Posted in Random, Writing

Instead, I Give You This

Today I sat down to write a blog post that’s been in my head for a couple of weeks. I had my journal of ideas in front of me and a few sticky notes that I jotted down in the middle of the night, as well as an image I wanted to include. Despite all this prep work, the words wouldn’t come. I couldn’t figure out how to start, and my screen stayed blank.


I tried different angles, but each one felt false. I brainstormed personal anecdotes to use as springboards, but everything fell flat. Finally, I decided I needed a couple of specific, current, relevant examples of my topic, so I started searching for them online. After thirty minutes, I came to this conclusion: they’re not there. This idea for a blog post, which seemed so poignant when I came up with it, simply isn’t true. Huh.

So I’m giving up on it.

It’s hard, sometimes, to let go of something you thought was promising and admit that the minutes or hours spent on it (or days or weeks in some cases, thankfully not this one) were wasted. But there’s merit in recognizing when a piece just doesn’t have what it takes, and this time, that is the case. I will spare you a pointless post. You can thank me later.

So, instead, I give you this.



In every issue of Writer’s Digest (which I subscribe to and you should too) there is a “Your Story” competition. Sometimes they provide a photo, and you have to write the first sentence of a story to accompany it. Sometimes they provide the first sentence or the topic, and you have to write the story. You submit your entries online, they choose the finalists, and then people vote on the winning entry, which then gets published in the magazine. It’s all good fun.

Your Story #56 challenged writers to write a story of 750 words or fewer beginning with this sentence:

“If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”

I decided to enter. My story was not chosen as a finalist, but I had fun writing it, so I’m going to share it with you here anyway. If you would like to read the five stories chosen as finalists, there is still time to vote on your favorite. Just click here and then click on the link to the forum. You do have to register to vote.

My Story for Your Story #56:  A Friendly Game

“If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”

I groaned. Rickie and his games. Every time he came over, it was, Will you eat what’s in my hand? Or If you can guess what number I’m thinking of, I’ll tell you a secret. A glutton for punishment, I usually played along. In the eating game, the rule was you had to say yes and promise to eat it before you saw what it was. If you said no, it remained a mystery forever. I’d said yes four times, allowing my palate the delicacies of a green M&M, a slice of grapefruit, a homemade peanut butter cookie so fresh it must have been burning his hand, and a cricket. I hadn’t said yes since the cricket.

Usually, Rickie made his offers the moment he arrived. It was, “Hey Amber-dextrous, want to play a game? before he was even inside the door. Then, after the secret had been confessed or the palm candy eaten, we sank onto my stuffing-less couch to hang out.

But today Rickie had already been on my couch for three hours when he propositioned me. We were halfway through Teen Wolf Too, having already suffered Grease 2. It was a weekend of disappointing eighties sequels. I looked at him. He stared at the TV, popping Junior Mints into his mouth one at a time. I stole a glance at the pockets of his jeans but they revealed nothing.

“How many guesses do I get?”

He considered. “Three. If you look me in the eye and tell this movie is better than the original, you get one more.” He turned to me, one eyebrow raised in a challenge.

“Psht,” I spat. “I’ll stick to three.”

“Ready when you are, Amber-gris.”

I held out my hand for a Junior Mint, and Rickie supplied one. While I sucked the thin layer of chocolate off the sugary mint paste, I deliberated. “A key.”

“Why a key?”

I shrugged. “You like keys. You have that jar full of old dorm room keys and car keys and apartment keys that you never threw away.” He nodded, not a yes to the guess, just an acknowledgement that I knew him well. “Besides, maybe it’s the key to a Lamborghini or my dream house or your heart,” I said, and immediately wished I hadn’t.

Rickie’s cheeks turned pink. He looked back at the TV. “It’s not a key, Amber-vilant.”

Stupid, I chastised myself. Rickie and I were friends—just friends—and it was perfect. But I knew he’d be willing to change that. I’d tried to make it clear that I didn’t want anything more from our relationship, yet time and again I slipped up and said flirty things in front of him.

Embarrassed, I crossed my arms and rushed my next guess. “A pen.”

“A pen? Why?”

“I don’t know, I like pens.” I shrugged and scooted away an inch, making it look like I was just shifting for comfort.

“Well, it’s not a pen,” he said. His tone suggested I wasn’t even trying. “One more guess, unless you’d like to rethink your opinion of Teen Wolf Too.” He offered me another Junior Mint, and I took it without letting our fingers touch.

What is it? I wondered, sucking at the chocolate. I thought back to movies we’d watched, conversations we’d had. Rickie had told me how much he used to love candy cigarettes, so maybe—wait! I had it! A ring pop! I’d gone on and on to him recently about how they were my favorite as a kid, how much I’d loved seeing the giant purple “jewel” on my hand, how I’d watch its shape change as I licked, how I was always a little disappointed when it was gone and I was left with a purple tongue and nothing but plastic on my finger.

“I’ve got it!” I said, all previous awkwardness forgotten with the anticipation of victory. “It’s a ring—“ At that moment, the Junior Mint I’d been sucking on lodged in the back of my throat. I put a hand to my chest, gasping for breath, tears flooding my eyes, unable to speak as Rickie’s face lit up and he lowered himself to the floor on one knee and reached into his pocket.

“Yes, Amber-osia, you’re right!” His smile stretched the length of his hopes as he pulled the diamond ring out of his pocket. “Will you marry me?”



Posted in Life, Writing

The Writing Life

My Quote Table
My Quote Table

I am a writer.

It took me a while to be able to say that without cringing or feeling sheepish or following it up with, “Well sort of.”  But now I can own it, in all its vague, not-yet-fully-formed glory.

Two years ago this week, I sat down in my principal’s office at the school where I’d been teaching for eight years and told her I was leaving education.  The last day of school would be my last last day.  I was going to be a writer.  I finished out my last few months of teaching with one eye on my students and one eye on my idealistic future, on the journal of ideas I’d made and the scenes I’d typed during my lunch period for the young adult novel I wanted to write.  When that final bell rang in June and I’d cleaned out my classroom, an expanse of time and freedom and creativity unknown before stretched out in front of me.  I felt both ecstatic and guilty over my good fortune, wondering if I deserved this gift.

The first three months of my new life were spent less in writing and more in reorganizing.  I shifted closet space to accommodate the boxes of teaching materials that I probably didn’t need anymore but was not ready to discard, turned my office into a writing space that I hoped would both inspire and calm, and created a daily schedule for my time. (When you’ve lived your life according to bells for thirteen years, you crave the structure of a time table.)  But the hardest shift to make was what to call myself.  Teacher had not just been my profession; for more than a decade, it was my identity.

Those first few months after leaving the classroom, I labeled myself in many ways—“teacher” (accidentally, when caught off guard, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks when I realized it wasn’t true anymore), “writer” (which brought a different kind of embarrassment—one of phony claims and pretentiousness), “between jobs” (this just made me roll my eyes, it sounded so falsely down-and-out), and “taking some time off” (which seemed to suggest that I might be mentally unstable—was I?).  I managed to stop just short of telling people I was “finding myself” but that might have been the truest answer at the time.  I was finding myself.  And there were pieces of me in some very surprising places.

When I embarked on my writing adventure, I was sure that finishing my YA novel would be my first priority, but in the summer after I left the classroom, I found myself writing poems and making long lists of story ideas and posting to my blog.  I had a lot of conflicting feelings that I needed to work through about leaving teaching, and my blog became an outlet for them.  I still get a lump in my throat when I read “Subconscious Healing”, which I wrote in July of 2012.  It shows so much about what I was going through, more than I even realized at the time.

I knew I was veering off my set path, but I was ok with it.  I told my husband that this was my summer vacation and I would get serious about my novel again at the end of August, when I would normally be going back to work.  Then, on August 31, 2012, I woke up early, jumped out of bed, ran to my computer, and typed for the next two hours.  But what I wrote had nothing to do with my YA book.  It turned out to be the beginning of a horror novel that would consume all my attention for the next four months before sliding sluggishly into that swamp of “stuck”.  My own private slush pile.

Still, that one unfinished and unexpected horror story led to more pieces that I did finish.  Now, after publishing four short stories in that genre, it seems I may have a talent for the creepy stuff, a talent that unnerves my husband and amuses my family.  These days, no one knows quite what to expect of me.  I think they’re all just waiting to see what I’ll do next.

So what will that be?  I’ll tell you my plans and, even though I’m ten days late, let’s go ahead and call them resolutions.  This year I hope to:

  • Finish that young adult novel that I started more than two years ago.
  • Continue to work on my poetry and horror stories when time permits.
  • Begin writing some of my teaching stories before it’s too late and they slip from my memory.
  • Work on building a platform for my writing.

I’ve already started on all of these.  Back in November, I knocked out 50,000 words of my YA book during NaNoWriMo.  Since then it’s been marinating, waiting for me to come back to it, which I plan to do next month.  In the first week of the new year I submitted some poems and flash fiction pieces for publication.  Fly, my darlings!  Fly!  Fly!  I also wrote down (finally, after carrying it in my memory for fourteen years) one of my favorite teaching stories.  You can read it here.  If you’re squeamish, you might want to sit down first.

And, today, I worked on goal number four.  I created this sweet new blog space from which to share my writing life with the world.

I’ve got nothing against The Black Cat Diaries.  I’ve loved that little blog and will probably still post to it now and again.  But when I started that blog, I was still a teacher, not a writer.  I mean, I was a writer, because I was writing, but I didn’t feel like one.  Now, finally, I do.  I am a writer.  I know it.  I accept it.  And, through this forum, I want to share my writing experience with you.

Now that you know my goals for 2014, you can help keep me on track.  But… I hope you’ll still let me stray a little bit now and then.  After all, there may be a few more pieces of myself that I need to find.


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