Bite Your Tongue

Each monthly meeting of Alleghany Writers includes an exercise, a 500 word story based on a prompt. Heidi Jurka is our prompt master, and her selection for the October meeting was “Bite Your Tongue.” 

I decided to write about a true life situation, something that happened during our 2012 trip to Newfoundland. We put many miles on the old Subaru as we ran up one side of the island and down the other. It was rugged, desolate, stunningly beautiful. The people were true pioneers. Self-sufficient, gracious. We also took the ferry to the French islands of St. Pierre et Milquelon off the southern coast. All French, all fascinating.  But, that’s another story.                   

Bite Your Tongue

 

When you decided to make the journey to Newfoundland you knew it would be a real adventure. It wasn’t just entering another Canadian province, it was entering another world. The ferry ride over was a challenge of equilibrium, but the hum underfoot as the engines pounded the strait between the northern tip of Nova Scotia and the dock at Port aux Basques eventually became soothing as you settled into your cabin for the overnight passage. You disembarked at the dock feeling remarkably refreshed.

Cape Spear, Newfoundland – Most eastern point in Canada

The first noticeable difference was the lack of bright color. It was September and the deciduous trees were mostly bare. In the surrounding mountains there was a base color scheme of green that range from pea soup to loden, with neutral and deepening vertical shades of brown. Folks were friendly, and directions were easy to follow. “There’s a road that rims the island. Stay on it and keep the water on your left.”

First the journey north to Saint Anthony, and then to  L’Anse aux Meadows to explore the  11th century Viking settlements. The experience of walking the shoreline, finding rocks and shells that could hold a memory, the raw sense of the place. It made every historical fiction novel of memory come dancing through your head to enrich the moment.

When you heard word from locals of a little known spot to find sea glass, you  traveled to the town of Springdale on Notre Dame Bay.  There was a downhill foot path off the dirt road leading to a notch in the shoreline. You looked at the rocky steps leading to the treasure-trove and seriously weighed the risk of the trip compared to the desire for and potential reward of sea glass. Adventure won the bet and you hit the jackpot. 

Lodgings were rustic. The check-in at a tucked-away hunting lodge was your first glimpse of the local culture. Cordial and welcoming men in camo overalls diving into bowls of French fries covered in gravy and slices of moose loaf. Attentive waitresses of all ages, shapes, and sizes buzzed by with pots of tea

Cape Race, east coast of Newfoundland, September, 2012

and cups of coffee. The first taste of mooseburger was savored and enjoyed. So juicy and rich, your new definition of comfort food.

Over in St. Johns and Conception Bay you found a different food scene. It was all about the cod. The fish with the big reputation, fought over for centuries by English, French, and Dutch. The fishing villages define the most beautiful of basic housing. Simple in construction, every house had a distinct personality expressed in whitewashed tires topped with a stunning display of annuals, or by a clothesline pinning bed sheets and codfish to dry on the same row.

Your next food adventure was not just the codfish, but all the side dishes that go along with it. Food and drink the locals say you must experience to become an “official” Newfie. First there’s the Screech. One swallow sends your mind back to white lightening and grain alcohol of a past life, and you realize this is the Newfie version of high octane.

The next new taste was bits of pork fat fried to a hard crunch. As you eat your scrunchions, the satisfaction of fat and crunch adds a sharp contrast to the mild, white texture of the fish.

The last plate is presented as the delicacy of the codfish dinner. Told they are an “acquired taste” your inquiring mind instructs your mouth to take at least one bite of this most precious part of the cod. So, as you bite your tongue you discover a texture somewhat like a fried oyster, but with the slippery consistency of a raw one. Chewing continues and you quickly discover you are in the group who will never acquire the taste for cod tongue. But, you will be able to say you wrote a story that managed to slide in the prompt before the end.

 

Cod tongue.

Neda G…Her Flashy Fiction List…and a ciggy story.

From The Sisters of the Scorched Soles

Committed to our writing. Keeping our feet to the fire!

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The Scorch Report – October 1, 2018

Editors note: I am continually fascinated by the amount of determination it takes to sit down and keep up with this blog. There are so many amazing things going on right now…in my life, in my community, in my world. Alleghany Writers, Blue Ridge Fiber Fest, Alleghany Chamber of Commerce, AuthenticallyAlleghany.com   It’s a beautiful revival of literary and cultural arts in Alleghany County. Involvement in these projects brings such joy to my life.  It’s hard to pull away from playing to put words on a page!

But, I’m a working writer with a commitment. Each of the Sisters of the Scorched Soles has an assignment. Mine is this blog. If I don’t do my part, the other sisters will put a flame under my tootsies!

Jill has her short story collection and historic novel. Recent shoulder surgery has her a bit hobbled, so she’s spending time binge watching everything from drama to comedy, movies to multi-season series. Always good to study plot, character, and setting. And, when your shoulder is in a sling, it’s the best you can do.

Neda received very positive editor reviews on her historical fiction manuscript based on the life of Frederick Stowe, son of Harriet Beecher Stowe. She’s off on the next part of the process…editing, more research, market development.

While she was waiting on the editor, and since we must keep our feet to the fire, Neda decided to work on some flash fiction pieces.  After some research and analysis on places to submit and what the editors want, this is her concept:  A Pack of Flash.

The word count for flash stories was originally determined by what could be read while smoking a single cigarette, so Neda is working on a twenty story collection. Cigarette Stories – smoke ‘em and read ‘em. The perfect break!

 Here’s one from the pack….

Neda Gayle, Writer, Realtor, Bubbe. Jewish mother to the Scorched Sisters.

Birdlike Prey 

What kind of bird is it?
A pretty one she answered.
I like watching it fly then land so softly on its tiny little legs. They’re so cute. I like little animals, creatures.. but they have to be little.
And why is that? To fit in your tiny hands? She said it with a smile and slight chuckle.
Just little. Like Alice in Wonderland – when she drinks the bottle to get little.
Oh. She was not sure what he meant by the answer but with a slight tilt of her head she stared down at the little boy next to her, gently lifted him up into her arms and threw him against the brick wall.
He slumped over. Pigeons circled his feet and sparrows danced on his little legs.
 

Something for CoppertopMountaintop readers…………

Since we are all in this together, Neda is sharing her flash fiction research and links on this blog. They are freshly qualified and ready for you. If you use the links and find them useful……..let me know!

Google Link

Targeted Research: (More to come in future posts.)

Flash Fiction Online

  • 35,000 visitors monthly
  • Past 3 years good content.
  • Open to reprint submissions.
  • Offer pro payment for stories (.06 per word)
  • Many of staff like speculative, sci- fi. journal has that focus but tastes extend beyond that genre.

Everyday Fiction

  • 22,000 visitors monthly
  • Stories of mass appeal.
  • Categories listed on their sidebar where you can target what you want to read – it also provides insight into what they are looking for.
  • Pay token ($3 per story)
  • IMPORTANT: September 26th deadline for October submissions for October / Fall theme.

Brevity

  • 10-20,000 visitors monthly (conflicting info)
  • Non-fiction flash.
  • View their published authors -pretty significant.
  • Looking for pieces 750 words or less.
  • Pay $45 each

Pank

  • 16,000 visitors monthly
  • Founded by Roxanne Gay. She has a huge following
  • No maximum word count on their website, but pieces tend to be shorter
  • Publishing arm – Tiny Hardcore Press

 

Say What?

At the August meeting of Alleghany Writers it was all about the dialogue.

There were eleven writers at the Thursday meeting of Alleghany Writers and that many different variations of a conversation between the two women in the photo below. Were they mother/daughter/granddaughter/acquaintance/friend? Yes! We had them all!

Every story had a validity. Each writer played out the scene using these characters and this particular setting. The orange liquid was fruit juice in one story and a veggie smoothie in another. Either way, it was perfect. Intentional.

It’s why the prompt exercises are my favorites. We have a very diverse group. Our minds drift in different directions, and each path is just where our stories need to go.

This is what I heard when I looked at the picture:

What are you doing over there Mrs. Findlay?
Looking at these peas. They are so perfectly round and look so pretty against the white plate.
Why, yes they do, don’t they? But why don’t you put down the knife. Try your fork. It will scoop them up better.
But its fun this way. Counting peas just like I counted pills at the drugstore. Put them in tall rows and funnel them down into the little pill bottle. Watch.
Well good. I’m glad you found that memory, but your hand will get all greasy if you scoop them right off the plate. And you know we’ve talked about how it’s not nice to eat with your hands in the lunch room.
You mean it’s alright to eat with your hands in other places? Great. Let’s go there for dinner!
Now, Mrs. Findlay. Let’s not get funny. You know the campus has everything you need. Just a few more bites of dinner and we can go over to the park and watch the sunset. You know how you like to do that.
You’re pretty new at this angel thing, aren’t you dearie?
Yes maam, you are my first assignment. Is it that obvious?
I have dementia. I’m not dumb and blind. You’re trying, I can see that. But your trying is very trying. Get it? Trying and trying, same word but different definitions.
Oh, yes, I get it now. I’m sorry. I don’t always get what you’re saying, Mrs. Findlay.
I know. You millennial angels are a bit slow on the uptake. You need to learn some references from other generations, for goodness sake. Spread your wings. Get a dimension.

A Weekend With the Sisters – Ready to Begin Again

As the Sisters of the Scorched Soles complete their first working weekend, goals have been established and assignments made. Permission to nag has been given and each sister has a timeline for our projects.

Neda has her historical novel about Frederick Stowe. Jill has her series of short stories about the five senses. I have this blog.

Let the writerly activity begin!

Establishing our roles in the Scorched Sisterhood: Neda, the nurturer and provider of food and comfort. Jill, the practical, logical, techie youngest sister. Ginger, the cheerleader and lifter of spirits.

 

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Ready to Begin Again

I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I reached the bottom of the mountain. How much I needed the comfort of my sisters and the ease of mutual analysis and shared opinion that comes through extended time with close friends!

There is the point at which you can say almost anything, be yourself, unvarnished. It came easy with my St. Joe friends. We had years of history and shared experiences. There was no BS because everyone knew the best and worst already. Nothing to hide.

My first two days were spent stripping the built-up varnish of daily life to let the natural wood  of my being breath for a while. I became a spiritual nudist, floating along on a cloud of joy, easily moving toward a positive and enriching purpose.

How fortunate we are to have found each other and to be at this point in our lives where vision can become clear and action can be taken.

 

 

 

 

 

Soft, Round, Curly Words

When Ron Houchin met with our writers in April he stressed the fact that even though we may have our favorite place to write, with the atmosphere, music, silence, candle, cushion that gets us “in the writing mood,” we need to be comfortable writing anywhere, because if that’s where the spirit moves us towards a thought or idea or reflection, we should not wait to capture it on paper. Let those words fly onto the page, red hot, fresh out of the oven.

As I sit in the Alleghany Library I’m putting that advice into practice. I’m writing off the top of my red head as I decompress from one meeting and prepare for the next. Later this afternoon I’ll lead the monthly meeting of Alleghany Writers. Days aren’t usually this jammed and I’ve been working hard to unjam even more, but sometimes the personal, home, and community interests converge in a perfect storm that requires seamless preparation, full attention, and a professional manner. All the things that spell out work instead of play.

So, even though I am drawn toward creating a copy draft for a Horizon Bistro brochure, I feel compelled to write some words that are soft and round and curly before I start writing something as pointed and sharp as a promo piece for catering and carry out.

My first thought is to finish the piece I started early in the week for our monthly prompt exercise. It’s a picture prompt, and the challenge is to describe the setting.  The look, the feel, the abstract, the concrete. All of it.

I got a good start and knew the finish. What I didn’t have was a middle. When I started working on the middle the word count grew and the story took off into its own novel! I was going for a cute little vignette with an ending twist. What I got was a rambling beginning going nowhere.

Guess I’ll dig into the ramblings and carve out 500 words that describe the setting….an outdoor summer wedding. I’m envisioning the love story you see on the Hallmark movies. She’s the rich girl. Privileged. Not yet spoiled, but on her way there. He’s the hardworking guy who works on the family property. A “hand,” who has a special connection with her horses. Each sees the potential in the other. The photo shows the final scene, their wedding day.

I’m off to write some soft, round, and curly words………………………………….

Should I publish the final draft??

 

I Really Do Like Music!

I wrote this early Monday morning. I “let the cookies cool” as Ron Houchin says about first drafts, and went in for edits this afternoon. When it felt good enough to pass on, Melvin read it for his approval. This one passed, barely. I might be willing to recount an evening with airplane bottles of rum stuffed in my shirt to prepare for a concert, but the hub gets last look and sign-off on what goes into print. Essays and memoirs…fiction, too. 

Preparing the post I decided to add videos from YouTube, but only if they were clear representations of the scenes I described from memory. They magically popped up on the second key word, and, in the case of that Jewish boy from Long Island, he was exactly as I remembered. Exactly.

I really do love music!

You will rarely see me at one of our local outdoor music events. I have never been to the Blue Ridge Music Center, except for a quick run-through with my friend Martha on a sunny afternoon Parkway drive.

You probably won’t see me at the indoor music events, either. Maybe a Camerata or the Symphony, but not the mountain roots music so prevalent in town. It’s just not a draw for me. It isn’t connected to anything I know.

And yet, I really do love music! Singing around the house is the norm. Lyrics embed in my mind and I’m compelled to vocalize. Always harmony. Especially strong with twangy, country duets like Love Can Build a Bridge by the Judds, or anything from the Eagles or Doobie Brothers. The draw for me is the memory it provokes. I like music that takes me on a ride back in time.

Walking through a store the other day, I caught the tune playing on the stereo in the background. I had to force myself from diving into the harmony with Billy Joel singing Piano Man. “And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar, and say man, what are you doing here?” But, I wouldn’t pay money to see Billy Joel in concert. The 2018 Billy Joel is not what I want running through my memory. Still a dynamic performer, yet not the Billy Joel I remember performing “Always a Woman to Me” on Saturday Night Live, some smoky night in 1979.

I watched from my spot on the carpet at Mary and Steve’s apartment in Westerville, Ohio. Our group met there weekly as the last stop of the evening, the place to gather with a date, after a date, or as the first venture out for the day. We watched Saturday Night Live together, our whole crew snugged into a sofa and two chairs, with the others resting their backs in between. Drinks were fresh, mostly sweet things like Tia Maria, or Baileys, or Drambuie. Nightcaps. Matches were lit and ashtrays settled in communal spots. No one was asked to step outside and smoke. Actually, not sharing was considered rude.

The focus was on the television. Laughing at Belushi and Ackroyd. Since I went by Barbara in those days, there was always the residual Baba Wawa joke after Gilda Radner did her anchorwoman skit. Then Billy Joel sat at the piano. He wore white. He had those big eyes and that strong voice, and all of us girls wished we could be the one he met backstage after the performance. Christy Brinkley got that gig.

There were the times I flashed my Marshall University Journalism press pass and got back stage at the Dick Clark traveling Bandstand. Got in, got an interview, promised to send a copy, never did.

The most memorable of that era took place at the Memorial Field House in Huntington, WV. Probably around 1966. My friend Jane and me were “chaperoned” by two black guys we knew from Marshall. It was the visceral experience of a lifetime. Two white girls in a sea of dark, learning what integration felt like.

But, it was “cool”, because everyone was there for the same reason. James Brown, with Ike and Tina Turner.  Yes, James Brown and his Band of Renown, on stage with Ike and Tina, in front of a crowd of maybe 1,000 fans. Remember, it was the mid-sixties, and a gathering that size made up of mostly African-Americans was not a common occurrence in Huntington, West Virginia. That’s why Jane and I wanted to be there. So we could say we were there. So I could write this story fifty years later.

We stood on folding chairs and watched James Brown sing, “Please, please, baby please don’t go.” He collapsed, men ran out with the shimmering cape to scoop him off stage, only to see him throw aside the cape and do that signature strut back to the center microphone. The building reverberated and the crowd roared. Slim pints of gin and whiskey were passed along the rows without a thought of the dangers in communal drinking. Take a drink, pass it on. We’re all friends here. To prepare for the evening, Jane and I refilled minis bottles and stuffed them in our bra. The rum was warm but it was 150 proof, and we were set in case a stray Coke was available.

Then came skinny Ike on guitar, with that lower-than-low bass voice. Next to him beautiful Tina swirling in an orbit of fringe while her arms churned, “Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.” The backup singers with thighs like cheerleaders and voices full of growl and three-part solidarity.

It was an electric night and it’s where I go when I hear Private Dancer or What’s Love Got to Do With it. It would never cross my mind to go see her in concert today. I agree, she is still amazing, rocking those heels and swinging that hair, but  I don’t want to replace my 1966 Ike and Tina memory.

 

Showing my age?

Concerts just aren’t for me anymore. I’ve become impatient about the traffic, crowd, and noise. I’ve seen Bowie at Wolf Trap, and danced through the early 70’s with Bachman, Turner Overdrive, Three Dog Night, and Fleetwood Mac. So, I’m good. I’m sure I’m not alone, but sometimes feel that way in a community hard-wired for the “get up, get out, and listen to the mountain music,” crowd.

So, to my friends in town…don’t think that I am shunning your efforts to bring vitality to Alleghany County. They just aren’t my thing. I’m focused on the alternative. I’ll do my part to promote art and community culture by focusing on our writers, helping them develop the art and craft of the written word, and offering a performance venue at the Horizon Bistro. Local talent, regional names, and national bestsellers. That’s what gets me up and out!

I’ll keep my treasure chest of musical memories and let the written words in my stories be the lyrics, while I hum along in harmony.