or hear a lot. It’s not really in the zeitgeist the way that forgiveness is for example. It’s an ordinary word, why did it feel uncommon? What thoughts/ideas/feelings does the word evoke?

My first thought was that mercy correlates to surrender. Not that there is some sort of causal relationship, they’re not two sides of the same coin; but maybe they live in the same room.

So where does that correlation come from?

I started to pull my idea apart. Mercy is an act from a position of power, isn’t it? Whereas surrender seems to be something that the one who is being acted upon would do. Asking for mercy is a means of surrender.

That got me thinking about affirmations and all that jargon. Forgiveness is very trendy these days. But what about mercy?

Mercy means that you were in an acknowledged position of power and chose to relinquish your advantage. That rather than impose your will, you showed restraint. I suppose that mercy takes a good deal more awareness and self-control than forgiveness.

By the time that you get to forgiveness the thing is done. You stayed strong and kept plowing ahead with a single-minded determination, then when it’s over, you can evaluate and choose to forgive.

Mercy requires evaluating the impact of your actions while in process. That’s no fun.

If you follow the etymology of mercy all the way back to its Latin root, you find the word merx which means “wares” or “merchandise.” There is something tangible about giving up one’s advantage in a power dynamic, isn’t there?

All that being said, I wonder if we all couldn’t use a little more mercy in our hearts, even more so than forgiveness.

Just because something is within our power to make happen doesn’t mean that we always need to. Maybe have mercy for your feet by not wearing those shoes (you know which ones I’m talking about – they are really cute). Rather than say the unkind thing that you will apologize for later, demonstrate mercy by not saying it at all. You could even get meta with it – I’m thinking things like buying hand soap at the refill-your-own-container store (mercy) instead of putting another plastic container in the recycling bin (forgiveness).

What do you think? Did I get too in-between on this?

Flash Fiction Friday – Prose to Poetry

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I love to read poetry though I don’t do it regularly. Last year, I tried to post a poem (not written by me) every day on social media. The best part about the endeavor is that it got me reading and thinking about poetry again and I’ve been playing around with the form here and there ever since.

A while back, the prompt from my writing group was:

I want you to paint a picture with words. Set the scene where the action is taking place. Where is the character in your story: mall, bookstore, the kitchen. It could also be France, Italy, or the desert! You could describe a house, room in the house.

I knew that there would be roses. That was about it. There was no story, no plot. I just wanted to create something indulgently descriptive. It felt more like writing poetry than prose fiction. So after I presented it to my group, I decided to take the original 350-word draft and turn it into a poem. It was really fun to take the sentences apart, just keeping the juiciest words and essential ideas, and to play with the typesetting – using line breaks, spacing, and punctuation in ways that I would never let anyone get away with in text.

Here is the result. I hope you enjoy it.

She stepped into the garden

The loamy, chocolate brown soil
     hugged her ghostly bare feet
          the way that children hug each other –
                                                                      in an ecstatic, joyful embrace

Unkempt rosemary sentinels
     guarded the open-air hide-away and
     brushed her threadbare, calico-printed skirt,
lush branches of spiky green leaves releasing their spell
                                                                               … remember, remember …

As she inhaled deeply,
a long-forgotten door in her addled mind
     began to open

The air was still heavy with the chill of the previous night
     and she shuddered
     (did that door create a draft?)

Morning’s golden rays
     flooded into the small clearing,
illuminating a stone bench
     that resembled a leopard, lounging
     on a low-hanging Buffalothorn branch
Somber black granite shone like polished obsidian,
     the leopard luxuriating in the sunlight
          as if alive

Eleven paces to the beckoning beast
     (how did she know that?)
Eleven paces to the warmth that the stone creature offered
     (how long since she felt warm?)
But she didn’t move, 
     hesitant to mar the pristine surface of the undisturbed, tender dirt path
     with her footprints

Roses the size of outstretched hands lined the path
The petals,
     yellow near the center,
          graduating to peach,
               then to salmon,
     a coral flourish dancing along the edges
Blossoms stretching toward the morning sun,
     asking it to lighten the burden of last night’s dew

For one bloom, the sunlight came too late
Its laden petals could no longer hold the weight
     and collapsed

She sprung toward the disintegrating rose,
attempting to capture it
     before the pieces
     fluttered to the ground

Crushing the petals in her hands,
     the heady fragrance engulfed her
Her timid demeanor
     evaporated in rose-scented sunlight

She strode confidently to,
     and then reclined upon,
the sunlit cat

Flash Fiction Friday, 2021 Edition

Welcome to the first Flash Fiction Friday of 2021! The prompt for this exercise was:

Please use a plot twist, reversal, or danger to tell a great story about the picture below.

You have 350 words to slay me.

The photo was a nighttime sidewalk scene. There was a slightly shabby storefront lit up with four different signs proclaiming its name (which is not the name in the story), and I just knew what the twist had to be.

I got a kick out of writing this and since there were a few giggles when I shared it with my writing group, I decided to post it here. I hope you will get a kick out of it as well.

KinKiller – Fun Gifts, Accessories, Vintage Clothing

I opened this shop seven years ago. I have been selling vintage clothes online since the dawn of E-Bay, but the online vintage marketplace has become really crowded. Some people thought that going brick-and-mortar in the digital era was crazy, but for me, it was the logical next step to protect my market share and continue to build my brand.

Keeping my one-of-a-kind, vintage inventory up-to-date online was getting exhausting, so I began stocking random tchotchkes so that I could keep the store looking robust. You know, fun gifts – incense, laptop sleeves, naughty garden gnomes, magic 8-balls. And accessories – floppy hats, beaded bracelets, and anything with fringe. The kind of junk that just screams, “BUY ME!” – especially when you’re trolling the internet drunk (or zonked out on Ambien). I know because most of my sales happen between 10:30pm and 3:30am.

Finding the right location was a big challenge. I couldn’t put my store anywhere that had requirements about business hours. Afterall, I needed my mornings free for thrifting. And my target customer is a bit tipsy. I needed to be somewhere where I could accommodate the same sorts of shoppers who frequented my online store. I needed to be next to some bars. Somewhere where I could open at 6pm and stay open late.

I wasn’t worried about having to deal with what the local PD termed, “unsavory characters” when they came by to check-up on me. After the cops realized that KinKiller wasn’t a front for some drug dealer or a pimp, they left me alone. What they didn’t realize (though the riffraff did) is that KinKiller’s off-the-books business is fairly literal.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I know that I look like some bohemian hipster junk merchant. I mean, that IS what Instagram is for after-all. But there sure are a lot of Millennials out there who are sick of waiting for their folks to kick it. They are perfectly happy living with their parents, they just want to be able to spend mom and dad’s money without having to talk to them about it. They want their inheritance. Now.

Flash Fiction Friday – Dangerous Ideas

Recently, we had a writing exercise about danger. It gave me all sorts of dangerous ideas. Here was the prompt:

Danger is an important ingredient when we write our stories. We are hardwired to anticipate it because it is of primal concern to our lives.

  • Natural Danger – Floods, hurricanes, a tree falls on your house.
  • Physical Danger – Threat of harm or death, like you work in a dynamite factory.
  • Emotional or psychological – Like a mind game, abuse, loss of a child or a love.

GIVE me 400 words MAX of a story with DANGER in it. Make me feel it!

Remember that scene in Men In Black where Will Smith shoots the cartoon little girl instead of all the scary-looking monsters? One of the reasons she was dangerous was all those books she was carrying. I just love that scene. What if that cute little girl wasn’t in a rough-looking neighborhood in the middle of the night?  Could a pigtail wearing, book-reading girl be dangerous in any-old context? Afterall, there’s a reason that women weren’t educated for so much of history. What is more dangerous than a woman with her own ideas?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dangerous Ideas

I grew up in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. We had a white picket fence and a two-car garage. Dad wore a suit and drove to his office job every day. Mom was the queen of the neighborhood homemakers. She was as impeccable as June Cleaver and would send my sister Katie and me off to school every day with a kiss on the forehead and a reminder to “be good girls.”

As Katie and I walked together to school every morning, we talked about the challenges that we encountered in trying to live up to our mom’s expectations. Because what she meant when she said that was she wanted us to be quite and polite, to always do our very best, but to never, ever accomplish enough to stand out.

When I was in fifth grade and Katie was in third, she started to rebel. I kept finding her in the library, stacks of books on the table in front of her. Sure, she could check them out, but then our mom might realize what was going on. Katie was getting ideas.

The next year Katie decided to enter the spelling bee. I tried to talk her out of it, but she had gotten ideas from reading all of those books and she knew that she could out-spell anyone in the school. I have to admit, it was thrilling to watch. Finally, it was down to just her and Billy Jarvis.

Katie’s word was antediluvian. Really? But Katie didn’t hesitate, she didn’t ask for a definition or anything.  Then, it was Billy’s turn.  His word was libraries. And he got it wrong! In front of everyone! My sister was the Warren G. Harding Elementary School Spelling Bee champion!

Mom was waiting for us when we got home.

“I got a call from the school today.”

Katie and I froze.

“It seems as if Katie darling, you won the spelling bee. And now you are to go to the district competition.”

“Oh mother, you should have seen it! They gave me antediluvian and they gave Billy Jarvis libraries and he tried to spell it with ‘yz’!”

“Katherina Minola. I don’t know where you got the idea that you should go win a spelling bee. You don’t find your sister Bianca embarrassing boys in front of the whole school do you? That kind of behavior is dangerous!”

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology

rough writers 2020 anthology

I have an exciting announcement for y’all today: we have just published the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology: A Field Day for Creativity. This is the third Rough Writers Anthology (they published a collection in 2017, before I joined the club) and I think we’re really starting to get the hang of it.

You may remember last year’s post about the 2019 Anthology. Well, as we all know, no good deed goes unpunished and I agreed to serve as Editor for this year’s anthology as well. At least this way, I was able to apply some of the lessons that I learned the hard way putting together the 2019 book.

The subtitle, A Field Day for Creativity, was proposed by one of our members as a response to the prompt and our club’s innovative way of applying Toastmaster’s curriculum to our creative writing pursuits.

Rough Writers 2020 Anthology writing prompt
This image was our writing prompt. Photo by Branislav Belko on Unsplash.

Intrigued? 

Good. Here’s an excerpt from my story:

Mrs. Bistone’s perfectly rendered exterior was her armor. It was a barrier both invisible and impenetrable. People were so taken with the apparition in front of them that they didn’t even notice what she was getting them to do, or say, or agree to. Her directives tended to be delivered in the form of questions, those kinds of small requests that would be rude to decline. She wouldn’t say she was manipulative. She just understood that by exercising absolute control over how she presented herself, she could exercise the same control over that to which she presented herself.

Everyone who had met her would say that they knew her, that they were dear friends. They would describe her poise and immaculate appearance in detail, but no one could ever recall one personal thing about her – where she grew up, what her interests were beyond the banal hobbies of any woman of means, or even the date of her birthday.  Moreover, no one ever seemed to notice, which was the way that Mrs. Bistone preferred it.

Aren’t you dying to know how that has anything to do with the photo?

Well guess what? I’m giving away several copies of the Rough Writers 2020 Anthology!

All you have to do is be a subscriber to this blog and leave a comment below by 5:00pm on Friday, November 20.

I only have a limited number of author copies, so depending on the response, I’ll come up with some random way to select winners.

If you don’t want to leave it up to chance, you can order your own copy on Amazon (and if you don’t want to use the hyperlink, just put “Rough Writers 2020 Anthology” in your Amazon search bar). There is even a Kindle version if you prefer.

Monday, November 23 at 7:00 pm is our official book launch on Zoom. If you would like to find out more about the diverse voices who contributed stories to this volume, please join us – just leave a comment below and I will send you the sign-in details.

Flash Fiction Friday – Cat Mask

Ok guys, here’s another delight for you for Flash Fiction Friday. It’s been a tense week and I thought you might enjoy a little something to lighten the mood. Something about a cat mask maybe.

This time the exercise given to my writing group involved exploring using a point of view in storytelling.

Our instructions were: write a scene involving a central character and one or more strangers (people the character has never met before) using either the first-person, third-person limited, or third-person omniscient point of view. Try to pick a point of view that you don’t normally use. Also, try to limit the use of dialog, instead using descriptive language to show how people behave and interact.

I had forgotten what I wrote for this exercise and when I pulled it out, I laughed out loud. Hopefully, you will too. 

Cat Mask

Ugh, what is that guy looking at?  He is totally staring at me in a super creepy way. As if I can’t tell just because he is wearing a mask. As bizarre as it seems, wearing a mask these days is not creepy. But even with everyone’s face covered, you can still tell when someone is giving off a creepy vibe.

That’s one thing I mostly love about COVID times, the mask wearing. I feel very conspicuous, but in a completely anonymous way. I’ve taken to wearing the flashiest masks possible, confident in the knowledge that if anyone had to describe me later, they would say something along the lines of, “Oh, she was wearing a bejeweled Día de los Muertos mask,” and that would be it.

By the same token, this guy’s interest in me goes beyond delight at the fact that today’s embroidered kitty-cat mask sports very realistic-looking whiskers. And, yes, of course I accessorized my accessory with cat-eye sunglasses. And no, I am not planning on taking them off inside of the store, it is part of the look.  Geez!

I planned my entire ensemble today as an expression of my inner cattiness. The cat-eye sunglasses and be-whiskered mask are just the icing on the cake. It is finally cool enough to wear a sweater and I have the perfect cardigan with a faux fur collar and cuffs that can be pulled down over my hands. Fuzzy slippers seemed like completely appropriate footwear for the occasion. The only problem I had when I was getting dressed was deciding on the right pants to wear. In the end, I wound up going with … um … well shoot, this is embarrassing.

I may have been so excited about my whisker mask that I might have gotten distracted and forgotten to put on pants before I left the house. Yikes! Well alright creepy guy, you win. I suppose a chubby, middle-aged lady prancing through the Trader Joes parking lot without any pants on would get my attention as well.

At least no one will know that it’s me!

P.S. If anyone knows where I can get a cat face mask with whiskers, let me know!

Fresh Flash Fiction

The other week, my writing group had a flash fiction exercise. We were to write 350 words on the photo below.  That was it. The entire prompt.

Photo by Starr Canon
www.Instagram.com/starrchez

I had a lot of fun writing my story and decided that I would share it with you here. Let me know what you think!

The Unbridled Fury of a Woman of a Certain Age

As I merged into freeway traffic, a smile spread across my face. Ah, this is what they mean when they say precision, German engineering.

The irony of driving a vehicle manufactured by the same company that built engines for the last fascist regime to nearly conquer the free world in order to escape from the current fascist takeover of the western United States is almost too much. I mean, if this car actually belonged to me and hadn’t just been stolen, I might not care about the militarized takeover of every major city on the western seaboard.

Unfortunately, I have the great misfortune of believing in the beautiful idea of constitutional, representative democracy. However flawed the execution of it has been over the past 200+ years, there has at least been a modicum of respect for the rule of law by those who would choose to usurp it. Today, the Constitution may as well be used paper in a golden toilet.

When I arrive at the nearest resistance encampment in the Sierras, the “baby on board” sticker in the rear window will guarantee my access. I was able to procure an older model station wagon, we will have enough seatbelts to take six (not including the driver) on protest runs. I just hope that the fact that I’m not actually a mom won’t keep me from being able to join the most effective resistance faction, the Wall of Moms.

People seem surprised that the most effective, most radical branch of the resistance is middle-aged women. That’s because the patriarchal hegemony doesn’t understand the superpowers that this segment of the population possesses. It turns out that women are born with a finite number of both eggs and fucks to give. They tend to run out around the same age. This is also around the time that women discover that they have the power of invisibility.  

Think about it, what would you do if you were invisible and out of fucks? Drink chardonnay and shoplift? I know, that was my plan too, until the fascists came to town.

I Published a Book!

Rough Writers Anthology 2019:
Moments in Space & Time

Guys, something cool happened … I published a book!  Crazy right? Full disclosure, I didn’t WRITE a whole book, I published a book with my writing club. I did however write many parts of a book.  First, I contributed a story and then I somehow got tricked into being the editor. 

Once I had agreed, I found out that being the editor didn’t mean just working with the other authors on their stories and/or editing the manuscript, it also happened to include project managing the whole shebang and creating the other bits of text that go into a book (which I learned is called the front matter and back matter).

Since I have been on a bit of a hiatus from project managing, I may have taken a few things for granted and not kept as tight reigns on things as I used to.  Fortunately, I had a talented and motivated team working with me and we finally crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s and now we have a book!

The book is a collection of stories contributed by members of the Rough Writers Toastmasters club.  We named it the Rough Writers Anthology 2019 because we have some delusion (at least I do) that we will do this annually. Moments in Space & Time is a nod to the writing prompt.

Everyone wrote their story using the same photo as a prompt (I don’t have permission to publish the photo here, but it is in the back matter of the book).  One of the benefits of being the editor was that I had early access to read everyone’s work.  I was so entertained by the range of perspectives. Even the stories that sort-of took the same tack are very different. Some folks had a specific message that they wanted to get across.  I let the photo take me for a ride (it was a strange ride, don’t ask me how I got there).

Here is a little snippet from my story:

As Bill approached the clipboard girl, she eyed him up and down and shot a look to the man standing next to her who was roughly the size of a refrigerator. This girl could tell Bill was trouble from 50 yards. The refrigerator nodded. Bill was used to being aggressive and intimidating to girls to get his way, but her disdainful gaze and pet refrigerator made him feel very small as he approached. Clipboard girl was already on to his game.

from Carl’s Green Galaxy by Cynthia Gellis

Our book, the Rough Writers Anthology 2019: Moments in Space & Time is available on Amazon!  Mr. Man says that it is the perfect size for a stocking stuffer (wink, wink).  If you want me to get you a signed copy, comment below or message me and we can make that happen.

I hope you’ll check it out!

The Nicholl Fellowships

My neighbor works for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.  Yeah, that’s pretty cool.  What’s even cooler is that she invited me to attend an event at the Academy last week!  And even though I generally try to avoid the mid-Wilshire are for any reason, I couldn’t turn down such a special invitation.

The event was the celebration of the 2019 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.  This is an international screenwriting competition that was established in 1985 to identify and encourage talented new screenwriters. The first year of the competition, 99 entrants – all California college students, submitted work. This year, the competition received over 7,000 submissions from all over the world.

Previous fellows include Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Doug Atchison (Akeelah and the Bee), and Andrew Marlowe (Air Force One).

This year’s fellows were Aaron Chung, a recent college graduate from Florida; Karen McDermott, a former attorney who now teaches at Cal State LA; Renee Pillai from Malaysia – who, when she was notified that she had won, had to find someone to drive her the two hours to Kuala Lumpur so that she could apply for a passport; Sean Malcolm, who certainly gets the tenacity award for submitting screenplays to this competition for something like 20 years; and Walker McKnight.

The formal awards presentation included a live read of scenes from each winning screenplay. Amandla Stenberg (Rue in The Hunger Games), Rosa Salazar (Parenthood, American Horror Story), Wes Studi (Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, Avatar) and Tyrese Gibson (The Fast and the Furious franchise) performed the live read, which was directed by 2016 Nicholl fellow Geeta Malik.

I had never been to a live read before and it was very fun.  I loved watching the actors sitting on stools, with the scripts in front of them and then jumping into their parts. I felt like I could really see the acting, if that makes any sense.  They were going from regular person to performer just right in front of our eyes. Rosa Salazar was especially act-y and I mean that as a big compliment.  She really used her voice and her physicality (even though she was perched on a barstool) for all of her different characters.

The scene from Karen McDermott’s screenplay gave me an idea for a short story and I was so glad that I had brought a little notebook with me so that I could jot down some quick notes.  I roughed out a first draft the next day and yikes!  It is going to need a lot of work. I will be sure to let you know when I manage to get it pulled together.

It is so exciting to get to see up-and-comers succeeding in their field. The Nicholl Fellowships are the kind of thing that really makes a huge difference in someone’s life and it was a treat to have the opportunity to share in the celebration of their creative success. I am so proud of all of the winners and of the Academy for having a great program like this to encourage new talent. It was a great evening.