A warrior, a mage, and a cleric walk into a ruined manor house…


Every now and then I come up with an idea and think, “…This is weird.” Normally, I keep those ideas to myself, but now that I have a blog for keeping my stories, I no longer have to! This post’s title is a writing prompt I found on the blog Novel Notes. The story hit me instantly. I figured, ‘Ah, what the heck. I’ll stick this in my blog.’ (Oooooh! Two flash fictions in one day! I’m on a roll!)

Also, one last note, I mention fantasy nerds and their lame jokes. I have nothing against fantasy nerds ( and probably am one to a small extent…), or lame jokes. In fact, I love and encourage lame jokes. And to my knowledge, fantasy nerds are no more or less likely to tell a lame joke than the general population. Please enjoy my story.

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A warrior, a mage, and a cleric walk into a ruined manor house and—

“Nope. I cannot do this anymore.”

The mage and the cleric turn to the warrior, his hands held up in defeat. “Cannot do what, warrior?”

This. Being the set up for some fantasy nerd’s lame joke that only gets pity laughs.”

“But your life is much more than that, warrior,” insists the cleric.

“Is it?”

“Certainly,” says the mage. “Why, you save damsels. You love saving damsels!”

Do I? I just don’t think I want to save damsel any more. And what about you guys? Mage, tell me you want to spend the rest of your life casting spells wantonly across the countryside.”

“Of course I do. They get me into zany high-jinx.”

“They’ve prematurely aged you. Look at the state of your beard.”

“It took home first prize at the Majestic Mages’ Battle of the Beards last spring,” gloated the mage as he stroked his thicket of white whiskers.

“You’re twenty-four years old, mage!” The warrior shook his head. “Maybe you guys can keep doing this, but I can’t.”

The warrior threw his sword onto the floor of the ruined manor house and left, never to return.

The mage and cleric waited for a few moments, then joined in his rebellion.

Left abandoned, for houses cannot move on their own accord, the ruined manor house lamented, “You guys are dicks.”

A Flash in the Pan


I tend to ramble when I write so I liked the challenge of my first flash fiction post (A Shot at Fame). Since my roommate is currently cooking and thus filling my room with frying pan aromas, I thought I’d try another flash fiction. However, for the heck of it, I bumped my allowed word count up to 150. This story is definitely pretty derivative of my first flash fiction, but whatever. I liked it. Also, I met a girl name Manian today and thought her name was cool, so I’ve used it here.

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As she scrutinized the recipe with a ravenous finger, Manian could taste her culinary destiny. One day she’d be a renowned chef, expertly composing mouthwatering victuals for even the pickiest gourmets—or foodies, if you will. Manian wouldn’t. She had a taste for the classic delicacies and the classic reverence they commanded. She assembled the ingredients for coq au vin with all the love and hope that a mother might have when gathering her child’s supplies before his first day of school. One generous chicken, its succulent meat browned to perfection. Two bubbling hot cups of Cognac showering down with aromatic delight. Three clicks of her lighter, and the cooking lard she’d careless dripped ignited. Manian frantically threw the bag of flour onto the stove to combat the grease fire, then ran from the kitchen in a cloud of white dust.

On second thought, maybe she would try interior decorating.

Manian's would never look this good. Coq au vin photo by Kate Jackson, and From Julia Child's Kitchen.
Manian’s would never look this amazing. Coq au vin photo by Kate Jackson.

What exactly is “YA”?


I had this thought while trying to fall asleep on a night where I was already only going to get maybe six hours of sleep before a 12 hour day (such is grad school). Yet the thought was naggy enough that I had to get up and write this blog entry.

Can anybody tell me, what exactly is young adult fiction? I’m serious. I feel like when I was squarely in the category of young adult, I knew what it was. Then, I went out into the world, got a job, did some time in grad school, turned around and YA fiction had turned into this weird, glutenous mass of a genre that kind of covers… everything. So long as it involves young adults and all their angst. Teens love them some angst. Is that the only uniting feature: angsty teens, tweens, and pre-teens?

The reason I ask is I’ve been making more of an effort to send my writing out into the world to get constructive feedback. So first let me say, I love getting constructive feedback and I’m very grateful for the time my reviewers spent reading my work. The questions I have aren’t for them specifically. They’re just one’s I thought of in response to two comment that have made me question how people see the YA genre that I thought I’d pose to a wider community.

Comment 1: You seem to be writing a YA story…because of your teenage protagonists.

I’m not denying I occasionally write YA stories. I’ve been working with kids since I was a kid, so naturally the struggles I’ve seen them go through have inspired what I write. But if I write about kids, does that mean I’m automatically writing for kids?

I definitely got where these assessment of my stories were coming from, but they still made me pause. I received them from multiple reviewers who overall gave me very thoughtful and useful feedback on two stories I’ve written. Both involve 16-year-old female protagonists (that’s just a coincidence, by the way). The first story is the one I mentioned in my blog entry Wish Me Luck! and yeah, it’s definitely a YA story. For the second story, I’ve only shared the first chapter. Even though the story is told from the POV of a 16 year-old girl, I’m not 100% sure the story is YA (I’m thinking overall it may lean toward beng a “New Adult” story, whatever the heck that genre’s about). In the first chapter, she’s telling with homelessness, finding a full-time job, and taking over responsibility for the care of her little brother, which I don’t immediately associate as being YA fodder.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the only reason the first chapter was seen as YA is because the MC is 16 years-old.

Am I just way off base here with my understanding of what qualifies as YA?

Comment 2: You’re writing a YA story (see comment 1)… therefore you need to gear it toward middle schoolers with limited vocabulary.

No one actually said but was implied because several people mentioned my middle school audience. Which was strange. Neither of these stories did I write with middle schoolers in mind. So my question is: are most kids that read YA middle schoolers? To me, a middle schooler is not a ‘young adult’. Shouldn’t they be ‘middle grade’? Isn’t middle grade fiction a genre? I honestly don’t know must about middle grade fiction, but I’ve never considered middle schoolers to be a major part of the YA demographic.

I knew I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t get those questions off my chest. Maybe I’m completely off base with my thoughts. I’d love to hear what people think in the comments.

Take a Look, It’s in a Book!


Retrieved from Reading Rainbow.

If you were a kid in the ’80’s, ’90’s, and ’00’s (I’m told that’s pronounced ‘aughts’), you’ve probably seen at least one episode of Reading Rainbow. I was one of those kids. As I get older and accumulate enough years in my life to look back at the earlier ones with fond nostalgia, I’ve spent more and more time talking with friends about the old TV shows we used to watch. Not an ridiculous amount of time, mind you, but we’ve talked about how the TV programs we grew up with seem to be of a different caliber than what’s available today. Programs like Reading Rainbow, as well as Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (He was my neighbor.), Seasame Street (which is actually still on, last time I checked!), and Hey! Arnold. Yeah, I know that last one isn’t educational, but I freakin’ loved Hey! Arnold. It’s basically amazing.

Thankfully, with the internet these old TV shows are becoming accessible to kids even if they’re no longer on the air. Yesterday, I stumbled onto LeVar Burton’s Kickstarter campaign to bring Reading Rainbow to all web-connected children. I loved this idea and being a former reading teacher/ bibliophile/ future school psychologist I had to support it. Admittedly, it’s not perfect. Bringing the program to only web-connected kids leaves out a lot of children living in poverty, including the 1.6 who experience homelessness each year. It potentially leaves out children in many rural communities where it’s difficult to lay the internet infrastructure. Ideally this program would have a component to bring books and the Reading Rainbow video library to communities in a physical form. But one step at a time. Even if this campaign only benefits web-connected children in schools, that’s still a big deal!

The campaign cites a statistic that 1 in 4 American children are illiterate. Literacy is crucial to success in our world. I have worked with middle and high schoolers who, through various reasons other than their own lack of motivation, have not mastered the basic phonics skills needed to read even elementary school texts. This is a frustrating experience, for the kids who just want to be able to read and for the adults who by that grade level aren’t given the training or resources to provide illiterate students the intensive help they need. I’ve generally seen 4th grade as sort of a cut-off statistic (see my previous hyperlink). If kids aren’t reading on-grade level at 4th grade, their chances of having what we’d generally consider a bright future diminish significantly.

[Editing note: I realized after posting I should explain the 4th grade cut-off for those not familiar with modern, American reading education. Reading is broken down into two skills: decoding and comprehension. Every reading skill falls under one of the those two categories. Comprehension, or understanding what you’re reading, is encouraged at every level. Decoding, or being able to recognize letters, letter-sounds, whole words, etc. is only emphasized in the early grades. By 4th grade, if kids haven’t mastered their decoding skills, they’re likely not being taught these skills in the classroom and not receiving enough outside the classroom help to make up for their skill deficits. And if you can’t decode, you can’t comprehend…or read. Okay, lecture over.]

Now Reading Rainbow doesn’t claim to be a literacy program, per se. It’s a TV show to get kids hooked on books, to help them appreciate reading and the adventures that they can have with books and their imagination. That’s the first step toward literacy. If kids don’t like to read, they won’t pay attention when people read to them, they won’t try their hardest when they’re asked to read, they won’t put forth the effort needed to master this critical but sometimes challenging skill. And it’s not because they’re lazy. Everyone is like that. If you don’t enjoy doing something and don’t find it at least somewhat rewarding, you don’t do it.

Before we teach kids to read, we have to make sure we’re teaching them to enjoy reading in and of itself. It’s not the external demands of their teachers or class curricula that gets kids to be life-long readers. That kind of motivation can only be gotten through a passion for the written word. We need to teach our young children to have a passion for reading. Once they have that tool, they can expose themselves to any topic under the sun that sparks their interest.

But you don’t have to take my word for it!

A Shot at Fame


Maya Angelou passed away today (as I’m sure anyone on the internet already knows). She’s a writer whose works I’ve always felt I should be reading more. In fact I had been thinking about that yesterday. I toyed with the idea of writing a poem to pay tribute to her but… I suck at poetry. As it happened, I was originally planning on writing a 100 word flash fiction about a bird watcher. Since Dr. Angelou did famously liken herself to a bird, maybe that’s something?

Anyway, here’s my 100 word story.

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Elmer shared his name with a white paste that awkward school children supposedly ate when crafting. His passion he shared with the likes of Agatha Christie, Sir Ian Flemming, and E.B. White. Quite obviously he was… an ornithographer! And on this fine Saturday morning, what an ornithographer he was. His pulse pounded as he caught the ivory-billed woodpecker in the sight of his digital camera. With a photo, he’d win fame and the near-extinct bird a hope for survival! Holding his breath, Elmer pressed the button. Nothing. He froze when he saw the viewing screen: NO CARD IN THE CAMERA.

If only Elmer could have captured such a photo! Photo retried from The Cornell Lab for Ornithography: The Search for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker
If only Elmer could have captured such a photo! Retried from The Cornell Lab for Ornithography: The Search for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Wish Me Luck!


I had to add a new category to my blog because of this post. As of about ten minutes ago, I have officially sent in my first manuscript for potential publication. YAY! It’s a science fiction short story that I’m hoping will find a wonderful magazine home.

Here’s the basic plot of the story: Marlin, a bi-racial teenage girl is struggling to figure out her identity and place in her family. After her Icelandic mother’s death, Marlin is sent to live with her estranged father and his new family on Hawai’i. There she befriends a family of sea-dwelling alien refugees who are trying to hide on Earth. Just as Marlin is beginning to feel like she can reconcile her Icelandic and Hawaiian culture, everything falls apart.

Up until about a year ago, I wasn’t big on writing short stories. When I get one idea, I tend to get a thousand more, which is really great for things like world building and character development, but is really bad for things like keeping your story within a strict word limit. Then last year inspiration hit me and I knew I had to pen (or type) something that would be short and to-the-point.

Last summer, I took a multicultural psychology course. Hearing everyone’s experiences with their cultural identities was extremely interesting and enlightening. One of the women in the class talked about her experiences as a bi-racial woman who had even felt racism from her own blood relatives. At the same time, I read an blog entry by a bi-racial woman recounting the experiences of her childhood. I wish I still had the link. I’ll keep looking for it. What struck me the most was how her appearance dictated the way onlookers viewed her relationship with her parents. Her father is white, her mother is black. She looks like her mother. Her brother looks like her father: blond hair, blue eyes, lighter skin. She talked about when her mother would take her brother to the park or anywhere in public, people assumed she was his nanny because of course there’s no way a black woman could have a white child. I can only imagined that created many uncomfortable situations for that family, if not outright problems. (I’m sure you can see how these women’s experiences influenced my story.)

These experiences got me thinking: if we treat other humans as poorly as we do, how will we respond when we finally meet aliens? I sat down and started to write. The story  came so naturally that I didn’t need to edit much of the plot or characterization later on. I was ridiculously proud of it, but I wasn’t sure I could publish it.

I returned to the story a few months ago and decided it needed to be published. My original word count clocked in at 9,000 but by tightening my descriptions and eliminating superfluous words I whittled that down to 7,000 words. Then I sent it to a few reviewers to get feedback. Several of them mentioned there were a few unclear points, so I added material for clarification. Unfortunately that brought my word count up to 8,000. While I was waiting for feedback, I had been researching the magazines I could submit the manuscript to and most of them wanted stories between 5,000 to 7,5000 words. I knew there was no way I could do justice to the story with only 5,000 words so I aimed for 7,500. After a lot agonized editing to figure out what had to stay and what could go, I eventually got the manuscript down to a little under 7,500 words. Woo-hoo!

The magazine I submitted it to has the longest wait for hearing back from the editor, but I felt they would be one of the best bets for accepting my story. When I was investing the types of stories they’re looking for, I realized mine was right up their alley. Their website description for the stories they want almost perfectly described what I’d written. So hopefully, they’ll feel the same way and accept it! If not, I’ll keep trying until my story finds a home.

PS. This is partially a note to myself. I’ll have to write a blog entry specifically on how I got reviewers since I think that process would be helpful for other newbie writers in the same boat as me.

In the Eyes of the Beholders


Itsy Bitsy Spider
In case it’s not obvious (and it’s probably not), there’s a little spider making a web in the center of the photo.

Today’s photographic inspiration is a little spider I paparazzied while it was just minding its own business at the FDR Memorial in Washington DC. (Also, that’s a cool monument that anyone in the area should check out.)

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The cretinous two-eyed-two-leggers called him “itsy, bitsy”. Mr. Spider felt anything but. He was the industrious, inventive arachnid! Every morning he woke up as the warmth of the sun stirred his blood to life. He stretched his eight legs, blinked his eight eyes, and got to work. No complaints about Mondays. No dawdling until he got his coffee. Just. Work.

Each day he spun a fresh web. He created the thread on his own. He wove it using a pattern he had no need to record in a blueprint; it was so well-memorized it may as well have been in his DNA. In the center of his web he would sit, presiding over his splendor, waiting for the winged ones to come admiring. It was by the magnificence of his work that he lived, and it was by shoddy craftsmanship that far lesser spiders died. He stood watch over his flawless creation as the breeze battered it, as two-eyed-two-leggers threatened it with their bumbling motions, as spider-eaters came looking for an easy meal.

When each day dimmed, he collected the tatters that remained and vowed to create an even more splendorous web tomorrow. That was the only way he’d meet his Mrs. Spider. That was his one true goal, the flame that burned deep in his tiny heart that fueled his mighty legs and his thread-making spooly-thingy. (For all you two-eyed-two-leggers reading, yes that is the official arachnid term for it). One day he’d impress the right lady spider with his handiwork. Sure, after they mated she’d proceed to bite of his head to nourish their growing offspring, but it would all be worth it.

Mr. Spider stretched his legs on a fine April morning. The trembling in his hairs told him that this would be that day. Today he would catch the eyes of his one, true–

Ronald slammed his shoe down over the spider. He hated the creatures and the creepy piece of vermin looked like an eight-eyed pervert leering on the edge of the copper railing. He looked at its guts wedged in the treads of his shoe and cringed. As he wiped the gunk on the concrete walk, he thought only one word, “Disgusting.”