In Writing, a Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

unicornSo, a couple of months ago, my friend Stephanie asked me to do the Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest with her. I hadn’t written any fiction in about, oh, six or seven years, but I’d been wanting to start and thought this would be a good way to get my feet wet.

The contest worked like this: 500 participants had 24 hours to write their stories. On the morning of the contest, we were issued a prompt and a word limit. That way the judges could ensure our stories were written specifically for the contest.

Our prompt was this:

“The cold wind battered the fortune teller’s wagon, threatening an early frost. The girls climbed down, simultaneously giggling and shivering about the message the old witch had delivered. As their feet pushed through the red and orange leaves, a shadow emerged from the gnarled maple trees. A bent man in tattered layers stepped in front of the girls, leaned over, and put his crooked finger to his lips…”

I was stoked to find out a little more than a month later that I won an honorable mention! Okay, I know it’s not the Pulitzer, but I was really encouraged. It felt great to write an imaginative story. And it felt wonderful to know someone out there liked it.

So now I’m doing NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month. Writers all over the world attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of November. I didn’t think I could do it, but thought that even if it got me going it would be worth a try.

It’s November 20 and I’ve written more than 45,000 words.

I think fiction may just be my new favorite hobby! 🙂

Thanks for reading,

P.S. If you’re interested in reading my 24-hour short story, it is here:

A Strange Impulse

A cautionary wind rose as Suzette climbed from her station wagon. She was uncertain the old car would make the long trip, especially loaded with all her belongings. But here they were.

Maple leaves swirled – crimson, amber, and rust. There was something about autumn that evoked a distinct feeling of new beginnings, even as the leaves shriveled and the cold crept in to end the year.

With every new beginning, though, comes an end. Behind her in New Orleans, Suzette was leaving a life she loved. Katrina had destroyed her home and her well-established fortune-telling business. Once regulars and tourists flocked to her storefront, filled with hope for good readings and futures. Now the space stank from black mold and stagnant puddles, curled tarot cards strewn about the shop.

The insurance check arrived too late to save Suzette’s business, but it didn’t matter. After one look, she left her home and shop and never went back.

But the hurricane’s greatest tragedy for Suzette was that she’d lost Cole. Grief flooded her heart and remained after the waters had washed from the streets. Suzette’s one relief was her fiancé would never see what happened to their city, Cole’s professed “second love.” He’d come to NOLA to study jazz in college and stayed, building a life of passion and performance among the rich music scene.

The past year taught Suzette there was no use looking back. Yet, she couldn’t find anything worth looking forward to – until she found the ad in the paper.

When she spotted it, she was struck by its perfection. Instantly, she knew the ad was meant for her, that the universe was offering direction. It was impossible to resist.

She never read the newspaper, and had purchased it on a strange impulse that day. This is what she found:

Farmhouse and Clairvoyant Business for Sale

Available: Well-maintained 200-year-old house in upstate N.Y. with 7 acres of fertile land and mystical shop where retiring owner performs psychic readings for numerous long-standing customers just waiting to be transferred to a kind-hearted and talented new owner.
In one paragraph, Suzette was reborn. She was an avid gardener and the self-sufficiency of farming seemed comforting in contrast with the uncertainty of her recent hardships. Even more appealing was the change of scenery to one lacking reminders of Cole and her former life.

She rapidly planned her new existence, which included purchasing the property with insurance money, raising produce and livestock, and earning additional income telling fortunes. Excited, she wrote the owner to arrange a visit.

Standing before the house, doubt whispered. She’d visited Cole’s family in the Northeast enough times to know it was early to feel this kind of chill in the air. The threat of early frost reminded her that farming was far from certain and her fate could, once again, be dictated by nature’s whim.

Two young girls slammed the screen door as they emerged from the house. Their giggles quickly escalated into shrieks and the old man raking leaves in the yard put a finger to his lips, kindly reminding them to respect the Sunday morning quiet.

“My wife’s waiting inside for you,” he told Suzette. “Go on in.”

“Hello!” Helen called brightly as Suzette entered. She hoped her enthusiasm disguised her true emotional state: an awkward quandary. “Why don’t we get to know each other before I show you ‘round?” She turned and filled a kettle. Suzette reluctantly sat, impatient.

“I apologize. We’ve been so busy,” said the woman. “I actually hoped to postpone your visit, but couldn’t find a phone number or e-mail address for you online. It was too late to write.”

“I don’t have a cell or e-mail,” Suzette said. “I like to be disconnected. Helps me feel more in touch with my instincts and the signs around me.”

“I certainly understand that,” Helen said knowingly as she poured their tea. “How long have you been aware of your gift?”

“Since puberty. You?”

“Early childhood,” Helen replied. “It started with dreams.” Suzette didn’t know one of these dreams was responsible for her trip here. Or that Helen was fraught with panic at her arrival.

Three weeks earlier, Helen woke with a start. In 70 years, such dreams had never been wrong, so she followed her sleeping premonition and submitted the ad – despite having no intention to sell. She would’ve declined Suzette’s request to visit, but intuition demanded she allow it. Long ago, she’d learned not to ignore the urgings of the gift.

When Helen saw the fully packed station wagon pull up, her heart sank. She still had no insight into the dream. Across from her sat a girl who apparently left a great deal behind and was eager to start a new life in her not-for-sale house.

“Let me tell you about the place,” she started, delaying discussion of the transaction.

Several minutes later, as Helen finished recounting a winding history of their life and farm, Suzette heard footsteps.

“Is someone else here?” she asked.

“We take in boarders,” Helen explained, happy for the subject change. “Perhaps you could stay here until the, errr, closing?” She squirmed, desperate for stall tactics, hoping the meaning of this debacle would be revealed in the meantime. “We’ve just one boarder now. Quiet fella. Doesn’t talk much. Kinda sad. If you’ll stay for supper you can meet him. You know? I think you two might get along –”

Suzette dropped her teacup and it shattered loudly as her eyes grew wide and filled with tears. Deep within the farmhouse, a trumpet played a familiar Storyville melody that rang out like the blowing of Gabriel’s horn, its unmistakable trill resurrecting all Suzette had lost.

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