Blogtober #21: Sci-Fi Square Peg.

Growing up, we enjoyed an interesting variety of tv shows in my household. My Dad was a big lover of classic comedies and shows, which meant plenty of I Love Lucy and Leave It to Beaver. And oh, the sitcoms. Too Close for Comfort, Three’s Company, 227. My mom, on the other hand, introduced us to British television, private investigators (hello, Jessica Fletcher and Colombo), and science fiction. Hours were spent in our tiny living room, discussing intriguing storylines related to various incarnations of Star Trek and/or wondering what would await us on The Twilight Zone. (And wondering if we would have to shut our eyes, being that some of those eps of TTZ were intense. Scaredy-cat here, by the way, and unashamed of it. 🙋🏾‍♀️) It was all so fascinating.

Needless to say, I love sci-fi. Like, deeply. If it’s time travel or aliens or “exploring strange new worlds” (my fellow Trekkies recognize where that comes from), my interest is quickly captured. Reading it and watching it have always been pastimes. A few years ago, however, I wondered why I wasn’t writing science fiction. A natural question for me; challenging myself as a writer is always exciting. But I realized that a lot of the plot lines that pop up in my head have a sci-fi theme. It seemed a natural progression—if those ideas were coming, they needed to be written.

The Loftiest Thing has a sci-fi short story in the collection. I now plan on writing an entire collection related to the genre. One story you’ll find in that forthcoming new collection is provided for your reading pleasure below. Enjoy.

Tiny Pieces

Being in a time machine is less dramatic than you’d imagine. You stand in a medium-sized metal enclosure, quite similar to an elevator, the doors close, also like an elevator, and you move through the waves of time. Like moving up through floors. Yes: like an elevator. When the doors slowly open, however, you have not arrived in the plush, carpeted hallway that leads to your attorney’s office or for an appointment with your expensive dermatologist. You arrive outside your college dorm room in 1993 at 11:42AM. (Well, not specifically. It all depends on what time a person chooses to go back to. And you chose to visit your 19 year-old self. Someone else may choose to go to April 14, 1865, and convince Abe to avoid Ford’s Theatre. Really up to the person involved.)

You glance behind you at the metal doors that just closed and remember what they told you: the doors will disappear, disintegrate into the atmosphere, and will return when you come back to the exact spot where the machine dropped you off. Something about your DNA being linked to the machine. Science talk. You tuned out at the point. As promised, you watch the metal doors begin to shatter before your eyes, breaking apart in tiny, silver pieces until there is nothing before you. The process leaves you slightly breathless. But you get yourself together. With resolve, you turn around and knock on the dorm room’s door.

Nineteen-year old you (Teen You, officially) opens the door. You are momentarily dazed by familiarity, by a deep recognition. Thick curls in a bun on top of her head; big, brown eyes that communicate almost everything on her mind. Teen You is also thinner, of course, not yet a party to the mythical “eating for two” adage that you enthusiastically believed induring both of your pregnancies. Her baby face, with its unblemished dark brown skin, is not yet burdened by the pesky crow’s feet that appeared one morning and refused to bow before the cavalry of creams prescribed by your expensive dermatologist. She is the image in the mirror you stopped seeing so long ago.

And when she looks at you, her lips parting in a tiny “O” of shock, it’s quite clear that the deep recognition is mutual. No amount of crow’s feet and a thicker waistline could hide that. She doesn’t understand, but she knows.

But you also remember you at that age. A fighter of anything illogical, a doubter of whatever couldn’t be quickly explained. Just the Facts, Ma’am. Where did that woman go? you then wonder. Why did getting older make it easier to just say yes to everything, even the nonsensical? (Although, admittedly, no longer questioning the incongruous led you to an elevator that transported you back to the past.) Nevertheless, it’s hardly surprising when you observe a narrow-eyed frown slowly descend upon Teen You’s demeanor, replacing the shocked recognition. “Can I help you?” she asks you sharply.

You smile at her. “We need to talk.”

“Who are you?” she demands.

“I’m sure you know who I am.” With that, you place your hands on her shoulders and firmly guide her backwards into the dorm room. This moment, touching the woman you once were, is not lost on you. The sensation will linger long after this day. You close the door behind you. “I apologize for pushing you but we don’t have much time.”

She glares at you. “Get out of my room. You have no right to be in here, to put your hands on me.”

You gaze at her with admiration. “You’re so strong. I wish you had stayed that way.”

Momentarily, she cocks her head to the side, visibly intrigued by this statement.

“Anyway, you have Political Science at 12:15 and we need to chat before you go.”

“How—how do you know about my next class?” she questions.

“Since I’m sure you know who I am, it’s no surprise that I know which class you’re about to go to, is it?” Briefly, you peer around the dorm room. Teen You’s side of the room is neat, clean, the complete opposite of the unmade bed and various articles of clothing and things that crowd her roommate’s side of the room. Natasha Abulov was her name; an exchange student from Russia. You remember how excited she was to be in school in the United States, so excited that she was never around to clean her side of the room.

“Excuse me, but what do you want?” Teen You presses, interrupting your thoughts.

You return your attention to her. “Be patient with Natasha,” you tell her. “Several years from now, she’ll become one of your closest confidantes.”

Teen You raises her eyebrows at you in disbelief. Chuckling softly at her expression, you now lead her toward the pristine bed and sit her down next to you. “Look, there’s no real preamble to this—”

“Did I become a lawyer?”

You hold your breath.

“It’s what I—what we wanted more than anything,” she says carefully. “Did it happen?”

This would be harder than you thought.

“I’ve been working so hard, loading up on my classes,” Teen You continued. “I just really hope that it ended up—”

“In this Political Science class, your professor will be very late. Sitting next to you will be William Lyons, a junior you’ve seen here and there, but never paid attention to. He’ll say hi and ask if you want to ditch class for some coffee. At first, you’ll say no. Time will continue to pass by. Other students will start leaving. You’ll glance at the clock. He’ll invite you again. Reluctantly, you’ll say yes and you’ll leave class with him.” You pause, caught up in the memory. “Three months after today, Billy will ask you to marry him. He’ll say, ‘You’re 19 and I’m 20. We’re not kids. We love each other. I have a trust fund. What are we waiting for?’ You’ll hesitate. You won’t be sure. He will repeat that he loves you more than anything or anyone in the world. Reluctantly, you’ll say yes. A few days later, you’ll elope.”

Those big eyes of hers grow wider and wider.

“School becomes a foregone conclusion after you get pregnant, which happens pretty soon after you’re married.”

“I have a baby?” she whispers.

“You have two. A boy and a girl. Langston and Angela. And they’re not babies anymore. They’re 22 and 21.” You smile, envisioning your children, these two souls that have prevented you from losing the few marbles you have left.

She begins to nibble on her pinkie nail, a nervous habit that never went away.

“Needless to say, no, you didn’t become a lawyer. You stayed home and took care of your children and your home. You supported your husband while he continued to go to school. He graduated at the top of his class.” This is when you are reminded of why you are here, why you paid an obscene amount of money to some kids who weren’t much older than your son for the chance to travel back in time. You grab Teen You’s hands, which now tremble violently. “Listen to me, Pamela. Listen to me. Don’t leave that class with Billy.”

Tears suddenly appear in her wide, brown eyes. For a moment, your own eyes moisten, but you push away those rising emotions, determined to stay the course.

“Do not go with him,” you say. “Stay in the class. Tell him some other time. But do not leave with him. Do you understand me?”

“But—but if I don’t go, what happens to Langston and Angela?” she asks breathlessly.

You didn’t expect that question. But becoming a mother was something you’d always wanted, wasn’t it? “Langston and Angela won’t go anywhere,” you tell her firmly.

“But their father—”

You imagine him now, this man you both love and despise, this man who has betrayed you in the worst way. The two of you have become shadows in your home, living miles apart in the same space. You must fix it, you must come back together, and that is why you are here today. Just a few weeks ago, you recognized that everything began when you left that class with him. Things happened too fast; you fell too fast.

Squeezing her hands gently, you smile reassuringly at her. “We were meant to be, Billy and me. He will pursue me, undoubtedly. And somewhere along the way, I will fall in love with him completely and without hesitation. But we need time, Pamela. Make him wait. We need more time.”

They had explained it all with their science talk, those boys with the metal doors, after you had begged them to help you. You didn’t tune out that part. You’re not changing much from the past, they told you, so the present, time itself, will eventually acclimate. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, ma’am. You’re just changing the scene, but the puzzle pieces, your life, will stay the same.

“Our relationship needs to happen differently, when we’re older and wiser. We made so many mistakes, Pamela. We blamed each other for so many things. If you stay in that class, it will happen another time. Langston and Angela will still come, I promise you that.”

She gazes at you for some time, tears spilling down her face, her wide eyes filled with surprise, confusion, and an array of other emotions. She is thinking, deliberating. Finally, Teen You nods.

You pull her into your arms, embracing her tightly. Later, much later, you will dream of this moment, when you held yourself in your arms like a child.

“Time for class,” you say softly. You stand her up and gently wipe her tears. You then pick up her backpack, hanging on the bedpost, and hand it to her. “Maybe the law career will come one day, maybe it won’t. We just need to save our family.”

Nodding again, she takes the bag and walks toward the door. Before leaving, she turns around and glances at you. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me,” she declares.

“Wait until childbirth,” you reply, smiling.

Her eyes widen again before she disappears around the corner.

With a deep breath, you look around the room again before walking out. Back in the hallway, you stand at the precise spot where you “landed.” Almost immediately, those tiny, silver pieces that fragmented into the atmosphere appear before your eyes, shimmering as they re-form. The process ends with the return of the two metal doors that brought you to this place in time. They stand before you, sturdy, as if they had always been there. It was impressive, to say the least. The doors open and you step inside.

As the “elevator” moves through time, you find your eyes growing heavy. Yes, you recall what the boys also told you: coming back would render you quite fatigued, almost unbearably so. They weren’t wrong.

As your legs give way and you descend toward the ground, you unexpectedly feel the stirrings of an emotion you haven’t experienced in a long time, something far more powerful than your overwhelming fatigue.

Hope.

The End. (An original work by This Square Peg.)

Blogtober #12: Bookworming It.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a small commission for purchases made through these links.)

Welcome to Monday. Since this time of year–for me, anyway–breeds even more reading than usual, I wanted to share my top four favorite books of all time with y’all. (Fun fact: I declared that I would never combine you + all once moving to Texas. So, yeah. Y’all it is. Never say never.)

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. What can I even say about this inspiring book? You know it. You either read it and/or watched the film adaptation in your classroom growing up. You fell in love with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. You were moved by this engrossing tale of lessons and race relations in the Deep South. You loved reading about Scout and Jem and Boo Radley and Dill. You were enraptured by the trial and case of Tom Robinson. This book was everything for me. As a budding writer and just as a person, I’ll never forget how this novel made me feel.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. Loooooookkkkk. Let me tell you. My 12th grade English teacher was the meanest lady this side of Planet Earth. I wish I were exaggerating. Nevertheless, I will forever thank her for inciting my enduring love for Jane Austen and her writing. Never have I loved fictional characters more (Elizabeth Bennet: personal hero; Mr. Darcy: husband), for one thing, and never have I adored the witty writing style and voice that an author created even more. It felt as if Jane was talking to me privately about these people she knew.

A Good Man is Hard to Find (and other stories), Flannery O’Connor. If Austen significantly influenced my writing style, then Ms. O’Connor majorly informed my desire to end a story with a bang. She knocked my literary socks off when I discovered her in college. Not only were her observations about human nature absolutely unrelenting, but so were the finales of her fascinating stories. (Seriously.) My love of writing short stories was also influenced by her; there’s nothing more enticing than fitting what could be a novel inside a short piece of work, which Flannery did over and over again.

Everything written by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Lois Lowry. You’ve likely heard it before, but most writers begin as voracious, devoted readers. Well, these three authors began the ball rolling for me. Memories of ensconcing myself in library stacks surrounded by their stories of intelligent, verbose heroines, annoying siblings, and the pain and discovery of girlhood are never far from mind. They began the blueprint for me. And yes, I’d read all those books over again now and still relate to them.

I have tons of booky favorites, needless to say, so another post with a new batch of favorites will come. Here’s where I’ll tell you that gone are the days when I had stacks and stacks of actual books that my mother threatened to get rid of if I didn’t arrange them with some semblance of order. These days, I enjoy maintaining a digital bookshelf and read everything on my Kindle app. (I’d love an actual library, but the living arrangements don’t presently have room for that. Maybe in the next place I find with more room.) I also have a Kindle Unlimited membership through Amazon and yes, it is awesome. A friend of mine knew how much I loved the whole library book borrowing system and recommended Kindle Unlimited–and I’m glad she did. With this membership, I can borrow books and discover an array of authors whenver I like. At present, I’m reading Mindy Kaling’s latest six series essay collection, Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes), and the convenience of borrowing the titles and simply returning them when I’m done is the best. Gift the membership to yourself and/or to other bookworms in your life here.

Happy Reading and bon Monday.

Blogtober #8: She Writes.

A bit of self-promotion this fine autumn.

Did you know that I’ve written and published three books? Yes, you say, it’s on the Writing tab on your blog, TSP. This is true. But we’re highlighting my work on the main page today. All my books can be purchased on Amazon right here. Note that this Amazon link is also my author page, so all the books are lined up for you in a pretty row.

Raincoat For Your Senses is a compilation of short fiction and poetry. If you’re in the mood for, well, moody poems and somewhat autobiographical short stories from a 20-something writer, then this is for you. This was my first foray into publishing my work so all firstborns are special. Available digitally.

Short stories abound in The Loftiest Thing. Entirely a collection of short fiction, this book remains my ‘lil baby that could. Whereas RFYS was extracting works I’d completed in the past, this book is full of original, real time fiction that I wrote. Stories about sacrifice, love, relationships, and so much more. It awaits your library, both digital or hard copy.

My latest work, Your Elephant, After All, is 100% poetry. I used to consider myself a fictionista primarily, and then a poet when no story ideas were coming to mind. But I am both a fiction writer and a poet, and working on/publishing this book cemented the latter for me. These poems are personal, are about life and love and everything in between, and I wrote it at a time when I was personally drowning. So, working on it became a life jacket. You’ll love it as much as I do, I guarantee. (Available in hard copy only.)

That’s all she wrote for now. I’m working on some things, so I hope to expand this bookshelf. Until then, support your neighborhood authors and writers and artists, if you can.

On Harry & Meghan.

If you’re living on this side of Earth, you’ve heard that Harry and Meghan have decided harrymegsto significantly change their status with the royal family. (I won’t link to any articles because, whew chile, the bias.) In other words, H&M want to step back from being senior members of the royal family, become financially independent, and split their time between the UK and North America. I’m here for it. Let them live. Let them also live in a place where they’re not targeted viciously. I support it. The vitriol and abject racism I’ve seen for Meghan in the British media is indescribable. We talked about leveling up, didn’t we? Well, they did and I think it’s a fabulous decision. I won’t even discuss all the fallout and how Piers Morgan is just…no words. Team H&M. (I definitely hope Meghan resurrects her blog, The Tig. Wonderful writing. Wonderful voice.)

In that vein, I wanted to share a ‘lil short story I wrote inspired by the royals and my admiration for the Ginger Prince and his lovely wife. In case you’re wondering, 2020 hasn’t necessarily resurrected my creative writing. But I have hope. Read on, enjoy, and onwards & upwards. For everyone.

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The Queen and the Green

The queen had spinach in her teeth. The offending green vegetable was right there, lodged between her two front teeth for all the world to see. And the world would see it, because after this morning tea, the queen would announce to the free world that her eldest grandson, the prince, was engaged to his troublesome fiancée.

For the record, she, Margie King, was the troublesome fiancée. She was the American commoner, the former executive assistant to the prince’s solicitor, the woman who wore a dress that didn’t even reach her knees when he had first brought her to meet his grandmother. (Never mind that the dress, hastily purchased when he had made her aware of his plans, had shrunk in the wash and was short because of that and not because of some wicked attempt to shock the ruler of 14 countries.) She was also the woman who wanted to alert her soon-to-be grandmother-in-law that there was spinach in her teeth.

It baffled Margie that no one was saying anything. The woman was presiding over a grand, long table, flanked on both sides by various family members and relatives, and no one had the guts or decency to tell her about the spinach. Yes, Margie was aware of the rule that that no one could approach the queen without being summoned or being spoken to first. Clearly, propriety trumped sparing her from humiliation. Even the queen’s husband, the perpetually bored prince who seemed half asleep most of the time, openly observed his wife’s mouth as she spoke, his eyes widening with each word and subsequent presenting of the food in her teeth. Margie was pretty sure that the man wanted to laugh. Unsurprisingly, he, too, said nothing.

Where were her ladies-in-waiting? Did they even call them that anymore? Margie had done about a month’s worth of royalty-related research to prepare for this event, but wasn’t sure if she had read anywhere that ladies-in-waiting still retained that title.

She wanted to tell Frederick about it, to lean over and whisper in his ear that someone needed to help his grandmother. But Frederick was seated about twenty cousins down from her. Someone had muttered “royal protocol” as a reason why they weren’t seated together, but Margie didn’t buy it. She knew it was the queen’s way of prolonging what it would kill her to soon announce—even if that meant temporarily separating her grandson from his fiancée during tea.

She would never forget the queen’s face six months ago, when Frederick declared his intent to marry her. Rage. Confusion. Fear. Nausea. A bit of sadness. Her features twisted up like the worst scene in a horror movie, right before the end comes. Margie had stood off to the side, breathlessly observing a stately sovereign turn into a creature of volleying emotions. Well, the twisted features aside, there were no actual outward emotions being displayed. She had the stiff upper lip reputation to maintain, after all, even if the audience was just four people: Margie, Frederick, the queen herself, and her half-asleep husband.

For a moment, Margie forgot about the spinach and thought about him. Her regard moved from the queen and rested on Frederick (although she could barely see him), her Frederick, the man she didn’t know she had been dreaming of until they met.

It had been raining buckets that evening. Her boss, Mr. Knox, had requested that she stay late to assist with greeting a client that would be arriving after closing time. Margie knew that Knox had high-profile, top-secret clients, some unknown to even her (such as this one) but the image of trudging through the rain and the dark to get to the Tube instantly became that top-secret client’s fault. She intended on being as nonchalantly rude to he or she as possible.  

He had arrived precisely at half past six, calmly entering the lobby as if there weren’t oceans of rainfall and high winds behind him. No one was with him; you’d think the heir to a throne would be trailed by a sea of security detail. That being said, yes, she had immediately recognized him. Who wouldn’t? Everyone knew Prince Freddie, The Prince of All Princes, a title coined by the media. His handsome good looks (in real life, Margie quickly decided that “handsome” as a description was grossly insufficient) and famous girlfriends were well-known and well-reported. Standing up from her desk, she had greeted him—stopping herself from bowing—and led him toward Knox’s office straightaway, as her boss had instructed. “You move quite fast,” he had said from behind her. Margie gulped and turned around, glancing at him. He was smiling, his dark hazel eyes dancing at her. Instead of explaining that rapidly walking was her way of avoiding a royalty-related collapse, she had merely smiled at him in return and said nothing in reply. She doubted that her voice box would work properly anyway.

Much, much later, Margie watched Knox and Frederick speak to one another in hushed tones in the lobby. Their appointment had officially ended but the conversation continued. Margie then wondered if there was some sort of prenuptial agreement in the works; the prevailing rumor was that Frederick was close to proposing to his latest girlfriend, a French actress. Was that why he was there? Did royals even have prenuptial agreements? she then wondered. However, the presence of Mr. Knox now standing by her desk sharply interrupted that line of thought. She stood up. “Yes, Mr. Knox?”

“Our client would feel most welcome if you would allow his driver to take you home,” Knox replied.

Blinking rapidly, she glanced at Frederick, who again smiled warmly at her. “It’s rather awful outside and you’re here late because of me,” he explained. “Ridgely will take you wherever you’d like to go.”

“But…how…?” Her voice trailed off. At the moment, she wasn’t sure how to form a complete sentence.

“Simply say thank you, Ms. King,” Knox instructed under his breath.

Nodding, Margie turned off her computer and grabbed her handbag. After a year with Knox, she had learned to simply move quickly in spite of whatever questions she had about something. She approached Frederick and thanked him for his kindness.

“You’re quite welcome,” he had responded, holding her stare long enough to communicate that perhaps this wouldn’t be their last meeting.

It wouldn’t be. 

“Ms. King,” said Ridgely the driver as he pulled up to her flat in Clapham that rainy evening, “His Royal Highness would like to contact you for dinner later this week if you would like to leave your contact card inside that box next to you.”

His Royal Highness? Dinner? Her contact card?

“Did you leave your card?” her flat-mate, Dory, shrieked after Margie had dazedly informed her of the evening’s events. “Did you, Margie?”

In that moment, Margie’s her mobile phone vibrated in her palm. With wide eyes, she presented the text message on the display to Dory: I hope I’m not being too forward, but you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. 

Many quiet dinners later, he confided in her that the French actress he was dating was a longtime friend from university that had agreed to attend all public events with him. He had long tired of questions about just when he would marry. “It’s exhausting, really, but I’m well aware that it’s the price we pay for this life. I’m hardly complaining,” he had remarked that evening. “They’ll simply have to wait until you say yes to me.”

Margie had nearly choked on her wine.

She gaped at him, waiting for him to continue. He gazed at her meaningfully and reached for her hand. It wasn’t the most romantic venue—Bernie’s Fish and Chips was a few miles from her flat and was the only place they could eat without being mobbed, being that most of the clientele were slightly inebriated, blue-collar blokes who thankfully had no idea who anyone was, much less the future king of their country—but Margie clutched his hand and recognized the moment for what it was.

“Are you asking?” she whispered.

“I’m imploring. Please marry me, Marjorie Lorraine King. I’m quite sure I can’t take it anymore, when you’re not next to me, and I’m also in love with you, so it just won’t do.”

She had laughed as tears cascaded down her face. “You have a way with words, Prince Freddie. You really do.”

He grinned at her. “So? Marry me?”

Margie said yes. Rather, she repeated it.

“It won’t be easy,” Frederick then said. “We’ll have a few mountains to climb: the prying eyes, the press, the questions.”

“The fact that I’m black and you’re white.”

Frederick nodded. “We live in a maddening world, don’t we?”

“Absolutely. But I’m ready for anything, Frederick.” She leaned into his tightened embrace and breathed him in.

“Believe it or not, darling,” he said, “the biggest issue, above all, will be my grandmother.”

Now they sat twenty cousins away from each other, his grandmother baring a portion of spinach in her teeth and everyone remaining silent on the matter. Some of them would likely laugh and wonder why Margie cared so much. Wasn’t the queen the same woman who muttered that she was troublesome when she arrived at the palace with the now discarded above-knee dress? The same woman who regularly leveled Margie with the kind of vicious stare meant for enemies of the kingdom? And yet she was also the same woman who  invited 10 year-old girls from low income areas to tea at the palace two Saturdays a month, something the media didn’t know about. The same woman who sometimes put her head on her half-asleep husband’s shoulder when they were walking around their country home (he was pleasantly surprised each and every time). It was just spinach, but it might as well have been a “Kick Me” sign on her back. Margie had learned about the court of public opinion since her courtship with Frederick had begun. It was the one place the queen had no power over, and no one deserved to be fodder.

The queen then abruptly stood, signaling everyone on both sides of the long table to do the same. It was time to hold the press conference in the Tudor Room. As she smoothed her dress down–brocade, tea-length, and gifted to her by her kind, soon-to-be aunt-in-law–Frederick quickly appeared by her side. “You look beautiful,” he whispered in her ear.

“Thank you. Your grandmother has spinach in her teeth.”

Frederick chuckled. “She knows. She does it on purpose to see who will have the courage to approach her unsummoned and inform her. I’ll be sure to let her know that you said something.”

Stunned, Margie then looked up and found the queen studying her, the latter’s demeanor not quite as stone-faced as it typically was when she placed her attention on her troublesome almost granddaughter-in-law. Her expression seemed…softer? The woman couldn’t hear that far, could she? Did she know that Margie had mentioned the spinach?

“Come, Frederick, Margie. We will be late,” the queen called over to them.

Margie couldn’t even recall when the queen had mentioned her name.

“Onwards,” Frederick said softly, lacing his fingers through hers.

And upwards and everything in between, Margie thought, as she watched the queen begin the processional as the first in line.  

[Not] Writing.

close up of hand holding pencil over white background
Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

I haven’t written anything creatively in a long while. Fiction is my thing, my jam. You know that. But it’s been excessively hard for me to hunker and write. I have some suspicions as to why. Let’s talk them over.

  1. No inspo. Like most artists, inspiration is so huge for me. I need that flow, that impetus, that spark that leads to me wanting to sit down and work on something. I haven’t had that in a while. For the record, I personally gain inspiration from the people around me, from visual art, from music, and really anything that germinates into the desire to storytell. And although those things are still around me, nothing is really germinating.
  2. No patience. Lest you believe I’ve abandoned my passion altogether, however, there have been times when I’ve worked on stories…and then I’ve quickly let them go. I don’t know. Something comes over me. I’m moved to action and then the flame quickly goes out. If I understood why that happens, dear reader, perhaps it wouldn’t happen so much.
  3. No… You know how difficult this year has been for me. Maybe this is the fallout. Wanting to find catharsis through writing but not being in a place where I’m ready to go there. I think this particular reason is a strong possibility.

My intention is to find a quiet place somewhere and just allow the muse to do what she does. Maybe a trip to a museum. Or a few days out of town, alone, armed with a notebook and a pen. Something. Because at the end of the day, I miss writing creatively. I miss the excitement that comes from creating. Gotta get back.

In Plain Sight

“Gin and tonic, please,” he said to the waiter.

“My, how tame we’ve become in our old age.”

He smiled and turned around. She stood before him, grinning and still looking very much like the 21 year-old girl that had crossed the threshold of the gray building on Fairfax Street so many years ago. But her youthful appearance was in looks only; the woman in front of him brimmed with confidence and strength, a far cry from the terrified, shy girl they met that first day. Back then, their superiors had been–inexplicably in the eyes of most–convinced that Tamara Knight was blessed with the same keen abilities as her deceased mother, the incomparable Pamela Knight, and had recruited Tamara at once for the school. They had been wrong. Mara Knight was a complete neophyte; hardly ready to begin a rigorous training program that would result in a career as one of the Queen’s stable of international espionage agents.  

James stood and met her embrace, reminding himself to hold on just enough, not too long, not too close. Just enough. Of course, his resolve was interrupted by the kiss she placed on his cheek and, as a result, the dizzying aroma of roses and lilacs that she left behind on his skin. He was tempted to hold on to her one beat longer, long enough to communicate everything he had wanted to say since he laid eyes on her fifteen years ago.

He didn’t.

After the embrace, James escorted her to the other side of the booth. Moments later, the waiter re-appeared and took her request for a whiskey, neat.

“Where are you coming from?” he asked her after the waiter departed.

Mara softly chuckled. “Does it seem like I came from somewhere?”

“Absolutely.” He paused to study her, forcing himself to conduct only a surface appraisal and not the kind of intense staring he formerly engaged in when they worked in the same building. “South America, perhaps?”

Her large brown eyes gleamed. “How did you know?”

James pointed toward the sparkling broach on the left shoulder of her olive green dress. It was a flower with dark pink petals and a yellow/cream center.  “I’m venturing that it’s a rendering from the silk floss tree. Native to the tropical and subtropical forests of South America, I believe.”

“Spot on, as always. Two weeks in Argentina. Buenos Aires, specifically.”

Naturally, the details about her time in Buenos Aires would remain unspoken between them. They belonged to the same organization, yes, but the potentiality of traitors meant that there would be no detailed discussion about “work.”  

“Lovely, isn’t it?” she said, lightly touching the broach. “It’s always nice to honor the culture of where you are.”

In the beginning, Mara Knight certainly wasn’t interested in honoring cultures. During a field assignment in Indonesia (they had been assigned together; her first, his umpteenth), James recalled that she had spent more time vomiting on the side of various roads than taking in the culture around them. “My nerves…my nerves are shot,” she kept muttering whenever the truck had to pull over for her. He laughed at the memory.

“Something funny?” she asked.

“You dry-heaving on the side of the road in Jakarta.”

She joined him in laughter, tears eventually twinkling in the corners of her eyes. “Those were the days, weren’t they?”

They had all underestimated her, believing that the terrified, unsure beginner would remain that way. In the end, her mother may not have gifted Mara Knight with those astute abilities she had been famous for, but perhaps she had given her daughter something greater, something she would come to find nearly six months into her training: a tenacious will to succeed. That will led to her surpassing them all, in the end.

“I miss us working together, James.”

His knee-jerk reaction, to blurt out that he missed her, just her, and not working together, was ignored. “I don’t think you miss London traffic and morning fog, though,” James replied instead, smiling.

“Those things don’t matter,” Mara replied. “I miss seeing you every day.”

Had she transitioned to reading minds?

Nevertheless, James kept the smile planted on his face and said nothing. What could even be said?

“I miss walking onto our floor and waving at you from the elevator,” she continued. “How long has it been: a year since we saw each other?”

One year, four months, two days, 15 minutes.

James merely nodded, sipping his drink to avoid speaking what he simply couldn’t say.

“I tried to call you, you know,” Mara then said quietly.

Don’t choke. “You tried to call me?” he questioned, holding tightly to his composure. “When?”

Mara sipped her drink. “Many times. Times when your voice was the only one I needed to hear.”

Understandable, he quickly reasoned. It was the two of them as partners for a long time. Nine years, to be exact.  (Also recruited at 21, James Caraway had quickly risen in their ranks and was a mission lead by the time Mara came to them. The top brass had decided to place the two of them together, feeling that the closeness in their ages–James was four years Mara’s senior–would lend itself to her training. They had shared everything: from missions to near-death experiences to those tiny, quiet moments in between, when just being side by side provided a sense of comfort and safety that didn’t require explanation or discussion. And then, three years ago, their superiors promoted Mara to a special counterintelligence team that didn’t include James.)

“I wish I had known,” was his only reply. Perhaps those unlisted numbers were her. Perhaps, deep, deep down, he had known it was her calling and allowed the calls to go unanswered. It didn’t matter, in the end. She missed him as a friend and a colleague, nothing more.

Mara then peered out of the window, gazing at the rain-soaked evening. James took that opportunity to carefully study her this time, not a surface appraisal like before. He took in every nuance of her, carving a new image of her to replace the one he had placed in his mind when they last saw another. Her dark brown skin, far more luminous than a year ago; the full head of curls, longer and fuller; even her shade of lipstick, deep red and warm. That way, when he closed his eyes from this day forward, he would see her in the present, as she was now. It made things a bit more real.

“James,” she said, turning back to face him, “you, my friend, are a terrible, terrible actor. How you’ve been able to excel this long in espionage is beyond me.”

Taken aback, he shook his head. “I’m not quite sure what–“

She reached across the table and grasped his hands. “Did you know it was me calling all those times? Did see you those numbers and wonder if it was me?”

“Mara, I–“

“Why did you ignore my calls, James? Why don’t you reply to my emails? Why did you arrange this dinner through Michael?”

Michael Hanson was her handler. James ran into Hanson one morning at the office and had suggested the dinner, hastily speaking before he could take it all back. Of course, he had used the cover that it was high time that Mara and her former partner/trainer reunite.

Mara squeezed his hands, still leaning over, her brown eyes boring into his. “What have you been afraid to tell me? Why have you been afraid to say? Do you think I’ve never noticed you looking at me? Just like you were a few seconds ago? Do you think I’ve been blind all this time?”

Briefly, James noted that this interrogation technique, wearying the subject with rapid-fire, incessant questions, was something he had taught her to do.

“What are you afraid of, James? What are you imprisoned by? What keeps you from doing what you want?”

“Please, Mara. Stop.” How could a moment be so fraught with both desire and a wish for silence? How could he be so puzzled by her abrupt turn of behavior and equally aware of why she was behaving this way?

She shook her head. “I won’t stop, James. I won’t. I’ve stood by for fifteen years, waiting for you to say something, to speak the obvious, and I won’t stop now. I won’t stop until–“

James laughed despite himself. “You’ve stood by for fifteen years? Oh, Mara. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She grinned. “That’s the first loosely combative thing you’ve ever said to me, James. Thank you.”

Freshly taken aback, he felt beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He wanted to wipe them, but he didn’t want to remove his hands from hers.

“I can resume my questioning if you don’t say something,” Mara warned, her eyes twinkling.

“Are you playing with me, Mara?” James asked. “What is this?”

Mara stood up and walked around to his side of the booth. She slid in next to him, as close as she physically could. “This is us releasing each other from the prisons we built 15 years ago, James. You’ve been worried for so long about telling me how you felt–that’s the prison you built. I’ve been waiting for so long for you to confirm what I felt the moment we met each other–the prison I built.” She put her hands on his shoulders. “No more prison for me, James. I’ve wanted you for fifteen years. Your turn. Tell me how you feel. Open the bars. Come out of the prison.”

James inhaled her words and roses and lilacs and swore he would pass out. Was all of this truly happening?

“You only remember me getting sick in Jakarta,” she said softly, leaning in even closer. “I remember watching you fall asleep every night in Jakarta. I couldn’t sleep. I would stay up and watch you sleep every evening until the morning. Fifteen nights, just watching you sleep, feeling strange and confused and just…”

Fifteen nights.

Fifteen years.

Exhale.

Exhale.

Exhale.

He had been holding his breath for fifteen years. Apparently, they both had.

Mara smiled at him. She knew it, then, that he was letting go.

James reached over and gently caressed her cheek. “How did you…how did you know all of this?” he asked her.

She placed her hand over his. “I’m a super spy. I know everything.”

***

it chose me.

It was inevitable that fiction would choose me, that my world would become consumed by it. From the fairy tales my mother brought before me, to the fascinating living stories around me, to the nursery rhymes that incited such vivid images in my mind, to the billowing curtain in my childhood bedroom that, to me, offered pretty terrifying possibilities on the other side, my imagination was its own character from the very beginning. When I would hide in the library during recess (we’ll talk about that in another post; praise kind librarians), I would read. And read. And read. All fiction, all topics, all possibilities. A fiction writer was being born. By the age of eight, that writer came alive.

After messing with my dear father a bit about majoring in psychology while filling out my college application (“I want to be a shrink, Daddy.” “No; choose something else.”), I chose English as my major. It was always going to be English; I knew that when I was sixteen years old. Soon thereafter, I chose the concentration for my major: Fiction. For four years, I was ensconced in literature, stories, novels. It was like being in the stacks all over again.

I write poetry, these lovely blog posts, articles, the occasional play, a few songs…

But first and foremost, utterly and completely: I will always be a fiction writer.

fictionquote

What do you love to do that chose you? I’m curious to know…

speechless.

flannery

Writing fiction has been a no-go, party people. And I miss writing fiction. Yes, I’ve written some poems quite recently (here and here, if you feel like reminiscing), but I am 100 percent a writer, lover, and creator of fiction. I don’t exactly know what’s going on. Let’s think it through:

  1. Is it because I haven’t given my muse other platforms of art to be inspired by? Honestly, living here in the Lone Star state is still very much a transition: personally, emotionally, and especially artistically.  I’ve yet to stroll down the cool, marble hallways of an art museum. I have been to a few concerts, yes. Most recently, I sat in the audience, tears cascading my face, while Alvin Ailey dancers took my entire life with their powerful, breathtaking performances. That was inspiring, absolutely. It got me writing. But the moment was kind of fleeting. Is it because I’m not exploring art more?
  2. Is it because I’m a lazy writer? Look, there are times when an idea comes to me and I start typing and…I stop. Because I don’t want to do it anymore. Because I don’t feel like it. Because I just want to read People Magazine online and mentally judge the choices of silly celebrities.  Because I want to scroll through Instagram and “happen” to find photos of Idris. Because because because. But real talk? Even though the distractions are awesome and it’s nice to turn off the creative brain once in a while, I feel queasy when it happens. I want to write. Is it because I’m not trying hard enough?
  3. Is it because I’ve run out of ideas? Notice above that I respond when an idea comes to me. So they still come. In fact, some great ones have come and they continue. So what’s going on, dear reader? Is it because I let some of them just sit there, unacknowledged?

I’m sure you’re sitting there shaking your head and muttering that some of these questions/problems have obvious solutions. Go to the museum, then. Stop being lazy, then. Acknowledge those ideas, then.

Yeah yeah yeah.

I just wanted to write this post. Get it? I just need to keep writing. Even if it’s not fiction. Maybe that will come. For now, just keep writing, Square Peg. Just keep writing…

Blogvember #22: Choices.(Mission Possible)

This was the photo I used for the back of my recent work of fiction, The Loftiest Thing. I love this photo. For one thing, the trees in the background absolutely fit the title’s theme, which was also one of the stories in the book. Secondly, I think my photographer (who also happens to be a good, longtime friend) captured the joy I felt at having accomplished this latest creative project. The natural lighting, the setting: parfait. 

My third book is on the horizon. Can we pause to celebrate this?


A part of me wants to keep that photo for the back cover. The other part of me wants to change it up. Just because change is always refreshing, and I think this third book represents some of the changes I’ve made with how I want to present my art. Below are the three photos I’m considering. 


Your mission, if you choose to accept it (and why wouldn’t you? You love me, right?): what say you? Pick the photo you like the most and tell me your option in the comments. I’m partial to all three of them, so I’m no help. The most-picked will win and I’ll make it my back photo. 

Happy choosing on my behalf…

the writer.

Simply put: the works that I produce need to thrive and be shared. We write for ourselves first, yes, but an audience is intrinsic. My family and friends have long supported my writing. And that was enough for me for a long time. It’s a big world. If 10 people I know and love like my work, hey, let’s throw a party. But there’s a comfort level in that. (See the above quote about shyness. That’s part of it, too.) Those you love are those you love. They aren’t the random reader that may stumble on your book and love it or hate it or scratch their heads or wonder who you think you are or applaud who you know you are. 

I’m looking for readers outside of my world, my comfort zone, my people. It isn’t about money. (Although, I mean, come on…) I want my audience to grow. I want to share my passion with more people. 

I have a new Instagram page: @sodavis_thewriter 

Kindly follow it, won’t you? Other than TSP as a platform to occasionally share my work, I’ll share here, as well: one clever hashtag at a time.