Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Your Words

Have something to say?   Want to include a link to your own site?

One Life to Write wants to hear from you. 

What you can contribute:
1) A story (creative writing, poems, journal entries, funny stories, etc.) *

2) An article YOU created.

3) Favorite quotes (please provide proper attribution/link if the quote is not yours).

4) A non-fiction story: funny, interesting, curious, etc.

5) A request for advice

Here are the requirements:
1) The work must be YOURS, absolutely NO copyright infringement.  Short quotes with proper attribution or famous quotes might be allowed.

2) Absolutely NO lewd content, rude attitude (funny, sarcastic is probably okay), no swearing.  Please save this for your site.  Controversial might be allowed, depending on the content.

4) *Regarding creative writing pieces: If you do NOT want to include your entire piece on this site OR if you are concerned about the content-- excerpts are welcomed.  Just make sure it's a good one, something that will pull the readers to your site!

5) No selling, affiliate links, spamming, etc. is allowed in or with the content.

6) Please, please make sure any articles are accurate and informative.  Otherwise, we both look bad.

7) Understand, potential contributions must be approved before they are published.  I will do my best to approve them within a day.  However, that isn't always possible.  

MOST IMPORTANTLY, you can include YOUR LINK (blog, twitter, website, etc.) with your contribution, plus a brief notation about you or your site.   The only thing I ask, is that you kindly return the favor, and offer a link back to One Life to Write. And if you really enjoy the site, spread the word.  I'm happy to do the same for you. (You can still contribute without a link.)

If you are interested in contributing, please use the contact form to the right.

Return to One Life to Write Blog

An opportunity is also available on my sister site: More Than Mom.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Start With Pictures

Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

Here's a beautiful way to get your words flowing.

I've gathered three pictures.  You put them together (any way you'd like) in a story.  If you can't get started on paper (darn writer's block), create a short story in your head first.   The beauty of this prompt is that you can write a little or a lot, but no matter what, you'll have something lovely to look at in the end!

Here's another set. Perhaps, a bit more sinister?  You decide...


Proper Notes and citations

Here's a quick run down on how to properly research and cite facts for articles.

1) Use proper resources 
2) Interview the direct source whenever possible
(See 'accepted query, now what' post for more detailed information on resources and interviews.)

Next, be sure to:
1) Prepare questions ahead of time. This keeps you organized and makes note taking faster.  

2) My best suggestion is to always record the conversation. You can find recording devices at most electronic stores (or find apps online). Because laws vary by state, recording a conversation without permission may be illegal. Always ask your interviewee for permission and get that permission on tape. If the interviewee says "no". Turn off the device immediately. If you are able to record the conversation, the audio will protect you any many ways: you can check for mistakes, clarification and you'll make the magazine fact-checkers job much easier (especially, if you take a few minutes to provide a written transcript).  

3) Double check proper spelling of any names, proper nouns, etc. 

4) Ask for references to other useful, reliable sources. 

5) Try to take notes during the interview. I prefer NOT to rely on the recording alone; you don't want to be surprised by a malfunction. Plus, written notes bring you one step closer to a written article, particularly if you want to cut and paste exact quotes or statistics. (Note: use the recording to confirm the quote/stats are correct.)

6) Provide your notes, transcript (and/or the actual recording if requested) for the fact checkers. For national publications, I provide two copies of my article. The first copy is the consumer version. The second connects the facts/statistics to the source.  Remember the good old bibliography? If you're concerned about the traditional bibliography format, visit an online site for proper citations. Most magazines, however, are happy with citations that are easy to confirm/follow. Here are some quick examples:
1 Dr. Douglas, Eric interview, transcript page 4, audio 1:10,
Need for Later Start Times,

8) Please note, these are my suggestions based on the editors I've worked with. The best option for you really comes down to the specific expectations from your editor.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Query Accepted--Now What?

Use your query as a guide.You already created
the layout for your article. You have a working title, an interesting lead, a few important statistics, excellent resources, and the subsections (or main points) of your article.
If you need a review on the major query points, click here.
  1. Remember, the first draft is just that--a draft-- for your eyes only. (This allows you take general notes without fear of perfection.) You'll utilize it to get your juices flowing, note any items that could be of value to the article, and eventually allow you to organize sections and dismiss any unnecessary notations.
  2. Writing an article for a magazine, is ALMOST like writing a term paper for school. The most important similarities include: accurate facts, reliable resources, traceable notes (see below) and an organized format. Do NOT underestimate these components.
Accuracy and reliable sources:
First, make sure you've included the latest facts available. Statistics change often.

Facts/statistics should come from reliable and respectable organizations. Never utilize statistics from biased companies/people. Find a different or secondary source.  Also, never assume any .com website is accurate. One trick is to include .org in your search (typically reserved for organizations, such as American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institute of Mental Health, universities, large hospitals, etc.). Another option is to search recent studies and reliable scientific publications. Again, only use reliable sources--how? Go directly to the source. Who was in charge of the study: a physician at a hospital? Go to the hospital or physician's website. Then contact them for a brief interview.  The worst that can happen is they'll say "no". 
Most important tip: Interview the direct source WHENEVER you can!  I didn't expect to get the lead physician in charge of the tears study for "Cry, Baby", but I did. Guess, what?  Despite the various articles written about his study, hardly any journalist had contacted him directly.   Instead those authors took their facts from the other articles. Dr. Frey admitted to me that most of the articles covering his study were incorrect. Sad, but true. Taking this extra time ensured a more detailed, more accurate article. 

One more tip worth mentioning is to make sure you take excellent notes. Improper or lazy note taking sets you up for serious mistakes, misquotes, and if the magazine fact-checkers find the mistakes for you, you're not likely to get a second chance.
See tips for proper note taking.

Now, the fun part: How do articles often differ from term papers:
By VOICE. Some magazines (such as scientific or technical journals) are more likely to resemble a term paper.  However, the majority of consumer articles will have a definite voice or tone. The voice is usually determined by the magazine (or business). Check recent versions at of the magazine at your local library. Are most of the articles conversational? Is the audience directly addressed by using "you" in the sentences? Are articles broken into multiple subheads?  Is the tone serious, silly, flirty, etc?   Matching the tone is critical if you want to connect with both the audience and the editors at the magazine.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Acceptance Letter

Here's the Results of the Query

Dear Susan,

Thanks for sending us a pitch on crying during pregnancy; as we discussed, we'd like it for our Your Body Third Trimester section in the June 2008 issue. It should run 800 words total and it is due the week of February 4.

Working Title: Go Ahead and Cry, Baby
Synopsis: Hormones can make a woman feel like laughing, screaming, and crying all at the same time:-Combine these with the fears and frustrations of pregnancy and it's no wonder moms-to-be sometimes feel like bawling. This story will explain for readers the difference between reflex tears and emotional tears, and why pregnant woman are more prone to crying. It will also explain the theory behind why a good cry can be good for
you. You will base your research on interviews with Dr. William Frey, the author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, and at least one additional medical expert, hopefully an ob/gyn or psychologist who specializes in pregnancy. A couple of stories or anecdotes
from real moms would be fantastic as well.
Sidebar box: This could be a cute list of ways to cope with pregnancy tears ... maybe a kit you could carry along with tissues and mascara, ideas for how to excuse yourself without too much embarrassment, where to go when you feel the need to cry, what not to do when the tears come on (like drive!). Let me know if you have other ideas. I look forward to reading your article!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Query Letter Example--Large

Link to Query Letter Tips

Current Editor’s name

Dear (Editor’s name):


I'd like to propose the following 600 to 800 word article for Pregnancy’s What’s Kickin’: News You Can Use, titled "Go Ahead and Cry, Baby!"  
Hormones can make a woman feel like laughing, screaming and crying-- all at that same time.  Combine these hormones with the fears and frustrations of pregnancy, and it’s no wonder moms-to-be sometimes feel like bawling. According to Dr. William Frey II, biochemist and author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, pregnant women should.  Dr. Frey and many psychologists believe crying is crucial to both our mental and physical well-being. “Go Ahead and Cry, Baby!” explains:
1)  The difference between emotional tears and reflex tears (those caused by irritations such as sand or a peeled onion)
2)  Unlike reflex tears, emotional tears contain:
  • Leucine-enkephalin - Endorphins (painkillers)
  • Andrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) – An indicator of stress and related to high blood pressure, heart problems, etc.
  • Manganese - A mineral that affects mood
3)  Emotional tears remove stressors from the body
4)  Tears also contain prolactin (the same hormone that  stimulates milk production)
  • Women have more prolactin than men (50-60% more)
  •  Pregnant women have an even higher level of prolactin (making them even more prone to crying)
 5) Go ahead and cry, it’s good for you!
This article includes interviews from Dr. Frey  and psychologists, as well as comments from pregnant moms. It can be completed in two weeks or less from acceptance.  Sidebars are available if required.
I’m coauthor of the Half-Dolls Guide Book published by Hobby House Press.  I’ve published more than 300 articles in a variety of magazines, newspapers and trade journals including these national publications:  Pregnancy magazine, Family Fun, Pregnancy & Newborn and others.   I currently publish a monthly column titled “Mom’s Talk.”   My fiction has appeared in literary magazines.   My true passion is fiction/novel writing.   Clips are available upon request.
Thank you (Name)
Contact Information

Accepted Query Letter

For any reader who hasn't entered the national print magazine realm, here is a copy of a query that I used to publish an article in Pregnancy Magazine.    Below the query I will note the essential items you should include.  (Link to larger version of query letter.)
Link to larger version of query letter

A:  Don't skimp on addressing your letter properly.   Use the correct editor's name.   Make sure you have the correct department editor, the most recent editor (they move around all the time), and double check the spelling.  You can often find the most updated information on the magazine's website.
B, C: Investigate the magazine.  Read several recent copies to get an idea of the layout, tone, target audience, type of articles they include, and what sections you could contribute to.  Then pay attention to the general word count of that section.   Make sure you note in the query where you think your article would fit and the expected word count of your article.   You should also check on-line for the magazine's "Submission Guidelines."  Follow Them! 
For even better success, try and find the magazine's most current "Editorial Schedule," often found in the advertiser's section.   This will give you a good idea of what subject matters the magazine is covering and on what months.   Keep in mind you must query several months (I suggest six months) ahead.  Editors want magazines ready and on the shelves slightly early.  Add in layout and design, printing, distribution, not to mention discussing your query, finding a spot for it, preparing a contract, allowing time for you to write it, a first edit, fact checking, your revision, final edits, etc., and you'll understand why they work so far ahead. Whew! 
D: Suggest a working title, even though the magazine probably won't use it.
E. Let the editor know exactly why this story fits the magazine.  You article should hit the target audience, fit the editorial schedule, magazine layout, be timely (perhaps a new study), and somewhat unique (even if it's a new twist on an old subject).  This is a great time to include a simple statistic or study--one or two sentences at most, with attributions that express WHY the news is exciting, relevant and important. 
Important tip:  Write in the same tone used in the publication.  A casual magazine is different from a scientific journal.  Some magazines use conversational tones, some flirty, etc.  Carefully mimic the tone in your paragraph.
F. Briefly include the basic points you will cover in your article.  Be specific and to the point. Make sure they are relevant and informative (so the editors clearly understand the article's direction).
G.  Note who you plan to interview and where the statistics/facts will come from.  If you want to be considered a serious writer be sure to go straight to the best source for information (the doctor in charge of the study, a government research organization, etc.).   Also, plan to make careful notes and documentation.  You'll need them if your story is accepted.
H. Include your experience.  Link your blog address or send published clips (articles).  It's not as hard as you think to obtain clips.  Start small with your local newspaper.  Offer free articles on local activities you're interested in.  Publishing is like climbing a ladder. You start on the low rung and work your way up.  Eventually you'll have several clips.

I: Sign off with a thank you and your contact information.  Send the query by email or mail, depending on the preference listed in the submission guidelines.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Ifs?

Here are a couple of story starters, to get your fingers warmed up:
A man comes home from a road trip to an empty house.  No furniture, no wife.  A for sale sign is in the yard.
A man's wife is accidently killed by his best friend.  The friend had been drinking and driving.
A retired journalist travels the US to find stories that jumpstart his career.
A woman finds another woman's cell phone and becomes obsessed with her life.
Add your ideas to the comment section!

Six Word Stories

I've found that the Six-Word Story
Technique is a great way to jumpstart my writing, particularly if I'm having trouble getting motivated.

The six-word story tells a story in, that's right, exactly six letter words.

For example:
Stop Writer's Block.  No More Excuses

Okay, that's not exactly a story, but it fits the technique and makes a very good point. 

Here are some real six-word stories:

Fight. Flowers. Forgiven. Money well spent.

Night came. Sleep didn't. Insomnia sucks.

She said hello. He said goodbye.

One girl. Two strangers. Now missing.

Hurt once. Built walls. Died alone.

"Love You." Press Send. Crash.  Silenced.


Running Away

I escaped.
To the Save-Mart off I-275.
So early, that only one other car, a vintage Cadillac, had taken up residence in the handicap spot.  I drove into the slot next to it, my tires slicing through the fat blue line.   I could’ve picked something farther away, a space that gave my legs an early workout.  But I figure I get enough exercise giving Jimmy horsey rides and keeping Lilly away from all the no-no’s in our house.     
            The van sputtered when I shut it down.  With over 187,000 miles under its engine, what did I expect?   That Cadillac seemed half a length bigger than my ride and looked in better shape despite its age.   I bet the owner didn’t spend 18,000 miles a year driving kids to and from school or running errands for everyone else who worked during the day.
            A service bus pulled in, halting with an earsplitting whoosh and harsh grinding noise.   One by one, several seniors stepped off, slowly with bent knees and backs, grasping the metal bar with their entire weight.  The women were clad in pretty pastels, some with pants shifted up to their chest.   The men wore polyester and plaid.           
            I cursed myself for judging.  Heck, they had more freedom than I did.  It didn't seem fair though, that I’d have to wait another thirty years to get a lousy 10 percent of my grocery bill on Tuesdays.
            The money!  The plump cream envelope stuffed with Scott's cash stuck to the crook of my thighs.   I counted the hundreds, all 20 of them, plus one $50 bill.  I snagged the $50 and returned the rest, tucking the entire stash beneath my seat. 
            The door shimmied open and protested again when I tried to close it.  It slammed shut on my pinky. “That stupid--”         
I glared into the backseat, my eyes adjusting past the gray window, one booster on each side, Lilly’s infant carrier squeezed into the center. I sighed with relief.  No need to fret over my poor choice of words.   Scott had the kids.
I had left my husband butting heads with Jimmy over breakfast cereal and chasing a naked Lilly around the coffee table, her favorite overalls tangled up in her stubby legs, trailing like a loose tail.   We’d argued over what to do with the money, so Scott was already sulking for lots of reasons when I grabbed my purse and keys. Jimmy had licked the jar of peanut butter clean.  Lilly was out of diapers.  Truthfully, I just wanted out.   Scott had a day off today.  When did I get one? 
A seagull swooped down and hollered at me.   Underneath my right foot was a pink, swirly mess, like liquid cotton candy.  That’s what he was after, the gook beneath my shoes.  He could have it.  All I wanted was the cart on the other side of my car.
Someone got in my way, slid his glossy red convertible into the spot right next to my cart.  He was handsomely tan with clean cut hair and big brown eyes rimmed by long lashes; so I forgave him.   His silk suit shimmered in the sun as he grinned at me.  I knew he wasn't flirting.   Married with children is easy to recognize.  It's written all over my car, my clothes and lack of makeup.  Plus it's spun around my finger in gold.        
His smile made me feel good anyway, even when he took my cart away.
It was a bad one.  The front right wheel was stuck.  The cart wobbled as he pushed it, the errant wheel catching sideways on the cement.  When he disappeared through the automatic glass door, I was grateful not to have to listen to the horrid sound anymore.  
I glanced at his car, envying the light-beige leather that soaked up the morning sun.  He kept the car clean.  No sticky wrappers or half-eaten apples stuck between the seats.  Must be a lease, I figured.   Good for two years.
I pictured my version of his girlfriend: all six feet of her, blond hair and fresh face, the faint blue-eyes I’d always wanted and no responsibilities.  She was free.  Still, I couldn't help but wonder if she'd get traded-in in two years too.
Inside the store, the cool air prickled the hairs on my skin.  I bypassed the carts and reached for a basket.  Beside me a wispy white-haired grandpa scrutinized the packages in the diaper aisle. I’m only five-foot-five but towered over him like a tree limb.   I grabbed Lilly’s size 3’s, tossed them in my basket and scurried away.  Finding the peanut butter, Scott’s favorite snack bars and a handful of other necessities took me close to forty- five minutes, even though I knew the layout of the store by heart.  Why should I rush?
“Paper,” I said to the bagger.  I liked the cardboard smell and rough hewn fibers of the bag.   He gave me plastic anyway.  My order took two bags and came up to less than $20.  I handed the cashier my crisp $50.  She gave me back the wrong change.   I was tempted to keep it, but this was a small town with small paychecks.   The woman had string-bean hair the color of a bleached shirt, a missing front tooth and smelled of stale cigarettes.  She frowned at me when I handed her money back, but by the end of the day I figured she'd be relieved to have her drawer come up clean.
Back at the van, I checked on my own stash.  My heart pumped blood through my eardrums until I knew it was safe.
Next stop? The bank.  That's where the money belonged until Scott and I agreed on which bills to pay first. 
I fingered the cash again, rubbed my tips along the soft fiber.  Over $2000, the biggest bonus Scott had ever seen from the plant.  I slipped the envelope beneath my seat, took a swig of the Coke I'd splurged on at the store and gagged on the sugar overload.  My $1.25 impulse buy, just because I could.  After all, the kids weren't here to beg for a sip, and another and another.  I took a second gulp, gagged again and capped the bottle.  Jimmy would get the soda after all.
On the highway, my van took flight--to its maximum capacity of 72, anything over that and the metal shook.  I whipped passed trees with multi-colored leaves, gold and green, crimson and jade, orange and yellow, signs of seasons passing here in Michigan.
The warmth of the growing day increased the van's temperature.  I rolled down the window and sucked in fresh air.  Another luxury.   The gust would have frightened Lilly.  The wind whipped my hair into my eyes, scratched my split ends against my forehead. 
A Jeep Wrangler flanked my left side.  College boys, I guessed, since every available space in the Jeep had been taken up by clothesbaskets, stuffed garbage bags and plastic cubes.  Their music pounded through the passing wind.  One kid held his tanned arm out the window and tapped on the roll bar to the stereo's beat.
I'm glad I couldn't find their station.  I'm not that young.  My music's part of the oldie’s repertoire now, easy-listening.  That's fine by me.  I turned up the volume, bobbed my head to the rhythm and mouthed once-forgotten words.   Lilly would've screeched in competition. And Jimmy? Complained enough to make my choice of music undesirable. 
But this morning was different.
I was free!
With a stack of cash.
Hadn't I passed the bank exit over a mile ago?
I lifted my foot from the accelerator, slipped into the slow lane, but changed my mind just as quickly.  I white-knuckled the wheel and sped up.   Overhead an emerald sign hailed Toledo, the first major city outside of Michigan, the first city I'd encounter if I were on my way to Florida.
How quickly would my albino skin tan these days? Would my hair turn the golden blonde of my youth?
I turned up the music, gulped more Coke. 
On the seat beside me, rest Lilly's checkered blanket.  I reached for the soft cotton, rubbed the material against my cheek.   The fibers smelled like cookies and lavender baby lotion.  My maternal breasts swelled and tingled at the nipples.   I wondered if Jimmy had eaten his breakfast or Lilly had been caught yet.  In the mirror, empty seats followed behind me. 
Another sign for Toledo loomed ahead.   To the right-- an exit sign--a way home. Both beckoned me.     
Twenty yards.
Free.  My foot tapped on the accelerator.  With money.
I jerked the wheel to the right, slowed down the van, my tires catching gravel as I snagged the exit just in time.  The envelope slid out from beneath the seat and landed at my heel.  I eased it back with my shoe.
Off went the radio.  Up went the windows.  My hair returned to straight and ragged.  
At the bank, I'd count the money again.
     On my way home.

copyright 2013

Only One Way To Get There

So Get Started!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Darren, In Charge

“Darren, in Charge” is one of my short stories published in the literary magazine, The MacGuffin

“What are ya’, Charlie, a mommy’s boy?” Darren Chambers dangled the orange life vest high above the child’s head, juggling it from hand to hand. Dark strands of hair stung Darren’s tired eyes limiting his access to the fears coating Charlie’s face. Darren shook his head violently, briefly. Still the bangs slid right back into place carrying the stink of last night’s cigarettes and the tide of a rum headache.

“But, I can’t swim,” the boy protested.

“You never tried.”

“I’m—I’m not supposed to swim without my vest.” Charlie was close to tears. Darren could see it in those glossy eyes and quivering lips. Despite the racket in his brain and sweat clinging to his skin, Darren grinned and lifted the jacket even higher. A good yard taller than Charlie and a decade older, he might as well have been offering the jacket to the gods above. Darren pressed his other hand into Charlie’s small chest, holding the boy in place against the child’s own weight. “Mama’s boy. Mama’s boy!” Darren chanted.

“A-am not.” Charlie’s voice was a whisper.

Darren wondered what Charlie was thinking. Of tattling? Hardly. Even this pebble of a kid had some pride. More than once Darren had seen Charlie carry a fifty pound bag of feed grain behind the heels of the real ranch hands. He’d even watched the boy get kicked by a bull and stand right back up. Damned fool this kid.

With the jacket still thrust in the air, Darren removed his hand from Charlie’s chest and pressed it against his ear. “Can’t hear ya’ Mama’s boy.”

Charlie kicked at the sand, rubbing at his skin where Darren’s palm had left a scarlet print. Fear reflected in the intensity of the child’s dark pupils. But instead of backing down, as Darren had expected, Charlie’s eyelids lowered and turned into angry slits. The boy planted his hands on his hips. He sucked in a breath and shouted: “AM NOT!”

“Prove it.” Darren motioned to the water. “Dare ya’.”

The child followed Darren’s gaze to the murky waters of Willow Lake, an unintended watering hole for the livestock on Charlie’s uncle’s farm. The Colorado landscape was littered with these cavernous bowls, dangerously useful for washing away the stench of cattle sweat and manure after a twelve-hour shift.

The pool seemed harmless enough, except to those familiar with the mountainous architecture that sliced through the water. Steep drops, sharp boulders and deep valleys hid beneath the shimmery surface. Last year a young steer had ventured passed a breach in the fence, lured by the fresh drink. He set foot near a drop-off, broke a back leg and drowned. A few feet to the right, Charlie’s uncle had said, and the steer could have stood up and walked right out.

“Dare ya,” Darren repeated.

“What about you? You’re not just gonna’ stand there are you?” The boy challenged.

Darren glared at the water, licking his dry lips. “You first.”

Charlie’s eyes turned sharp and defiant. Darren’s hesitation seemed to fuel the boy’s confidence. Charlie puffed out his chest. “What—you scared now? Darren’s scared. Darren’s scared.”

Darren gritted his teeth, felt his right arm start to lift, his fist curl into a ball. But instead of lashing out at the child, he turned his attention to the water, searching for sharp lines beneath the liquid. He shifted his weight from one leg to another, as if carrying a burden invisible to all but himself. How dare Charlie make him feel so small. He was the man here. Charlie was the kid, just a damned kid. A nobody.


The word rang through Darren’s head. His heart pounded. The blood and everything else inside his body wanted out so badly, his father’s steely voice the driving force. Nobody. Darren clawed at his ears with his free hand, but could not stop the grating of his father’s mocking tone against his eardrums, pounding, itching, egging him on.

“Can’t hear ‘ya, Darren,” Charlie said in defiance.

Nobody. He’d show that damn kid. Darren threw the jacket onto a rocky ledge behind them and pried off his shirt. With a sudden surge of breath he crashed into the cool water. He barely noticed anything at all: not his hands or feet clawing at the water, not his brain beating against his skull, not the sharpness of a boulder nipping at his left fingertip, or the shimmering shadow of Charlie on the other side of the crystal layer that Darren struggled beneath. He noticed little but his father’s voice following him into the depths of the cool water.

He hadn’t sensed the pain of his breath on hold until his head popped back to the surface, and he let out a gasp of great relief. Noticing the boy’s piercing eyes, Darren tried desperately to hide the need his lungs had for air. He dropped his legs to the gritty bottom fearing he would never find it. But when he stood, the water was barely belly deep.

Diluted blood trickled from a splice in Darren’s finger. He wiped the blood on his chest, leaving a smeary crimson trail. “Your turn.”

Charlie frowned, poking his thumb at the corner of one eye. Quickly, as if fearing Darren would think he was crying, the boy brushed away a lose tendril from his face and grimaced. “That’s it? You’re done already?”

“Yep. Your turn.”

Charlie eyed the jacket on the ledge behind them. “But…”

“Uh—uh. You’re not chickening out.”

“But the steer—“

“Was a stupid animal. Are you stupid like that steer?”

Charlie stood there.

“Well? Are ya?”

The boy shook his head.

Darren turned away from Charlie and climbed along the edge of the boulder, scrambling to the top. He pulled his shirt against his chest, afraid the boy might see the fury of his heart punching at his skin. “I’m not waiting forever. Either you go, or you don’t.”

Charlie peered briefly at Darren resting on the boulder. “It sure is hot,” said Charlie. He dipped his big toe into the water, slowly allowed his entire foot to submerge. “If I go in…,” Charlie turned back to Darren, squinting from the sun, “can we go home?”

Darren shrugged.

“You’ll stay right here? On that ledge?”

“I’m responsible for you, ain’t I? Besides, where else am I gonna’ go?”

“Promise?” Charlie was already up to his knees. He moved slowly, cautiously, stopping to let his eyes sweep once more from the jacket to Darren and back to the cool water. He took a deep breath, plugged his nose and slipped into the lake, reappearing with his eyes as wide as his grin. “Awesome!” The child’s voice gave way to splashing, kicking and cautious diving.

Straps from the life vest dangled from the rocky ledge over Darren. Watching Charlie slip further from the shoreline, Darren leaned back his head and extended his body to catch the warmth of the western sun on his moist skin. The boulder beneath him burned sharp and cold on his backside. He smiled at the contrast: fiery pleasure and cool pain, a combination of heaven and hell. But which was which?

He closed his eyes.


A frantic splash and gasp for breath followed the tortured call.

Slowly, Darren opened his eyes, shielded them from the sun and glanced toward the pond. Ringlets marked a bulls-eye on the southern edge of the water, but all was quiet.

Darren closed his eyes again.


Once more, his head pounded with his father’s mocking laughter.


Taunting. Demanding. Daring him. Slamming him into unwanted memories. “Come here, NOW, boy,” his father had screeched from behind the neighbor’s shaggy hedge. “Come take a look at your cat.”

That awful day, when Darren had been about the age that Charlie is now, he’d found his dad standing over the plastic edge of a child’s pool with a stick in one hand and gin and tonic in another, pointing the fat glass at the pool and sloshing alcohol over the rim. “She’s swimmin’.”

Darren glanced at the bloated fluff in the water. The cat wasn’t swimming, only her fur shimmied in the blue liquid. Her eyes were shut, the rims lined with pus. The feline’s nose bobbed beneath the water line.

“Not very good at it—eh?” His old man laughed, downing the entire drink and tossing what was left of the ice into the water. Chunks landed on the cat’s belly.

Darren’s stomach tightened. Spasms ran through his gut. He clutched his belly.

“Awe, come on, boy…It’s just a cat. Ain’t nobody cares about that cat.”

Darren charged passed his father, risking a glare as he passed. The man’s face was hard, set and full of disgust.

“What? You care, boy? Huh,” his father sniffed.“I guess that makes you a nobody—a NOBODY, ya’ hear!”

Bile crawled up Darren’s throat and settled in his nostrils. He ran faster, cupping a hand beneath his quivering lips.

“Yeah—go run to your mommy.” His father shouted behind him. “But don’t you go blaming me for this!”

Darren raced up the front porch steps and through the creaky doors of the family’s aged farmhouse. He tripped on a loose floorboard and caught a sliver in his naked foot but kept running. “Mama. Mama,” he shouted. Tears rippled down his cheeks and into his open mouth. “Mama! Daddy killed Misty. Daddy killed—”

Darren’s voice disappeared into the drawl of his mother’s favorite record, a shrill, scratchy piece of used-up vinyl twenty-five years old, cranking out words his young soul understood far too well. Pain...fear…loneliness. The volume rose with the help of an unseen hand, drowning out Darren, just like the cat, just like a nobody. Darren crashed against his mother’s locked bedroom door, pounding at the ancient, peeling wood. She could not hear him—would not hear him, preferring the sad melody over the cries of her only son. Darren slid to the floor, his legs giving out in surrender, his head banging against the frame on his way down.

That was the last time tears ever fell from Darren’s eyes. Only once more, when Darren had lost his mother for good, and just before he would get shuffled around like a misplaced trinket, did a single sliver of salty wetness reach Darren’s open mouth again.


He opened his eyes once more, adjusting slowly to the harsh sunlight. The top of Charlie’s head popped up at the edge of the lake, dipped below the surface again and reappeared in full. The boy coughed and gagged. His arms flailed. Darren locked eyes with the boy and then turned away.

People were supposed to cry when bad things happened.

Closer to the shore, the surface of the water erupted once more. The bubbles burst, sprouts of hair appeared, reddened cheeks, hands clutched the air.

Darren stared at the water. He could almost feel his father’s breath, almost see the patches of fur in the water.

More and more of the child emerged. Chin. Shoulders. Chest. Charlie coughed and spit. Slowly, painfully, as if held down by anchors, Charlie dragged himself out of the water, heaving and dripping. He collapsed on the rocky sand, his entire body shaking with each breath. The child’s laboring left him silent, but empty words lingered in the air between Darren and Charlie as they stared at one another.

Darren accepted the boy’s glare, kept his eyes locked in place. Charlie was heaven. Darren was hell. Someday Charlie’s Uncle Jack would figure out the truth and send Darren away. They always sent him away. “Don’t blame me for this.” Darren lowered his back to the ledge, flattening himself against the sharpest points of the jagged rock. He closed his eyes once more.

Darren could hear Charlie weeping a few feet away, and wondered why his own eyes were forever dry. He spoke to the boy without any hint of sympathy. “Don’t you go blaming me for this,” said Darren again. “All you had to do was stand up.”

copyright 2013