Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Arsenal Girls - Flash Fiction

Friday, October 17, 1862

The war came to town, but not in the way we expected.

Late on an Autumn day, only a month ago, blast after blast struck our town, pouring thick smoke into the air, sending minie balls and bullets through helpless bodies, all the while our Townspeople rushed to throw water on workers who were afire. I remember thanking God that it was not me, and yet feeling guilty precisely because it was not me.

I also recall that it was payday.

News was trickling in that day about a bloody battle being fought some place down South called Antietam.  My Tom hadn't joined up yet, being 16, but we both knew it was just a matter of time; his older brother was already with the 123rd PA organized in August.  It didn't sit well with him that I was a newly employed cartridge choker at the Arsenal, either. But Father was newly passed with Consumption and Mother was struggling to make ends meet;  we girls at the Arsenal worked together in a room with an Officer and so what harm could come to us?  Simple work, putting lead balls in paper tubes with gunpowder, then tying off the ends.  Ten hours of repetitiveness, but good money, much gay chatting amongst ourselves, and far easier on the hands than taking in washing!  It was quite droll to see the smallest girls some 10 and 12, with heads bent, chattering together about the naughty boys who worked at other tasks. Sometimes I thought about the soldier who would bite off the end of one of My Cartridges and load it in his musket to tear a bloody hole in another man's chest; War is a Hideous Thing but I did my part to preserve the Union and our brave men's lives. 

I was not at work that Fateful Day owing to a complaint.  And so I was witness to the Horror and the Heroic Efforts of our townfolk.  It was Hell On Earth, and the first thought of many was that the Confederates had invaded.  At the first thunderclap people ran toward the smoke and noise to be met by girls streaming from the Arsenal, some blackened and bloodied, some with fire still licking at their clothes, begging for help to remove or smother them. A few Poor Souls jumped from windows to their deaths. I hesitate to add that there were limbs suspended from trees and bodies riddled with bullet holes so that they could not pass for Human anymore.

It is not known what caused the blast;  some say a spark from the shoe of a cart horse, others that a careless match may have been at fault.  There was gunpowder everywhere, and some of the barrels may have leaked.  Perhaps only God will ever know.

In the end the Dead numbered seventy-eight, and I was reminded of the Tributes Of Respect for our Soldiers Fallen In Battle.  Were these Arsenal Girls not soldiers as well?

My Mother and Tom both thanked God that I had been spared.  We have pledged our troth, Tom and I, for though we are Young it has been driven home that the War may well spare no one, and that we should therefore bind our Hearts and Souls and make use of the Time which remains to us.  I know that Tom will go, as he must, and that I will continue to contribute what I can, if not at the Arsenal than perhaps as a nurse or as a seamstress. 

Predictions of a Brief War having been proven wrong, I can only hope that it will be over before we need mark the Anniversary of that Dreadful Day here in Pittsburgh.

Author's note:  while this piece is based on a true event (and I have tried to make sure that details are correct), the narrator is a fictional composite and in no way is meant to represent any one person.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Unwrapping - Flash Fiction

I took a deep breath, and checked the master list against the pile once again.

1. 12 inch knife, newly sharpened
2. razor blade
3. bone shears from the kitchen knife block
4. knee protectors
5. bandages, including butterflies
6. safety goggles
7. heavy gloves
8. steel-toed boots

Everything seemed in order. I dressed slowly, carefully, trying to make sure that any tender spots of my body were protected from flying debris. Ready at last, I turned to the wall of expectant faces.

"All right then," I muttered, "who's first."

I tackled the first of many gifts: dolls and figures, manacled by wire and imprisoned in plastic strong enough to withstand a bunker-buster, and disassembled furniture in boxes strengthened by staples a foot long and bound by plastic straps which whistled by one's head when released. And except for the bruise on my posterior from slipping on the calling card of Gizmo the dog, I emerged triumphant and unscathed.

But maybe gift cards for the holidays isn't such a bad idea after all.

Wrap Rage:  According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2008, an average of 6,000 people a year end up in the emergency department for packaging-related injuries. A poll of Pennsylvanians reported that about 17% had injured themselves opening gifts. Be safe this year - give blankets, socks and underwear.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Drop Dead Gorgeous - Flash Fiction

Eliza's story was one of a thousand; good family, prospective husband in the form of a neighboring farmer's son.  Along came a handsome soldier, with every intention of keeping her, whether as wife of mistress we will never know.  Having run off with him in the dead of night, and succumbed to his charm and his uniform, she soon found herself stranded in London lodgings when his regiment was posted overseas.

There were no positions anywhere. The city was overcrowded, filled with ex-soldiers, ex-shopgirls, ex-maidservants, subsisting on gin and what adulterated foodstuffs could be had for pennies.  The gaols were filled with "disorderly girls" awaiting Transportation To Parts Beyond the Seas or death for stealing the master's silver.

Eliza was determined not to join the ranks of the prostitutes, currently being driven like cattle by peace officers from the city into the outskirts and back again. To lift her skirts in a filthy alley - no, she would rather seek solace in the Thames with the others who washed up with unremarked regularity. With the little money remaining, Eliza determined to win her way back into the world by the one avenue which remained - turning the tables and compelling a man to succumb to her charms instead. A trip to the linendrapers produced enough goods (both bought and secreted beneath her petticoats) to fabricate an emerald-shaded gown worthy of looks, sighs - and with any luck, invitations.

The current craze for all things green (particularly Scheele's)* suited Eliza admirably, with her brilliant red hair swept high and a few loose ringlets fetchingly arranged so as to draw the eye to her bosom.  When she appeared at her cousin's birthday ball, every woman's tongue wagged and every man's gaze was fixed on her luminous eyes - or perhaps, a smidgen below.  All were willing to to dance, of course, but most attempted to take liberties with the fallen woman so happily appearing in their very dull midst. It appeared that the only invitations forthcoming would be in secret gardens rather than back alleyways. The dress was successful in one respect;  it worked its vengeance upon the male guests (although exacting its toll on the wearer as well) while they danced together in a poisonous cloud.  As Eliza swooned in the heat and disappointment, the men's eyes reddened and their heads pounded. An early departure was in order for most;  they wrapped up well, sealing in the arsenic particles for their families at home to enjoy. 

As for Eliza, she and the dress were welcomed and soothed to sleep by Father Thames, who gathers all of his children to him no matter what their station in life, and renders them all equal in the end.

* The colour green was a craze in Victorian England, and was used in clothing, wallpaper, paint, beauty compounds, toys, and other everyday objects. Scheele's Green contained arsenic, a highly toxic compound; painted on surfaces, or used to dye fabrics, it gave off dust particles that could be inhaled.

Sample flash fiction

Monday, December 5, 2011

All I Want For Christmas Is A New Tooth

Once upon a time, I went to bed feeling a slight twinge in a molar and woke up feeling as though someone had hit me in the face with a baseball bat. As there were no signs of forced entry and my priceless collection of reindeer figurines remained on display, I assumed that there might be something else amiss.

And so, dear readers, I am off to have a) a root canal or b) a tooth extraction, depending on the results of a microscopic exam of the offending molar. (However will they fit my head under a microscope?)

I will, presumably, be out of action for a few days. Hope you all have a great week and I'll see you later. :-)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Aircraft Identification - Test Your Knowledge #2 - Photos

 Once in a while I take time time off on the weekend and post a few pics instead.  The first post in this Aircraft ID series, Historic Aircraft seemed to go over well, so how about another crack at it?

Thank you to Jon Radlett (via Twitter) for the first two IDs.

Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon (experimental). It's a VTOL  (vertical take-off/landing), first official flight was in 1954 but the craft was cancelled in 1955. Copyright Lisa Vooght.

Convair F2Y Sea Dart. First flight 1953, retired/cancelled 1957. Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Copyright Lisa Vooght

Good luck! (There are no prizes, just the satisfaction of knowing that you're an ace aircraft spotter.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Journey's End - Friday Flash - Romantic Friday Writers

I was wearier than I'd ever been in my life. But warmth was finally seeping into me and I waited, time at a standstill. Memories came flooding back in a sweet tide and I savored them, watching as they played out in front me. I could have lain there forever, but there was more calling to me and I followed.

The woods sang and echoed with laughter; there was a whoop, and I knew it was my best friend Beth, lithe body flying through the snow on his Flexible Flyer sled. Smelling the pungent mix of pine sap and wood smoke, I crunched my way through the sugar drifts toward the light in the distance. A cardinal called purdy purdy purdy in the twilight.

I left the forest, and there it stood; my house. My commonplace, pedantic, cookie-cutter little house. I grew up there, I clutched my doll and cried there, I read about the mysteries of life and witnessed quite a few there. Grandpa was on the porch, idly leaning on the bannister and smoking his pipe, but before I could shout a greeting a 100 pound ball of fur hurtled out of nowhere.

“Bandit!” was all I got out before he knocked me to the ground and we rolled in a delicious cloud of steaming dog breath, fur and snow. I was sobbing now, unashamedly, as another little piece of my heart fell into place. It had been so long, and I had missed him so much, and yet the full scale of it only made itself known when he was back in my arms. He licked me energetically and raced around like a puppy, all the while licking me and barking joyfully in a paroxysm of doggy madness. I was laughing now, awash in delight, and I didn't think that I could ever be happier, until I saw another figure coming toward me.

My homecoming was complete. He folded me in his arms, and I breathed him in, reveling in the scent as though I had lain next to him every night of my life. Sighing, I relaxed and laid my head on his shoulder. Happy, relieved, content. Safe.

“I searched for you, everywhere, for so long.”

He held me tighter, rubbing his cheek against mine. “I know. But what is meant to be will always come to pass, if not in one lifetime than in another.”

The last of the pain fled my heart forever.

I am whispering this in your ear, Mum, I am showing it to you in your dreams, so you will know that I am OK and that my long journey is over. There is no other place I'd rather be. You will miss me, I know, but home and all that it contains awaits you too.

Do not grieve because I left life too soon. In the end, it is just another beginning.

Word Count: 482

Friday, November 25, 2011

No Permanent Address - Flash Fiction

Bones were the last thing he expected to find as he excavated the foundation for his shed. Roots, rubbish, treasure, maybe, but these were decidedly not in those categories. Ulna humerus funny bone hip bone's connected to the thigh bone and now that tune will be stuck in my head all day. He should call the police but then there would be questions, explorations, and maybe the discovery of a serial killer and media trampling his lawn. Perhaps a horde of of musty spectacled scientists and their eager assistants would show up and declare the site of scientific interest and bang would go the new shelter for his shiny John Deere. Nope, they were just hunks of mineral deposit maybe they'd be good for the garden and best gotten rid of.

He tossed them into the underbrush with only a nanosecond's thought for the granite mausoleum which awaited his own exceedingly valuable mortal remains.

Photo credit: 
Author: Cheselden, William, 1688-1752.
Engraver: Van der Gucht, Gerard, 1696-1776.
Engraver: Shinevoet, Mr., died not after 1733.
Title: Osteographia, or The anatomy of the bones.
Publication: London : [William Bowyer for the author?], 1733.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm At Born Storyteller Today For the Creativity Series

The Born Storyteller Blog (by author/teaching artist/storyteller Stuart Nager) is running a series of guest posts on the subject of creativity. Join me today for a short piece on how creativity figures in my day job :-)

Creativity  in the Classroom

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sample Sunday - From WIP

He was lying flat on his back, and really did seem to be sleeping. Maybe he's taken something, she thought. Or maybe I gave him a heart attack and he's dead. The thought chilled her, but she tiptoed over anyway. He was breathing, but slowly. His hair was damp, his eyes closed, the golden lashes catching the light from the hallway. His face was icy and luminous with the fine sheen of sweat; and far from the normally relaxed pose of those asleep, his body was rigid as marble.

“Robert,” she whispered, knowing he wouldn't answer. She wondered if he was lying there, as she often had, in the grip of some terrifying nightmare, unable to move or speak; but she dare not touch him. She backed away and closed the door quietly. She would wait.

And Robert did indeed dream, although not as the rest of us do. He simply fell through darkness, for hours on end.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Love You To Pieces - 100 Words

Love You To Pieces
This was originally published in June 2011 on the Rammenas website, which now seems to be defunct. I hadn't kept a copy, but fortunately it was submitted in the body of an email, which I DID have a copy of. Lesson learned - make at least 1 copy of everything!

Love You To Pieces
It was soiled, spotted, naked of fur, with one eye missing and a leg that swung at an obscene angle. I handed it to him, and he turned it over thoughtfully.

“Wow. That's the second ugliest thing in this room.”

“Nipper was my friend, my source of comfort when the lights went out.” I touched the tattered ear of the stuffed animal.

“And you kept it all these years? I'm surprised you didn't just toss it. What a mess.”

So I laid down with him and Nipper in the hospital bed and hoped he would draw comfort from us both.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Catrina Taylor & With Love Project - Plus Sample Of My Story Visible Signs

I am delighted to offer a guest post today from Catrina Taylor from the With Love Project, which is a series of charity anthologies. But I'll let you read about it below - along with 2 freebie samples from the newest, After Dark. And yes, I included a snippet of mine!  

After Dark – A Charity Anthology 

The With Love Project was crafted by a small group of talented artists and authors, that donates to Doctors Without Borders.  Catrina Taylor, approached a small group of talented writers on Facebook and asked them if they would be interested in participating on the project. As quickly as she asked, several writers stepped up to support the project, offering inspiring pieces. Soon after an artist offering images to create a cover and a publisher also volunteered their services to reach out to the masses. Thus was born the first anthology, Dawn Of Indie Romance.
After Dark is a continuation of the With Love Project Charity Series of books. This series was born in the hearts of many who want to help those in need. Through efforts put forth by many, this project continues to help and support Doctors Without Borders, donating enough money from the project to aide in providing vaccinations, support resources and AIDS medicine to those who couldn’t otherwise provide for themselves. The money is allocated for the various needs by Doctors Without Borders.

After Dark is the third book in the series. This book has a paranormal theme and is created to entertain the reader with a wide variety of interesting and unique stories. Some of these stories are centered around Trolls and assorted monsters, while others highlight the endearing needs from within. This series also contains the art of talented contributors who have donated time, energy and resources to further enhance this incredible series.

If you enjoy a vivid and imaginative story and enjoy helping others at the same time, After Dark is the ideal anthology for your reading tastes. I’ve included a sample below from An Act of Kindness by Susan Roebuck

Ping! There it goes again – that sound in my head. It’s like a rubber band inside my brain that’s been stretched too far. Trouble is, I do tend to get these passions, manias as my girlfriend calls them. Once I get an idea, a challenge, a puzzle that needs to be solved into my mind, I can’t let it go. For example, I can spend hours or weeks searching for a copy of an old rock album but when I eventually find it, ping! I don’t want to even listen to it. Last week I spent almost three thousand euros tracking down something called “rhubarb” and when I got it, ping! I didn’t even want to eat it. In the end, my girlfriend fried it and said it was awful. I guess it’s the hunt I enjoy, not the capture.
Yep, a conclusion has pinged into my head that she’s just a barmy old woman and now all the fun of the unknown has leaked away.
I’m not going to change my itinerary for a while, though. Don’t want you-know-who going on at me: “Cinco anos? You telling me it’s taken you cinco anos to reach this momentous conclusion? Miguel, get a brain.”
So, since I’m here, I might as well pass the old witch one more time, doff my hat, if I had one, and then adeus amiga I’ll be catching the number 10 tram on Monday morning.
That scarlet ribbon really does hit you smack right in the eye. And what’s she up to? It’s a definite first: she’s moving about, kind of restless as she wrings her hands so that the rheumatic knobs on her gnarled old fingers make a sickening bone-on-bone crack. She’s never done that before. “Aí meu Deus,” she grates out. “Por favor, ajude-me”. Her eyes protrude from their wrinkled casings in desperation. Correcto, this ain’t no mystical, romantic woman, no way. I was right, she’s just a pitiful little old lady in need of help.
Senhora. What’s your problem?”
Oh Senhor, good Senhor. Ajuda-me. Rato . . .” She gestures back into the dark recesses of the room.
I snigger. A mouse? A teeny, tiny little mousy wousy? I can deal with that. It’ll be like my farewell present as a thank you for keeping me entertained for five years. “Miguel, you’re such a jerk.” I can hear my girlfriend’s voice from here, but I don’t care. The old dingbat deserves some reward.
The door creaks open in a blizzard of flaking paint. Oh boy, confusion and chaos, what a disgusting smell - musty and damp. She grabs hold of my sleeve and leads me through the soupy darkness towards what is probably the kitchen. I try to ignore the smell which is so strong I can even taste it.
How shall I call you, Dona?” I’m politeness personified, see?
Beatriz.” She spits on the word so it sounds like a phlegmy death-rattle.
She plants me in what could be the kitchen, but then again maybe it’s not, before she doubles back without any hobble along the bleak corridor. That’s a bit rude, isn’t it? Leaving me here. I mean, how am I supposed to spot a mouse in this?  It’s as black as the witching hour in here, the only light – if you can call it that - coming from a weak and distorted ray of sunlight fighting its way through the grime on a tiny window. 

And from Visible Signs, by Lisa Vooght:

     Trash he thought with disgust, and threw aside the handful of baubles he'd extracted from the jewelry box. Another wasted evening spent breaking into a hoarder's den. He'd had high hopes for this one; the occupant, a pearl draped old lady, looked to be the type to have antiques and heirlooms everywhere. Instead, her apartment looked like the staging area for a dollar store clearance sale. Even the cat litter was generic.
An angry swipe cleared the top of the dresser. As he turned to leave, his booted foot slipped on a figurine and a stab of pain shot through his knee. Dammit, that's all I need. Hard enough to get dope as it is. He bent and picked it up.
      The plastic face beamed gently at him. He threw it down and ground it under his heel slowly, deliberately, and then with increasing ire as it refused to break. With an oath, he picked it up again, cocking his arm to hurl it across the room. That's when he saw that it was bleeding.
      Sweet weepin' Jaysus. The phrase slunk into his mind from the dark crevices of memory, his grandmother's voice as she salved the cigarette burns on his arm with bacon fat and the willow switch welts on his back with cool plasters. She cried, she prayed, she tried to heal him but she could not, or would not, protect him from the vicious rages of her only son, his father. They never spoke about it, never drew the poison to the surface, and so their lives swelled and festered until they ruptured. His grandmother had statues like this, silently standing about in her room, arms outstretched bidding humanity to take shelter. But they had never, even in his fevered imagination, brought forth blood.
      He turned it over and over in his hands, looking for a catch, a button, an indentation that would allow him to find the secret of the thing. This has got to be worth a helluva lot to someone.


Find After Dark here:

Amazon: After Dark and Smashwords: After Dark

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance - Flash Fiction

An artificial corn poppy, made of plastic and cardboard by disabled ex-servicemen, worn in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries from late October to Remembrance Sunday in support of the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal and to remember those servicemen and women who died in war. Wearing poppies to remember the war dead comes from the poem In Flanders' Fields by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae which concludes with the line "We shall not sleep, though poppies grow, In Flanders fields". Image and explanation courtesy Philip Stevens via Wikimedia.

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Very lights, phosgene, duckboards and bully beef; a secret language which only we spoke, words that left a metallic tang like the water I sipped from his canteen. He said I could never use I'll be back. Goodbye, see ya, but not that. Because Leslie had said don't worry Gran, I'll be back, only to be swallowed by the unspeakable mud of Landers. I didn't know where Landers was, exactly, but I knew that it was somewhere over the sea, and that nothing ever grew there but the skeletons of trees and barbed wire. The sun never shone; it rained or it misted or it stormed, with great rolling booms of thunder and squalls of shrieking metal. Sometimes the farmers still turn up shells, planted but never blooming, with their ploughs.

He had a clay pot of poppies on his porch. I wanted to pick one, it was so beautifully, vividly red; but he said no, those are my friends and I understood it to mean that they were really and truly his friends, come back to life as flowers, and so I watered them and talked to them, and to the ones which withered away I gave a decent Christian burial beside the house. The house itself seemed weary of things, leaning to one side and sighing to itself on occasion.

He had to have been old, but sometimes when I walked beside him he seemed young and vibrant and smelled of soap. I loved the scent of freshly cut grass in the summer, but he held a hand to his face and went inside. Grass and mayflowers are the smell of death, he would say, more to be feared than the stench of the lines, for the dead cannot do you harm.

On July 1, every year, we went into the yard and we had a picnic of corned beef, crackers, and tea. The flower pot from the porch was our centerpiece, and before we ate we stood, and he lifted his glass and said solemnly Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts* . It made me feel important to be a part of it all, though I did not understand.

People must have thought him a strange man, for they never spoke to him or acknowledged his existence. But then they must have thought me a strange little girl, for they seldom spoke to me either. One day I was sent away to boarding school, just like that, with one battered suitcase and a paper bag lunch. It was a girl's school, and it might just as well have been another country for I didn't speak the language or know the customs. I got the occasional letter from home it's just for a few years and how nice it must be for you to finally have friends and finally, after a while, such dust everywhere, they've torn down the old shack next door, an eyesore it was, no one's ever lived there that I can remember.

I came home after a time, and insinuated myself into the life of a small town. Once a year, on July 1, I go to the local pub and loudly drink my toast. Someone will ask what it means, and I will tell them. I work two jobs and, bit by bit, I am paying for the piece of land which lies beside my childhood home. There is nothing there, not yet, just rutted mud and the odd brick or stone. The grass is growing, slowly, and I lie upon a patch in the sun, idly twining the stem of a poppy between my fingers. They have grown, once again, of their own accord, children of the ones I buried long ago.
*Author's note: traditional In Memoriam notice. 9th and 10th BNS., K.O.Y.L.I. - To the undying memory of the Officers and Men of the above Battalions who fell in the attack on Fricourt (Somme) on July 1, 1916.

Gentlemen, when the barrage lifts.”

A toast made before the Somme attack of the 9th and 10th Battalions of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Twenty-four hours after the attack, 800 men had been reduced to 80 men and 4 officers.

I wrote Remembrance quite some time ago, but thought I would post it (late) in honour of Veteran's Day.

And here is "In Flanders Field"

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

by John McCrae, May 1915

Stowaway - Flash Fiction

Ivy stood, bewildered, at the bustling Liverpool quay.  By her side was a little girl, clinging on with one hand while clutching a dirty bundle with the other.

"Don't let go, Maggie," she said quietly to the child.

Their journey had been fraught with confusion and danger. Ivy had lost her position as a house servant; the mistress had not taken kindly to Ivy's pregnancy, and sacked her without a moment's hesitation. This despite the fact the child had been conceived with the help of the master.  He had arranged passage on a ship bound for New York, and given her enough money to tide her over until she got there. But with little knowledge of how things worked, Ivy had soon been taken advantage of, as were many of the emigrants trying to make their way to America. A rough looking man, which she now knew was a "runner", had forcibly snatched her bag at Goree Piazza and led her to a rundown lodging house, where he then demanded twice the going price. Exhausted and frightened, Ivy had no option but to pay him. The lodgings were filthy, the food poor, and the price far more than she had expected.

Morning brought more dismaying discoveries.The emigration agents were not employees of the shipping lines, but rather worked for brokers who bought space on the ships just as they did for any other cargo.  And so Ivy found herself anxiously milling around with hundreds of other men, women, and children, most with an odd assortment of boxes, bags and provisions, wondering how there could possibly be enough room for them all.

Two women jostled Maggie, and she dropped the handful of Ivy's dress to clutch her Dolly. An icy trickle of fear ran through the mother's stomach; if she and Maggie were separated, they'd never find each other again. She hugged the little girl close to her.

The last step before boarding was the medical examination. As they stepped to the window, the harried inspector asked their names, had them stick out their tongues, and then stamped their papers. Ivy realized she'd been holding her breath, and let it out slowly.  The last barrier had been cleared.

The confined steerage space, between the upper deck and cargo hold, was already jammed with hundreds of people as the two made their way inside. Rows of bunks, six feet wide by six feet long, lined the space;  most seemed already occupied. Seamen were directing people as best they could, and one of them indicated that Ivy and Maggie should take a particular bunk which was already occupied by two women and three children.

"Surely you do not expect all of us to..." Her heart sank.

Their allotted space would amount to about 18 inches. The crossing would take anywhere from four to six weeks.  Living in such close proximity, she wondered how she would ever keep their secret. She took Dolly from the little girl and pulled the edge of the blanket back. With its eyes closed the waxen face, tinged with blue, did indeed resemble a doll's. It was a mercy that the child had not cried during the long embarkation process.

"Will she get better?" asked Maggie anxiously. Ivy couldn't answer; she had no idea what was wrong with the infant, nor whether there was a ship's doctor on board. She would be terrified to consult him anyway.

She did know there was a high price to be paid for stowaways.

She did not know that the price would be counted in the human lives around them.

Cholera morbus was now on its way to America.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Fun In Intercourse, PA - Photos

Yes, it really is the name of a town. Intercourse is in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, in close proximity to Blue Ball, Paradise, and Bird In Hand.

As I've been sick the past few days, I'm taking the easy way out (again) and posting a pic or two for your entertainment.
Peanut butter schmier (pronounced shmeer). A spread made of peanut butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, egg whites and vanilla. (Recipes vary.) Kitchen Kettle Village features a lot of shops selling local foods and crafts. The Kitchen Kettle makes various jams, preserves and baked goods on the spot - you can watch them. (Photos of the process are prohibited, since most of the workers are Amish and don't want their pictures taken.)

Amish Tour Bus
A glass enclosed, custom built touring wagon for the Englisch. (Note the cushy mats for the horses to stand on.)

Waiting For A Tune-Up
 The two very different cultures, living side by side, make for some interesting juxtapositions.

Fave Amish saying: "Too soon old, too late smart."  :-)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rule Of Three Voting Commences! #REN3

Title: Shortlist Announced! Let Voting Commence!
After much (difficult) deliberation, we have narrowed the longlist down into a shortlist of 6 finalists! Let me tell you, it wasn't an easy task!

And the finalists are...


Well done, everyone! To read the full entries that brought them to this stage, just click on their names. 

To place your vote: please go to the Welcome To Renaissance 
 home page! Poll is open now!

  Just as an aside, I've been sick the last 10 days or so, and haven't been around. Hope to be back to writing soon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

REN3 Polling and A New Rule Of Three Blog Page: Welcome To Renaissance

Dear REN3 Writers:

OK, you did make this hard for us: lots of great stories to choose from. It is not easy.

We, your hosts, are asking your kindness and indulgence as we have to push the announcing of the poll until  Friday November 4th. We will, of course, extend the voting period.

The poll and announcements of the prizes will appear on the new Welcome To Renaissance blog page:
Please forgive us:  first time hiccups, illnesses (all four of us have been sick with one thing or another in October), a lot of great stories, and life just happens. Stupid life ;) . We hope to have our ducks in a better row next time.

Check Welcome To Renaissance page starting on Friday and all info will be there from now on.

Again, our apologies

Thank you
Damyanti, Stuart, Lisa, JC
If you didn't (or couldn't) participate this time around, we hope to do it again in the spring. Please visit - and follow - the new Welcome To Renaissance page (link above, and on my permanent Rule Of Three Page). This new site will centralize all info and hopefully eliminate some of the problems we had this time around. One-stop shopping for great reading! It will also provide a gathering place for those who want to continue discussing, writing, and building our shared world of Renaissance.

*BTW, as if prizes weren't great enough, we're pursuing the idea of publishing the winning stories as an ebook!  More details (as we know them) on the Welcome To Renaissance page!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick and Treat: A Freak Snowstorm and Author Interview With Marcus Clearspring

Happy Halloween! Here in SCentral PA, USA, we were greeted with 8 inches of heavy wet snow yesterday. Since the trees are still laden with leaves, that coupled with the snow caused branches (and wires) to come down all over the place. I've had the joy of being without power for 18 hours now. And so, REN3 peeps, I've been reading stories sporadically but not leaving comments so as to get through as many as possible with limited battery power.  :-((  No telling when I'll be back in full swing - a stay at a motel outside the area is likely if power isn't restored soon. As for the fridge - well, that could be kinda spooky when I finally open it....

But enough of my travails. Next in our series of author interviews is Marcus Clearspring, author of Emma Meets the Walkabout Gnomes and IT whiz. You may remember Marcus as the creator of the Next Blog buttons for the A to Z Challenge back in April. Marcus not only donated a copy of Walkabout Gnomes for our REN3 prize bundle; he also did a set of buttons for REN3 as well. (Unfortunately, I've still got gremlins on my blog page and couldn't for the life of me get it to accept the code. Nothing to do with Marcus' handiwork.)

Without further ado, here's the interview with Marcus.

1. Tell us about the book you are donating.

"Emma Meets The Walkabout Gnomes" is a short magical story about a
young girl who meets a group of gnomes in the park after school.
Before she knows it, she's standing on a bench on one leg, holding an
umbrella and learning not to take everything too seriously. Later, the
gnomes give Emma some advice on approaching the boy at school she's
too embarrassed to talk to.

Read it with an open mind, cast your expectations of gnomes and kidlit
aside, and you might be surprised.

2. Why are you donating a book to this blogfest?

The blogfest sounds like an interesting experiment in writing short
fiction. The participants and readers of this blogfest may think
outside of the literary boundaries established by the publishing

3. Can you think of a genre, which is currently out of your comfort
zone, but intrigues you enough to take up the challenge of writing in

I don't really have a genre. I just think up a story, which may fit a
genre, or not. I'd like to write a thriller, with social and political
themes, and some form of laugh-out-loud comedy. Something farcical

4. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I've always been fascinated by language and the creative aspects of
computing. After studying Linguistics and English Literature, I
currently develop web applications. I made the "blog-hopping" buttons
for this blogfest and the A-Z Challenge.

I'm also starting a project to teach literacy to adults using
smartphones, tablet PCs and the web.

5. What are your views on Self-publishing vs Traditional publishing?

One reason I self-published the short story I donated to this
blogfest, was because it didn't fit any market categories. I also
realised, after a good year of pondering, that traditional publishing
was not for me, no matter whether the book would fit commercial
categories or not. That's why I had been so hesitant to send anything
to agents. I realised what would happen in the unlikely event that I
did get an agent, or even a publisher, and decided it was not what I

One good reason to self-publish is when your work is not commercial
enough for a publisher. Not finding a publisher does not mean the
writing isn't any good, although it may. The only thing that's sure is
that publishers cannot predict a market at the given time. There are
plenty of books which agents and editors say they really like, but
which are not financially viable for them to publish.

Here's a question for you I've been considering for some time. Why do
most authors seek recognition from publishers? Musicians have audience
feedback telling them whether they played well. They don't require a
music executive to say they are "proper musicians". Why is reader
feedback online, and in person at signings and live readings, not
sufficient for writers?

And so, dear readers, feel free to respond to that last question, leave feedback, and by all means, check him out on my "featured authors" page for more info including where to purchase Emma Meets the Walkabout Gnomes.

As for me, I'm off the air for now. Until next time....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Brilliant Little Fire - A Tale Of the Town of Renaissance, Conclusion

Part 1:  Joseph
Part 2:  Anna
Part 3:  Aaron
Mayor Joseph Grey wiped the sweat from his face and cast a final glance over the town of Renaissance.

“Ladies and gentlemen: a hearty good morning to you, and welcome to Ashefallen Day!”

He pushed the plunger. A series of deafening thunderclaps rolled over the valley as the buildings exploded or caught fire, one by one.

The townspeople broke into applause.

“Renaissance is that brilliant little fire that burns within us all, that lives only for those moments when we reach perfection.”

Anna reached for Aaron's hand. “That's beautiful.”

“Not mine. The quote is from Richard Bach, and the name was Jonathan, not Renaissance. But it seems fitting.”

“Will would have loved it. And the fact that he died on Ashefallen Day.”

They had carried his body home, and placed it in his favorite chair before joining the crowds on the edge of town. What remained of Will would drift slowly over Renaissance, the place which he had helped to create so many times through the years.

“Excuse me,” came a voice from behind them. “What's going on? Is everyone mad? Has the Sickness come here as well? Is that why you're burning the town?”

Anna turned to face the distraught looking woman.

“Ah, another stranger among us. You are welcome. No, there's no sickness here; you will be perfectly safe. Today is Ashefallen Day, which we celebrate every five years. You see, long ago, survivors came together to build a town. Neighbor cared for neighbor, everyone shared what they had, worked together, suffered together. They shared a vision of a community which would be close-knit, loving, self-sufficient. And it was so for a while. Even in the old world, the same phenomenon was observed; disaster brought out the best in everyone. But sooner or later selfishness and greed, crime and politics, bigotry and hatred came to call and then moved right in. The same thing happened here. And so it was decided that our town would be destroyed every five years and then rebuilt. The fire cleanses and the spirit renews. We are unlimited in our visions of the future; the town can be redesigned exactly as we choose, and each of us is entitled to a new beginning as well. What you see before you is the formation of yet another clean slate.

Welcome to Renaissance.”


Word Count: 397
Prompts:  Misfortune accepted
                 New arrival in town

Thank you to co-host Stuart Nager for suggesting "Ashefallen" as the name of the holiday. 

To all of the various participants - and readers - involved in the Rule Of Three writing project:  thank you for your interest, your efforts and your time.

Now will come the hard part as the four hosts read, discuss, talk, email, Skype, and create the shortlist of winning entries. Keep watching for more info, updates and announcements.

I hope you have enjoyed your visits to Renaissance  :-)

Until next time....


Monday, October 24, 2011

Interview With Alex Cavanaugh

Hi all! Please welcome Alex Cavanaugh, author of CassaStar and the soon to be released follow-up CassaFire!
Releasing Feb 2012 - watch for it!

Alex was one of the authors kind enough to donate an ebook as part of the Rule Of Three prize package. That book is Cassa Star, and you can read more about it on my "featured authors" page.

Many of you also know Alex as one of the hosts of the annual A to Z challenge, as well as various other blogfests, and creator of the Insecure Writer's Group. He is probably best known, however, for his unfailing support and encouragement of other bloggers and writers. As one of my earliest followers, I owe him a debt of gratitude for supporting me and helping me to believe in myself. Thank you, Alex.

Without further ado, here's a short interview and more info on his books. Enjoy!

Tell us about the book you are donating.

It’s my first book, CassaStar, a science fiction space opera/adventure that came out a year ago:

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…
Few options remain for Byron, a talented young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude. Slated to train as a Cosbolt pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life. Much to his chagrin, Bassa, the toughest instructor in the fleet, takes notice of the young pilot. As war brews on the edge of space, Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive. Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit? 

And I’m happy to say the sequel, CassaFire, will be out on February 28, 2012!

Why are you donating a book to this blogfest?

Because you and the other hosts rock!

Can you think of a genre, which is currently out of your comfort zone, but intrigues you enough to take up the challenge of writing in it?

I’d like to write commercials… Seriously, I’ve always enjoyed reading fantasy and would like to try it one day. The world building aspect is daunting though.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m known as Captain Ninja Alex to my blogger buddies. I enjoy movies, music, science fiction, tech toys, books, and gaming, and that tends to be what I blog about. I also host a lot of blogfests. Not what you’d expect from an author, but that’s how I roll. Oddly enough, I have a large Ninja Army that seems to enjoy it…

What are your views on Self-publishing vs Traditional publishing?

Whichever works for the writer! I’ve seen a lot of my friends here go the self-publishing route and enjoy success. That may one day be the norm.

You can visit Alex at his blog to find out more about him, to join the Catch Fire party, or sign up for the Insecure Writer's Group.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Brilliant Little Fire - A Tale Of the Town Of Renaissance (Pt 3)

Part 1: Joseph here
Part 2: Anna here

Part 3:  Aaron

Aaron made his way up the hill toward the two figures. The first rays of the sun felt pleasantly warm on his back; later, he knew they would cause his wounds to itch and burn. He cautiously approached the elderly couple on the hillside and raised a hand in greeting.

The woman's lined face broke into a smile.

“Good morning, Aaron.” She beckoned him closer, and he seated himself on the wet grass.

“Have you recovered from your flogging?”

Aaron felt his face flush, and yet there was nothing but an inquisitive look on Anna's face. The ways of Renaissance were still a mystery to him; all crimes were punished by public whippings, painful and humiliating, and yet afterward the perpetrator was treated as a member of the community once again, as though nothing had happened. Some took it as a blood baptism, a chance to start over with a clean slate. Others, who could not or would not change their behavior, sustained beating after beating until they were either incapacitated or died. Still, it was a system that seemed to work. His scars would remain as a reminder to himself, and everyone else, that he had both erred and paid his dues. Today would be a new beginning, to do with as he chose.

“I'm sorry,” he muttered to her, still feeling embarrassed. A newcomer to the town, he'd crept through a window in their cottage a few days before and stolen things that he'd needed; food, a blanket, a lantern. And one thing he hadn't needed; a leather bound book he'd found lying on the table. The Decline and Fall Of the Roman Empire. A touchstone from the old world, where life was nothing to him but an opportunity to drink, chase girls, and drag himself to boring lectures every day. A careless existence, until it had been swept away in a matter of days along with the bodies of his dead mates. He fancied a whiff of those long ago funeral pyres was tickling his nostrils.

Anna shifted her position, laying her husband Will's head in her lap and kissing him gently on the cheek. He was deeply, irrevocably, asleep.

“I would have given those things to you, had you asked,” she said sadly. “However, it's done, and so we move on.”

“I wish I could, you know, make things up to you both.”
“It isn't necessary for us. But it is, perhaps, for you. And so there is something that you can do.”

Aaron descended from the hill, the lifeless body of Will Mentzer draped tenderly in his arms. At the edge of town, he stopped.

“Go on, Aaron,” she urged. “There's nothing to be afraid of. He died a peaceful, natural death and that will be obvious.”

“It's not that,” he said miserably. “I can feel the blood on the back of my shirt. I hate the idea of everyone staring at me, knowing.”

“Dear boy, nearly everyone in Renaissance has flogging scars.” The rumble of Mayor Joseph Grey's voice reached them from the loudspeakers.
“Even the Mayor.”

Prompt:  A relationship strengthens
               A secret is revealed
Word count: 526
Character #3:  Aaron Hiestand

Click HERE for conclusion

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Author Interview: S L Pierce

One of the prizes for the Rule Of Three blogfest/writing project is a bundle of e-books graciously donated by the authors. It was fairly difficult to generate a short list of writers to query, especially since I wanted to satisfy several objectives:  choose great books, provide a selection from different genres, and introduce one or two authors who may not be as well known among the blogfest crowd. The hosts of the Rule Of Three have been taking turns presenting these featured authors. The first interview, with Talli Roland, was with Damyanti at Amlokiblogs . The second, with Faith Mortimer, was with Stuart at Born Storyteller.

Today I'm hosting S L Pierce, author of 4 thrillers who has kindly agreed to donate copies of her books The Hate, Secrets, and The Devil's Game.

1. Please tell us about the book you are donating.

I am donating a copy of each of my books. The Hate is a book of two gritty short stories. Definitely not for the gentle-hearted. Secrets is a technothriller/mystery with a very strong female lead set in Silicon Valley. The Devil's Game is a psychological thriller that asks the question 'What if your stalker had a stalker?'

2. Why are you donating a book to this blogfest?

Well, of course, it's a great way to introduce people to my writing but I know there is nothing I enjoy more than receiving a free book. Especially if it is one I might not have picked up on my own. My sister happened to be at a bookstore around Christmastime where an author was signing her book. She picked me up a copy and it turned out to be a fantastic book I read in two days. On my own, I would never have picked that book. Giveaways are a great opportunity to try something you might not have otherwise.

3.Can you think of a genre, which is currently out of your comfort zone, but intrigues you enough to take up the challenge of writing in it?

Well, I'm a sucker for a really good romance novel though I prefer thrillers. I've often wondered if I could do a romance justice. It could be fun to try.

4.Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I spent ten years in college earning a PhD in Engineering. I had this great fantasy of what life would be like once I started working. Well, as I'm sure most of you know, reality is much different. I think I fought my own instincts to please others. So now, I'm doing what I love, writing!

5. What are your views on Self-publishing vs Traditional publishing?

I only know the self-publishing side, which has been great, but obviously has it's challenges. However, from what I've read, traditional publishing has it's own issues. I know that the feedback I've had as an indie writer has encouraged me to keep at it. Much more than all the rejections from traditional publishing.

You can find more information either by checking out her site at Amazon or by going to my "Featured Authors" page tab at the top of my blog.

You can also find her on Twitter:  @piercebooks

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Brilliant Little Fire - A Tale Of the Town Of Renaissance (Pt 2)

(Part 1:  Joseph is here. )

 Part 2:  Anna

“It's time” said Anna, watching as her husband brought a spoonful of porridge to his lips with a shaking hand.

His face went slack for a moment, then lit up with joy.

“Goin' to see the grandchildren!” he exclaimed, waving his spoon in glee.

Anna's heart contracted painfully.

“No, Will, I'm sorry. You remember, today we're going for a little walk. Up the hill, to have a picnic. The air will do you good.”

“A little walk”, he repeated doubtfully, and then resumed prospecting for raisins in his bowl.

Anna had already labeled their boxes MENTZER FAMILY and placed them outside the door. The first rays of dawn entered through the kitchen window, illuminating the hand-hewn beams of their cozy little cottage. The joins were a little crooked, and a few deep cuts in the wood hinted at the lack of expertise in construction. Still, those flaws had names: Levi Lapp, Andy McElroy, Dustin Craley, Joseph Grey. Men who sweated and swore and laughed as they raised building after building, conjuring a town and planting it in the dust and ashes of another. It was wrong to cling to something as ephemeral as a house, however; if there was one thing which she had learned, it was that life could take everything from you at one fell swoop. Everything.

Draping a warm woolen blanket over Will, she led him outside into the chill morning. The town was waking up and swirling in mass confusion; twice they were nearly knocked over by neighbors scurrying this way and that, calling after children, rounding up scant belongings, and chasing down dogs who gamboled about with tongues lolling in glee. Once upon a time, these same neighbors would have stopped and lent her a hand; but not now. They were all consumed with their individual dramas.

The couple made their way slowly, painfully up the treacherous hillside. The Main Gauche glimmered in the mist, reflecting the light like a mound of the daggers for which they were named. Spreading her own coat on the grass, Anna helped Will lower himself to the ground. He drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them; a tear slowly rolled down his cheek.

“Want to go home,” he whimpered.

Anna wondered which home he meant. The one below? Or the one they'd left behind in the old world, now decaying among the ruins of a once thriving city. It didn't matter, really; all that mattered was the Here and the Now.

“Soon,” she murmured, stroking what was left of his hair. She held him closely and sang a nursery rhyme, one of the few ways she'd found to soothe him.

“Ring around the rosy...”

Prompt:  One character lies to another (there will be no picnic today).
Word count without title:  455
Character #2:  Anna Mentzer

Click HERE for Part 3