30-Day Writer's Boot Camp, Fiction

I Didn’t Cry When She Died

Day 2 of the 30-Day Writer’s Boot Camp: Setting Real-Life Goals

Today I’m supposed to determine my writing goals, but I’m supposed to immerse myself in writing for one hour first. I’ve decided to use a story starter to get the ideas flowing, and I’ve italicized the story starter in case you want to use it from the book, too. After the hour is up, I’ll put my writing goals at the bottom whether I finish this piece of writing or not.

I didn’t cry when she died, or at the funeral, or at the reception. It wasn’t until the next morning when I went into the pantry and saw row upon row of canned vegetables, fruits and jams she had prepared for the long winter ahead. The shelves were filled with…so many of the jars and cans I remembered seeing as a little kid while growing up in this god-forsaken place. It had been twenty years since I’d stepped foot in this house. And I refused to call it home. But I don’t want to get too far off track. After all, we’re here to discuss the tears that fell swiftly down my cheeks while I stood in the panty, of all places.

I should probably explain a little about my mother. She was a hard woman. A sad woman. Sometimes, a very mean woman. And never loving. She wasn’t always this way. I vaguely recall laughter and smiles attached to gentle kisses. My sister remembered more of the good times about growing up than I did, and she would sometimes tell me stories about this fairytale mother that I struggled to see in the woman I called my mother out of some familial obligation. To this day, I don’t know if all or any of Clare’s stories were real or a part of her vivid imagination. For so many years I’d hoped they were real and that the shell of a woman who fed and clothed us was just under some dark caster’s spell. I don’t wish for such silly things anymore. I stopped wishing when the realization hit me that Clare wasn’t coming back.

My mother worked for the government for many years. While there is much about my childhood that I don’t recall, I do remember one Friday evening when my mother came home crying and scared. She didn’t speak much during dinner other than the typical dinner commands of “Eat your veggies” and “Clean your plate and put it in the dishwasher.” When the phone rang later that night after bed time, Clare and I snuck into the hallway to hear what she was discussing.

“It’s immoral. I won’t be a part of it,” she demanded. There was a pause before she said, “You wouldn’t dare! I’ll quit.” There was another log pause before she muttered, “Yes, sir. I’ll be in on Monday.” Clare and I never found out what that conversation was about, but when we woke up the next morning, we found the kitchen a mess with jars crammed with food. One entire wall of our very large pantry was filled with canned goods and additional jars overflowed the kitchen counters. She’d been up all night and sat bleary-eyed staring into space at the kitchen table. This was the mother I grew to know.

When she wasn’t demanding we learn something new and barking orders, she sat at the kitchen table staring at some past distant memory. We ate a lot of pizza, spaghetti, and frozen meals after that night. But rarely any of the canned food, which always seemed so strange to me. Why have it in the house if we weren’t going to eat it? We never had time to sit down to a home-cooked meal. Although we were never allowed to play sports, our mother demanded we learn new skills. We were constantly learning strange things. While my friends at school were learning to play the clarinet, I was learning to shoot a gun. While they were playing baseball and basketball, I was becoming a black belt in karate. Even though our mother also demanded perfection at these skills, my sister and I never complained because anything was better than sitting at home watching her can food, work on our house, or sit in silence.

She was always busy doing something with the house and teaching us how to do it, too. At first, Clare and I had giggled that Mother had become one of those Doomsday Preppers that people watched on television and made fun of at the school lunch table. But we stopped giggling when the first year blazed by without stopping. She never stopped. Consequently, we never stopped. Karate, shooting and hunting, advanced academic classes, construction, long-term food preparation, survival skills.

During these grueling years, Clare and I supported each other. She would tell me stories of the fairytale mother that I barely remembered. I would invent fantastic stories about a father who would come save us from the grind of our daily lives. During those nights, we would giggle, then fall silent as the concrete reality of our lives took a hold again with its vice-like grip. There was no fairytale mother or father. There was no rescue from this life.


Day 2: Setting Real-Life Goals

Okay. So this is all I have done so far for the first hour of writing. Rachel Federman asks several question in her book that need to be addressed in some way:

  • Did this help you solidify your writing goals?
  • Do you already know what they are?
  • Do you want to make a career out of writing?
  • What about your short-term goals?
  • What do you hope to finish in the next few months?
  • Are you writing just for fun?

Then she goes on and asks if I can identify a current writing goal. It can be:

  • To write for 20 minutes a day
  • To revise a short story
  • To create a poem that you can read at a workshop
  • To finish a chapter of your novel or memoir
  • To write the draft of a nonfiction essay for a literary magazine

My Goal: I’m not going to lie. I have no idea what my writing goals are. Truthfully, I’ve been stuck for so long trying to find the courage to write and put it in a place where people can see it that I don’t actually have a goal other than to write. I can say that I would like to be published some day. I would like to write young adult literature. But I haven’t really given any thought as to  writing for a career. I’m an English teacher. I firmly believe that teachers who write make better teachers of writing, but that’s all the further I’ve gotten.

I can tell you what I’ve learned so far:

1. I don’t do well without a plan. So far, I really like the story I’ve written, but it’s all on the fly, so I’m struggling to determine where to take it. I have too many options. Zombie and apocalypse type stuff really fascinates me, so that’s always an option. I could go with the crazy mother scenario where we never actually find out why she became this way. I also have the side story of Clare’s disappearance. I’ve toyed with the idea having her kidnapped never to be seen again. I’ve thought about having her pretend that things are still okay but cutting and running as soon as she graduates high school, leaving her little sister (the narrator) to deal with Mother alone. I’ve also thought about having her recruited by the same organization that her mother works for or even a competing organization.

2. My concepts are too vague in my head and I don’t commit. It could be the assignment (writing for an hour on the fly), but I think that it’s really me. Is that lack of experience or an avoidance mechanism? After all, if I don’t have strong concepts, I’ll never finish a piece of writing so no one will see it to criticize. I have to giggle a little to myself because that’s something I would have said to one of my students.

3. My writing could be worse. That’s a pretty big statement for me. Writing earlier that I like what I’ve written so far isn’t something that I’d typcially say. Again. How will I handle the criticism? I guess I’ll find out when I hit publish on this post.

Okay. I have to pick a goal of some kind. Let’s start with something doable but difficult for me. I’ll use Rachel’s Federman’s first bullet point.

My Goal: To write for 20 minutes every day for the next 28 days.

I’m also supposed to come up with a title for a project. This can be changed later, but it will be my “work in progress” for the next 28 days.

Title: Not the Vampire Diaries

At this point, I guess I need to create a plan and schedule. And probably some writing ideas for this piece that I’ll need to work on for the next month.

Thanks for reading. It’s time to publish this beast so I can keep with the schedule of one post per day for the boot camp.

Short Story, Writing

The Letter

I wrote this very short story a few years ago while I was the sponsor of a writing club at school. We would come up with story starters or topics to write about. The topic on this particular day: Sneaking around behind someone’s back. I really wanted to try something a little different. I admit my mind typically goes to cheating or theft, but I decided to try two sets of sneaking around in my fictional story. As always, if you enjoy my work and want to use it, please make sure you give credit. 

ink pen and parchment on wood

The Letter

The door silently closed behind me as I let myself into the house. The alarm didn’t go off, so I knew that Nick was home. I plopped my bags on the floor and went to search for him. It had been four long days since I’d seen him, and I was actually home a day early.

As I passed by the television, a flash of white caught my eye. There, taped to the screen, was an envelope with my name on it. Footsteps sounded upstairs as I plucked the envelope off the television and opened it.

The breath was sucked out of me and the words swam across the page. He was leaving me. And he was taking the coward’s way out. My eyes narrowed as I realized what the frantic rushing around upstairs was all about. He was obviously trying to get everything packed before I got home.

My body trembled. It tends to do that when I’m really upset about something. I can’t seem to hide any of my emotions. My teeth started to chatter as I contemplated my actions and how to deal with the coward upstairs.

The couch looked inviting, so I plopped down, suddenly exhausted. Three years. Three long years of putting up with him. We had lived together for a year and a half. All the laughs we had together. All the tears we’d shared. Other thoughts flashed through my mind. The forgotten birthdays and anniversaries. The dinners he hadn’t made it home in time to eat while they were warm. The late nights working. Me. Cleaning whiskers off the bathroom every day for the last year and a half.

I sat there quietly remembering, my eyes dry. I slowly put the letter back into the envelope. I got up off the couch. My bag seemed light for the first time that day. I placed the letter back on the television and silently walked out of the house. He was right. The coward’s way was the best way.