Nancy M. Long
She sat in the covered patio section of the Starbucks, hair down and laptop up on the table. It was a beautiful sunny day with just a touch of cold in the morning air. It was a shock to see so many people already lined up inside and sitting at the tables. It was worth a little chill to sit alone. There was probably enough juice on the computer for the length of a latte. The first sip gave her a little shock as the heat didn’t hit her until it was on the tip of her tongue. Like a jolt of electricity she pulled her head back.
Damn. Peace was broken by a strange man wheeling over what looked like a tool container. He’d come off the bus and she’d watched him limping this way for a while. He stopped at one table, standing awkwardly over it before rolling over to be at the table just in front of her. He still hadn’t sat down.
He stood fiddling with his phone, seemingly unsure whether or not he wanted headphones in or out. There are sandwich bags attached to the black plastic box but she doesn’t shift to better see them. Instead she keeps her eyes focused on the computer ahead of her, calculating the best time to squeeze back inside. There is still some seating in the front of the store along the window. Though, it looks back out onto the patio.
As Chuck’s setting up his phone with the Wifi he sees the girl typing away at her laptop. Not one to enjoy sitting alone he sets up camp next to her so that he can watch the soccer game on his phone. He liked to use the Wifi here. It was free and there was a bathroom inside. He tried to be discreet and sat with his back mostly to her, looking out into traffic so that he could see her without looking at her. He’d noticed her sneakers while walking up, black with a white Nike logo striking across the side. He put his cane on the back left of his chair where he knew she could see it.
‘Oh thank god.’ She thought, watching a young guy, Asian decent, walk out with two lattes in a to go container and sit down at the far end of the patio giving them breathing room, like a normal person. The more she looked at the side of the older man’s head the more unnerved she was becoming. His GoArmy hat, rather than instill patriotic feelings, reminded her of all the untreated mental health issues facing the vets. As if to punctuate the point he says out loud, to no one in particular, “Wow. Wow, oh wow.”.
The young guy gathered his things and left. She kicked herself realizing that the to go cardboard carrier should have been the clue and that a second person was not coming out. Alone again with this person and his diminishing boundaries, her arms started to itch with the combination of pollen and goosebumps.
Grabbing the opportunity given by the young guy leaving, she followed suit and put away her laptop like she too was on the move and while the man was focused away from her she slipped back into the Starbucks through the patio side door and found the one open space in the back of the cafe. She sandwiched herself in between spreadsheet guy and procrastination man, who sat manipulating his phone in front of his blank laptop screen.
This felt normal. The group of older men chatting in the corner struck her as military but didn’t give her any of those nervous chills. They talked about their lives like football announcers, in clear bold voices. One still had his buzz cut though they all looked retired. She sighed relief as normalcy started to set back in. The man on the patio watching soccer would not come in, she knew that.
He heard her leave behind him. He wondered if it was the smell. He didn’t think it could get through the box. He’d filled in the spaces with kitty litter. He’d learned to do that from the computers at the library. He thought about the typing girls feet, under those wide sneakers. There was a hole in the right toe, he noticed, like her big toe was trying to get out. He pictured that toe, wiggling around in there, rubbing against the inside of her shoe.
She was getting back into her groove. Typing away at her latest story about murder and mayhem. She was far away.
‘Damn it!’ She thought as she looked up and there he was again, limping by with his black box right in front of her. She wondered if he recognized her, if he knew she’d come in to avoid him. He wheeled straight through to the bathroom. She recognized the way his eyes just glazed the scenery around him, not looking anything straight on. She did the same thing when she was trying to be stealthy. She made a note to herself to stop doing that. After a couple of minutes she looked at the time 9:11AM.
She’d picked up this habit from her last job where she would time and chart how long a certain co-worker was in the bathroom. His record had been close to thirty minutes, averaging twenty minutes each day at around nine in the morning. It became a form of entertainment each morning to track his bathroom stats. It broke up the data entry tasks of the morning and took the bite out of her boss’s catty remarks.
Exit, 9:29am. He wheeled by once more and she made an effort to look up at him, to gather a description in her mind. White male. Almost six foot but stooping. Long hair under the ball cap, light dirty brown. A large protruding belly, distending unnaturally from under his black jacket. His facial features were exaggerated with a big bulbous nose and fleshy lips. He walks with a heavy limp, supporting himself with a cane and his rolling black box.
After he’d gone by a smell crept up on her. A musty smell so strong that it thickened the air. There was something about it that brought the goosebumps back and she drank her latte a little faster. She’d planned on milking it for as long as she could, usually a bit over two hours of writing time per latte, but today she’d make an exception. It had been about an hour before she was walking out of the front door of the coffee shop, looking over her shoulder at the patio. He was still there, at a different table now, positioned so that he was looking at the Starbucks with a decent view of the front door. He had his earbuds in and was looking down at his phone. She didn’t pause.
He watched for a while as the Nike sneakers walked away. His attention shifted then to the Birkenstock coming toward him. He could see everything. The foot was framed in two light brown suede straps on black rubber soles. He couldn’t see detail from this far but he could see that the toes had been painted light purple. He pictured the toenails a little long and smooth all the way across. She was through the Starbucks door before he could get another look. He thought about the toes in the box, wiggling around in the gritty litter.
It was getting warmer outside. Pretty soon someone would come out here to sit. He had nowhere else to go so he’d wait it out. He put his hand on the black box, full palm over the bags of eye bolts and spare pieces of piano wire. The tips of his fingers reached the black plastic of the box itself.
Back at home she took off her Nike's, noting the hole. She knew she needed new shoes and like last month promised to buy some. She took two steps before her foot smashed, toenail first, into the out of place leg of the piano bench. She dropped to the ground, gripping her foot in both hands. She was still happy to be home. Here, nobody could hear her expletive filled outbursts.
Finding Your Writing Community
Writing is a solitary activity, for the most part. It certainly draws an introverted crowd. But as soon as you switch from the pure hobbyist to the hopeful professional writing suddenly becomes a community event. Even before you have people on either side of you it’s apparent that you need them. It’s starts with niggling questions like, who can I ask to read this to see if it’s actually good? Who’s going to spot the grammar mistakes that are invisible to me? You like the title, but is it marketable?
“Damn it man, I’m a writer not a business guru!”
A lot of blogs and books will talk about how the self-published author is all these things to themselves. They are multi-hatted machines that are in charge of every aspect of their book. But that’s misleading. No matter how good you are in one area of the self-publishing game you’re likely weak in another. And no matter what, you still need people to read through your work to see the things you’ve gone word blind to. It happens to everyone. You know the story in and out, so if there’s a crucial detail missing in your manuscript, you’re not going to see it.
The good news it there are lots of ways to find your community.
There are lots of writing conferences happening each year. Here you’ll see the professional writing world in full bloom as writers, agents, editors and more all gather together to hear the latest talk and gather around the proverbial water cooler.
They can be pricey for sure but there are a few things you can do about that.
For the conference make a batch of business cards with your name, phone number, email, and website if you have one, and hand these out to everyone you meet. A nice touch is to add a little tagline that very briefly describes what you write like, “Keeping the mystery in murder.” or “Making the mundane more sinister everyday.”. And when you receive cards from others take a little time to write down something about the person to help you remember later. I try to write something on the card itself when I’m out of view, a quick physical description, what they do, what we talked about. Be sure to actually contact the people you liked the best or who you believe you can really learn from. All it takes sometimes is a hello, what are you working on? I found a great article on whatever it is you focus on and thought I’d just send it your way. Just keep the connection alive and let it grow.
Local Writing Group
Wherever you are you can likely find a local or at least close to local writing group that meets once a month. They are wonderful for hearing inspiring speakers and meeting like minded individuals. Sometimes all you need is to hear that someone else has the same block as you, the same hand cramp, or the same trouble trying to block out your loved ones for a few hours of writing time.
I’m a member of the Willamette Writers on the River group. I thought I would meet some interesting people and learn a few things at the meetings. What I found was a ready made community of people just like me, albeit different genres. Where out in public I say I write horror and people scoot away from me, at the writing meetings people’s eyes light up and they want to know what I’m working on. What’s more is that I find myself really interested in what they’re working on too, whether it’s poetry, memoir, or crime thriller.
Critique circles can be found through your local writing group or one made from its members. Here’s where it gets into the nitty gritty of writing help. In a critique circle you’ll be sharing your work and reading others work and then giving feedback on what works and what doesn’t. And this feedback will be coming from fellow writers. So you can expect help with structure, pacing, dialogue and so on. Where your later beta readers might be giving more general feedback about what characters they like or don’t like, if the story is too dark for them and so on.
These circles are invaluable whether or not you have a manuscript to polish. Even reviewing other’s work can be very beneficial. As you learn to recognize what works and what doesn’t in their work, you can start applying it to your own with much more accuracy than if you read about certain writing techniques in a book.
The internet has everything. There are forums, critique groups, message boards, and everything else you might think of to connect you with other writers. All you have to do is search. The only thing I might say about using the internet is that it can be quantity more than quality. Even if you don’t want to leave you writing/reading nook, trust me, it is an invaluable experience to talk face to face about your writing. But if you want to supplement that or if you’re not ready to jump head first out the door, then the internet is wonderful.
Be sure to start small so that if you’re critiquing someone’s work and you realize the critiquing relationship isn’t going to work, you have an endpoint lined up to make a polite get away. Always be specific about what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to do for others. Also, keep it polite and friendly, though it seems like you’re talking into the void to some outworlder, you might meet your internet people at a conference one day. Also, keep in mind that whatever is said on the internet is tattoo’ed on the internet for all time, so let it represent the best you.
You’d be surprised how many people write, or want to write. Everyone has something to say and everyone wants to be heard with full attention. So why not put together a group with your friends who are interested in writing for fun? It doesn’t have to be a critique circle, you don’t need to review the pro’s and con’s of style choices, all you have to do is listen to them read and read your own. This can be great for reminding yourself that you’re a writer and writers write and discuss writing.
And second in importance to actual writing is that writers take in other writing, they read, they listen, they learn from everything and everyone. Your writing community helps your writing in many different ways, from inspiring, giving fresh ideas, helping you to smooth your current ideas, and pointing you to the resources that you’ll need to make your book a reality. So never stop building your community. And remember that they need your help and feedback too.
(for the picture, get stuffed animals together and give bengi business cards to hand out, maybe even a thought bubble that says ‘we should get together’ surround them with books, and maybe a tea set.)
I realize there has been a long gap between updates but I mean to knock that off. First it was from working full time and now it's because I'm working on larger projects.
I have finally started revising Dr. Gorev! But not before starting two other large projects. One is a novel which I'll save talking about till next time when I have something concrete to report. The other is a writing workbook of which I'm nearly finished with the first draft.
This workbook is a kind of teaching game. The goal is to improve the writing of those who have a definite leaning towards the scary story. Each chapter explores different writing elements, relevant to all stories, and asks you to practice them. It explores things like dialogue and raising tension in a story. Each chapter has exercises for you to practice specifically on those individual concepts. There are also field trips where you're asked to go to specific places and use those settings to explore different kinds of story plots.
I'm really excited to have the finished product. This is one of those books that I just want to be in the world. I want to use it and play/practice with it. In some ways it's like a choose your own adventure book but the possibilities are endless and you don't have to feel so committed. You're not writing a whole story, you're just practicing in pieces.
I hope to have a finished product, or at least something ready to spit and polish, by June'ish. Wish me, and those who have to deal with my decisions, luck. ^_^
I'm very excited to say that my second story from the 'Bedtime Stories' trio has also been produced and performed on the NoSleep Podcast. I'm afraid this time I made it to the trigger warning/pay portion of the podcast but at a little over a dollar you get a full two hour episode of scary stories from what is at least my own personal favorite podcast.
'Loose Teeth' is the story of a woman who's dreams mix a little too close with reality and the effect is one that has turned her life into a nightmare.
I have officially written the first draft of my first novel "Dr. Gorev"!!! I'm in love with this story and plan to rewrite and revise until I think it conveys the vivid trials and tribulations of Viktor Gorev that I see and care about.
She crept down the stairs into the basement. She wasn’t usually allowed down here but today felt different. She still took a moment to look over her shoulder. Through the basement door and at the end of the short hall she could see the red glowing outline of the study door. Anna didn’t know what she was going to say. She tiptoed closer to the door, trying to hear any noise that might come out of the room. There was none. All she could hear was her own soft breathing and the tacky sound of the rubber on the bottom of her slippers as she made her way on the bare basement floor.
“Grandmother,” She whispered, standing still. Nothing. She took a few little steps forward until she was right in front of the door. Sticking out her pointer finger she traced the rough wood, coming to no conclusion. She put her ear to the door, gently pressing, and could just make out the scratching sounds she so associated with her grandmother. She could see her crouched over her desk with her pen dripping, dipped in black ink, black drops on the page, smudges down her arm.
“Grandma?” She said again, whispering so low she barely broke the silence. The scratching sounds stopped. Anna took a quick breath in and held it, not wanting to give herself away. Her grandma, she knew, didn’t like to be disturbed. She worked down here because she was very sensitive to sound and light and all the things that little girls do. Even so, Anna wanted to see what she was working on. She wanted to ask for a little sister. She could be quiet. And she’d come all the way downstairs without turning on one light.
She brought her hand up to the door, a little fist, and was readying to knock when she heard the rustle of papers and the desk chair roll across the thin carpet. Her fist was still hanging in the air when the door opened, flooding the hall with red light.
The woman flipped on the switch just outside the study door and the light flickered on to light the empty hallway. With her notebook under one arm she locked the study door for the night before heading up. At the top of the stairs she clicked off the basement light without stopping, leaving everything behind her black and quiet.
“Goodnight.” She whispered to all of her characters, “Sleep tight.”
Little Anna is a character from the story, "Anna Wunsch", yet to be written. I'm hesitating on writing it because actually writing a story down is like setting it free into the wild. It's not yours anymore and even if it comes back it's not the same. You can enjoy it then as something outside of yourself. It's too concrete after it's all down on paper. Anna Wunsch is one of those stories I don't want to give away yet, I love the characters too much.
The above is a quick 3rd person POV practice for Dr. Gorev (Coming soon). Two days till go time!
If you've never heard of it, NaNoWriMo is national novel writing month. It's an event that happens in November where participants attempt to write a 50k novel in the month of November. I'm going to make the attempt this year. I've got snacks and candy ready in my study, loved ones have been warned of my absence and coworkers have been notified, and most importantly, I have my story outlined and plotted out. So really, all I have to do is write it, how hard can that be? The story is one that's been knocking around in my head for almost a year now.
This is going to be the story of Dr. Viktor Gorev. He, his brother and father are the last of their aristocratic family. They've escaped St. Petersburg at the beginning of the revolution, but not without casualty. Their mother is dead and Viktor's face and body are disfigured with deep burn scars. He now wears a porcelain prosthetic over most of his face so that he go out in the world.
Both Viktor and his brother work as psychiatrists and find work in research in London where the family lives together in a small flat. Viktor's happiness happens every Tuesday when he interviews a patient, Clara, away from her aggressive husband and caregiver. He devotes most of his time to studying her case and daydreaming of the life he was supposed to have as well as the one she was supposed to have.
Change comes after his patient with religious and supernatural delusions is about to be committed to Bedlam. She confides in him, giving him a powerful device, capable of giving the wisher whatever their heart desires. He is to keep it safe for her and safe from the Bedlam director. She warns him against using it himself. She doesn't trust it, but she can't bear to destroy it. She believes it might be evil.
As a scientist, he doesn't believe in magic or superstition. But as a man with so much to wish for he indulges himself that night in a wish spoken over the device. That next morning he wakes up to a completely different life. One where dreams and nightmares coexist and the past can be remade.
My goal is to finish this novel by the end of November, my back up goal is to finish it by the end of December. By finish I just mean draft one. "Write first, edit later" is the phrase of the month.
Wish me luck! Let NaNoWriMo begin!
It's official, "Sparrow Box" is out in the world. I say this every time about all of my stories, but this is now my favorite finished short.
Check it out on Amazon. It costs less than a cup of coffee to follow Ollie through the most important moment of his life.
As a little background, sparrows have always had a special place in my heart. When I was in elementary school, my best friend caught a sparrow in a shoe box that had fallen down her families chimney. She kept it in her room. But not long after she caught it her grandmother, who lived with her family, started having severe back problems. I forget who asked who what, but it came out that the grandmother told her that sparrows were magical in some way. That to keep one captive would bring bad luck into the home and the people in it. Needless to say she released it immediately and her grandmother recovered from her intense bout of pain.
The sparrow in the shoe box has always stayed with me. Being the young, impressionable elementary school kid I was inclined to believe her grandmother, the evidence was clear. It's as I've gotten older that my perspectives have changed.
Sometime's it's just more fun to believe and that's what "Sparrow Box" is all about.
Good news, bad news; I started a seasonal job. It's a classic 8-5 kind of job.When I get home I barely have enough energy to feed myself let alone think about writing. Most of the weekend is filled with all of those chores that were ignored through the week.
I know that there are a lot of people who come home after a long day and take care of kids, or work on hobbies or even go out on the town. I am still working on building my workers stamina.
It's also hard not having the free time to just think about stories. At work I have to focus. I work with people and money, meaning I can't daydream. So if I find a couple of hours to sit down and write I'm going in cold. The blank screen just mirrors a blank mind. Also, then it takes almost an hour to get back up to speed with where I was in the story. By the time I'm ready and full of words it's bedtime.
My goal is to write everyday regardless of how I feel, a minimum of 1,000 words a day. -smears war paint under eyes-
It's official, "Dinah" is out! This is the story of a girl going through her parents divorce. She finds a mask in her mom's antique delivery and soon discovers there is much more to it than the leather and string it's made out of.
Through the power of the mask she's able to finally feel comfort after feeling tossed aside by all those that loved her. However, just as she's finding relief the trouble just grows for her family. She has to decide how important they really are to her.
This is just number two in a long series of bi-weekly stories. I like to think that I'm channeling back to the good old days of horror television. I used to be obsessed with shows like"Tales from the crypt" and "Are you afraid of the dark". Sure, today we have "American Horror Story", and I have my podcasts and short story magazines I subscribe to, but they don't always have the specific flavor of story that I'm looking for. So what else can I do but fill the internet with stories I want to read and watch?
Stay tuned for the next story, "Little Sparrow", a story about a little boy who discovers the world in a box.
Wow, starting to put my writing out into the world has been an emotional roller coaster. I've learned that there really is a market for my particular brand of horror writing.
Recently I put my story, "We Were Soap" onto a subreddit called nosleep. I was hoping for a chance to get noticed by my favorite podcast thenosleeppodcast.com. As I watched, my upvotes just kept going up and really encouraging comments were coming in. My favorite being of course, "Absolutely f***ing brilliant!" -momosteward, subreddit/nosleep.
Within five hours I got a request by a podcast, not the one I was aiming for, to present my story. By this time I was jumping in circles squealing "EEEEEE" to the terror of my cats.
After not getting my preferred podcasts notice I sent a hail Mary email expecting my first rejection letter. Instead I got an offer of actual cash money and a spot on the show that I listen to everyday.
My favorite part of all of this is how much fun this story was to write. There wasn't a second of it that felt like work. I was more concerned that what I considered fun wouldn't carry over to the readers. I can't say how happy I am that it did carry over. ^_^
If you'd like to hear "We Were Soap" performed by professional voice actors and listen to a great horror podcast check out thenosleeppodcast.com. The airdate is 9/18/17.
If you would like to read "We Were Soap" for free check it out on smashwords.com
"Really enjoyed Nancy M. Long's "We Were Soap" - very evocative and creepily romantic, in the vein of Joe Lansdale's "I Tell You It's Love". The little detail about the exfoliating properties of bone in the soap was shuddersomely memorable!"