A Little Short Story Fun

The Manor

Lucian ran the manor.  Impeccably dressed at all times, neat salt-and-pepper hair cut close to the scalp and never a single thing out of place, including the staff.  Lucian and I were not exactly friends but came to an understanding of each other on the drive from Newcastle Airport to the Manor when I first arrived.

“How long have you worked at the Manor Lucian?”

“Oh darling, it seems as if forever.  In truth, I came on once the British Library Foundation took over the Manor.  Someone’s got to be here with all the books to preserve the history and keep the staff in line!” 

“Tell me about the Manor.  Anything unusual or special about the home I should know?” 

“Only that the family who once owned the Manor all died off in rather unusual circumstances.  I don’t know much about them, having come on when the Foundation took over the home.  Stay out of the garden and the apple orchard in the dark, as there are lots of ways to get disoriented and lost.  I have had to send the gardener out to find more than one wayward guest.”

“Understood.  Do you know what happened to the family?  Why they all died off?”. 

Lucian glanced at me.  “I think you will find ample time to explore the vast library in the home and understand more about the history of the house.  This might lend some insight into what happened and could be some very good material for a book.  I understand you’re having a bit of writers block.”

“Isn’t that an understatement” I muttered as we continued the long drive into the remote English countryside.  I drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

My agent sent me here to get the creative juices flowing.  Close to the Scottish border, lush rolling hills surrounded the valley where the Manor perched, complete with an overgrown garden, dusty stables and a tangled apple orchard.  The stables long ceased to be used for anything besides housing unwanted junk.  The gardens and the apple orchard, left untended for too long, became a thing of their own.  A cheap and easy place to dump a struggling writer.  My agent hoped the solitude would cure my writer’s block. 

My first novel sat on the NY Times Bestseller list for a mere 2 weeks and sales did not earn out as expected.  At least I did not have to give the advance back as it was small to begin with.  My next two books never even hit the bestseller list and there was no advance for those two. I needed something.  Maybe that something would be here in the house. Once I got settled, my first order would be to the find the library.

“Lucian!  Lucian!  Where are you?” 

“Here, darling” as he appeared outside my door.  “Are you all settled?”

“Yes, not much to get settled, after all. Where is the library?” Anxious to get something, anything going, the library would be the place I decided to spend most of my time. 

“Where are the others?” 

“Others, darling?”

“Yes, I thought my agent told me there would be other writers here.”

“Oh no, no.  Only you, I am afraid.  The other writers all cancelled.  It is only you and me.  Oh, and the other staff.  But you will not and should not see them much.”

I lacked for nothing; all my needs attended to. I worked day after day and night after night in the library, my book growing in form.  But so, did the unease.  I heard whispers, kept seeing things out of the corner of my eye, silhouettes in the night. I tried to ask Lucian about the strange goings on. 

“Lucian, what is really going on in this house?  I keep seeing strange things out of the corner of my eye.  The lights flicker and the power goes out.  I felt like I am being watched whenever I am in the library.  Are you sure there is not more here than you are telling me? A house this old has to be haunted.”

“Don’t be silly.  It is just an old house that holds lots of memories, aches and pains.  Do not trouble yourself, it is nothing.”

“Okay. Didn’t we drive through a local village on the way in?  Is there a pub there?  I feel like I need to get out of this house for a bit of fresh air.” With no one else to talk to as the Manor had no cell service or Internet, I thought the locals might know something more of the goings on in the house. 

“Yes, yes, of course.  The village is less than a kilometer away, and you will know the pub when you see it.  Remember to be back before dark. We don’t want to have to send a rescue party out for you, should you get lost.”

“Don’t worry Lucian. I’ll go tomorrow late morning, when I have more daylight.”  I spent an uneasy night of sleep tossing and turning after a solitary dinner.

I took a light breakfast in the library and found something that looked interesting.  Tucked behind the more recent books on the shelf, I found an old book, some sort of ledger, the title worn off with age.  Columns and lists of items and where they came from. I decided to take the book with me to the pub.  As I meandered along the road to the village, feeling the weight of the book in my bag, I wondered if I would learn anything new.  I looked up.  This must be it.  The old, flaked sign moved in the wind.  I couldn’t read the title, something about a horse.

“Can I get a pint of Newcastle Ale?”

“Oh, aye, the brown stuff.  Not from around here, are ya?” 

I laughed.  “That obvious, is it?”

“Oh aye.  Not often we get pretty young ladies around here.  Now, let me get you that pint.  What’s that you’ve got?” 

“This?” I pulled the leather-bound book out.  “This is some type of old ledger I found in the library at the Manor.  I’m trying to learn more about the history of the house.” 

“Well, if it’s history you are wanting, there is plenty to go around.” The barkeep leaned in.  “Some say as that house is haunted.  Many, many years ago the family members started dying off for no reason.  Some say the master of the Manor brought strange, wicked objects from his travels.” He leaned in even closer.  “Some even say as those are what killed his family.” 

“Huh.  Well now that’s interesting.  Thanks for the pint!”  I made my way back to a table at the back of the pub to have some privacy.  I looked through the pages of the ledger, finding nothing of interest until the very last page.  My skin prickled as I saw, among the list of objects brought back, a doll.  The level of the dinner regulars grew in the pub.  Time for me to go before it got dark.  I intended to find out more about the doll back at the house.  As I walked back to the Manor, I began to wonder if the doll had something to do with the strange goings on. 

I made it back to the Manor as the last light faded with the sunset.  Dark seemed to come faster here. I went in the back door off the kitchen. 

“Hello, anyone here?”

I noticed a note on the fridge from Lucian.  He and the staff were gone doing some errands and would be back later.  My dinner warmed in the oven.  Starving, I decided to look for a movie to watch in the entertainment room while eating, instead of going straight to the library.  While I was digging around looking for movies in the endless drawers and cupboards, I found a very old box.  As I pulled the box out from the back of the cupboard it disintegrated in my hands.  A small lump of cloth sat inside attached to a porcelain body, blackened with the spots of damp and decay, missing an eye in the tiny head.  It smelled of moldy, old things.  

I turned to set the doll back in the box to put in the cupboard and it came to life in my hands, morphing into the demon it actually was. Small, and ugly, with a twisted face and sharp needle teeth it scratched and clawed at my hands. I wanted to get as far away from that thing as I could and threw it at the tv screen.  I ran from the room, locking it in from the outside and barricading the door with the table from the hall.  I could hear it scratching and clawing at the door, trying to figure out a way to get through. 

I ran through the house, yelling and screaming.  I knew I had to go, had to get out.  And so, I ran outside.  I ran to a place I didn’t think it could or would find me, the apple orchard.  I spent the night curled up tight around one of the larger, older trees, covering myself with dirt, grass and twigs and anything else I could to keep warm.  I thought I might be safe once the sun rose. 

I woke cramped and cold, covered with dirt.  It was light and I decided to venture back inside.  Book or no book, time to get my things and go. I walked up to the back of the house, going in through the kitchen again.  Heart pounding, I made my way through the kitchen and down the hall towards the entertainment room.   I had to know if it was still in there.  I did not hear anything as I got closer.  The door, still shut, gave way easily as I turned the knob.  Nothing.  No evidence of anything, not even my plate of food from last night. 

I turned to go back to the kitchen and screamed.

“Darling!  Are you alright?”

“No Lucian, I am NOT alright! You scared the crap out of me!”

“I’m so, so sorry!  Where have you been all night? I have been worried sick, and you are covered in dirt.”

I sighed.  “I am not sure you would believe me if I told you.”

“Come with me darling and let me get you settled into the library. I’ll bring you a nice cup of tea and you can tell me all about it.”

Lucian settled me into one the chairs closest to the fire.  He tucked a blanket around me, and I finally felt warm. 

“I won’t be a moment darling, I am going to get that tea, now that you are settled.”

Lucian left, closing the library door behind him.  The lock clicked. 

“Lucian?  Lucian?  Why are you locking me in?”

“Oh no, it is not me darling, it is the Manor.  You are one of us now.”

Burn the Critique Letters

As a writer, I have always heard about “workshopping” your work. I have to confess, I am not much of a group writer. Not at all. In fact, even the thought kind of stresses me out. Some writing is too private for me to share until it is ready. Kind of like cooking. You don’t want to take it out too early.

Last week in my intro to writing class, I had a short story of mine “workshopped”. Basically, I sat around, listened to people talk about why I wrote what I wrote, talk about what was wrong with it, talk about what they liked about it and then offered up some ideas or suggestions. Now, there were a few good things that came out of it, ways I could make my story better. Most of them I already knew. But that was it. What mostly came out of it is that I hate workshops and want to burn every single critique letter. Especially in an intro to fiction writing class where the people in the class know what they are doing even less than me.

I do not enjoy having to read 3-4 shitty first drafts of short stories I have no interest in per week, let alone trying to write a “positive” critique letter and then sit around and talk about it. I detest this process. Some of these people in this class most likely fancy themselves the next Tolkien or Martin or Rowling or whoever and they are not. Ugh. I am in this class to hone my craft and learn some technical elements of writing and it has been a disapointment overall. I am not even sure I want to take another fiction writing class. But, not one to give up, I will try it again at the intermediate level this Fall.

I do believe there is value in sharing your work and having trusted people look for holes in your plot and everything else and give you their critique because you know they want you to release the best story possible. But this crap? I am SO not into it. I do not feel like I am learning much and if these critique letters were not such a big part of my grade, I would not bother. Good thing there are plenty of people in my class who like to talk during workshops, I am not one of them.

I found this quote from a guest post on Jane Friedman’s site, and Jennie Nash nails it perfectly:

A group of writers who are not trained to assess problems with a story or argument often get it wrong, or get it partially right, or demand specific remedies—not necessarily on purpose, but by a sort of unconscious group-think approach of what they like or don’t like. It’s not good. It comes without any assistance in how to move forward. You get the “it’s not working” feedback, but not the nurturing and patience you need to fix your problem, and certainly not the editorial understanding you need to prevent it from happening again. People may offer ideas for how they would fix things, or how they see your story or what they would do, but this is a sure path for crushing fragile new projects and wavering confidence.

This is what I have found, and this is what I don’t like. This is also why I used a story I don’t care about because I was definitely not going to use any piece of my novel because that work is deeply personal for me and it is not ready yet. When the time comes, I will select my own group that I think will benefit me. Until then, I am burning all the critique letters.

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Words In Me

At a young age they claimed me.  And I was forever gone.  Roaming the bookshelves in libraries.  Secreting away books too big and too long for me. I read them anyway.

I could learn anything, go anywhere, be anyone.  Still I remained me.  The same and yet a little different with every word I took in.  Hungering and thirsting, more, more, more! No book big enough.

Until one day I discovered I too had words in me.  And all the words I took in came pouring back out.  The same, but different.  In the coming of my own age I could tell my story to the spaces on my page.  No judgment, no remorse, only release.

A secret space reserved for me.  Freed to fly on wings of speech I said all the things I never could out loud. 

My Drug

When I don't write, I get itchy.  When I don't write, I feel ungrounded.  So, hence, I write.  Sometimes I work on my book.  Sometimes I blog.  I almost always write morning pages, every day. 3 pages of whatever I want and it takes the edge off.  I just don't feel right if I don't.  I've had a novel in progress for a little over 3 years and I am coming close to getting the 1st draft finished.  Writing has taken over my life.  The yin to writings' yang is reading, of course.  I am an avid reader, constantly being surrounded by stacks and stacks of books of my own and almost daily trips to the library.    

When I say it is my drug, I mean it.  I crave it, and after I've taken a hit, I always feel the endorphins flowing.  Sometimes it scares me but most times it soothes me.  I don't need any other high than this.  And I feel incomplete without it.  Lately I have not been blogging much because I deactivated my website for awhile.  It feels good to get back to it.  I'm using this as a warm-up to get me into working on my book.  It's been a few days since I've done that too.  

I listen to instrumental pieces when I'm writing because that gives me something for my mind to focus on and leaves my creativity free to flow.  I can't do music with words because I start singing along and then I lose all track of what I'm supposed to be doing.  Right now I'm listening to "1916: The Irish Rebellion".  A soundtrack composed by Patrick Cassidy.  My favorite instrumentals to listen to are movie or tv show soundtracks.  Outlander and Lord of the Rings are my other favorites.  I suppose I choose music with fantastical elements because my book contains fantastical elements and that is the genre I am currently writing in.  

For me, creativity is a powerful force, and one I dedicate myself to and surrender to daily.  I like to think about God as the "Great Creator", and we work together to bring out the stories inside of me.  I trust the Great Creator with the quality and my job is the quantity.  Thus, I am responsible for co-creating my life with the Divine.  It is a pretty sweet spot, once you find it.  

I think we all have it.  It just takes a little digging to get to.  When people say they are not creative, I don't buy it.  Maybe not a painter, like my brother, or a writer, like me, but the power to create lies in all of us, no matter what that might be.  It feels good to be back in the saddle again, so-to-speak.  If I had to choose an animal to exemplify creativity for me, it would be the horse, without question.  

And this concludes my writing exercise for the day.  Now onto book pages, and I'll leave you with this little gem: