Day 4: A Brother Named Jambalaya and a Couple of Doves

Today’s Writing Mission: Turn sentences 9-14 into six more paragraphs, for a total of 15.

9. Jambalaya is supposed to be a supper, but Mama thrust that name on my big brother, which I swear was the start of all my troubles. Mama didn’t even cook Jambalaya, not then and not now. Her people aren’t from anywhere near Louisiana. They’re third generation Pennsylvania Dutch. If you don’t know what Jambalaya is, it’s a dish they say comes from Louisiana, made a little different depending on where the cook’s family came from. Like if you have West African or Spanish roots, you probably used tomatoes. If you’re people were French, Cajun French, maybe you used smoked meat, just browned it, then added the veggies and stock and skipped the tomatoes, because there weren’t any around. It’s a dish made out of what you have on hand. Sounded like junk if you asked me, but Mama called it a masterpiece of necessity. And she said she liked the sound of it.

10.Standing on my son’s porch on my 75th birthday, hiding from Tula and the grandkids, a thought tickled behind my left ear. I didn’t want to go back in, and I had no real desire to go out anywhere either, but that tickle was turning to an itch, and that itch was trying to tell me something. I wondered if I should call Dr. Huff, but I dismissed the thought. This particular affliction could not be cured by a doctor, not even Huff. My ear was calling me to something, and I was four parts irritated, two parts scared, and to my surprise, one part curious.

11.The sunlight gave no warmth, though it shone as bright as ever. I stepped over the massacre of roses and peonies, being careful not to trample on them, though they were goners. I shivered. How could a beautiful day be so cold?

12.Birds didn’t sing, or chirp or tweet in Clovis, but they made a sound, and when you heard it, you either lifted your face to the Stars while your heart filled with love, or you covered your ears and cried. Clovis had one kind of bird, the little, neon-green, Bleeze. It was evening when I jumped off the Pod platform and landed on Clovis for the first time. Evening is when the Bleeze gather at the ponds. Our Pod drop-off was just North of those ponds and as I jumped the sound of the Bleeze stopped my breath. I raised my eyes and watched the ever-present Stars swirl across the sky, so thick my mind tricked me to think I could reach out and touch them. The voice of the Bleeze, sultry and wise, wrapped around me and pierced through me and filled me with a love more real than any I’d felt before, and so pure I could not think of anything else. I’d jumped thousands of times, onto thousands of worlds, but the Clovis jump was the only one I didn’t stick. I broke both my legs, which is how I ended up in Whee’s infirmary.

13.Mother’s Day came like it always did, but this time April didn’t have lunch at the Bethlehem hotel. Her Mother had disappeared three days before, without any hint of where she could have gone. The officer on the case suspected she had taken off. April’s Dad worried she was hurt. April knew they were both a little right, and a lot wrong, but she had no idea how to bring her Mom home.

14. Mourning doves mate for life. Most of the time. Wicked cousin, Tim, who I had considered a genius, told me that the last Thanksgiving all my cousins sat at the kids’ table. it was the year I turned 12. He said that Mourning Doves are so hung up on their mates, that if you separate them, they won’t stop searching until they are reunited. He said he could prove it. After we finished our pumpkin pie, all six of us stood in our Aunt and Uncle’s tidy, little garage looking at a couple of doves trapped in a cage. Wicked Tim had attached an orange tag to their feet, the way he’d learned at his summer job as a lab assistant. He released one of the doves. She flew to the nearest tree. “I’m taking this guy back home with me,” Wicked Tim said. She’ll be in Lansdowne and he’ll be in Boston. He said he’d follow them using the trackers in their tags. Shayla, the only cousin I still talk to, still says Tim had meant for the doves to be reunited. I disagree. Tim was and always has been Wicked.

Day 3: A Sphynx, a Hydrangea and a Teacher named Prooba (6 Paragraphs)

Today’s Writing Mission: Stretch six more sentences into paragraphs for a total of nine paragraphs, so far.

3. I climbed to the top of the PPL building because I promised, but it didn’t go the way I planned. When I finally made it as far up as the elevators allowed, I stepped outside and pressed myself against the wall. It wasn’t that windy. I’d checked the forecast and picked the least windy day I could find. Still, I needed the feeling of the bricks against every inch of my back. I promised myself I would touch the flag pole. It was the last thing on the list of Must-Dos that Chris and I made on our last birthday, when we turned 14, before everything changed.

4. The day before I turned 13, Charles chopped off his pinky. It ruined my birthday. I mean, he didn’t do it to ruin our trip to Wyoming to climb Devil’s Tower, but it had taken me nearly two years to convince my parents to let me do it, so yeah, I was a little pissed. I did stuff his loose pinky into a plastic baggie and cover it in ice, like they do on hospital shows. I’m not a monster.

5.I’m a little like a sphynx, the friendly, smart hairless cat, not the mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion. I don’t mean I resemble the cat physically, I am a short 13 year old girl with plain old brown hair that only grows to just below my shoulders, no matter how hard I try. I have a three-year-no-cutting streak to prove it. So my hair is not fabulous, but I’m not bald. The sphynx and I have other things in common, though. We’re both hilarious.

6. The day I died the flowers on the mophead hydrangea in our backyard finally returned. The detective assigned to my case didn’t notice. Why would he? Phin noticed, though.

7. I used to think there were two kinds of people in the world, the sunsets and the sunrises, but Prooba showed me the world’s more complicated than that. In the end, Prooba was my wisest teacher, even though she wasn’t meant to be a teacher at all. She was my next door neighbor. Our house was a four bedroom ranch, like most of the other ones in our neighborhood, but Prooba’s was a thin, three-story, the highest home in all of Afton Village. She was tall and thin too, just like her home. I can picture Prooba wearing that ancient blue grey Alsace linen shawl, standing on her third floor deck, watching over our neighborhood like a sentinel.

8. It would have been the perfect summer if Peter hadn’t stepped on that spike in the middle of Smurf Olympics. He did though, so Dad scooped him up and he and Buppy drove Peter to the hospital. I decided to stay home, or maybe they left me behind. The distinction wasn’t important in the drama of that moment, but over time, it has become the most crucial detail of my life.

Day 2: Dear St. Anthony (3 Paragraphs)

Today’s Mission: Select 20 of my 40 sentences and expand them each into a paragraph. I’ll do a few a day. I finished three today (Sentence 1,2 and 21).

1. I stopped believing in things I can’t see and science can’t prove, but I’ve held on to St. Anthony, and for whatever reason, he’s stood by me. He’s the patron saint of lost things, and I started praying to him for help finding trivial things, like guitar picks, lunch money, and missing homework. I was fifteen when I lost my Dad’s car keys, after I let my best friend, Sheila Trinkel, talk me into driving us all to Shady’s Drive-in in our big red station wagon, even though she only had a permit. We had the best time in my short life that evening, and I made it back home, car safe in the garage a half hour before my Dad was due to return from his weekly trip to New York. When I reached into the pocket of my coat, though, the keys weren’t there. After ten minutes of frantic searching, I slumped on the floor next to my bed, and sobbed out a prayer, “Dear St. Anthony, please come around…” I found the keys poking out from under my bedroom rug. [Redemption]

2. The whole drama started in sixth grade, which is normal as far as drama goes, but it took forty two years to finish the story. Sixth grade started off hopeful, a new school, a fresh start. I imagined great things for that year, and buzzed on hope, I wrote my first play. I had written a few short stories, but completing the play was different. The actual play wasn’t unique; it was a rip off of Little Women, set on a planet that resembled the small Pennsylvania town where I lived. The novelty was accomplishing something important to me, something I’d struggled to complete. [Performance]

3. I climbed to the top of the PPL building to face my fears, but it didn’t go the way I planned.

4. The day before I turned 13, Charles chopped off his pinky.

5.I’m a little like a sphynx, the friendly, smart hairless cat, not the mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion.

6. The day I died the flowers on the mophead hydrangea in our backyard finally returned.

7. I used to think there were two kinds of people in the world, the sunsets and the sunrises, but Prooba showed me the world’s more complicated than that.

8. It would have been the perfect summer if Peter hadn’t stepped on that spike in the middle of smurf olympics.

9. Jambalaya is supposed to be a supper, but Mama thrust that name on my big brother, which I swear was the start of all my troubles.

10.Standing on my son’s porch on my 75th birthday, hiding from Tula and the grandkids, a thought tickled behind my left ear.

11.The sunlight gave no warmth, though it shone as bright as ever.

12.Birds didn’t sing, or chirp or tweet in Clovis, but they made a sound, and when you heard it, you either lifted your face to the Stars while your heart filled with love, or you covered your ears and cried.

13.Mother’s Day came like it always did, but this time April didn’t have lunch at the Bethlehem hotel. 

14. Mourning doves mate for life.

15. On my first day of second grade everyone in Ms. Link’s class had to say what animal they were most like and I, a fidgety child with a habit of storing treasures in my pockets, went with kangaroo.

16. Basements have a bad reputation, but Jasper’s basement saved everyone in Mrs. Peele’s third period class.

17. I’d never admit this to Sherbet, but in my Dad’s shed, I’m engineering a tiny elephant.

18. Last Christmas I nearly drowned in a puddle in Merchants Square.

19. Rain against the roof used to help me fall asleep, until the night Pete escaped.

20. My ears perked at the sound of the text message jingle.

21. When Isla was a girl monsters filled her dreams, and though those nightmares faded as she grew, deep down she was certain something giant and fierce would end her. She didn’t understand the danger of small things. She married Troy because he was a good man, and love grew green between them at first, but they let a word cut here, and a misunderstanding bite there, until both Isla and Troy were nothing but scars. [Love]

2020 Writing Mission: Stretch Sentences into Short Stories

40 Sentences

I’ve been listening to the Writership podcast and poking around the Captain’s Blog and came across an article related to using short stories to improve writing.

Leslie Watts, who runs the site, called it a writing mission. I’m in.

The basic idea, slightly modified: Start with 40 sentences, then pick a subset to stretch into paragraphs. Pick a smaller number of your favorite paragraphs to expand into pages. Keep going and you end with a handful or more short stories.

In her explanation of the mission, Leslie writes, “James Scott Bell says, ‘A great short story is about the fallout from one, shattering moment.’ He defines this shattering event as one that cannot be reversed and that changes the character’s life or worldview forever.”

Sounds like a worthwhile exercise. Sounds fun too. See the article on Writership for more details, but this is the general idea of what I will be doing for the remainder of March.

Day 1 (March 24) 40 sentences

1. I stopped believing in things I can’t see and science can’t prove, but I held on to St. Anthony, and for whatever reason, he stood by me.

2. My sister and I are experts at finding lost things.

3. My name is Twenty, which is odd, kind of funky, but I’m only thirteen and I’m neither of those things.

4. The whole drama started in sixth grade, which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take forty two years to get to the final act.

5. Wanda and Billy started off as friends who loved to draw owls.

6. My name is Fizz.

7. I climbed to the top of the PPL building to face my fears, but it didn’t go the way I planned.

8. The day before I turned 13, Charles chopped off his pinky.

9.I’m a little like a sphynx, the friendly, smart hairless cat, not the mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion.

10. The day I died the flowers on the mophead hydrangea in our backyard finally returned.

11. I used to think there were two kinds of people in the world, the sunsets and the sunrises, but Prooba showed me the world’s more complicated than that.

12. Blu-Ray could make me smile even on my most ornery days.

13. It would have been the perfect summer if Peter hadn’t stepped on that spike in the middle of smurf olympics.

14. I’m odd, and though being yourself works for some quirky, misfits, I have a creased photo and a tiny key that say that path won’t work for me.

15. Jambalaya is supposed to be a supper, but Mama thrust that name on my big brother, which I swear was the start of all my troubles.

16. On the day I turned 75, battered but still ticking, long-retired from a job I barely bothered to recall, standing on my porch avoiding Tula and our grandkid-sitting duties, a thought tickled behind my ears.

17.Standing on my son’s porch on my 75th birthday, hiding from Tula and the grandkids, a thought tickled behind my left ear.

18.Karen Devine recalled a moment thirty years ago, sitting at a table in home-ec between Beth and Brian and across from Teak, and something in her chest cracked just like ice before a skater falls through.

19.The sunlight gave no warmth, though it shone as bright as ever.
It was rush hour on a Monday, but the cars had gone, and so had the people, all the way from Pickering street as far up Lake as the young woman could see. 

20.Birds didn’t sing, or chirp or tweet in Clovis, but they made a sound, and when you heard it, you either lifted your face to the Stars while your heart filled with love, or you covered your ears and cried.

21.Apple trees used to grow fat and line up limb to limb across all of Penny orchard’s 30 acres until the night  Bo left Lehigh.

22.Mother’s Day came like it always did, but this time April didn’t have lunch at the Bethlehem hotel. 

23.Trash cans blew into the middle of the street and rolled around the yards and sidewalks like leaves swirled by an angry wind.

24.The lilacs that grew between us and the Taylors seemed to bloom overnight, scenting the morning with the sweet hope of spring.

25.The first green shoots poked from the dirt in the front yard.
Devin and Fran and the cottage in the Poconos would have survived, but the trees had been watching from the beginnings.

26. Mourning doves mate for life.

27. On my first day of second grade everyone in Ms. Link’s class had to say what animal they were most like and I, a fidgety child with a habit of storing treasures in my pockets, went with kangaroo.

28. Basements have a bad reputation.

29. One windless, still night, when sleep wouldn’t stick, I went for a walk.

30. I’d have an elephant for a pet if they were smaller.

31. Sherbet gets angry when I say this, since genetically modifying animals and plants is the most evil thing you could do in her book, but I would love it if someone could engineer a tiny elephant.

32. I’d never admit this to Sherbet, but in my Dad’s shed, I’m engineering a tiny elephant.

33. Last Christmas I nearly drowned in a puddle in Merchants Square.

34. It took Laura Zhang a week to try to drown me in the lake in the center of the Merchants Square model train village.

35. Rain against the roof used to help me fall asleep, until the night Pete escaped.

36. On summer nights, when the leaves grew thick on the tree outside my window, and the wind whipped, I’d hear a tap on my window and most of my brain knew what it was and ignored it, but a tiny rebellious faction of cells imagined something different.

37. Vanilla and warm sugar filling my house shouldn’t make me so irritable.

38. If Rebecca could have tasted truth the way she detected the spices in her food, Ametrine would still be greeting her at the Happy Hippo book store with a cheery, “What’s up Reba?”

39. My name is Aventurine Willis.

40. My ears perked at the sound of the text message jingle.

The Fire Trees and the Mist

A Winning Entry in the Official Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy Contest Submission Page 2019.

The Fire Trees and the Mist
by Melanie Singer
Image #1

Bree’s heart pounded as she scoured the mist for her little brother. She squeezed her eyes shut but couldn’t stop remembering.

“Out Little Pest. Did you not see the sign on the door?” She pointed to her brother’s photo, marked like a No Parking sign.

Wen slipped past her and jumped on her bed. “I’m not leaving until you tell.”

“It’s not for babies.”

“I’m not a baby. I’m five.” Wen grabbed her phone.

“Fine,” she said, sickly satisfied that she’d scare the pants off the Little Pest.

“Hundreds of years ago the Fire Trees and the Mist appeared on the path at the edge of Afton.”
Bree told the whole story, of the fire trees and the mist and the boy who disappeared. When she finished, Wen asked,”Are the trees really on fire?”

Bree tried to ditch him, but he asked a gazillion questions, “Would it hurt to touch them? Who was the boy? Can I go there?” She’d cracked. She took him there to shut him up, but he ran straight through the line of Fire Trees. She couldn’t stop him and when she tried to follow, the trees wouldn’t let her pass.

Wen disappeared.