18
Oct

Midnight Madness

Based on true facts regarding a FULL MOON on Halloween...a fiction story. Midnight Madness

Even six weeks after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, the nation continued to mourn the loss of over 3000 innocent victims when two airplanes crashed into the towers.

Several days ago, the editor of the Sacramento Daily Sun editor burst into my office. “Clive,” he said. “Pack your bags. You’re going to Salem, Massachusetts, to cover their Halloween celebration. Let’s give the subscribers something to think about besides the 9/11 tragedy.”

He had me at, ‘pack your bags!’ With yet another gut-wrenching editorial in my computer about the 341 firemen lost in the Towers, I was up for anything to get away from the twenty-four-seven news cycle.

October 31 is big news in Salem. Every year, 250,000 visitors swarm the city to experience haunted houses, costume balls, live music, dances and holiday parades. This year, due to a full moon scheduled on October 31, the first full moon on that date since 1974, Salem planned even more spectacular events. Apparently, the occurrence of a Halloween full moon happens only four or five times each century! The next one isn’t expected for another twenty years─October 31, 2020!

Entering Salem, I was impressed by the witches and goblins, pumpkins and ghouls decorating houses and businesses, much like we decorate for Christmas back home. Witches are big in Salem all year long, due to the history of the Salem witch trials, but this year, even more so, what with the full moon phenomenon. Apparently, Salem’s city fathers thought the citizenry had grieved the 911 tragedy long enough, and should get their minds back onto business as usual. Let the nation grieve if it must. Salem would strike while the moon was full!

Cornstalks lined the streets. Jack-o-lanterns hung from each lamp post. Shopkeepers dressed in witch and warlock, ghost and vampire costumes, hawked merchandise. Every shop window displayed witches and cauldrons, spirits and ghouls. Tourists clamored through the town atop horse drawn hay wagons and carts.

I ate lunch at a little diner and delighted in the attentions of a charming waitress with long black hair, sparkling gold eyes and fluttering lashes. With a glance, Jenny churned up feelings I hardly remembered, being a widower well past middle-aged, and an almost regular church goer.

Imagine my surprise when she handed me a napkin with a message inside. Meet me outside tonight. 11:25 P.M. Come alone. I must see you.

I left my lunch half-eaten and stumbled outside to ponder the situation. With her charms, she had the pick of any young man; what could she possibly want with me? I interviewed shopkeepers and snapped photos of the holiday events that day and well into the evening. Even knowing it was a fool’s errand, at 11:15 P.M, I was drawn back to the diner like a moth to a flame.

****

At 11:20 P.M. Jenny wiped down the last table, flipped over the CLOSED sign and locked the café door. She had nearly given up hope of finding a middle-aged man with silver-white hair and mustache. What were the odds that Clive should walk through the door at the last possible moment to change her destiny?

Jenny wrapped her cape around her shoulders and stepped out the front door. There Clive stood, as she had hoped! She was blessed with a sixth sense about the future, knowing when the phone would ring or a visitor was at her door. An oppressive spirit had even settled on her the morning of September 11, feeling something evil on the horizon. She had powers over men, but on this night of night, with the full moon overhead on this auspicious date, her fate lay in the hands of this stranger. Without his cooperation, she could not escape the family curse.

“Hello. Thanks so much for coming.” Jenny placed her small white hand on Clive’s arm, hoping to bend his will to her own needs. “You’re the only one who can help me.”

“I’m happy to oblige. But, why do you ask a stranger? Don’t you have family or friends who could help you?”

Jenny lowered her head, brushing her lashes against her pale face. She allowed her lip to tremble as a tear trickled down her cheek. A white curl tumbled on her forehead, seemingly out of place among her mass of black curls.

“Here, here, now. None of that.” Clive brushed Jenny’s hair back into place. “I’ll help you if I can, my dear. Don’t cry.” He tipped up her chin and dried her tears with his handkerchief. “Now, give me a smile and tell me all about it.”

“I fear you’ll think me crazy, sir, but I swear I speak the truth.” Jenny sat on a bench and began an inexplicable tale.

“I am a descendent of the judge who unjustly hanged Sarah Good as a witch in 1692, right here in Salem. Since Sarah Good’s death, the judge’s descendants have suffered a terrible curse. Upon the rare occasion, only about four or five times each century, when the full moon is overhead on All-Hollow’s Eve, any female descendent between the age of 18 and 29 is in grave danger.

“As the full moon is upon us this night for the first time in 27 years, and to avoid the curse, I must find a middle-aged man with long silver-white hair, who resembles the judge who sentenced my poor ancestor, Sarah, to death. Before midnight, a drop of this man’s blood must be placed on a particular stone that stands at the edge of town.” Jenny’s pale lips trembled.

“Would you shed a drop of your blood on Sarah’s commemorative stone to save me from the curse?”

“What kind of curse, my dear?” Clive raised perplexed eyebrows.

“It is so terrible, I dare not speak it aloud.” Whispering these words, Jenny clung to Clive’s shoulder and wept piteously. Would it be enough to convince him to go with her to the stone? And, once there, could she muster the courage to do what she must do to stave off the curse?

****

Clive was speechless. Never had he encountered such a stunning creature that so captivated his heart within minutes of meeting. Never has such a ridiculous tale so captured his imagination. He was inclined to leap from the bench, take her by the hand, and race to the stone in question. Only with great difficulty did he pummel his rash impulses into submission and sit back on the bench, staring into the starry sky.

The full moon hung blood-red over the city, casting an orange glow across the sidewalks, still churning with costumed tourists, jostling and laughing, their joyous songs of nonsense carried into the black sky on the night wind.

The young woman stirred in his arms, her sobs finally ceased. She dashed tears from her cheeks and looked up at him. “You will help me, won’t you? I’m so desperate. We only need a teeny-weeny drop of blood, really. I’d be ever so grateful.”

If she truly believed her outrageous tale, considering the unusual request, even a gentleman couldn’t help wondering, how grateful? On the other hand, just exactly how much was a teeny-weeny drop of blood and just how crazy was this charming girl?

Clive shivered. A wind rustled the corn husks tied to the lamp posts. A thin cloud crept across the center of the moon, seeming to cut it in half.

Clive glanced at his watch. 11:40 P.M. “Well, let’s get on with it. Can we walk to the stone?” He would humor her and see where all this would lead. His hand rested around a small penknife in his pocket. If a tiny drop of blood is all it takes to satisfy her fantasy and win her gratitude, I can do that.

The wind whistled overhead as the cemetery loomed into view. Groups of tourists ambled amongst the grave stones. Raucous laughter burst from the direction of Bridget Bishop and Martha Corey’s graves, also victims of the 1692 Salem witch trials. One would think it was an amusement park rather than a cemetery from the sound of merriment coming from the shadows.

Jenny squealed as a man dressed as a vampire loomed from the bushes.

Clive put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She was really a dear little thing, and his heart stirred. He wanted so to calm her fears. Perhaps he’d bring her coffee in bed tomorrow morning…

Sarah Good’s commemorative stone gleamed in the moonlight.

Jenny ran her fingers over the grooves in the stone forming the letters– Sarah Good 1653 – 1692 “Poor thing. I’m so sorry, Sarah. Please forgive my ancestor.” Jenny glanced at her watch. “Are you ready?” She drew a huge serrated bread knife from her purse. “We don’t have much time. I only have two more minutes. Clive?” Jenny’s beautiful smile, only moments ago holding so much promise, faded, replaced by a fiendish leer. Only his blood splashed across the accursed stone would make her smile now.

At the sight of Jenny’s wild eyes gleaming in the moonlight, Clive stepped back. The thrill of the lovely lady and moonlight adventure faded and common sense finally prevailed. Jenny had no intention of settling for a pricked finger and a drop of blood. With the knife in her hand, she crept closer and closer with murder in her eye.

“Hold on, there, young lady.” He backed away, glancing left and right. Where had all the costumed tourists gone? The witches and ghosts and even the vampire had disappeared at the first sight of Jenny’s knife.

In the distance, the town clock began to strike. Twelve o’clock…the witching hour. Bong…bong…bong. The hour that a real witch, if there was such a thing, might easily murder a stranger to thwart her twisted notion of an imaginary family curse.

Bong…bong…bong. Clive’s dull life suddenly held a great deal more appeal. How he wished he was back in New York, playing cards with a neighbor, and had never heard of Salem. Bong…bong…bong.

Bong…bong… Jenny shrieked and rushed at him, the knife raised...

Paralyzed with fear, Clive put up his hands, closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the death blow. Bong! Midnight!

Seconds ticked by. Clive ran his hands up and down his chest. “I’m still alive?” He opened his eyes.

Jenny’s cape and the bread knife lay on the ground, but… Where was Jenny? She had waited seconds too long past the stroke of midnight and the curse had taken her…but where? How?

Sarah Good’s gravestone gleamed in the moonlight. A small black cat hunched beside the stone, her tail whipping around her black toes. A white blaze crept over her nose, across one golden eye, ending beside her ear. She stared up at Clive, terror in those golden eyes, such as to soften the hardest heart.

“Jenny?” Clive walked closer to the stone. Wasn’t there a fable about witches turning into black cats? He’d never believed such tales before, but... He stroked the little cat and peered into her eyes. “Jenny?” He gasped. Jenny’s golden eyes stared back. The curse! It was true. Poor Jenny. “She needed my blood to protect her from the curse. She still needs me.”

He would write his 2000 word newspaper story about Salem, about the haunted houses and the costume ball and the decorations and the Halloween parades. The story would be colorful and for a few minutes the Sacramento Daily Sun readers could forget the tragedy that took almost 3000 lives on September 11.

He would write about tonight being the first full moon on October 31 for the last twenty-seven years, but, he would not write about a 300-year-old curse that turned a Salem witch into a little black cat. Who would believe it?

Clive cradled Jenny in his arms as he walked back to town. “Don’t worry, Jenny. You don’t have to worry ever again. I promised to help you, and I won’t abandon you now.”

27
May

Three Elements For a Great Reader Experience

– Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary

A reader wants to feel she is personally experiencing or observing the events in the story, therefore, the  author must write the story in such a way to allow the reader to experience the story in this manner.  So, have you ever wondered why you've read some books that create this feeling and others that are just...ok?   To successfully create such a scene, it must include the following three elements.

  1. What does the character see? (The setting seen through the character’s POV)
  2. What does the character think or feel? (How does the current situation personally affect him?)
  3. What does the character say or do about the situation? (Dialogue or action, or both.) I will use a condensed/edited scene from my latest novel, Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary to illustrate.

What does he see? Setting: Black Cat watched as a woman wearing dark glasses and a large black hat that shaded her face crept through the gate. Rosebush stickers on the fence caught at her sleeve. She paused, unhooked the thorns and then, tip-toed down the sidewalk toward the house.

Black Cat lowered his ears and crept past the corner of the house. What was she up to? His gaze swept toward the Wisteria vines where Angel’s golden tail swished back and forth beneath the hanging purple flowers. Angel!

What does he think (or feel?) Perhaps this woman intended to steal something from the front porch. He crept closer. It was his duty to protect the family’s belongings. He could almost see tomorrow's front page headlines in the Fern Lake Gazette. Plucky Local Cat Foils Attempted Grand Larceny. Despite overwhelming odds, the daring and plucky feline protected his master’s valuable rhododendron plant from the clutches of a 200 lb. female assailant determined to…so forth and so on…Maybe his photo…

The portly woman dashed the last few steps up the sidewalk, leaned down, and yanked Angel by her tail, out from under the bush.

Meow!

What does he say or do? Dialogue or Action: Black Cat raced across the lawn. Angel! He leaped at the woman’s arm, teeth bared. The woman jerked away. His fangs caught the edge of her sleeve and ripped through the material. Having missed to connect with her arm, he tumbled to the grass with a shriek. “Brett! Brett! Help! Help!

The thief waddled down the sidewalk with Angel, desperately thrashing against her hip. Still grasping the thrashing cat, with one hand, the woman struggled to open the front gate . “Stop fighting me, you little…”

Not my Angel… Black Cat sprinted through the gate, leaped over the hood of the car, and scrambled around the open car door.

Once she reached her door, the woman flung Angel onto the passenger seat, and flopped into the driver’s seat. Before she could slam the door shut, Black Cat leaped into her lap. She grabbed her purse and struck at his head, knocking him sideways. His head struck the dials on the radio and he fell to the floor, momentarily stunned. As though through a haze, he heard Brett yelling. Angel huddled on the front passenger seat, her nails clinging to the vinyl seat, frozen with fright, mewing pathetically, Black Cat! Black Cat!

****

 

To learn what happens next, you can purchase Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary for $3.99 at Amazon https://tinyurl.com/vgyp89s

Let me know your thoughts regarding this writing process. What thoughts to you have regarding how authors create a more satisfying read?

2
May

Kilcuddy Kitty - A WWII Cat Tells All - A short story from All Things Cat

Kilcuddy Kitty stretched out in the sunny butcher shop window, anxiously awaiting Shamus O’Reilly. Any minute now, he’d arrive to open the shop. The first rays of morning  light up the posters in the window.

Beef Kidneys−$.39 a pound,

Oxtails−$.15 a pound,

Beef bones−$.10 a pound.

Since the attack on Pearl Harbor last December, housewives accepted the scarcity of meat available at the butcher shop, knowing that the best cuts were sent to the troops. Dealing with the restrictions of rationing without complaint is considered patriotic.

Kilcuddy Kitty rolled in the sun, recalling last night’s events after Shamus flicked out the lights and locked the doors. Kilcuddy had settled to nap atop the roll of butcher paper behind the meat counter. Shattering glass in the back room roused him from slumber. He leaped to the top of the counter. Hunkered down, ears pricked and muscles taunt, his gaze riveted toward the doorway.

Footsteps crunched through broken glass! Fear smell emanated from a masked figure entering the shop. A flashlight's beam streamed over the glass counter toward the cash register. Kilcuddy’s hair stood on end. The tip of his tail flipped from side to side.

The thief moved closer.

With a mighty leap, Kilcuddy Kitty landed on the intruder’s shoulders. Yoww!!

The thief shrieked, jerked from left to right, trying to dislodge the claws digging into his back. In his frenzy, his torchlight fell to the floor. Kilcuddy tasted warm blood as he sank his fangs into the man’s neck.

With a curse, the prowler grabbed Kilcuddy by the back of his neck and flung him across the room. Thump! Kilcuddy landed in a heap. Dazed, he heard frantic mumbling and scuttling as the intruder plunged through the darkness and escaped out the back window. The thud of his footsteps faded away as he pounded down the alley.

Kilcuddy lay on the floor, his ears ringing, head aching, tasting the man’s blood . Odd, human blood tastes different than chicken blood. Sweeter, somehow. Or, was it the satisfaction of protecting Shamus’s shop that tasted so sweet? Without a doubt, he had foiled the attempt to rob the store and steal the best cuts of meat...

Pushing last night’s memories from his mind, Kilcuddy Kitty rolled over and presented his tummy to the warm morning sunshine. Shamus would soon be here. What fine beef trimmings or snippets of kidneys would he spoon into Kilcuddy’s bowl as a reward for thwarting the burglar? Do cats ever receive medals for bravery? Perhaps he’d be Grand Marshall in a parade and sit beside the mayor’s pretty wife.

With the click of a key in the back room, Shamus O’Reilly arrived at last. “Begorra, the window is shattered and me clean floor is covered with glass.” The shop owner rushed to the cash register and punched the proper keys. The drawer popped open, revealing neat rows of bills from yesterday’s sales. “Sure and the saints have blessed me. Me money is still here!”

Seeing nothing further amiss, Shamus swept up the broken glass , mumbling such words as cannot be repeated in a G-rated short story.

Kilcuddy Kitty cruised against the cash register, his whiskers a-tingle, his back arched in sheer joy and anticipation, as he patiently waited for Shamus to lavish him with the praise and treats he so richly deserved.

His mouth watered as he contemplated his reward. Would it be a whopping $.62 a pound salmon steak, such as the mayor’s wife bought each Friday afternoon? Didn’t Shamus always tuck away the best cuts for her? Though, where she got all the ration coupons for each Friday's purchase gave one pause... Other housewives rarely had enough money or meat coupons for such weekly culinary delights.

At last, Shamus stalked into the shop, shaking his broom. “So, there you are, Kilcuddy Kitty, standing about as usual, while I clean up the mess. Like as not you slept right through the scoundrel breaking me fine window. What luck he didn’t come inside and steal me hard-earned cash. You’re a poor store minder, you worthless cat. Me thinks I should get rid of you and get a good watchdog!”

What? What? The unfairness of it! Kilcuddy Kitty arched his back and hissed. The ingratitude. After all I’ve done! His tail puffed up like a bristle brush. He sprang off the meat counter. How unjust the master. How unmerited the disparagement. Hadn’t he warded off the perpetrator, risked life and limb, and suffered a bonk on the noggin when he was so unceremoniously pitched against the wall? Where was his praise, his medal and parade? Where even the scrap of meat in his bowl? Oh, deliver me from the injustice of man.

Shamus stood with his broom in his hand as Kilcuddy Kitty dashed into the storeroom, leaped through the broken window and bounded down the back alley, howling. And fare thee well, Shamus O’Reilly, for I’ll never darken your doorstep again.

Kilcuddy never forgave old Shamus or returned to the butcher shop.

Every Saturday night, you’ll find Shamus at Sean O’Flanahan’s pub, whining to all who will listen. “Alas, later that day, I found a flashlight on the floor and blood on the cash register. Me good cat, Kilcuddy Kitty, must have run the bugger off before he could steal me money. And, now because of my sins, I’ve lost me best pal.” Whereupon, Shamus weeps and orders another beer. Soon his drinking buddies tire of his whining and turn their backs on him.

And what, might you wonder, happened to Kilcuddy Kitty? Folks say he took up with the mayor’s pretty wife. When asked if he’ll ever forgive Shamus and return to the butcher shop, Kilcuddy Kitty winks and says. “Why should I? Life is grand with the mayor’s wife. Every Friday she takes another ration book to Shamus O’Reilly’s butcher shop and buys the best cuts of meat. I love the salmon, but some have asked. ‘How does she come by so many ration coupons?’

“I think there’s something fishy going on…”

****

If you enjoyed this story, your might enjoy all 21 short stories about cats found in my short anthology

All Things Cat..   Amazon $2.99     http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak

 

8
Mar

Exceedingly Handsome

Just for  Sunday afternoon fun, I'm presenting a short story, obviously written by a CAT, telling his family history to readers willing to suspend disbelief... and smile. Let me know what you think.

Until my father’s death, my family lived on a profitable little farm in Killarney, Ireland. Though I knew that an enchanted magic spell had changed me from a boy into a small cat at the time of his death, Mother would never discuss the details. Even as a cat, she loved me as a son. As time passed, Mother grew frail and I grew into a fine tabby-striped tom cat with four white feet and a fine reputation as a hunter.

One day she called me to her bedside. “Tabkins, I can no longer provide our bread and cheese. You must restore our good fortune or surely we will perish.” And so she began her tale of trickery and enchantment, deviltry, and a magic spell that had plagued our family since my father’s death.

 

Some years ago, our farm possessed six orange trees, three cows, and a potato patch, all sufficient to meet our needs. A wicked green leprechaun from a nearby mountain-top coveted, and tried often, to obtain our land by trickery, but father repeatedly rebuffed his guiles. In revenge, the evil creature fogged Father’s mind with a magic spell, causing him to fall into the river. To thwart my efforts to save Father’s life, he waved his magic wand again and changed me from a good-looking youth of comely bearing into a tabby-striped cat. Though the world profited by the addition of an exceedingly handsome cat, my father drowned. The leprechaun then cast a spell upon the three cows, causing them to give no milk. The orange trees ceased to bear fruit and the potato patch gave us only scant potatoes.

 

“You must seek out the leprechaun,” Mother said, “and retrieve the magic wand. Perhaps it will restore you to a human lad and our land into a profitable farm.” The tears in her eyes wrenched my heart, and yet I trembled in horror at the thought of facing the evil creature.

 

She lifted her frail hand. “Make your way to yonder mountain. High on the top beside a river, you’ll find the cave where the wicked leprechaun dwells,” she said. “Go, now, Tabkins. Our future is in your paws.”

 

I set out as she bid, knowing that facing a leprechaun, no matter how exceedingly good-looking I might be, my feline cunning would be sorely tested if I was to fool the evil leprechaun, steal the magic wand, and live to tell the tale.

 

With every step up the mountain, I cast about in my mind how to dupe the leprechaun into reversing his magic spell or stealing his wand. I came at last to the river.

 

“Halt. Who goes there?” The wicked leprechaun called from beneath the log that spanned the stream. “Answer, Cat, or I’ll turn you to stone.”

 

Panic seized my heart. An idea popped into my furry head. “I’m just a harmless pussy-cat out for a stroll. My, what a lovely river you have here, Sir Leprechaun.” A little honey-talk is always good to sooth a malevolent spirit. I sashayed across the log, humming, Katie From Killarney, and bowed low. “My name is Tabkins. Pray tell, what might your name be, kind sir?”

 

The leprechaun’s eyes narrowed. “My name is Merichandrick. What do you seek?”

 

“Perhaps a spot of tea? I’m weary from my travels.” I looked wistfully toward the cave, conveying abject vulnerability and friendliness.

 

“Come on in and I’ll light the fire,” said he, his green mouth atwitch, his brain surely swirling with some deviltry.

I followed him into the grotto, wary of any trick up his sleeve, sure that he had thoughts of tossing me into his stew pot. I scanned the cave, searching for the wand, keeping one wary eye on my host.

 

“Sit over there.” The imp pointed toward the fire.

 

“Oh, what a lovely bird,” I posited, sidling closer to a green and red parrot, its cage hanging from a golden hook, all the while seeking the hiding place of the magic wand. In a chair near the back of the cave, I spotted a pot of gold. Something long and thin poked from beneath a nearby red blanket. Aha! It must be the wand I seek.

 

The little man turned. “Will you be after spending the night?” said he, with a wicked glint in his eye.

 

“If I’m so invited,” says I with a yawn, patting my paw to my mouth, “Let us drink our tea and I’ll curl up for the night just yonder on your wee red blanket.”

 

He shook his mop of green curls. “Not there,” he shrieked, panic shining from his wicked eye. “Best you should sleep closer to the fire where it will warm your exceedingly handsome fur.”

 

“As you wish, and I thank you kindly for the hospitality,” says I. Oho! Once the little man sleeps, I’ll snatch the magic wand from beneath the blanket and skedaddle.

 

My host poured two mugs of tea and shoved one toward me. Expecting a trick, I sneezed, and as he reached for a handkerchief, I switched the mugs. Indeed, the mug was drugged. Soon after the evil goblin drank, he fell into a stupor.

 

Without further ado, I grabbed the magic wand, wrapped in a paper containing the magic spell, and hurried back to the farm.

 

Mother waved the wand, read the magic words, and the spell was broken. I was instantly changed back into a young man, even more comely than before. Soon, thereafter, the cows began to give milk, the orange trees blossomed and bore fruit, and this spring, we had a bumper crop of potatoes.

 

The leprechaun still lives in the cave with his parrot, but without his magic wand or his evil spells, his complexion has turned from green to a sallow yellow, and, embarrassed by his looks, he rarely leaves his cave.

 

As long as fortune smiles, we’ll leave him be, but if the cows go dry or the potato crop should ever fail, I happen to know where I can find an exceedingly ugly yellow leprechaun and a pot o’ gold.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of All Things Cat ...Twenty-one short stories all about cats or....

 check out my book of short stories, All Things Cat, on Amazon in e-book for just $2.99.  http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak  

3
Mar

Advice on How to Write a Short Story

The ideal short story contains the following elements: A compelling title, interesting characters, an unusual setting, an intriguing goal or situation, and a good conclusion, perhaps with a twist.

Suppose there were two short stories in a magazine. Both stories are about women who have an unexpected event occur in their lives. Which of the two titles below would get the most readers?

The Mall Purse (A housewife finds a purse at the mall)

The Abandoned Baby on the Doorstep (Fortune Teller finds baby)

Although the housewife may have a fascinating tale of how she reunites the purse with the owner, unless we added the words, “bloodstained purse” to the title, it is likely that the most read would be the one about the character with a diverse job, setting and situation. The reader would want to know–what exactly does the fortune teller do with a baby left on her doorstep? If she’s a real fortune teller, shouldn’t she have known the baby would be there? And, for that matter, wouldn’t she know who left it on her doorstep in the first place. Just sayin’…

Once an unusual character, setting and goal are chosen, an author begins the body of the story. He must identify the main character, the problem he faces, a conflict or two along the way that threatens his solving the problem, and the solution, all within the limit of 1000 to 2500 words. There is no room for backstory, character development, personalities, subplots, red herrings, and minor conflicts along the way, misdirection of the culprit, conflicted romance, or intrigue. All those story details can only be explored in a novel.

From time to time, it is helpful for authors of full length novels to enter contests and submission requests for stories of limited word counts. Without the luxury of75- 80,000+ words to ‘make it work,’ the author must make the short story compelling, outline the problem and bring about a convincing solution in short order. The process or writing a limited word story sharpens and challenges an author to make each word count, yet tell a story with a fun plot and a satisfying conclusion, in a very limited space.

My book of short stories, All Things Cat, includes 21 short stories, all related in some way to a cat. I’ve incorporated both past and present times, unusual locations, situations and circumstances. Some stories are self-narrated BY the cat. Some are stories from my personal experiences, but most are fiction based on ideas taken from holidays, story prompts, contest submissions, and even a couple excerpted scenes from my full-length novels. I’ve introduced witches, poker players, burglars, and members of the First Family, to name but a few. I’ve tried to incorporate all the aspects of a good short story into each tale.

When an author of full length novels publishes a short story, we demonstration our storytelling abilities, style, and writing skills. Like tasting samples at the grocery store, in hopes the customer will buy the product. With a short story, the author hopes to encourage the reader to travel on another journey with the characters we create in our full length novels. My main goal is to share my make believe world, and bring a bit of fun and laughter into the reader’s life. Hope you’ll travel this journey with me.

All Things Cat is available in e-book at Amazon for $2.99. http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak. What a fun book for the cat lover or as a gift for the cat lover in your life.

 

15
Feb

The Elevator Pitch

 

The blurb on the back of my cozy cat mystery reads something like this. ‘While Black Cat narrates his own challenges back home, his mistress, Kimberlee, follows a clue to a lost treasure she found in a WWII soldier’s diary. It sends her on a treasure hunt to Austria. Little does she know she is on a collision course with a stalker determined to steal the diary and reach the treasure…blah…blah…blah...’

The back of the cover cannot explain the plot’s humor, drama, intrigue, or the battle on the beaches of Normandy and the friendship struck between Dewey and a German soldier recorded in the diary, or the beauty of Austria, or the intrigue as Kimberlee matches wits with the stalker.

When I first starting writing years ago, no one told me there was more to ‘being an author’ than plots and dialogue. In these days of limited acceptance by traditional publishing houses unless one has achieved personal fame or fortune and a platform of 10,000, an author must resort to Indie Publishing and be a jack of all trades.

Beyond writing talent, one must master the skills of publicist, bookkeeper, full time blogger, cover artist, and skilled orator, always keeping an eye and ear open for opportunities to participate on author panels and speaking engagements. Though not necessarily a ‘master’ at any of the above mentioned skills, I’ve become somewhat competent in most. Now, I’ve learned I must master one more skill... Memorize an ‘elevator pitch’ on the off chance that, perhaps in a coffee shop or the dry cleaners, I should run into a literary agent sipping a Carmel Macchiato or picking up dry cleaning.

It is imperative to command the agent’s undivided attention with an opening hook, and define my scintillating plot’s originality. I must convince him everyone from a cowboy in Texas to a stock broker in Hollywood would buy my book with his last green dollar, and how it will become a Best Seller…and accomplish all this in sixty seconds or less.

I have practiced my ‘elevator pitch’ in front of a three-way mirror and perfected where to smile, when to pause for special effect, and when to use hand motions to emphasize the final sentence. It has become second nature and the words now roll off my tongue like scotch tape at a Christmas party.

Unfortunately, in my case, I fear if I should ever be fortunate enough to find myself on that much discussed elevator with an agent, in spite of my good intentions and hours of practice, I expect the conversation would more likely go something like this.

Uh… You’re that Zondervan guy, right! Wait. Let me push this button and stop the elevator. I never thought… I have some notes here somewhere. Where is that paper? Well, never mind. I wrote a book, see? You’re not going anywhere special right now, right? About that book I wrote… You’re gonna love it. I called it Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary. Do you like cats? It’s narrated partly by the cat. At least half of it. The other half is in Austria. There’s a stolen treasure, see and Kimberlee…that’s the lady, not the cat. She finds a clue in a diary. Well, you have to read it. So, there’s this cat…see….

****

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary is available on Amazon for $3.99  https://tinyurl.com/vgyP89s

 

 

22
Jan

MORNING MATCH - A short story by a visitor - Judy Vaughan

Today, I'm sharing a short story by my writer friend, Judy Vaughan.

Judy  grew up in Northern New Mexico surrounded by sacred mountains and engrossed in the lives of horses and other animals. She left the family ranch for boarding school in Colorado and then attended Carleton College and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has composed stories since childhood, and began to hone the craft of writing after forty years practicing neurology.

Morning Match  

This morning, before I raise my eyelids, the cat’s paw-steps crinkle the surface of the comforter pulled to my chin. His indentations push down. They are somatosensory taps along my thigh. He might be walking in snow while I am the ground below.

A dream vanishes into the ringtone of the smart phone alarm, set today to prompt me to meet the washing machine repairman during a “window” from eight to one. “Ask him to come as early as possible,” I had told the receptionist yesterday though I have no other deadline short of their arbitrary “window.”

Awake now, I give Match his morning hug and cue him back to his sleep-spot on top of the fuzzy acrylic coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. He bypasses it, and jumps to the floor, his crepuscular self on the move at daybreak.

I don a tattered robe and hobble to the kitchen. I push the start button on my single service coffee maker.

Bangs and scuffles make me imagine the repairman at the door, sounds not unlike someone organizing their tools outside the home of a scheduled client. But it’s way too early; It’s just Match banging the door of the linen closet.

I think of all the poems that begin with the author at the breakfast nook, ceramic cup in hand, interrupting their writing to muse over the décor, the kettle or some bird outside the window. On a segue way to a solitary mood.

And there’s my bird through the sliding glass door. In the yard, an overgrown lavender shrub feeds the local hummingbirds through the damp spring. Last year’s nests stand out in the skeletons of my neighbor’s trees, and a green male Anna’s clicks as he explores the clustered back yards in my cul-de-sac. The click call, generated by a pop of air from his throat is as loud as a mobile phone notification.

I open the glass door.

The cat hears it. I let him slip through a narrow opening and crouch behind the locked screen. That’s his catio. He can’t see the bird clearly at his age, but he chirps his attention. I check the latch. Match wants to go out---the loamy smell and the swoop of the birds lure us both. Volunteer lettuce has sprouted in the wine barrel; I might broadcast a few more seeds later today.

He rattles the screen latch again and meows.

“I get it Match, but, no.” I close the sliding glass and distract him with fresh water. I push a cup of Sweet and Creamy coffee through the machine into a souvenir mug that uses three x-es to write “Relaxxx in Ireland.”

Match never wanted to be an indoor cat. As a kitten with a demanding meow, he appeared at my daughter’s home, black with white markings, the most prominent of which was a 5-millimeter spot on his forehead. A dot. Like Match.Com, the dating service that was easing me into grandmotherhood twelve years ago.

Adopted into my home, he was exhausting. His dog-like demand for my attention included biting and scratching to initiate communication. If I kept him busy, he was a lot of fun. As in tricks. He would retrieve small toy mice or bring me a toilet paper roll as a gift. I easily taught him to jump when cued around furniture or through a hoop. Escape was his favorite game, and one day he succeeded. He disappeared.

I sip the coffee and relive the grief I felt. How I let my neighbor convince me to take in an elderly stray and made her take him back the next day. How I told everyone about my “Labrador retriever cat.” For years. Tearing up every time.

Five years later, I got the call. “Did you lose a cat? ‘Match Dot Com’ on his microchip? He’s at the County Animal Shelter. He’s injured. Do you want him back?”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.

When I lifted his skeletal body from the shelter crate to my bosom, he snuggled and purred. He’d been found eleven miles from my house.

I move aside to let the repairman do his job. I get a rag and clean the grimy surfaces of the washer revealed during the repair. The technician, Gregor, is polite, but not as chatty as I’d want. I’ve only recently learned to restrain myself from asking about national origins. The price is as quoted, and the app on his smart phone processes my credit card. Match leaves his strangers-are-here hiding place seconds after Gregor’s van pulls away.

I reheat the last ounce of Sweet and Creamy, sit back down and open the Mac. Match jumps to the other chair then onto the kitchen table where he looks at me with an owl-like stare. His eyes, once pure green, are now checkered with iris atrophy. They look like the mosaic eyes of a Byzantine virgin. A scar has widened one tear duct. A larger one in his right axilla leaves a patch of skin devoid of hair and warm to the touch. It marks the site where an open wound almost sent him to euthanasia when he was brought in from his five years of feral life.

I must have half a dozen pictures of him on Facebook in this very pose, the owl stare hinting at a possible stealth attack, or maybe just a wise proof-read.

I suspect all those poets had a cat.

*******

Judy lives in Elk Grove, California, and writes with Elk Grove Writers and Artists. Works in progress include her New Mexico memoir, Strawberry Roan. Her stories have placed in short story contests and have been published in NCPA Anthologies.

She is a member of the California Writers Club, Northern California Publishers and Authors, and the New Mexico Book Association.

Contact her at jfbvaughan@comcast.net.

 

16
Sep

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary

 

I just published the fourth cozy Black Cat mystery.

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary is a dual tale that takes place in California and also in Austria. While Black Cat and Angel are embroiled in village intrigue and riveting drama along the shores of a No. California resort town, Dorian and Kimberlee seek a long-lost treasure they believe is still hidden in Hopfgarten, Austria.The story moves back and forth between Black Cat’s wisdom and Angel’s snarky wit in Fern Lake, and Kimberlee’s unexpected challenges facing a stalker in a foreign country.

 

It all started with a message in a WWII diary from a soldier who befriended a German soldier during the battle of Normandy. Following the war, Dewey receives and records in his diary, a mysterious message from his friend… The treasures is in Hopfgarten….touch the feet of the babe…

 

Kimberlee reads Dewey’s diary just before she and Dorian embark on an Austrian vacation. Of course, they must go to Hopfgarten to follow the clues to a treasure missing for more than 50 years. And also, of course, she encounters a man who has spent the last 50 years searching for this lost treasure. When he overhears Kimberlee talk about a 'missing treasure in Hopfgarten, he begins to stalk the girls... and.. well, if I told you any more, you wouldn't need to buy the book. Amazon $3.99 for the e-book.   http://tinyurl.com/y2tyyeh5

 

Contact me for a reduced price on the paperback copy.

 

Kimberlee’s Austrian adventure includes many of my own 1987 personal experiences when I traveled through castles and villages, saw cows wearing bells around their necks, visited 1000-year-old churches in Salzburg, and finally into Hopfgarten where I experienced many of the events included in Kimberlee’s adventure, and first imagined the story of a missing treasure, and wrote the poem in Dewey’s diary.

 

At last the story is in a novel, something I've wanted to do for years.

 

If you buy and read Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary, be sure to leave an Amazon review!

 

18
Aug

A,B,C's of writing a Novel

A reader spends four to five hours, immersed in a book from cover to cover. If the story is well written, for a time, she forgets her personal life. She sees herself either traveling alongside the main character or, if the writer is talented enough, the reader ‘becomes’ the character as the story moves forward.

She may wish to be transported into a romance where she feels loved and cherished. She may be a frustrated crime fighter who receives satisfaction from following clues and perhaps solving a mystery before the end of the book. She may hope to experience the thrills and chills of a thriller-suspense novel. Or, perhaps to experience life in a different world, or a different time in history. She may hope to learn more of the traditions of people from other lands or other cultures, presented in a fictionalized story.

How do these various types of books come about? Does the reader ever think about what was involved before this story could magically appear on the pages, and land on a bookstore shelf for the reader’s pleasure?

Unless a reader is also an author, it is doubtful she could conceive of the time and energy that goes into writing a novel–plotting, writing, researching, editing, reviewing, formatting, and finally to cover design and publication. Each step takes hours and hours.

The author must first come up with a premise for the story. Some authors outline the entire novel before they ever put fingers to keyboard. Others have a general idea of the story line, and let the story evolve as they write, figuring how to bring it all together in a cohesive manner. She thinks about the characters and the story line most days and often into the night. Every little thread must come together in the end. It is essential to keep the suspense or momentum throughout the middle, lest we lose the attention of the reader. She must keep each reaction and comment true to the personality of the characters as she envisions how they might respond to a certain event. She must make the reader understand the motivation and actions or comments of the character through the dialogue.

The end must make sense, and preferably reach a satisfying conclusion, leaving the reader wishing there was another hundred pages in the story. She wonders where the sequel can be found, if there is one. In ideal circumstances, the characters have become real enough that she can almost see them as next-door neighbors or someone in her circle of friends.

What a challenge and what a victory when a reader comes back to the author and asks, “When is the next book coming out?” That is an author’s highest compliment.

Sometime within the next month, I’ll publish Black Cat’s next adventure. Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey’s Diary, a dual tale taking place in Fern Lake with the cats, and in Hopfgarten, Austria, as Dorian and Kimberlee follow the clues to a missing treasure. (Pictured above. Hopfgarten Church - Austria)

 

22
Jul

The Cat's Side of it

In 1960, I wrote a poem that was published in my high school newspaper- Analy High School, in Sebastopol, CA. It was probably the first time I thought of cats having a  human 'voice,' and the first time I was 'published.' Many years later, I began to write  Black Cat cozy mystery series. For a change of pace, here is my poem -

 

The Cat's Side of It

The alley cat lives a lonely life, mad at his friends and mad at his wife.

When you're mad at the guy, and mad at the gals --Who's a cat go, he can call his pals?

The lonely vigil on a backyard post, unto the night, playing the host

a bottle, a brick, soon lay at your feet.., but who's a cat got? Again, I repeat.

Why ya sleep all day and you roam all night, your nerve as soon be in a terrible plight.

But ya gotta' have friends, be it only the moon, so ya open yer mouth to let fly a tune.

Oh! Then the things you can hear folks say, those sleeping away the best part of the day.

You'd think they'd enjoy hearing my song. After all, what does a human do all day long?

But gamble and smoke and loaf in the park and ruin the day with some foolish lark.

They waste the day.., then curse in the night when I try to inform them of MY pitiful plight.

So what's a cat do when he hasn't a friend and he hasn't a wife on whom to depend?

You'd think folks would be helpful, but instead they just gripe,

When I cry out my sorrow on the fence post at night!

 

(OK! I was 16 years old! Maybe I wasn't meant to a poet)

Check out the Black Cat mysteries at Amazon

Black Cat’s Legacy, Thumper meets his 'person' and helps pursue a cold case murder. http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgm

 

Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, Thumper goes to Texas and confronts an embezzling attorney, a conniving grandmother and a sneaky stable master. He also meets his lady love. http://tinyurl.com/q3qrgyu

 

Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, Black Cat and his companion are left behind following an MVA and confront increasingly dangerous pranks with the family that takes them in.. http://tinyurl.com/y6vhncq

 

 

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