Monday, February 29, 2016

Cliches I Wish I Had

Writers. We're such a strange set. We're such a cool set. I don't much like the stereotypes surrounding writers and their lives. We aren't all recluses - we can't afford to be. One has to actually socialize these days in order to have any sort of following. But there are some stereotypes that I wish I could fit in because, let's face it, the traditional writer (which I'm not) is a pretty cool creature. That being said, I wish I could... in a coffee shop

Looking at my flash fiction, you might think I live at a coffee shop, but that's not true. I would love to be a regular. I would love to have a well-worn corner at the bar and a barista who knew my name and slid a fresh latte toward my laptop because he knew by the knitting of my brow and the pricking of my thumbs that I wasn't feeling the whole editing thing today.

...sit on a white bed with perfectly shaved legs effortlessly balancing a laptop

Confession: I think sitting with your laptop anywhere near your actual lap is cause for ovarian cancer or something. At any rate, I'm sure it's not good for you. Also, who really wants to sit in bed all day? Also, whose feet don't fall asleep, like, right away after sitting Indian-style for more than five minutes? But you have to admit - it looks pretty darn cosmopolitan.

...survive off coffee alone

Coffee is so low calorie, I almost wish I could be one of those writers who gets so absorbed in their work that they can't stop for food. That's how those girls keep so slim. #coffeeislife...I'm sorry, but I'm the opposite. If I'm even remotely hungry, I get the worst hankering to A) stop for a snack B) eat all the chocolate, ever, in the whole world C) browse Instagram ad infinitum. I love coffee...but I also love muffins, toast, Chex Mix, pink lady apples, tangerines, trail mix, chocolate chips, granola, and many other things it's possible to love more than coffee.

...willingly shut out social life

We've discussed before how this aspect of my personality one hundred percent shoots me in the Achille's heel. It's almost impossible for me to choose writing time over people-time and that's why I'm sitting here writing a humorous blog post instead of sharing snippets of all the work (snark) I've gotten done recently. Of any writer stereotype, this one is the one I would give my left hand for. Not my right arm...I need that for writing, when I get around to it.

...achieve the perfect messy bun + bangs

You'd think after all these years I would be able to get this one right. That perfect top-knot that every college sorority girl knows how to do. I just can't. I can coil my hair into a sort of tea-pot handle and stab a pen through it, but that's about all. Rest in peace, hopes for the iconic writer-girl hairstyle. You just weren't meant to be.

....have so much plot it's bursting from my ears

This goes right up next to willingly shutting out social life. How people are overwhelmed with plot is beyond me. I am overwhelmed with atmosphere and characters and setting and clever sentences but plot comes to me only after blood sacrifices. Sheesh. Give girl a break, Plot, for heaven's sake!


What are some stereotypes you'd like to be afflicted with?

P.S. Good luck to those of you who entered Rooglewood Press's Five Magic Spindles contest! I can't wait to see the winners' names tomorrow. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

In Memory of Harper Lee

Most of you (all of you) have heard that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, died last week. I almost said "beloved author" but that isn't exactly true. It would be truer to say that her book was beloved, because Lee preferred to stay out of it almost entirely. Only rarely would Lee submit to an interview, and even then she preferred to be selective in what she showed of herself. I don't fault her for that - I think by the sheer fact that she gave us so little of herself and, really, so little of her talents, makes what we do have that much more precious. For so long we only had To Kill a Mockingbird. Recently added to that is Go Set a Watchman. I've read the former many times. I enjoyed the latter. At times like these, I wonder: how did Harper Lee manage to do what she did in her debut novel? Atticus Finch...I mean honestly. Can you imagine a fuller, more admirable, richer character than that? I can't. I love the world of Maycomb. It's tiny and limited and specific. It could be everywhere but it can't just be anywhere. It's the American South and Harper Lee wrote about it as only a true American Southerner could.
I don't read much "modern" American fiction, actually. My earliest diet was the classic set written in the eighteen-hundreds. You know, the usual Anne of Green Gables, all of Louisa May Alcott, and so forth. From there I jumped to Lewis and Tolkien, bashed through half of Dickens' novels, and took three tries (and, finally, success) fording through Les Miserables. The Brontes, Austen, Gaskell, and Sir Walter Scott have each had their share of space on my shelves. Wodehouse, Henry James, Dorothy Sayers, and James Herriot have had their say. I'm the veritable property of the Brits and pre-modernity Americans at this point. So to say that I'm well-versed in American fiction would be a straight-forward lie. I don't pretend to be up on my American fiction. I don't think you have to be up on your American fiction to appreciate what Harper Lee did with To Kill a Mockingbird. If writers only improve with time and practice, I'm sorry Lee didn't write more. Almost sorry, though. Because if she was going to be a one-shot wonder, she used her chance well. She gave Americans a novel to conjure with, and influenced so many, many people with her story. What more could you want as a writer?

I hope you'll all join me in remembering Harper Lee and the fine legacy she left American fiction. If you'd like, leave your favorite To Kill A Mockingbird or Go Set a Watchman quote in the comments below as a little memorial to the author who left us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, and the rest. Rest in peace, Harper Lee.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lyrics: Manhattan

I have recently taken to copying down lyrics to songs I love and really taking the time to relish the words and their meanings. Sometimes I come across a song I love and though I don't identify with the exact scenario laid out in the song's story, I treasure it all the same. Maybe it's the words themselves or the way they sound when combined with the music. Maybe it's just the fact that somewhere deep inside, I know I could feel this way, or that I have felt this way; the details are just different. Regardless of the real explanation, I love the power of music to sway and gentle me or rev me up. A couple weeks ago when we got #Jonas2016 and were buried under days of winter weather, “Manhattan” by Sara Bareilles kept me company as the perfect, wistful, snow-day song. Enjoy.

by Sara Bareilles

You can have Manhattan
I know it's for the best
I'll gather up the avenues
And leave them on your doorstep
And I'll tip toe away
So you won't have to say
You heard me leave

You can have Manhattan
I know it's what you want
The bustle and the buildings
The weather in the fall
And I'll bow out of place
To save you some space
For somebody new

You can have Manhattan
Cause I can't have you


You can have Manhattan
The one we used to share
The one where we were laughing
And drunk on just being there
Hang on to the reverie
Could you do that for me?
Cause I'm just too sad to

You can have Manhattan
Cause I can't have you

And so it goes
One foot after the other
Til black and white begin to color in
And I know
That holding us in place
Is simply fear of what's already changed


You can have Manhattan
I'll settle for the beach
And sunsets facing westward
With sand beneath my feet
I'll wish this away
Dismissing the days
When I was one half of two
You can have Manhattan
Cause I can't have you

Monday, February 1, 2016

Weaver Birds Aren't My Area of Expertise

Just a bit of writing I did for fun. I feel like I hit my best stride when writing fiction for children, even though I've never pursued that avenue farther than "just for fun." I've been pecking away at this the past few days as the mood strikes me and I figured I would share it with you to help you, in turn, pass the time. Happy Monday, darlings!

An Untitled Story (With Birds)
by Rachel Heffington

“The world, my dear, is very full of things you shouldn't touch.” Miss Crust's voice curled back on itself, purring. She pulled her crotchety old fingers through Maribelle's hair.
“Ow!” Maribelle yowled. She didn't think Miss Crust pulled her hair on purpose, but she certainly didn't not pull it on purpose. That was the point on which Maribelle took issue with her nurse.
“Is it my fault if you got half a jar of molasses stuck in it? Your hair's more tangled than a weaver-bird's nest.”
Maribelle wouldn't know. Weaver birds weren't her area of expertise, though they were her father's and Miss Crust's. Her father and Miss Crust were very well-known ornithologists – bird people. They were the sort of important people other important people came to if they had questions about puffin migration (“Do puffins migrate?”) or parrot-speech (“Just how many words can the average parrot learn in its lifetime?”) or the habits of displaced bluebirds. How Miss Crust went from studying birds to untangling Maribelle's hair, Maribelle didn't know. She wasn't quite sure where her father had picked up Miss Crust. Miss Crust just had always been. Maribelle couldn't remember a time when Miss Crust hadn't been part of life at 34 Bleaking Street. In her earliest memories there was sunlight, plenty of dust-motes swirling glitter-like through the beams, and Miss Crust. Funny enough, there was never a memory of a mother. Just Miss Crust, Assisting. She was very good at Assistance – Assisting Father with bird-work and Maribelle with tangled hair and grammar-work and stains on the fronts of her dresses. Sometimes Maribelle thought she might like to do with a bit less Assistance. Maybe only on Tuesdays, because Tuesdays generally weren't the best day of the week. Miss Crust could be on-call the rest of the time and only Assist when Maribelle really wanted her.
“What happened to my mother?” Maribelle asked suddenly. Miss Crust's finger twitched through Maribelle's hair, not in a surprised way but in a “Dear heavens, this again?” way.
“Died,” Miss Crust answered.
“From what?” Of course she knew – galloping consumption – but it was needful to hear it again, just to remind her that there had been a mother once upon a time. It bothered Maribelle sometimes, how often she nearly forgot most kids had two parents.
Here it came -
“Galloping consumption,” Miss Crust said.
There it was.
“Now you,” she pulled Maribelle upright off the stool and smacked her bottom, “get downstairs. Your father wants to speak with you before he leaves.”

Glad to be free of the dreadful hairbrush, Maribelle skibbled out the nursery door and wandered down their great big staircase, pausing on her favorite steps as she went. Her favorite steps were as follows:
The reasons why were these:
The twentieth was the step at the landing with a peculiar, round window looking out onto a bit of scrappy yard and a trashcan that always had a cat of some color turned upside down, fishing for something inside it.
The sixteenth step was exactly halfway which, as anyone can tell you, is a special place.
And the eighth step was the step whereupon Maribelle's front teeth had been knocked out when she tripped on it two years ago. There had been no other six year old girls missing both their front teeth that year so though it had given her a bit of lisp, Maribelle thought the distinction quite worth the trouble of pronouncing “stork,” “sausage,” and other like words.

Maribelle tromped into Father's study without knocking. She never knocked, on principle. People seemed to stop doing interesting things when you knocked first. It was much more gratifying to throw open a door and see someone look like they'd seen a ghost. Maybe you'd see where they hid those scrumptious chocolates, or maybe you'd hear things they wouldn't otherwise have told a little girl. And Maribelle did very much like to know. Knowing was probably the thing she liked most in the world, besides maybe chocolate ice cream and splashing in puddles barefoot when she ought to have worn boots.
Father sat at his desk, balding head between his bird-claw hands. He looked up as she came in. Pale gray daylight flashed at her off the little round lenses of his glasses.
“Hi,” Maribelle offered.
“Oh. Hello, Maribelle.”
“Miss Crust said you wanted me?”
Father perked up a little and ran his fingers through his hair. Two grayish-black puffs of it stuck out on either side of his head and made him look like a ruffled owl. The top of his head was utterly bald. “Just so, my dearling.”
When he put out his hand, she walked to him and settled her little palm in his bigger one. Hot. Dry. Shaky. That was Father's hand. Not liking to keep hers there very long, Maribelle gave Father a quick smile and put her hand in her pocket where he wouldn't think to ask for it again.
“Been studyin' birds?” she inquired.
“Oh, hrm. Birds, birds. Is there anything like birds in the world?” Father's lenses flashed again and his smile was a little less hampered than usual. He did so like birds.
Maribelle wanted to help him in any way she could to not seem so picked-over and trembly. “Well, Miss Crust says there was a sort of dinosaur way back in the dinosaur-days that flew like a bird.” It mightn't help much but Father might find it interesting, and that would at least distract him from whatever it was he worried over.
“Oh, ha!” Father chortled. “Ha! Ha!”

Like a jay, Maribelle thought. Crisp and short and unaccustomed. She liked to think of Father as all sorts of birds. He laughed like a jay and looked like an owl. He walked like a heron and spoke like a wren in terse, tentative chirps. She liked to watch him and he liked to watch birds. It helped to pass the time in the few months of the year when they weren't bopping around the Congo or Peru or someplace.