Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Last Storm

Aspiring Writers is a LinkedIn group that holds a monthly short story competition. At the end of the year each monthly winning story, and some of the runners up, will be compiled into a book that will be sold on A panel of judges will select the grand winner and the winner picks a charity for the proceeds to be donated to.

My story, The Last Storm, was selected as the winning story for the March competition. I received the email first thing this morning notifying me of my win. Needless to say, I've been stoked all day. This notification came during a period of self doubt and provides the affirmation I need to keep on keepin' on.

The topic was "snow", it could be any genre and had to be 715 words or less. Here's the story:

The Last Storm
By EJ Fechenda

A loud commercial on TV woke me up. I had been watching the local news for updates on the supposed “Storm of the Century” that was barreling its way north. I yawned and creaked out of the recliner. The weatherman always blew storms out of proportion and I knew this one wouldn’t be any different. So after switching off the TV, adding more wood to woodstove for the night, I shuffled down the hall to my bedroom.

Frank had died over five years ago, but I refused to take over the whole bed and stayed on my side as if he were still slumbering next to me. Despite the howling wind and branches scraping against the side of the house, I fell asleep.

A creaking noise coming from the attic woke me in the wee hours of the morning. I went to switch on the bedside lamp, but the power was out and the generator hadn’t started. I sighed and could see my breath in the dim light. I put on my glasses before retrieving the flashlight out of the table drawer.

The hem of my flannel nightgown brushed the tops of my slippers, trapping warmth against my bare legs. I made my way through the house, the creaking noise growing louder as I reached the kitchen. I pointed the flashlight up and noticed a crack had formed. Part of the ceiling was on the verge of collapse. Alarmed, I backed out of the room, unable to take my eyes off of the damage.

With the power out, the heat hadn’t kicked on after the fire in the woodstove had burnt out. I opened the back door to get more firewood off of the small porch and faced a wall of white. The entire doorframe was packed with snow. I had never seen so much. A small avalanche tumbled into the house, covering my slippers. Snow slipped down the sides, freezing my already cold feet.

Cursing under my breath I stomped and shook the icy powder loose before walking back to the bedroom. I changed into pants, a turtleneck and a thick Irish cable knit sweater that used to belong to Frank. With my feet encased in warm wool socks, I slipped on boots and prepared to walk onto the porch.

Initially, I thought the wall was caused by drifting and the accumulation wouldn’t be that deep beyond the door. I was partially right. Yes, drifting had caused the excess amount, but at least four feet of fresh snow had fallen overnight, which explained the roof caving in. The firewood was buried and wet and in order to get to the shed that housed the generator, I would have to make my way the length of half a football field through chest high snow. My old body balked at the challenge.

With the phones out, the house growing colder by the minute and the generator closer than any neighbor, I decided to give it a try. I spent a good ten minutes feeling around for the shovel usually propped against the side of the house, but couldn’t find it. Assuming the wind had blown it out of reach, I went without. After twenty feet I was winded, sweaty and…had to pee.

“Well, crap!” I muttered to myself and debated going back to the house. No one was around and the snow provided privacy, so I pulled up my parka, dropped my drawers and squatted.

I didn’t plan on falling. I landed hard and felt my hip shatter. Pain ripped through my body and I tried to get up, but the agony was too immense. I lay on the ground and tried to calm down. Never had I missed Frank more. He always handled the woodpile and the generator. I tried to crawl, but each movement made me quiver with pain. I yelled for help, but nobody came. It was well below freezing and with my pants stuck around my knees the cold sank in fast. I could feel my heart rate slow and imagined the blood in my veins getting sluggish. I struggled to stay awake and knew with hypothermia, once you succumbed to the sleep, you rarely woke up.

I thought of this as my eyelids closed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lean on Me

Last night as I was cooking dinner, the phone rang. My sister-in-law needed a favor. I instantly thought that she needed my son to watch her son or something of that nature. Nothing could have prepared me for what she said next.

"Your brother cut off his finger at work and it's being reattached."


"He cut off one of his fingers and is in the ER at Mercy Hospital. I need to meet him there. The kids aren't answering the phone at the house. Can you go check on them?"

We live about 5 blocks away from each other and I was already looking for my car keys.

"They will need to fend for themselves for dinner."

"Nonsense," I said. "I'm cooking spaghetti and there's enough for everyone, I'll bring them here and feed them."

Within minutes of hanging up, I had my two nieces, my nephew and my stepson piled into the car. The kids were excited for spaghetti and meatballs and only mildly concerned that their father had chopped his finger off. They were debating how many stitches he was going to need while shoveling pasta into their mouths. Bless their hearts.

An hour later my brother and sister-in-law showed up at the house. Apparently it was the tip of his finger (right above the first knuckle) and it was only 3/4 of the way cut-off. Gruesome details such as the skin being peeled back, exposing raw flesh, were revealed, much to the disgusted delight of the kids. Our dog was more excited about the new chew toy attached to my brother's hand. "No, Bullwinkle! Bad dog!"

"It could have been worse," my brother said.
"Yes, it could have been your middle finger," I responded. Many laughs ensued. We could laugh about it because it wasn't as bad as we all had imagined.

How does this tie into writing?

Today I kept thinking about support systems. My sister-in-law was able to call on me in her time of need and I was there for her. The security of knowing one person (or a couple people) you would trust with your life and who will be there to bail you out, no questions asked, is important.

The same applies for writing. All writers go through periods of self-doubt where we are convinced anything we've ever written is crap (also explains why Poe and Hemmingway had a problem with the drink). Having someone you can call during these dark periods is essential. Even if it's one other person, this person is your writing lifeline.

My writing lifeline is my friend Nicole. We found each other by accident (or maybe fate brought us together), when Nicole posted on a forum she wanted to start a writer's group. This is when I discovered we already knew each other through a project at work, which we outsource to her company. We had worked together for a year and neither of us knew the other was a writer. After our first writer's group meeting we realized we had the same goals, the same drive and even gave ourselves the same nickname, "Hard Core" (no not porn). Fortunately, we write different genres and aren't competition, otherwise we'd probably have to kill each other. He he.

She understands when I begin to hate every word I've written or I start to doubt I'll ever attain my dream. She pushes me through and encourages me to stay the course. When she begins to doubt herself, I'm there for her. We can vent to each other and share new ideas without the fear of criticism.

Also, through Twitter and, I've found a great group of writers who experience the same growing pains. It's nice to know a support system is out there; a net has been cast to catch me when I fall.

Who is your safety net? I'd love to hear about how they've helped you with your writing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Editing is a Form of Torture

I love to write. Escaping into my character’s heads and living vicariously through their crazy adventures is fun, cathartic and sure beats the heck out of my day job. I whipped out an 89,000 word novel and had so much fun writing it, I quickly moved on to the next book in the series. Then people started asking me when I was going to send my book out and try to get it published. “I have to edit it first,” became my static response. Three months of saying this made me face the inevitable; I needed to edit the manuscript. So I shelled out $22.50 to print it out in its entirety, sat down in a quiet room and began a hard edit.

Twenty minutes later I started to panic. I don’t have OCD, but I can get obsessive (which explains the 300 posters of Skid Row and Sebastian Bach that covered my bedroom walls as a teenager). I started to analyze every sentence, every punctuation mark. I noticed that I liked to use the same words…a lot. I became convinced that somewhere in the world editing is used as a form of torture, like water boarding. I pushed on and forced myself to only pick out glaring mistakes the first read through. This helped tremendously and I actually began to get absorbed into the story. The character’s made me laugh, some scenes were so intense they made my stomach tighten and I realized underneath all the potential nit-picking, that I had written a book and it wasn’t half bad.

I finished the first read through, made corrections, added some scenes and beefed up the back story of some of the characters. Then I stopped. I went back to writing another novel in progress because I missed writing and this editing business is a lot of work!

It has been almost two months and The Beautiful People (my finished novel) sits on the end table collecting dust. The pages beg to be edited and whisper to me as I type away on another manuscript. Since I've had such a bad case of writer's ADHD lately, I've decided to focus on The Beautiful People and get all of the edits out of the way.

To help make the characters more real for me, I picked celebrity muses who best physically represent my main characters (pictures enclosed). This was a fun little project and made me excited to go back and edit. I mentioned this to a friend, who is also a writer and struggling with editing her manuscript, and she is thinking about taking my idea one step further and creating a scrapbook to collect images representative of her fictitious town plus her characters – almost like a storyboard.

Going forward I think I’m going to include this exercise as part of the creative process and not wait until the editing part. Do any of you have suggestions for getting through the editing process?

Monday, March 8, 2010

BettyJo Jenkins

BettyJo Jenkins is led into the visitor’s area where an officer removes her handcuffs. She sits at an empty table and waits for her attorney – the only visitor she’s had since she started her prison term seven years ago.

A woman dressed in a tailored suit sits down across from BettyJo.

“You’re not my attorney,” she states. Her eyes narrow with suspicion.

“I work for the Department of Corrections,” the woman says. “Now let’s see here…” She flips open BettyJo’s folder and skims down the first page, quickly moving on to the next.

BettyJo chews on the skin around her already gnawed down nails.

The woman looks up at BettyJo. Her brown eyes meet piercing blue ones, only briefly, as BettyJo is quick to break eye contact.

“You have quite the record. Multiple possession charges, breaking and entering, homicide…”

“Yeah, so. Everyone in here has a sheet like mine.” She doesn’t like her history being repeated back to her. She knows what she’s done.

The woman silently regards BettyJo. She takes in her agitated appearance; the quick jerks and nervous tapping of her feet.

“If you could go back in time, is there one moment in particular that you would change?”

BettyJo stops fidgeting and leaning forward, reestablishes eye contact with the woman.

“I am who I am. Nothin’ can change that.”

“But, what if you could?” She gives BettyJo a conspiratorial wink.

BettyJo sees the woman’s eyes are kind and do not judge. She thinks back over her life. What moment would she change? It doesn’t take her long to figure it out.

It was a memorable day because she and her mom had gone shopping for her first bra. The white cotton undergarment fit snugly over her budding breasts. She was thrilled about this rite of passage, a sign that the little girl with scabby knees would soon be just a memory. Her excitement didn’t wear off and she fell asleep still wearing the bra. This isn’t what made this day memorable though, it was later, after the house grew still. BettyJo woke suddenly. At first she thought a dream had crossed the threshold into reality – how she wished that was the case. Her stepfather had joined her in the twin bed. She felt his calloused hand around her tiny breast and smelled his beer breath as it steamed up her neck.

Terrified and desperately confused, she let him touch her in places where no one ever had. When he was done, the threat, although just a whisper, was very clear.

BettyJo feels the shame creep up from her stomach and flush across her cheeks. She hangs her head to hide the tears that threaten to spill.

The woman recognizes this moment.

“Look at me.”

BettyJo slowly raises her head.

“I don’t work for the Department of Corrections,” she pauses and surveys the room to make sure their conversation isn’t being overheard and then leans in closer. “I can take you back, but you have to tell me what it is.”

BettyJo sits back, disbelief washing over her features. However, the woman’s eyes convey the truth. She considers this and decides it can’t hurt. She’s in prison for the next fifteen years and doesn’t have anything to lose.

“If I could go back...I would never let him touch me.”


The sun filtering through the window wakes BettyJo. Something’s different though, the bed she’s lying in is soft and the sheets smell freshly laundered. She sits up in surprise and finds herself in an unfamiliar bedroom.

There is movement beside her and she wills herself to look. A handsome man slumbers on the other side of the bed. He isn’t the source of the activity though. A little girl peeks up from under the down comforter. Her face, a mirror image of BettyJo’s, lights up in a gap toothed grin.

“Morning Momma!”

Stunned, BettyJo pinches her arm. She looks down and sees the red impressions her fingers left and also sees that the scars from years of heroin use are gone, as if erased overnight. She reaches up and touches her hair. It is no longer dry and limp, but thick and healthy.

“Did you have a bad dream Momma?” The little girl throws her arms around BettyJo’s neck, triggering a flood of emotion.

“Yes, a very bad dream.” She hugs her daughter back, embracing her innocence. Right then and there BettyJo silently vows to protect her daughter and never let anything bad happen to her.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Today I received a rejection email that one of my stories wasn't chosen for a anthology. Ordinarily I would probably mope around the house in a foul mood or read and re-read my story, trying to figure out what went wrong. Instead, I am going to go against the ordinary and view the latest rejection as an opportunity. It is so easy to let rejection consume you, but I refuse to fall into that trap. If this sounds arrogant, I apologize, but I like my writing and it is pure entertainment to me. Hopefully others will find enjoyment in my writing as well. The story I wrote is decent and I will take another look now that I've had some time away, make any necessary revisions and submit it elsewhere. I'm also relieved that the wait is over. Waiting to hear whether a story has been accepted can take forever just like waiting for medical test results or the grueling three minutes after peeing on a stick to find out if your pregnant or not. Now I know and will move on.