Short Story Treat!

Traditional Style Living Room

Here’s a short story I wrote recently called, “Room by Room”:

Our Realtor, Mandy, wants a tour of the house she will be listing for sale. You aren’t here. You left three weeks ago to be with that older woman you work with, the one the children and I call Sue-Sue instead of Susan because it sounds more appropriate, both juvenile and irresponsible, the way we like to imagine her.

I reluctantly guide Mandy through the foyer where your shoes once lay stacked like a fortress against the wall instead of hung neatly on the shoe rack I bought for the garage. Mandy takes pictures that will eventually end up on the Internet for the whole world to see. I cringe when I think of the mess of my life exposed for any voyeur to critique and comment, all those strangers who don’t know what hell I’ve been through to get here.

In the living room, Mandy bends to examine the hearth. “What’s that?” she asks. I look closer and notice the safe you placed inside so robbers would never guess where our valuables hid. It conspicuously sits like a steel box where a stack of logs should be. “I’ll remove it,” I say, knowing I will have to text you after the appointment so that you can use your key to come in and remove it while I’m at work.

“Would you like something to drink?” I ask.

“Just water.”

I flush with embarrassment when I pull open the refrigerator and see my collection of Lenox dolls on the top shelf. You aren’t here to criticize me for keeping them, but I hear your voice nonetheless. They’re porcelain. They won’t break in the heat. But still I kept them refrigerated like they had an expiration date. I grab a bottle of water and shut the door. I’ll have to pack them up or sell them on eBay. I can’t leave them with whoever will buy the home. They aren’t garden gnomes, after all.

I find Mandy in the master bathroom taking a photograph of the double sinks underneath the skylights that make the house look like a model home. Only she must have opened the cabinets to spy what was inside because the room smells like your Eternity cologne, the one I bought for you when I thought I would be spending eternity with you.

My eyes smart with tears. As soon as Mandy takes the bottle of water, I leave the room. I thought you had been erased once you left, but the reminders linger everywhere. Even in your absence, you take up more room than me.

Outside, in the backyard, I slump down into a chaise lounge and try to read a book I picked up from the library. It’s called, It’s Not Me, It’s You. The title seemed appropriate, a little bit like the fuck you diet my coworkers suggested I go on so that you might give me a second look when you see me again. But I can’t focus. I just read the same line over and over again.

My yoga teacher says, “Life is simple. We make it complicated.” She says it’s a quote from Confucius. I don’t care who said it. It’s not true.

I didn’t make my life complicated. You did. When you told me you were leaving me for an older woman, a woman who had just received her AARP card, I felt like you had punched me in the gut. I couldn’t breathe. How many nights had I spent bent over the mirror plucking every single gray strand of hair from my scalp because I was too lazy to dye it? I should have let my black locks grow gray and wiry like steel wool. Would you have loved me enough then?

Mandy pushes the slider back and steps outside. She surveys the garden oasis our gardener has meticulously landscaped. I am sitting beside the koi pond beneath the willow tree. Mandy asks me to move. “I want to photograph this Zen-like scene,” she says. “It will help the house sell quicker. It feels like a little piece of paradise.”

My chest hurts. I stand up and stagger back into the house and sink down on the nearest sofa in the family room. The walls are bare. I made you take every painting you ever created, even the one I like the most, the one you painted of me. I wonder if you’ll paint a picture of Sue-Sue.

“I’m done,” Mandy says. She closes the slider and sits down on the sofa next to me. “I’ll get your ex-husband’s signatures and then we can place the home on the market. What hours do you want the lockbox programmed for?”

I feel a headache blooming behind my right eye. I rub my temples, hoping to stave it off, but it remains. “How about by appointment only?”

“It will sell quicker with better access,” Mandy says. “I’m sure you want to move quickly.”

I don’t want to move at all. I want to take a bottle of sleeping pills and lie down on the cool leather sofa and fall into a hundred year’s sleep only to be awakened by true love’s first kiss.

But my life isn’t a fairytale. It’s a nightmare.

“Okay. Show it as much as you’d like. I’ll stay with a friend until we get an offer.”

Mandy’s smile broadens. At least I still have the power to make someone happy.

After Mandy leaves, I exhale. The tears pour out in messy belly-aching sobs. They rack my body until I feel like I’m out of breath from sprinting five miles. I grab a throw pillow and squeeze it tightly in a hug because you’re no longer here to hold me, and I wait for my breathing to return to a normal pace before I go into the kitchen to remove my figurines from the refrigerator, the first step to clearing out the house like I must clear out my life, making room for the next family who will move into it with the same bright hopes of making this place a home.

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Fall Book Tour Dates

Below is a list of confirmed events to promote Red Eggs and Good Luck. I hope you can make it to one or more of them!

East Coast

One More Page Books
Tuesday, October 27th from 7-8 pm

Midwest

Boswell Book Company
Thursday, October 29th from 7-9 pm

Tomah County Middle and High Schools
Friday, October 30th from 11 am to 3 pm

West Coast

Green Apple Books
Wednesday, November 4th from 7-9 pm

Best Wishes Cards and Gifts
Thursday, November 5th – Details to follow

First Book Review of Red Eggs and Good Luck

Brian O’Neel, Editor in Chief of The North Coast Catholic reviews Red Eggs and Good Luck. He says, “Do yourself a favor. Read this work. Get it for your book club (are you paying attention, mom?). Give it away as Christmas presents…If your experience is anything like mine, the only thing you won’t like about this moving, little gem, the only thing about it that will make you really angry is that it ends.”

Read the rest of the review on page 11 of the July issue.

How to Increase Productivity

This guest blog is written by Mat Veni. Mat Veni is a life hacker, not a hero. His do-it-yourself toolkit to stop procrastination can be found at You Tube.

I’m not in the right mood right now. I don’t feel well. I’m tired working all day. It would be easier to do it on the weekend. . .next month. And next month leads to the month called never-month.

Procrastination isn’t just a distraction or a kind of laziness. It’s often the choice that I’ll do it better if I do it later. Or I’ll do it later because it’s too important to do it poorly.

I have tens of arguments on why I won’t do it now. And they are all excellent. Truly are. Oh, come on, they are excuses because I don’t have a will to work on big tasks, or something that requires me to dig deeply.

I can easily say I need to check my emails, see what’s happening on social media sites, keep current on breaking news or the check out what’s new in sports. I also need to know what the weather is going to be and, of course, I need to take a break and get something to eat. And when I’m done with that, something new will have broken in the news. And here we go again. What are some of your favorite excuses?

So procrastination is about the ‘not right moment.’ But in short, the ‘right’ moment doesn’t exist.

There are plenty of ways to avoid distractions. I can switch off the TV, disconnect the Internet, and turn off my phone, but I can still find a way to switch to the ‘do it later’ tool. So I need something to remind me what is best for me, what I truly want. I don’t want to be a 100% totally unproductive guy.

Yes, I understand my brain needs boredom. It needs to relax and make decisions later. I’m ok with that. I’m also fine with some distractions that might help me increase my knowledge and react differently and maybe become even more productive tomorrow.

But it’s not all right with me if the procrastination lasts forever. I can be patient, but I want things to be done.

How to limit procrastination:

1. You must know what you want and when you want it.

Even if I don’t like to set goals, I need to define what it is I want and the timeframe in which I want it. Without a clear destination and deadline, I will never take the minor steps toward accomplishment.

2. Know what motivates you.

I need something that internally drives me. Otherwise, I soon realize I will get nowhere.
I use simple reminders of my motivation:
– Colored stickers. Red is passion. Blue is calm. Green is productivity. Yellow is happiness.
– Quotes. They are simple and quick to read and powerful enough to remind me of where I want to go.
– Accountability partner. It’s a great method to share your problems with someone else who shares a similar goal. You can remind each other of your motivation and encourage each other to continue on the journey even when you want to procrastinate.

3. You need to be organized and record your journey.

I prefer to keep an old fashioned notebook with me to list each step I’ve taken towards achieving my goals. There are also tons of free apps you can download onto your smart phone to help track your journey. I’ve used both, but I prefer the physicality of holding a book in my hands.

How do you ‘fight’ against the never ending battle with procrastination?

Q & A with Amanda Zieba

Amanda ZiebaThis week I’m honored to interview the amazing author Amanda Zieba whose YA sci-fi novel, Breaking the Surface, is followed by the sequel, Bridging the Tides, which will be released on Tuesday May 12.

Q. Welcome Amanda! In the first book, Breaking the Surface, readers are introduced to an underwater world where scientists are working to discover a safe product to cleanse the ocean from the pollution caused by humans. Book two, Bridging the Tides, focuses on how the teens and the adults solve the problems caused by the PE-328 release. How much scientific research did you invest in this series?

A. As a reader one of my favorite genres is historical fiction because not only can I enjoy a fantastic adventure, but I also learn something while I am reading. As both a teacher and an author, I wanted my readers to have a similar experience, learning interesting facts while they enjoy my story. When I began writing Breaking the Surface I did do a lot of research. The series was inspired by a documentary entitled: Deep Sea (a film by: Howard Hall). In this movie, the narrators describe the incredible landscapes and creatures of our oceans. The images instantly sparked ideas in my creative mind, but it was the statement that “there is more uncharted territory in the oceans on here Earth than in all of outer space” that really stuck with me. I was shocked! How could we know less about our own planet than we do about places millions of light years away? This question was the first in an avalanche of musings that carried me to the internet, National Geographic magazines, the library and multiple re-viewings of Deep Sea. As I wrote the story, I tried very hard to be as factual as possible, keeping the animal characteristics/ocean details/scientific realities as true as possible. By the time I got to Bridging the Tides, I knew what I needed to know and therefore was able to write it much more quickly. I did occasionally need to look up a thing or two like: what is the fastest fish in the ocean and what are the specific anatomic qualities of a starfish? I hope readers like discovering these little fact snippets sprinkled throughout the story.

Q. For those who have not read book one, how difficult will it be for readers to follow Bridging the Tides?

A. Bridging the Tides picks up right where Breaking the Surface left off. If you start with Bridging the Tides, oodles of important background information including the explanation of the major conflict will be lost to you, leaving you with a mind full of questions. Funny story, my grammatical editor for Bridging the Tides had not read the Breaking the Surface and as she read, she marked up the page with all these questions about the plot. I felt horrible that I put her through pages and pages of a poor reading experience because she had no idea what was going on! So yes, if you have not read Breaking the Surface, definitely start there first!

Q. What made you decide to end Breaking the Surface with a cliffhanger?

A. I had a lot of frustrated readers when they got to the end of Breaking the Surface and found the problem unresolved. I purposely left the characters hanging to create suspense and a strong desire to read the second book. But don’t worry, I won’ torture you the same way again. Bridging the Tides ends with a solid resolution, hopefully leaving readers satisfied. I do not have plans to write another book in this series, but if I should ever decide to return to the underwater world of the ARK, I feel I left left room for more stories down there.

Q. It took you seven years to start this series. How long did it take to write Bridging the Tides? Does it get easier to write once a series has been started? Or are there unexpected challenges readers don’t know about that you’d like to share?

A. From start to finish Bridging the Tides took 8 months, which is infinitely faster than it took me to write the first book. I started it in November 2014 as my first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month). I didn’t reach the goal of 50,000 words, but I had a pretty good start (24,000). In addition to being a writer, I am also a mom, wife and full time middle school teacher. It is tricky to balance all of the loves of my life, but thanks to my very supportive husband who works hard to carve out time for me to write, I was able to complete this novel. I write on Wednesdays after school for 2-3 hours (Writing Wednesdays!), after my sons go to bed and on the weekends. I am not a plotter. I write the most vivid scenes dancing around in my mind first and then afterward go back and link them together. I tried to write this book chronologically. I got to chapter 17 before I gave up and went back to my haphazard all over the place writing process. The further I got into the story, the faster the words came. Some of the plot elements required a lot of think time, but once I had those figured out, it got easier.

Q. How has teaching middle school students influenced your writing?

A. Teaching middle school has been a great blessing for my writing. It makes me strongly believe in the benefits of not majoring in writing while in college or taking it up as your first career. In the middle school setting I am constantly surrounded by living breathing middle grade protagonists. I hear their dialogue, view their clothing styles, witness their heartbreaks, listen to their preferences… all on a daily basis. I also am acutely aware of what they select to read. This is a wealth of information that I would be missing out on, if I were not a teacher. I do my best to use this information to inform my writing style, inspire my character dialogue, and ultimately craft a story I know my students would enjoy. I also see the number of students uninterested in reading. I take it upon myself to hook them into great books every day at school, and at home, write ones that will hopefully do the same.

Q. What particular challenges do you face writing in the dystopian genre?

A. I’m not sure I would consider my novels dystopian. I feel like the environmental problems my characters face and try to solve are problems we have today. I’m sure there are people out there in our world trying to solve the problem of water pollution and oceanic habitat destruction, but just maybe not in the ways that I have described in my books. A message that I would like readers (especially middle grade and YA readers) to take away from the Surface Series is that even though there are problems in the world, there are ways to solve them. Additionally, I would like them to learn that they, even at a young age, can be a part of the solution. Finally, I hope to have communicated the importance of the bonds of family and friendship. No matter what happens in the world, no matter who you meet and no matter where you go, it is the way you treat those around you that matters.

Q. What is your next writing project?

A. My next writing project is a middle grade series about geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide outdoor treasure hunt. Using handheld GPS receivers my main characters, twins Sam and Molly Ross, go on adventures around the US, hunting for geocaches and the treasures they hold inside. Geocaching is a great sport that combines technology, the outdoors and physical activity. I hope to add a love of reading to the recipe and come up with a hit. While I have self-published all of my books up to this point, I am planning to go the traditional publishing route with this series. I have begun working with a professional editor and this summer I will be rewriting my first draft according to the recommendations he has made.

Q. Where do you see yourself five years from now as an author?

A. In five years I hope to be writing full time. My very specific plan includes leaving my teaching career in 3 years when my youngest son goes to Kindergarten and my family is no longer burdened by the massive investment of daycare expenses. At that point in time I will have been writing professionally for 6 years. I will have 6 self-published titles (3 in the Orphan Train Riders Series, 2 in the Surface Series, and one picture book: Pauly Wants to Doodle All the Day- due out in summer 2015). In addition to the funds I make from these books, I hope to supplement my author income by doing school author visits, educational material sales via TeachersPayTeachers.com and other freelance jobs. Of course I hope to be writing more books as well. I have several book ideas circulating in my brain right now ranging from a YA medieval time period fantasy, and two clean romance novels for adults. All I need is the time to get them down on paper.

For more information about Amanda Zieba or her books, visit her on Facebook.

On the Midnight Shuttle

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Moonlit Fields of Desire by Angela Turpin

We met at the Los Angeles airport after our flight was canceled because of a mechanical failure. You asked me, “Will they ship my luggage to my home?” I shrugged, having not traveled much in my lifetime, not much at all, except for business, which was why I was here, waiting for the next flight to Santa Rosa.

I didn’t pay any more attention to you. I was too busy waiting for my boss to return with her bottled water. I wanted to board the plane and head home. It was after ten o’clock, past my bed time, and the veggie sandwich I had eaten an hour ago was not enough to settle my nerves about whether or not I would be home in the morning to help my husband take our children to their respective schools.

After the plane landed in San Francisco, you found me once again waiting for the midnight shuttle to take us home. When you wouldn’t stop talking, I finally reached out, introduced myself, and shook your hand. I noticed your closely clipped hair that made you look almost bald, the tweed Fred Astaire hat in your hand, and the button down shirt and khaki slacks that made you look like you had stepped out of a 1950’s photo. You kept on talking and talking, and your enthusiasm buoyed me. I lost track of how cold the San Franciscan air was and how dark and lonely it felt beneath the awning. You were like a bouncing fluorescent ball of energy illuminating the darkness. Your talk was so absorbing, witty, and entertaining that I forgot about how my husband did not call to say he loved me, how my daughter only cared about how I had yet again missed her birthday, and how my co-worker friend thought my photo text with the abbreviated message, “Wish you were here,” was for my husband, not him.

My boss stood on the sidewalk behind us smoking a cigarette. I pointed to a man standing on the curb holding a sign with someone’s name written in black marker. “That will be me later this year when I go on a cross country book tour,” I said.

You glanced behind us at the man with the sign and nodded. “How many books have you written?”

“Too many to count,” I said, “but this will be the fifth I’ve published.” I bit my lower lip and tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered if my family would miss me or would they dread the day I returned.

You tossed the tweed hat back and forth between your hands and said, “I followed a girlfriend to college and picked whatever major seemed grown up at the time just to be with her, but when I discovered color—how blue or orange can make someone buy something—I discovered the my true calling.” You clasped your hat gently with the fingers of one hand and gazed at me with your hazel eyes. “Sometimes you have to follow a path that will care for your health and spirit.”

I glanced away and shivered. You must have thought I was cold because you offered me your jacket. I shook my head and said, “It’s my soul that’s freezing.”

You frowned and pulled me close. I rested my cheek against your shoulder and noticed my boss across the street staring at us. I shifted, trying to pull away, but you held me closer and whispered, “How can you be with someone who limits your potential? Who doesn’t want you to succeed? It might have been fine when you’re twenty, but it’s not okay when you’re forty. You need respect and recognition. You deserve to be with someone who understands that.”

“All I ever wanted was happiness,” I whispered back.

You released me. “Are you happy?”

I glanced away, afraid to answer.

You waved your hat like a magic wand, cutting through the night, bringing clarity to the situation. “When my wife and I contemplated getting a divorce last year, she said it was because she couldn’t live with a man who was too soft with his children. I told her I would rather be unmarried and alone than to create so much tension with my son that he would never open up to me. If that means I’m not hard on him, then I’m willing to end the marriage. I cannot live with someone who cannot accept me as I am.” Our eyes met. “When are you going to stop hiding that light inside of you?”

“I’m not hiding it,” I said.

You stopped talking. Your fingers splayed to catch the brittle night. “You’re such a liar.”

I laughed.

When the shuttle arrived, we sat next to each other and continued to chat until the bus driver said, “Hush. People are trying to sleep.” You tilted your head close to mine, and our heads touched. “Let’s whisper,” you said.

It was after midnight. “We should be sleeping,” I said. “We both have to be at work by eight.”

You whispered, “But I could talk to you all night.”

I smiled. “And I could listen to you all night.”

You said, “You are a good listener.”

We touched noses and continued talking.

I felt your voice vibrating against my skin. I felt your energy infiltrating me with new life. I felt your words filling me up, making me full.

“I have plenty of friends who say they’re writers,” you said, “but I’ve never seen anything they’ve written.”

“It’s a tough business,” I said.

“That doesn’t matter.” You wrapped your arm around my shoulder, tugging me closer. I placed my head against your shoulder and felt safe and warm and loved and understood. You said, “You’ve published five books.”

“I only sell one book for every five hundred hits on my website,” I said.

“That’s good.” Your voice uplifted me. “The average conversion rate is one to two percent.”

I was too tired to try to calculate the mathematical formula to verify if you were correct. “I won’t feel so bad anymore,” I said, although I knew deep down I would continue to compare myself to my friends, many of whom had books for sale in the Hudson Bookstore at the airport terminal at LAX.

You held me closer and whispered, “You’re a star.”

I smiled against your shirt, too uncomfortable for words.

Later, as the shuttle drifted through San Francisco, our words grew sparser, our breaths grew longer, and our eyelids grew heavier until we parted into dreams.

When the bus driver jolted us awake, we parted like plastic peeling away from skin, reluctantly and hesitatingly, a film of body heat clinging to us like memory. You said, “I enjoyed our conversation.”

We stepped out into the night, and while I waited for my boss to disembark to drive me home, you pulled me into your arms and said, “Even if we never see each other again, I will always look into the heavens and think of you because you are a star.”

I felt my throat tighten and tears well up against the surface of my eyes. “This night reminds me of the movie Before Sunrise,” I said.

You chuckled, stepping back and holding me with your hands on my shoulders. “No, it’s more like Clerks.”

I shook my head. “It was more like destiny.”

You smiled and nodded, donning your hat and walking away to the long term parking lot, leaving me alone.

Weeks have passed since that night. And whenever I am alone after midnight I think of you and wonder if you still think I am a star.

Beyond the Brick Wall

Chinese Catholic

A successful publicity campaign begins months before a book is released. It’s designed to generate interest, stimulate pre-orders, and ensure the buzz behind the book translates into actual sales. It’s a long, arduous process that is supposed to be fun. Yes, fun. Especially if your idea of fun includes hitting a brick wall of resistance no matter whom you contact or what you pitch.

At first, I thought it was just me. I’m new to the whole process of contacting people and publications that might be interested in helping me promote my book. But I later discovered it’s a little more complicated than that. In fact, if I thought writing was hard and finding a publisher even harder and securing an agent completely impossible, then the reward to effort ratio for securing publicity out beat all of them.

Here’s why:

1. I am not famous. When you’re famous, your publicist becomes your gatekeeper so that you are not inundated with frivolous requests of your time and talent which could be better spent producing new work, which is what you solely do.

2. I am not rich. Without a monthly budget of $20,000 to hire the top tiered publicist in the nation, I cannot expect to receive $20,000 of endorsements each month no matter how much I wish, hope, and pray.

3. I am ordinary. And not the oh-so-ordinary-girl-next-door-refreshingly-quaint ordinariness that inspires fame and fortune like Jennifer Garner, but the she-would-be-brilliant-if-she-stopped-making-emotional-decisions ordinary.

Therefore, I need to approach publicity from a different angle, focusing on the themes of my book. Although my memoir, Red Eggs and Good Luck, deals with a wide range of topics from ambition, childhood, courage, cultural differences, faith, family, forgiveness, identity, marriage, resilience, weight, and womanhood, I’ve been repeatedly asked by interested parties to write new material that addresses the intersection of the Chinese culture and the Catholic faith. I do not understand the public’s fascination with the Chinese Catholic experience anymore than I understand their obsession with the Amish mafia.

But I’ve been asked to become a witness to this unique experience. It’s what the public wants. And if I want any publicity for my memoir, then I must deliver what the public wants. It’s the only way to get past the brick wall of resistance.

Love Connections


I first conceived of “A Modern Love Story” in 2013 during a trip to the San Francisco Exploratorium. An exhibit about the evolution of romantic relationships included commentary from USA Today, which stated that one-third of marriages began online. This sparked an idea of chronicling a contemporary love story complete with text messages, emails, voice mails, and the occasional in-person appearance. However, two years later, after witnessing a relationship founded in-person rather than online, I discovered my original cynical view of modern love had evolved into a bittersweet tenderness that actually cut my three act play into a two minute video. Here’s the result of that culmination of effort, “Connections: a Commentary on Modern Love”. Please leave your comments.