Writing In Retirement Blog

Happy Labor Day! The End of the Summer

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Labor Day is here again, and per usual, so is the threat of a hurricane. Honestly, I can’t remember a Labor Day weekend that we didn’t either have a hurricane or have the threat of one.  It would be so nice to have friends come over and watch the US Open Tennis Tournament and have a cookout or something, but no – instead I am moving furniture off the patio and front porch and “hunkering down.”  Sigh.

Labor Day, although not officially the end of summer, always seemed to me to be the end of the warm lazy fun days of summer. School always started right after Labor day in my northern hometown. I knew the cold days of winter was coming even though there still were many lovely days ahead before the cold winds blew. Nevertheless, I wanted the cold days over with so the warm days would return. Here’s a poem that reflects that sentiment.

 

The Last Days of Summer

The end has come

To lazy summer days.

No more beach visits in the sun,

No more swimming holidays.

~

Oh, the hot days of summer will soon end.

 Shortly, the leaves will turn.

The long sunny days shorten towards years end.

Fall’s winds blow without concern.

~

I will stoically endure the shortened days –

The wind, the cold and snow,

But in my mind,

I’ll be on the beach getting a suntan glow.

~

Why do I endure the seasons change?

Why not move some place tropical?

A year-long summer I could arrange,

If I just moved to Florida.

And so I did …  Comments welcome!

Here’s the story: The 2019 First Place Winner in the International Literary Competition – Short Story

So many of you have asked to read the winning story I wrote. I hope you enjoy it!

Marie

My Queen of Hearts

By Marie Staight

After a year and a half of waiting, this was the day. I could feel my heart beat a little faster as I walked toward the building.  I was going to meet Julie’s family. I would finally meet the people that made her, influenced her, and were closest to her. My excitement grew as I approached the headquarters of her famous business. I felt a little lightheaded and could hear my heart beating in my ears. I could hardly believe that this successful, dear lady was now a vital part of my life.

Of course, I knew that Julie was an ambitious woman. A woman that was a little bit flirtatious and used that to her advantage in her dealings with those she came across in her successful dog food business.

Just out of high school, she had married Jacob, her high school sweetheart, and they had two children which she adored.  Although she nurtured her children with devotion, being a homemaker did not satisfy Julie’s ambition. Jacob had trouble understanding her need for other pursuits, so it was not surprising to her family when they divorced.

When Julie realized she needed a way to provide for her children. She turned to her love of providing food to her family and pursued being a baker. Friends tell me that her strong business sense and ability to manage a staff then led her to pursue a career as a chef. At thirty-two she became interested in providing a nutritious diet for her five dogs. As was typical of Julie’s reputation, she threw herself into making her dog food business grow and prosper. Before she was thirty-nine, she was a millionaire. Known in her business for her leadership and communication skills, she had great business sense and stood out above the crowd.

I took three deep breaths to calm myself before pushing through the revolving door. My heartbeat steadied. I walked up to the desk and told them my name. The lady sitting at the desk smiled broadly and introduced herself as Elaine Beacon, the CEO of the company. She stood up and extended her hand. I shook it, and oddly, I felt my heart miss a beat.

“So nice to meet you, sir.” She said. “Follow me; everyone is waiting to meet you in the conference room.”

“Will her children be there?” I asked. For some reason, that I could not put my finger on, I was most nervous about meeting them.

We had reached the elevators so as we waited there; she gave me a patronizing smile. “Yes, they especially made the trip from their boarding school to meet you.”

I fidgeted as we waited. My eyes were glued on the reversing numbers as the elevator descended.  Nervously, I began gnawing on my lip. When I saw Elaine looking at me, I managed a half-smile.

“Don’t be nervous. Everyone has been dying to meet you from the moment …” Elaine blushed deeply and tried to correct her guffaw. “Ahhh, I mean, um, I… I…”

Seeing her discomfort, I said, “It’s alright, I understand what you mean.”

Thankfully the elevator doors opened, and a flock of people exited. Elaine and I entered, as did several others. As we ascended to the fourteenth floor, we did not speak, and I realized it was Juice Newton’s voice that was crooning Queen of Hearts in the piped-in music. How appropriate, I thought.

I felt odd when those elevator doors opened. The scene before me – a place I had never been before – was strangely familiar. I knew we were going to the left even before Elaine turned that direction. For the first time, a relaxed smile broke out on my face. It’s going to be fine; I heard a quiet female voice whisper in my head. I almost galloped in front of Elaine to the third office down the hallway. As I entered the room, I could hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears.

The gathered crowd of about ten people turned in unison and immediately quieted when they realized I was there. Elaine cleared her throat and said, “I brought you, Mr. Joseph Curr.”

“P … Please, call me Joe.” I stuttered nervously.

A tall, slender older woman broke from the group. She had a rapturous look on her face. She opened her arms and asked, “May I hug you, Joe?”

“Of course,” I replied as we came together and hugged as if our life depended on it. It felt wonderful. Flashes of people and places zipped through my mind so rapidly that I could not identify them. The lady placed her ear against my chest. I could almost feel my heart reach out to her. Unexpectantly, she began to cry quietly, but she would not let go of me. Soon we were joined by two teenage girls. They also clung to me. I have no idea how long we remained in that position.

Finally, a rather portly man came over and began to pry the woman and girls from me saying, “Let’s give Mr. Curr some space, girls.” He held out his hand. “Mr. Curr, er … I mean Joe, “I’m Jacob, the girl’s father.”

My legs began to shake, and I felt dizzy again as they withdrew from me. I grabbed a chair and sat down. I put my head down between my knees until my head cleared. I slowly looked up. “I’m so sorry. It’s just so overwhelming.”

“Oh dear, can we get you something? A glass of water?” The older lady asked, “I should be the one apologizing. I set upon you like an eager lioness to a feast!”

I laughed and waved a hand to indicate I was alright. Then we all laughed, and the tension in the room lifted.

She pointed to herself. “I’m Julie’s mother, Ann. This,” she said, taking the girls by each hand and holding them up in turn, “ is JulieAnn and Wendy…”

“Julie’s daughters. Yes, I see the resemblance,” I finished for her. She nodded.

What followed was a massive introduction of all of Julie’s family and friends. Smiles, and hugs, and handshakes abounded. I realized I hadn’t felt this good for a very long time. It felt like I was whole – a feeling that I had not had since before my last surgery.

We sat at the table, and I asked them many questions. The family presented to me a scrapbook full of pictures with little stories that highlighted Julie’s life story. I found it comforting. All the time as we went through the pictures, I was aware again of the rhythmical beating of my heart.

When I finally had my wits about me, I asked to speak. The room quieted again. “It’s so wonderful to meet you all. I cannot express to you the thankfulness I have every day for Julie’s heart, but I know for me to live, she had to die. Seeing all of you makes me realize even more deeply what a sacrifice this was for you. I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart… or should I say from Julie’s heart? Julie is – and always will be my Queen of Hearts.”

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!