Lesson Learned

April 2020’s short story of the month

It was different, writing on a typewriter; the clatter and noise, the resistance of the old keys forcing her to really put effort into each letter. She imagined she was writing the next best-selling novel. This momentarily distracted her from the reality of what she was really doing – writing a history paper that was all ready past due.

Meredith, who preferred to be called Mary, stopped for a moment and looked at the neat rows of black letters on the new white paper. She smiled to herself, but it quickly faded. She didn’t want her mother to know that she was actually enjoying this.

Her mother was making her write the paper the “old-fashioned” way to teach her a lesson. Mary was forbidden to use magic in any way to help. Not to mince words, but she was being punished, and rightly so.

Mary had put off the assignment until the last minute and then tried to conjure a finished project. Her spellcraft needed work though. Much like her normal school work, Mary had a bad habit of not practicing her spells like she was told to.

Making her type the paper on an old typewriter without magic to aid her was her mother’s idea of teaching her that just because you could use magic didn’t mean you should. Mary tried to point out that if her mother had let her turn in the original magicked paper, at least she might have gotten a passing grade, but because she failed to turn in anything, she received a zero. And to top it off, she would now be taking history during summer school. Her mother was still making her write the paper even though her teacher said at this point it wouldn’t matter one way or another.

Mary spent the rest of the afternoon flipping through her history textbook and various old books she’d pulled from the family library. She worked diligently at the kitchen table until her mother told her to take a break so they could set the table for dinner.

Promptly following dinner, Mary pulled out the heavy typewriter again and got back to work. She was still typing away after her mother tucked both her sisters into bed.

Mary heard her mother enter the kitchen but didn’t look up. She was in the zone and didn’t want to lose her train of thought. Her mother sat down across the table from her but didn’t speak.

Finally, Mary got to the end of a paragraph about a particularly gruesome battle. Mary was discovering that writing about history could be entertaining. She wondered how so many humans could go about their lives not realizing that magic was real, especially after they read about wars and famines and other horrific catastrophic events.

“You can’t turn this in to your history teacher,” her mother said while skimming through the pages stacked neatly on the table.

“Why not?” Mary asked.

Her mother had to suppress a smile. “Mary, be serious. You cannot write a paper about how magic was used during the civil war and then hand it in to your normal school teacher.”

“Why not?” Mary countered with all the smugness of a rebellious teen who didn’t care what the world thought. “It might do Mr. Hunt some good to read some real history for a change.”

Her mother just shook her head. “Dear, remember something I’ve told you over and over again. Humans believe their own version of the truth.” She paused and smirked as she read about how witches placed curses on cannonballs and muskets. “This is the world we live in. We keep our secrets for our safety and for theirs.”

Mary was sitting back now with her arms crossed firmly over her chest. This was not the first time the battle line was drawn between mother and daughter, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Maybe it’s time we stop keeping secrets.” Mary didn’t want to say something else, but she couldn’t help herself. “Maybe it’s time we stop being scared.”

Her mother just shook her head. “We’ve been over this. If humans knew we had magic, bad things would happen to our kind. Very bad things.”

“You say that, but the world is changing, it’s 1990. This isn’t the middle ages. We have power, and we basically can’t use it. Think of the good we could do for this world if we stopped hiding.”

“Enough.” Her mother stood and slammed both hands on the table at the same time. “If you want to know why we live the way we do, you are looking in the wrong history books.” Her mother worked a spell and the table was covered with books open to horrific drawings and paintings.

Each one depicted a scene from various times in history when witches were persecuted. There were women being burned alive and others being held under water by men laughing. The truth was that most of the women who died during witch hunts weren’t even true witches. Real witches were better at hiding their powers, but they had stood by and saw what would happen to them if people knew the truth.

The books open before Mary were handmade books that had been passed down in her family. One of her ancestors had been at each of these terrible events. They had witnessed the cruelty of living with no secrets.

Her mother picked up the history paper Mary had spent all day on and with a deliberate snap, the papers turned to ash.

How My First Book Came to Be…

If you didn’t know, I wrote a book! It is available to purchase from Amazon.

Since I’ve finished my book and have started the second one (yippee!), several people have asked me “how” I did it. The snarky part of me wants to say I typed it on a computer and then uploaded it to Amazon, but that’s not what they’re asking. They want to know what my process was.

I am happy to share that with some people, (those who are actually listening and not just being polite).

So, here’s the process for my first book (book two has been a bit different and maybe when it’s done, I’ll write about what changed):

  1. How I started writing a book and why?
    • My book started as one of the short story of the month posts on my blog. Even as I wrote it that month, I knew I wanted to do more with it. It was just screaming for a bigger story. So, I wrote a second story, and then those led to my novel.
    • This is not the first time I’ve started writing a book. I actually have two other books that were started before Unicorns Are Really Vampires. Those two remain unfinished, but who knows, maybe one day….
    • In addition to feeling like I wanted to work on the story some more, my sister invited me to try something called NANOWRIMO (I’m sure many of you are familiar with it). Basically, the idea is that every November is National Novel Writing Month. During that month, if you participate, you are to challenge yourself to write a novel. Most people actually aim for 50,000 words (which is a bit short for a novel). The idea is to get as much writing done as you can in a single month. No editing, just keep pushing forward till you get that word count.
  2. The First Draft
    • I used that initial short story as my idea. And if you are wondering if I had an outline, the answer is no. I am not a planner; I am most definitely a panster. I won NANOWRIMO that year, which means I wrote at least 50,000 words.
    • After that, I put it aside till after the holidays, then I just kept writing a little every day until I felt like it was finished. The first draft was the hardest part but also the most fun. I was building a world, creating characters, and it felt at times that it was writing itself. I enjoyed every painful moment of it (if you have created anything, you know what I mean).
  3. Editing
    • This is the hard part. Spending so many hours creating something and then cutting and changing it is very challenging and almost impossible to do on your own. If you get anything out of my post, this is what I want you to most remember:
      • HIRE AN EDITOR
        • (By this, I mean, pay someone to edit. An unbiased opinion that is not just checking your grammar. My editor told me things about my style, overall pacing, and character development that was immeasurably helpful when I was editing.)
    • Before I sent it to the editor I hired, I did “shop” around. I sent samples to multiple editors and then compared their feedback. I went with the one who was the toughest on me. Hiring someone to edit your entire novel is expensive, and I wanted the most bang for my buck.
    • In total, my book actually went through four rounds of editing.
      • First round: me reading through and making changes. I’m pretty good at editing grammar mistakes and small things.
      • Second round: hired an editor. She suggested a lot of small and big things I didn’t see myself.
      • Third round: following making the changes the editor suggested, I did one more round of editing. (I have a list of things that I look for. For this stage, I used an online editing program called Autocrit.com. It’s only a computer program, but still very valuable as a tool).
      • Fourth round: By this point, I considered the book done. I read it out loud to the living room (my daughter set up a stuffed animal audience for me). I found small things at this point. I call this my final read through. My living room seemed to like it.
  4. Done and Done
    • At this point, all that was left was formatting and creating a book cover. I did both of these things myself. Maybe I’ll write more about this part later; it’s not super exciting.
    • And then I uploaded to Amazon the print edition and kindle version.

And that’s how it was done. All in all, it took me a little over a year and there were a couple of months in there where I didn’t work on it.

Hope this helps for anyone working on their own novel.

Happy reading and writing this month!!!

April’s Prompt

I am behind this month because the world is crazy! I’m sure many of you are feeling the same way. Days are running together… no one ever leaves the house… my child is never more than a few feet from me… but overall, life is still good.

We have been working on cleaning out extra unused items throughout our whole house. It’s kind of amazing what you accumulate over time and stash away out of sight and then it multiplies and before you know it, you have a basement of old household goods that are usable but dusty.

But the real reason I’m writing today is that I only just realized that I haven’t posted a writing prompt this month. Without more rambling, here is the April short story of the month prompt:

It was different, writing on a typewriter; the clatter and noise, the resistance of the old keys forcing her to really put some effort into each letter. She imagined she was…

Complete the Story

This should be an interesting one… writing about a writer, but it still needs to fit into the “world” I’ve all ready created this year.

If you’ve missed my stories this year, I’m trying to link them all. Here are the stories so far:

Turkey Dinner Stalemate

Canned Memories

Adventure

Happy reading and writing and whatever else you are up to this month!

Adventure

March 2020 Short Story of the Month

To call him stubborn would be polite. Not that politeness mattered to him. Malcolm would probably describe himself as principled. Those closest to him would probably use different words, like jack ass. He never broke the rules. He made the rest of us uncomfortable. We never asked him to tag along when we were going to use magic because he was worse than having our parents around. He NEVER allowed us to use magic within a five-mile radius of a non-magic user, and when we did, he would purse his lips and tap his foot. Then the second we got home, he ratted us out. He was my least favorite cousin.

This summer his family had spent an inordinate amount of time with us. Something was going on – something the adults didn’t want us to know about. As much as my sisters and I had tried to discover what the meetings were about, Malcom had thwarted us at every attempt. The grown ups must have told him to keep an eye on us.  

Today though, we had a plan. Two of us were going to take him on an adventure. The other would pretend to not feel well, and then after the others were out of the house, the “sick” one would be free to nose around and find out what the grown ups were up to.

The problem, however, is that we all wanted to be the one to stay home.

“I’m the best at sneaking,” said my youngest sister.

“Mom is more likely to believe me,” said our middle sister.

I looked at both of them and realized quickly I would need to pull rank because time was running out and the two of them could argue like this for ages.

“I’m the oldest,” I said. “And I’m staying. You two find a way to keep Malcolm busy for as long as possible.”

Their collective groans didn’t stop me. I returned to my room and got back into bed.

Not long after that I heard feet running down the hall and then one door opened. I heard the murmur of their voices. My sisters and Malcolm were talking. Then the door opened again and they came to my room where I lay with the blanket pulled up to my chin.

I peaked at them through squinted eyes. “Turn the light off,” I said barely above a whisper. “My head hurts. The light.” My voice trailed off as if I didn’t have the will to finish.

Malcolm took a step nearer but my sisters stayed behind. Even with my eyes barely open, I saw one of them roll her eyes.

“You’re not coming with us?” Malcolm asked.

I grunted. “Not today.”

I saw him doing some mental calculations. He was definitely meant to spy on us. How could our parents put him up to something like that?

“It’s okay,” my youngest sister said. “Come on Malcolm. We’ll tell her all about our fun later. Wait till you see where we’re going.” She was doing her best to sound enthusiastic, and she elbowed my other sister to chime in.

“Yep,” the other said. “It’s going to be super fun.”

If there was ever a contest for vaguest description, my sisters were winning it.

“Maybe I should stay here,” suggested Malcolm. “Your sister might need someone to entertain her and bring her drinks.”

“No,” I said a little too loudly. I fell back and shut my eyes acting like the sound of my own voice hurt me. “It’s just a headache. I’ll be fine alone.”

“It’s related to her woman time,” said my youngest sister.

Malcolm went white. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”

After they left I rolled my eyes. I don’t know how my youngest sister knew that would work, but it did. She was quick.

I didn’t get out of bed immediately. I let the house settle. I heard other people moving about downstairs but everything was muffled.

Then I felt it. The house went absolutely silent. Our house was in the country; it was never this quiet. You could always hear animal sounds outside, and my parents had several windchimes along the porch beams. I couldn’t hear any of them. The house itself often creaked, even during the day, but not right now. Everything was still.

One of the grown ups had cast a spell. Maybe they didn’t know I was still here, but I was definitely inside the bubble. I would need to move about without making any noise. They were sure to hear even the tiniest of noise with everything else hushed.

I turned on the bed and placed my feet on the floor one at a time. I didn’t stand up but let my weight gradually slide that way. As soon as I was standing, I wanted to run down the hall and slide down the banister and get to the kitchen as quickly as possible, but I didn’t want to risk it.

The only way I could think to get down there without them noticing me was to use magic. My mother would be furious if she knew, and luckily Malcolm wasn’t around to rat me out. I cast a flying spell on myself. I wasn’t great at them. My spells didn’t last long, but I had pretty good control over my movements.

I flew out my room slowly and looked around the hall. No one was around and I didn’t hear any movement in the house to indicate someone had felt my spell being cast. My sisters and I were always casting small things around the house, so hopefully I could continue to go unnoticed.

I floated down the hall past empty rooms and headed for the stairs. At the landing, I did another quick search to sense if my movements were being noticed – nothing seemed amiss.

Uneventfully I made my way down the stairs and through the foyer. I was floating outside the kitchen door when my spell began to waver. I tried to recast but I didn’t work it out in time. I fell flat on my face just outside the door and smacked my face into the kitchen door that was being held firmly closed.

It took about two seconds for the door to open. My mother was on the other side. She didn’t even say anything; she just pointed toward the front of the house. My charade was at an end.

I went outside to join my sisters and Malcolm. I sat on the front porch and waited for them to return. Hopefully their adventure was more exciting than mine.