On A Whim …

When I write, I often write for my own enjoyment. There is nothing like writing a story that just flows and feels right. So it is that last Valentine’s day I wrote a story entitled My queenofheartsQueen of Hearts. It was not a romance, although the whole tone of it was leading the reader to think that it was. It was instead a bit of a twisted tale that told the story of a man, Joe Curr, meeting the family of his queen of hearts. When I read the story to my writing group, they all were hooked on it and did not see the ending coming until it was revealed in the last paragraph. They all expressed they liked the story – and they can sometimes be quite vocal when they don’t like my stories. I filed the story away in my giant notebook that houses all my writing group writings.

 

Fast forward to the waning days of June,  A good friend of mine from Germany, messaged me that she had seen an advertisement for an international short story contest with no submission fee. She had read some of my short stories on this blog and wondered if I would be interested in submitting a story. She sent me the details. As I read the description of the type of story they were looking for  – a short story that had a surprise ending – I thought of the Valentine’s day story. Hmm, that would be perfect, I thought. Not only was the subject just right but because the submission deadline was in a few days, I onawhimfigured I could polish up the story quickly and be able to submit it in time. And on a whim – I did.  That very night I uploaded that story to the contest – The International Literary Competition for short stories.

I know! Who was I to think my story would be even a contender among an International group of short story writers?  I didn’t even look to see if the winner would get anything other than bragging rights – after all, there was no submission fee! Without even researching the contest, I just brazenly sent off my story, hoping to at least get an honorable mention or something.

Then, a week or two later, I received an email stating I was one of the contenders in the competition and would I fill out a short bio for them?  Oh! That’s nice. I thought, without any idea that I could actually be in the running for anything. Then the thought came to me. Could this be a scam? I messaged my German friend, “Did you get an email stating you were in contention?” “No.” She replied. Hmm, well, maybe it wasn’t one of those contests where everyone was a ‘winner.’ Maybe it was legitimate.

Last Friday I had another email from the competition. This time it said that I had won First Place, what? Can this be true? I scoured the Internet – Googling International Literary Contest. I couldn’t find anything. After several tries, I realized it was the International Literary Competition, and when I brought up the website – there was my name as the First Place winner! 1stplace

It took some convincing, but I finally got the message that I was the First Place winner of the 2019 International Literary Competition for the short story My Queen of Hearts. You can read the story and my bio on this website; https://database.az/en

Comments are welcome!

In Memory of My Baby Belle

RIP

A writer’s life is mostly solitary. As an author, you are alone with your thoughts and a computer or paper. It can be lonely. The whole experience can drive you a bit batty. However, I have found that if I have a companion animal in the room, the experience is not quite as lonely. You have someone to ‘talk’ to, even if they don’t have the foggiest idea as to what you are saying. They listen anyway. They also give you an excuse to get up and feed them, or let them out, or just play a little. They bring you great comfort just by being near.

Not that long ago – April of last year, I lost my older Poodle/Bishon Frise mix dog, Barbet. And I am sorry to say last Thursday I had to put down my dear Baby Belle, Barbet’s younger sibling. She had stopped eating and was suffering from canine dementia. As much as I didn’t want to face it – it was time. Thankfully, she passed gently and without suffering.

Belle was by far the sweetest of all the dogs I have had. She may not have been the smartest – I sometimes called her Ding-Dong (Yes, that’s a pun) as she acted clueless at times, but she sure did make me laugh when she raised her ears up and looked like the Flying Nun. She didn’t always like to cuddle, but when she did, she wouldn’t be moved for what seemed like hours. I had other nicknames for her also, like ‘Jelly Belly’ and ‘Ma Bell,’ but mostly I called her Baby Belle as she was my littlest dog.

I now have no animal in my house, and it seems quite empty. I’m not sure how long I can go without a companion to help me get through the loneliness when I am working – and for that matter the whole day and night.  You will be missed dear Baby Belle. Rest in Peace.

belle.jpg

Belle 2003 – 2019

Literary Devices: Personification, Anthropomorphism, and Zoomorphism

literary-devices

I recently stumbled upon three literary device terms which appear similar yet are subtly different. These terms are personification, anthropomorphism, and zoomorphism.  Each embodies figurative language or writing that goes beyond the literal meaning of the words. A writer can either say something literally or figuratively. If it’s literal, then the words mean exactly what they say. But in figurative writing, there is a hidden meaning behind the descriptive words. When writers use figurative language, the description brings a deeper meaning and understanding of the words.

Let’s start with Personification. Personification applies human attributes such as       personificationthoughts or feelings to inanimate objects or abstract ideas. For example, when we say, “The clouds weep,” we are giving the clouds the ability to cry, which is a human quality. If we say, “Justice is blind.” We are giving an abstract idea a human attribute. The purpose of giving human characteristics to animals or objects is to create imagery. When a writer uses this type of writing, it gives the reader a more complete or deeper understanding of that which is trying to be conveyed. Personification is mainly used in a single sentence to set the stage about the object or animal. The goal of personification is to give human characteristics to animals or objects to create imagery.

Anthropomorphism is a literary device in which the writer assigns human qualities such as traits, emotions, or behaviors to an animal or an object. The purpose of doing so is to help create vivid, imaginative characters that readers can relate to because they are more human. An example would be the objects in Beauty and Beast, such as the teapot and candelabra. The use of objects or animals that act like humans makes the story more visually appealing and non-threatening to the readers. The purpose of anthropomorphism is to make an animal or object behave  and appear like it is a human being.

Anthropomorphism

 

ZoomorphismThe last term Zoomorphism refers to a literary device in which the writer ascribes animal characteristics to humans, gods, or other objects.  Again this is used to create imagery to describe the character better. Zoomorphism can also include giving one animal the characteristics of another animal, such as a dog heard to “moo.” A special class of zoomorphism in which a human can shape-shift into an animal is called therianthropy – think of the character Sirius, in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, changing from a human into a dog. Zoomorphism provides the reader with insight as to what animal that character resembles or the animal-like personality of that character.

Each of these literary devices helps to strengthen or make a point more compelling and effective. In fictional works, figurative language devices such as personification, anthropomorphism, or zoomorphism increase the creativity of the writing. Use of them will make your work more compelling.

Have you used any of these literary devices in your writing? Comments are always welcome.

 

Literary Devices: Symbols and Motifs

 

Literary devices, such as symbols and motifs, can easily be confused. Symbols are motif symbolusually an object that stands for a concept. The dictionary definition is “a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.”   Take, for instance, a picture of a heart can mean love or the color green can represent ‘go,’ or growth, or even the country Ireland. Symbols are something concrete that reminds us of something else. Symbols may only occur once in a story, or they may be reoccurring. In that case, they are contributing to the motif.

The literary device of a motif is a recurring element in the story, that can be either a concept or a symbol relating to that concept. Motifs can be symbols, sounds, actions, ideas, or words. These elements are laced throughout the work to reinforce and strengthen a story by adding images and ideas to the theme or main message the author wants to convey to the reader.

peacockstaleIn my book, The Peacock’s Tale, the symbol of the peacock was used to signify when the main character, Priscilla Vickers, came upon a clue which would guide her to new revelations concerning a family secret. This reoccurring symbol created a motif which enforced the idea that the peacock was an important object in her family’s history and a clue to a secret that was thought to be lost.

Symbols and Motifs are there to help you, as a writer, communicate to the reader your theme or central idea. The reader will gain a deeper understanding of the concepts you have presented in your story from using these literary devices. Don’t be afraid of them! Use them as they come to you either in your planning of the story or if they just come naturally to the story.

Have you used symbols or motifs in your stories? I would love to hear from you! Comments are always welcome.

Considering Themes in Writing

themesIn writing any piece, such as a story or novel, an author writes about something. Usually, this is intentional, but at times, we write, finish, and then discover what we have written. The something that we have written about is called the Theme. Other ways to define theme include the essence, the main topic, or the central idea of the piece. The theme summaries what the story means and how it relates to the reality of life. The theme can be rather simple like ‘friendship,’ ‘family,’ or ‘companionship.’ Or the theme can be more complex such as ‘coming of age,’ or ‘love overcoming hate.’

The theme is a message that we bring to the readers via our characters’ struggles and growth throughout the story. The events of the story you write and how your characters react is how the reader can draw the thematic lessons from experiencing the growth of your characters.

The stronger the theme, the more likely the reader will connect to the story and will invest in the outcome. A strong theme is a memorable theme – one that the reader will remember long after they have finished the story. And isn’t that the experience that we want our readers to have?

How to Build a Theme

The fact is that the theme can be built in several ways. Authors can decide before writing writing with penthe theme they want to reveal to the readers. However, this may lead to reader being hit over the head with the theme and thus can become preachy and heavy-handed.  Some authors write with no particular theme in mind. Instead, they wait until the draft is done and then exam the story for a theme. They can them strengthen the theme or change it. The third way authors write is to completely ignore the idea of a theme and allow the readers to come up with their own conclusion about the story. In some instances of this type of writing, the story is not unified, and the reader comes away unsatisfied or with a skewed impression of the story.

Ideally, the author should have at least a vague idea of the theme before they write, because they have something to say about the subject. In good storytelling, the theme is a natural byproduct. Planning is helpful, but once you have determined what it is that you want to emphasize of life’s lessons; you are free to enhance that theme.

Developing the Theme

Editable vector question mark formed from many question marksAs you are thinking about the plot, ask yourself: What is the essence of the story which relates to life?  What life lesson(s) will your main character learn throughout the story?

As you write, allow the theme to be in the background – let it speak for itself. Look at your main character and ask:

What flaws in this character can be emphasized to manipulate the story to highlight the theme? Write in scenes that allow the theme to be challenged.

What plot events can reinforce the theme? Turning point events can either allow your character to succeed or not. These turning points can subtly show the why of their actions and therefore reinforce the theme.

What choices do the main character make that relate to the theme?   Sometimes the main character’s choice allows the character to succeed; sometimes they fail, and sometimes they make the ‘right choice’ and still fail due to external forces. In all these scenarios, the theme can be on display.

 

I hope this overview about writing themes has been helpful to you. I would urge you to look over your work in progress and see if you can identify and enhance the elements that make up your theme.

Comments are always welcome!

Always Remember – Memorial Day (Happy 2nd Anniversary to Chasing the Tale)

To honor this day and those that have served, I would like to repost a poem I have written for Memorial Day:

 

A Memorial Day Remembrance

By Marie Staight

Unknown soldier

On this Memorial Day, I want to remember

Those that have served

So faithfully that their bodies have surrendered.

The ones who truly deserved

 

To be called a hero,

Whether scared or brave

Whether surrounded by hundreds or zero

They fought until the grave.

 

Now they lay peacefully

In this place of honor

Taps playing mournfully

So their souls grow even fonder

 

Of the land, they died to protect

Of the rights, they stood behind

Of the loved ones they respect

For all – they now have peace of mind.

 

We come to lay a wreath

To place a Flag so dearly loved

On those that have bequeathed

To us, a life beloved.

 

Our thanks we need to give

As we remember their sacrifice

For because of them we live

And lead the life of paradise.

 

Good Night, Rest your souls

Knowing under the starry sky

You are remembered and extolled

While ever, ‘God is nigh.’

A note to my readers and followers: It is difficult to believe it has been two years since I started Chasing the Tale: Writing in Retirement. Over those two years, I have written 9495 words, posted 99 times, and tripled the number of followers I had at the end of 2017. It has been my pleasure to pass on writing tips and information, as well as to post my own poems and short stories. I hope you have enjoyed them all. And if you have enjoyed them, I wouldn’t mind you passing on the information as to where others may find my blog (mstaightwriter.com). (Hint, hint/wink, wink).

As I have faithfully tried to write posts which I thought you would enjoy, I have come to the conclusion that writing weekly has taken time away from writing other things that I want to write. So I have decided to cut back from weekly posting to twice weekly – the second and fourth Mondays of the month, along with any special occasions. Looking forward to another year of sharing with you my thoughts and writings.

As always comments are more than welcome.

 

Another Prompt: Another Story For You

This time I am presenting a simple prompt for you: Write a poem or story about May Flowers.

Flowers2

I thought about writing a flowery poem about the fun of planting flowers and watching them grow. I also could have written a story about how the flowers of May remind me of the delight of knowing the warmer weather is coming.  However I think I managed to turn this prompt into quite a different story. I hope you enjoy it.

 

May Flowers

“Hey, May! Where’re those flowers?”

“Yeah May, I want some flowers – not this cold stuff.  Get with it!” Joey and Billy Watts kept up the taunts as they exited the school bus. “Get those Pilgrims off the boat and plant some flowers, May!”

Out of the corner of her eye, May Flowers saw the Watt’s twins picking up snow in their hands. May pulled her winter jacket around her. She kept her head down so the two boys couldn’t see the tears that were forming in her eyes. The snow was coming down furiously now. May shuffled faster in the slick snow. If she could make it to her driveway before the taunts started again, she would be OK.

Just then sloshy snow, meant to be a snowball, hit the hem of her dress and she could feel the cold snow melting down her legs. The sudden spring snowstorm was producing soft, light snow that certainly was not conducive to sticking together to make snowballs.

May rushed up her driveway and left the twins behind. Their laughter still rang out as May hurried up to the house. She climbed the back steps and was grateful for the warmth of the house once indoors.

“Is that you May?” her mother called. “I was getting worried about the roads. I’m glad you’re home. Make sure to take off your shoes, so you don’t drag in the snow.”

May could hear her mother fussing around in the kitchen. She wiped her eyes so her mama could not see her tears before she walked in her stocking feet through the mudroom into the kitchen. The kitchen had the inviting smell of baking chocolate chip cookies. Her mother looked up from the baking pan half full of golden brown cookies. “Hello, honey, I thought we could have a treat of cocoa and cookies when you got home.”

May had to smile; this was her favorite after-school treat. Her mother looked at her and frowned.

“Oh, you look cold. Why don’t you go up and put on some jeans and a sweater? These will be ready for you by then. And I’ll get the cocoa ready too.”

May obeyed her mother without comment, glad to be home and away from the Watt boys’ taunts. She headed up to her room to change and put away her books.

In less than ten minutes, she was back in the kitchen, sitting on a high stool at the kitchen island with her mother pouring her a cup of scalding hot cocoa. Her mother sat across from her. She offered May the plate of cookies. May took one and bit into it. They were still warm and gooey. After she finished off the first cookie, she cuddled her cold hands around the cup of cocoa to warm them. She knew from long experience not to try and drink the cocoa yet, or she would burn her entire mouth and throat.

“How was your day, honey?” her mother asked a bit anxiously.

May averted her eyes as she blew on her cup of cocoa. Not only was she trying to cool down the cocoa, but she was also trying to avoid that look of concern her mother had.  May knew her mother wanted to know about the bullying that had been going on for days. Suddenly tears slipped down her cheeks. And the question that had been running around her head for days, popped out. “Mama, why did you have to name me May with our last name of Flowers? It’s such a stupid name. The boys tease me about the Mayflower boat that the pilgrims came in and about May flowers that come after April showers.” Those last words she said with a sing-song voice like the Watts’ boys always said them.

The tears were flowing now, and May couldn’t seem to stop them. Her mother was quiet, and May could tell that her mother, too, was sad and near tears.

Her mother put her cup of cocoa down and said. “May, have I ever told you about when you were born?” she asked. May shook her head. Her mother continued. “Well, we had a terrible winter that year. The ground was frozen even at the end of April. We were very concerned because Papa needed to get two plantings in that year so that we could pay the mortgage. My pains started a couple of days before the first of May. Papa took me to the hospital that night, but they said it wasn’t time yet. Being the first born, it took you a long time to decide to come into this world.” She chuckled. “Because the weather was bad, they made me stay at the hospital and walk the corridors to see if that would make you come sooner.”

Her mother sat quietly, sipping her cocoa for a long few minutes then resumed the story. “Well, a day passed, and I was very tired from walking those hallways. Finally, the labor pains began in earnest. You were born in the early hours of May first. Your Papa and I were thrilled to meet you.” Mama grinned as if reliving seeing her newborn for the first time.

“But why did you name me May when you knew my name would be May Flowers?” May persisted, as she tried to hold back the anger in her voice.

Mother looked at May a few minutes as she gathered her thoughts. “Well,” she said slowly. “You were born on May first, so that seemed like a name that would fit you. But we didn’t just name you May – we named you May Hope Flowers. Papa added that middle name because he told me that the day had dawned warm and sunny. He showed me out the window that the crocus had begun to pop their heads up out of the earth, and the birds were singing. You had brought us ‘hope’ May. Hope that the ground would be soft enough to plow and put in an early crop. Hope that the summer would be good for our farm and we would be able to pay the mortgage. Hope that your birth would bless our family.” Mama stopped staring off into the distance and looked at May. “And all those things happened. We have been very blessed by your coming to us, May.”

She took another sip of her cocoa and began again. “When the children tease you about your name you can remind them that your full name is May Hope Flowers. That’s the miracle of May, honey. May brings hope to the world that the warmer weather is coming. That the sun will shine brightly and the earth will warm and be ready for planting and eventually harvesting.  May Hope Flowers is a testament to the things that bring hope – just like the ship named the Mayflower that signified hope for a new beginning in a new land. May Flowers is all about hope, honey, all about hope.” Mama smiled brightly at May. “You are Hope, Honey. You are Hope.”

May sat staring at her mother. The tears had stopped. She nodded her head. She took another cookie, and with each bite, she felt better. “Thanks, Mama.” She took a third cookie and jumped off her stool and ran for the TV room. In her heart, May knew that never again would she be upset about her name. She was May Hope Flowers, and Hope made all the difference.

 

I hope you enjoyed this short story.  Did you write a story or poem from this prompt? Comments are welcome.