Cup and Handle

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams and he introduced each story by writing a bit of background about it and how it came to be. He describes the process as needing to find a cup and handle, and then putting them together to create something that works.

A few years ago I was driving through my hometown and walking down the street was this old lady and a few feet in front of her was one of the roundest, fattest cats I’ve ever seen. It was unexpected and hilarious. I tucked the scene away, knowing it would come in handy at a later date. Earlier this year I received a text from a good friend with an concept for a story, a witch who steals laughter. Almost immediately, I knew I had both my cup and handle and that is how this story began.

This is the first witch story I’ve written this year and I think it will be one that receives more attention in the future and possibly added to my book (eee!!!).

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Her stocking-covered flesh oozed between the thick straps of her orthotic sandals as she waddled up the sidewalk. Gnarled hands gripped tightly to a walker she stole from the man who lived down the street from her. She didn’t need it’s assistance but she knew it added to the charade. Last night she added sparkly cat stickers to the frame, they covered up the name Cooper and added just the right amount of color to the prop.

Her shadow fell hard against the pavement and sweat slid over the dents and grooves that made up her face. A few feet in front of her stark outline was the boulder-like shadow of her cat. Frank’s mass of fat and fur waddled over the cracked pavement in a comical performance. This was, of course, all part of her plan.

Single file, they made their way up the block like camels through a desert. Fragrant sour cabbage filled her nostrils. While it was one of her favorite dishes, the scent wasn’t as pleasant when seeping up from beneath the layers of her loose cotton dress and wool cardigan.

Cars slowed as they passed, laughing and pointing as the pair cautiously made their way over the broken path. She nodded and waved at each car, gaining strength from their smiling faces. She took only a little from these victims, such a small amount that they would never miss it nor feel it.

Rainbows danced off of the cartoon cat stickers under the late morning sun. Her grip on the walker loosened as her weathered body soaked in the giggles bouncing on the hot air around her. She felt her body grow stronger; younger. Over the years she experimented with a variety of tactics, but she always favored the ones that involved Frank. Once a mere tool used to her benefit, she had now grown quite fond of the cat. His plump frame welcomed the fuel she required, he made this process easy on her and for that, she was grateful.

There was once a time when she would steal from one soul at a time. Spells woven to squeeze every ounce of happy chatter from her victims and leave them a black withered shell to wander their remaining years lost in perpetual melancholy. And, while that would always be the method she favored, unwelcome attention followed closely beside it.

Her heart quickened as she approached her final destination. It was nearly noon and she knew she would only need a few minutes to restore the last five years of aging. The wheels of Mr. Cooper’s walker twisted sideways before straightening over the horizontal lines of the crosswalk. She lifted the light frame back up onto the curb and followed Frank through the opening in the chain-link fence. She spun the walker around, pushing the wheels up to the metal lattice and eased herself onto the hard plastic seat. Frank lazily looked back over his shoulder at the witch and flopped hard against the tarmac rubbing his whiskers against the warm ground. The school bell sounded and within seconds children spilled from the doors. She lifted her chin to the sun and sucked in all of their delighted squeals.

A Year of Weird

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When I first told Aaron the crazy idea I had for myself and 2016 his face lit up and he cheered, “A year of being weird!”.

Good, he was on board with the plan. Now, to get over my nerves and match his level of excitement.

We discussed ideas, how I wanted it to play out, and eventually, all of the pieces fell into place.

Knowing that my number one goal this year was to put in some serious hours working on my book, I wanted to put myself in a position where I was constantly pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and participating in unique-to-me experiences. From there, ‘A Year of Weird’ was born.

I’ll be the first to tell you, some of the items on my list are going to make me, and probably you, uncomfortable. But, that’s why I’m so excited about this! I want to embrace my interests that some would deem ‘unusual’ and I want to see things that will make me squeamish.

Why? It’s all in the name of research!

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I’ve always had an interest in the taboo and 2016 will be the year I dive into all things ‘unusual’ and see where it leads me.

I’ve started a list. I love lists. I’m hoping you’ll be able to help me out and add to this list too. If you have any suggestions for experiences I should check out or even better, experiences you would like to read about please include them in the comments below! I’m using Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories- Chuck Palahniuk as my bible for this step of the process.

My list, so far…

*Spend a day with a taxidermist

*Spend a day with a mortician/funeral home

*Learn to fire a gun/visit a shooting range

*Join the local Police Force for a ride along

*Spend the night in a reportedly haunted location

*Attend an event hosted by the the local Society of Creative Anachronism

I can’t wait to hear what you suggest!

 

Following my dreams

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Since the days when it was still socially acceptable for me to wear pigtails, I’ve dreamed of becoming a writer. I’m sure my fantasy of this profession is much more magical than reality but I figure it’s about time I live out that dream. I’m holding onto hope the adult-life I envisioned as a frizzy-haired kid is somewhat accurate.

My plan – take one year to write. I’ll continue freelancing and plan to blog 3-4 times a week, and the best part, work on a book! I’ve had an idea for a book floating around for a longer period of time than I’m willing to admit and I hope to finally give it the attention I’ve longed to for so many years. I’m free-Slurpee-day-at-7-11 excited!

What this means – well according to my husband, it means a year of me embracing my weird self and living that life as honestly and fully as I can.  According to me, well, I like his description, but it also means a few other things…

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Anyone who knows me, knows I thrive on a full schedule. Photography has provided me with that for a number of years now and it’s incredible. I feel so fortunate for everything it has brought my way and allowed me to experience. A huge part of my heart is nestled in my photography business and that isn’t going to change. What will change though, is the amount of photography I’ll be doing, but this is a good thing, promise! It means I’ll have a bit more time for writing and that’s amazing news!

My Dad has always been adamant that I just need to follow my heart and everything else will fall into place from there. I know he’s right because living those words has led me to where I am today. However for the last three years in a row, “Write!” has been at the top of my New Year’s Resolution list and it’s always the item that remains on there without ever being checked off. I’m excited, nervous, and a little nauseous, but I know I’ll regret it if I don’t give that goal an honest effort. I’m utterly clueless as to the steps I take from here. The only thing I’m sure of is that to be a writer, I must write.

If you’re interested in hearing more about this journey please feel free to follow along! Over the next few days I’ll be sharing more hints as to what my “Year of Weird” will look like and some of the things I’ll be exploring.

I’m so excited for 2016 and hope that you’ll stop by often to keep me company!

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Christmas Gift

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It started out as research. Well, that’s what I told my husband. The reality though, was that I have always been interested in taxidermy and skeleton articulation. And, being unwilling to harm an animal in the name of research I had to practise patience, and wait for nature to run it’s course.

Unable to find the right words to properly question my intentions, my husband’s cautious laughter said more than anything he could have spoken. Knowing better than to get between me and my ideas, he stepped aside as I fished a dead bird from our pool. I was upset I hadn’t found my feathered friend early enough to save his life, but I wasn’t going to let the bird’s death go to waste. My husband watched in silence as I buried the frail body in a shallow grave in our backyard. I reassured him the dogs wouldn’t dig there, that they would know better. Foolish promises, surely.

Pleased with my actions, I envisioned the story I would write. A story about a killer who also enjoyed skeleton articulation. I wasn’t sure of the details beyond that, but I figured that instead of taking the critters who had passed on out to the dump, I would give them a new life through my research. I would allow nature to do its work and then articulate their bones. Preserving their beauty instead of disposing of it.

As it turns out, I never gained the nerve required to actually go through with my research, but I found the next best thing. Online shopping has opened up an entire new world. A world that allows one to order ethically sourced animal skeletons from the comfort of their home office. Pants optional. So, with Christmas looming in the near future, I planted the seed in my husband’s ear.

Snow fell, Christmas trees were erected then decorated, and wrapping paper shredded. My husband, who has a flawless gift-giving track record, surprised me with an articulated cat skeleton. It was quite possibly the least romantic gift one could receive, but likely the most excited anyone has ever been to open a package and find a dead animal beneath the festive gift wrap.

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We gathered with friends and family to celebrate the season, eager to share decedent appetizers and the stories of our spoils. My sister sparkled from every appendage as she modelled the jewels she received. We gushed over the beauty of each piece, expressing our jealously of her treasures. Our ‘ooohs’ and ‘ ‘ahhhs’ swam harmoniously on the air as my husband entered the kitchen, questioning what all of excitement was about. My sister did a little spin, her jewels sparkling as brightly as the lights in the trees. My husband let out a loud laugh, turned to me and said, “And all you got was a dead cat!”

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***DISCLAIMER – This is an ethically sourced articulated skeleton.***

Concrete Jungle

2015-04-11_0003This is another piece I wrote for my creative writing class.  I was envisioning the same character I wrote about here.  This piece ended up being almost  continuation of that piece as well!  Please feel free to share your thoughts/opinions 🙂

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The heels of her black leather boots clacked against the wet pavement; a wordless militant mantra. A wet breeze lifted her wild curls, wrapping them around her face as she made her way down the cement steps and into the tunnels.

Trains filled with passengers entered and left the station. “Instead of concreate jungle, where the living is harder.” A young boy singing Bob Marley atop a plastic milk crate drum could be heard, the hard surroundings spreading his soulful sound. Strategically weaving through the dense crowd, she made her way to her platform. From the corner of her eye she spotted a man pushing a collection of what she knew was stolen jewellery, into the face of anyone within an arm’s reach. Desperately, she fought his efforts to make eye contact. She had been on both sides of this con.

“Miss, miss!” He called out to her. She had no patience for men like him today. Men, like her father.  “Miss! Come, come and see. You’ll like, I promise. Look, this piece will bring out those beautiful eyes.”

Annoyed, but always eager for a challenge, she forced her lips into a smile. She raised her chin and the grated lights transformed her eyes into faceted emeralds. Ensuring the man saw just how beautiful her eyes were, she locked his gaze and confidently walked over. The worn folding suitcase around his neck was filled with gold chains swaying from tiny hooks. A vulgar smell emanated from his down-filled jacket, screaming insults at the air around them. The stench clawed at her nostrils; she hid her disgust well.

“You like?” he questioned, raising the squalid caterpillars above his eyes.

“Oh, they’re beautiful,” she flirted, “but much too rich for my blood, I’m afraid.” Her Prada bag and Burberry jacket mocking him more loudly than her words.

She ran her manicured merlot nails across the ornate necklaces, flashed him a smile that made men kneel at her boots, turned, and walked away from the man as her train approached the platform. It was a game for her and she enjoyed every second of it.

She joined the flow of bodies making their way onto the train and found a seat near the door. While she waited for the doors to close again she reached into her pocket and gently ran the garish gold trinket through her fingers.

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Shatter the Void

2015-03-09_0002Our house is as still as the Queen’s guards. Unblinking, unmoving.

Our dog’s chest rises and falls rhythmically and her breath fogs the glass panes that are usually shaking timidly from her bellows. Her short coat reflecting the warmth that creeps in through the sheer curtains.

Our cat, with a voice which would get her kicked out of any library is laying loaf-like and uncomplaining. Her pregnant, yet kitten-less stomach isn’t protesting her empty dish.

Our rabbit, mimicking a sixteen-year-old boy in both actions and attitude is laying corpse-like in his bed, nursing a banana hangover. His mane, as wild as a Joplin groupie, masks his eyes. I’m tempted to poke at his soft form to ensure he’s still earth-side.

I’m nearly positive both furnaces have stopped working because I can’t hear the whir of warm air filling the vents.

The feathered tenants occupying the large trees surrounding our home aren’t performing this afternoon. The outside of our home is mirroring the inside.

Buttons aren’t making music in the dryer and the persistently dripping faucet is as dry as stale bread. My shallow breath hangs on the air, suspended and soundless.

The man wielding a knife with intentions of making my liver his next meal isn’t pacing over the squeaky board in our living room. We have yet to meet face-to-face, but I’m certain he lives in our attic.

Steam silently rises from my freshly poured cup of coffee and I slurp the first mouthful to shatter the void.

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**Photo by TJ Romero**

 

24 hours

Douglas Coupland’s “Five Rules for Writers” was recently assigned to me as part of my creative writing course required reading. His bonus advice – “Dreams are boring. Don’t write about them.” And because I like to live life on the edge and break rules*, I’m going to do exactly what he suggested I avoid.

*This comment is laced with sarcasm. I just like to pretend I’m a bad ass… I really just wanted to write about my dream, regardless of what Mr. Coupland recommends.

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Photo by TJ Romero <click on his name to be directed to his site 🙂

I can’t remember the exact setting, but I do remember I was told I had 24 hours left to live. I feel like it was some weird zombie-inducing disease… or maybe I just made that up? Either way, my husband was by my side when I received the news. He turned to me and asked, “What do you want to do?” I quickly realized travelling to the Amazon for my dream exploration trip wasn’t an option. I responded, “I want to be with you.” So, dream-me, and dream-him crawled into bed (it wasn’t our bed… which is slightly frightening now that I think about it), and cuddled. As my expiration clock counted down the hours, minutes, seconds, remaining in my life earth-side, I decided that I also wanted to write letters. I pulled out my laptop and started writing to my family, friends, and husband. I told all them not to be sad because I had no regrets. I lived the life I wanted for myself and I’ve experienced the things I’ve wanted to experience. I pursued my dreams and I loved where I was and what I had accomplished.

Weird dream, I know… , but I woke up happy. I was impressed with dream Ali. It was also an interesting experience to reflect on, even if it was only a dream. Or, if Coupland is correct, maybe I’m the only one who finds it interesting. I digress.

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My question for you, what would you do if you were told you only had 24 hours remaining?  Would you tell your friends and family, or keep the information private?  It’s a slightly morbid discussion, I realize this, but I’m really curious what everyone’s response to this would be!

 

 

Free Writing : Vol. 1 – Prompt – What’s in your character’s bag?

I recently enrolled in a creative writing program through the University of Toronto. It’s something I’ve considered doing for quite a few years now and finally decided there was no better time than the present. I plan on sharing some of my writing from my class here with you! Please join in on the conversation!

One challenge I’m facing is the task of writing every day. I’m doing much better now than I was in the past, but I need much more discipline in this area. To help with this, my prof suggested some free writing prompts for daily journaling. This piece is a result of one of my free writing sessions. Her prompt was, “What’s in your character’s bag?”. I took her idea and ran with it 🙂

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Wild curls fell across her face as she twisted her body to dig through her bag. Merlot painted nails pushed aside a well-used deck of tarot cards. Her ornate gold rings caught on a scarf rumpled near the bottom as struggling to find the item she needed. Answering her silent call, a lavender-lined velvet pouch found its way into her searching palm. Slender fingers tugged gently on the ribbon ties, freeing a large eye agate gemstone pendant. She carried it for protection. Bangles she inherited from her grandmother clashed noisily on her wrist as she tossed her long mane aside to fasten the necklace. Her gait was confident; the thigh-high leather boots she wore beneath her skirt helped too. As she made her way down the busy city sidewalks she filled her lungs. Exhaust, wet pavement, and a hint of the frankincense she carefully applied earlier. Her emerald eyes narrowed as a smirk pulled at the corners of her lips. She was near her destination, not a minute late nor early. She looked and felt the part; she knew this role well.

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P.S. I must add a side note… the mala beads in those images were made for me by my father.  His callused carpenter’s fingers strung every single bead.  He and my mother gave them to me as a Christmas gift a few years ago.  Don’t I have amazing parents!?

Wild Eyes

“It would have been cheaper, to keep her, around.”

A country song plays softly on the radio and my husband laughs at the lyrics.

The moon is masked by winter clouds causing the sky to envelop itself. I can’t see past our headlights, but the landscape blurring outside the windows is familiar, even in the dark.

Our speedometer hovers around the speed limit but we are slowly gaining on the large semi truck in front of us. I look out my window to see wild eyes reflecting back at me, warning me they are ready to run, either into or away from the highway traffic. Sadly this highway is notorious for casualties, usually of the four-legged variety.

The turn-signal clicking breaks my stare and an engine revs loudly beside us, almost in response. We travel alongside semis on this highway often, but they are typically the most courteous of travel companions. We both look questioningly at the passing lane, unsure of why the man driving the semi beside us has sped up. He matches our speed, the hooks and chains on the back of his cab dancing wildly in the cold air. We continued down the black pavement, side by side. We were now cornered with a truck in front of us, beside us, and third quickly closing the space between our bumper and his. He flashes his headlights once, twice.

“I feel like we’re in a horror movie.” my husband quietly comments.

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Image – TJ Romero