Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Backyard Romance

Write...Edit...Publish has selected "romance" as its short fiction topic for June. You are invited to post your own short fiction by June 24-26 and place your link on their website. Please feel free to critique my submission below.

* * *

When Martha learned that her best friend Rhonda had taken a freakish fall on a Chamonix hiking trip and broken her left wrist and leg, Martha called to inquire about her friend. The phone was answered by her middle-aged son Ben who gave a humorous rendition of the accident and Rhonda’s return to the States, followed by an invitation to visit Rhonda. He could be so charming, but she sensed Ben was angling for something.

“I’m on my way.” On the drive to Rhonda’s home, Martha wondered who was going to be able to provide the kind of care that Rhonda would need during recovery. Rhonda was a 70-year old widow who lived by herself. Certainly, her son Ben and his wife Suzanne were not logical choices. Rhonda was the kind of person who was unafraid to travel anywhere in the world, but she never had the courage to tell her own son what a self-centered, stingy, inconsiderate bastard he could be. An accomplished, successful businessman, he nevertheless left much to be desired as a son. Now that he had reached middle age, he had evolved into a tired, harried, dull fellow who had no time for his aging mother.

One thing that she and Rhonda both had in common was their inability to inculcate respect and a sense of responsibility in their sons. Where they differed was that Rhonda refused to address this issue with her son whereas Martha had confronted her son, which ultimately ended all pretense of relationship. It was sad that she no longer had any contact with her son, but Martha thought it was more honest. She did not want anyone in her life that did not love and respect her, even if it was her own flesh and blood.

“How’s the patient?” Martha asked when she was greeted by Ben and his wife Suzanne. She peered past them to see her friend sound asleep on the couch in a tangle of blankets and clumsy casts. She could see that they had set up the couch as a bed because getting Rhonda up and down stairs was logistically impossible.

Ben stepped close and lowered his voice. “I truthfully don’t know how she is going to manage by herself. We think she should arrange for some kind of short term care but she won’t listen to us.”

“Let me talk to her. Maybe I can help her sort things out.”

A look of relief softened the frown on his brow. His wife Suzanne who looked bored and annoyed at having to spend time with her mother-in-law, turned to cast a wistful look out the balcony window. Suzanne and Rhonda maintained a polite relationship, but clearly there was little affection between them.

“I think she’s mixed up her meds,” Suzanne said as if Rhonda was not even present. “All she wants to do is sleep.”

“Well, you need to have a schedule written down because it is very difficult to keep track of when you’re on several different medications. Let’s make up a schedule for her so she can check them off.

“And I have no idea how she is going to bathe and change her clothes,” Suzanne said.

Martha looked Ben up and down as he stood next to his trim, petite wife. “Maybe you have some large t-shirts you can lend your mother. I doubt she owns anything that will fit over her cast. And we’ll have to find some large sweat pants that she can pull over the leg cast.”

Martha turned to Susan. “Could you go to a pharmacy that carries home care supplies and find a seat that will fit in the shower? And we’ll need some garbage bags and tape.”

“Sure.” Suzanne replied with little enthusiasm, but Ben was beaming. Perhaps he was hoping his mother’s care might soon be handed off to others.

Martha took a deep breath. “OK, how about I stay here a few days to get her acclimated?”

“That would be a godsend,” Ben replied, glancing at his wife, who lifted her mane of golden locks and rearranged it on her shoulders. "We just brought her home from the hospital so we're kind of disorganized."

Rhonda stirred from her sleep. “Martha?” She reached for her hand.

“We were just talking about having me stay here with you a couple of days. What do you say?”

Rhonda smiled, eyes half-closed. "I’d love it."

And so began Rhonda’s recovery. The first week Rhonda spent most of her time in bed, too drowsy from the medication and after effects of surgery to do much more than sleep. When she was awake, she was annoyed with the pain and difficulty of moving around. But most of all she was annoyed because Ben did not bother to call or visit.

“We did not raise our sons well, did we?” Martha asked. “We somehow gave them permission to be inconsiderate and selfish.” While Martha always avoided the subject of her own son, Rhonda talked frequently about all the humiliating slights she endured from her son and his family. It made Martha’s blood boil to hear that one’s own child could be so insensitive which was why she preferred to imagine that she did not have a son.

The second week Rhonda became more restless and less dependent. She tried to figure out how to do things for herself which was exhausting for both of them. After dressing in oversized t-shirts and baggy sweat pants each morning, Rhonda would roll her wheelchair to the balcony overlooking homes across from the ravine below while Martha prepared her breakfast. She would attempt a few simple exercises from her wheelchair and then settle down with a cup of coffee, a book and her binoculars.

“I must confess I’ve become quite a peeping Tom.” Rhonda said one sunny afternoon. She pointed down to the house below. “The last two Thursdays around one o’clock that sweet little blond crawls over the back fence like she’s all set to go jogging except she enters the yard of the next door neighbor and jogs up to the sliding glass door of the master bedroom. He’s there waiting for her in his undershorts.” She laughed.

Rhonda stared at the house and shuddered. “I have a confession to make also.”

“Look, here she comes. See?” Rhonda pointed and raised the binoculars to her eyes. “And just like clockwork, he opens the sliding glass door. He’s wearing a towel today.” She handed the binoculars to Martha who hesitated.

“So what do you have to confess?”

Martha blushed.

Rhonda laughed. “Stop squirming and answer my question.”

“I never told you my son lives in this neighborhood. I guess I never realized his house was directly across the ravine from your home.” She pointed at the man in a towel.

Rhonda frowned and took back the binoculars. “Hmmm.” There was a long silence. “I guess I never mentioned that’s my son’s house is the one down there. If you’d taken a look, you might have recognized Suzanne as she crawled over the fence.”

Martha met her gaze. “The things you discover when you fall down a mountain and break a few bones.”


  1. That was fun. You always have the most interesting characters and settings Linda.

    Minor critique: in the beginning it is "Ben and his wife Becky" but when we actually meet Ben it is "Ben and his wife Suzanne."
    And there is a backwards quotation mark when Rhonda smiles,"I'd love it"

    Really good story. I liked the pacing and flow, and two older ladies hell bent on keeping their independence.

    1. Geez, how did "Becky" slip in there? Thanks.

  2. Very interesting take on the prompt and enjoyed the twist in the tail.

    A little sobering though the sons' characters and treatment of their mothers. The culture of super entitlement.

    Minor point - I assume it is Martha who says I have a confession to make also?

    Best wishes,

  3. Dear Linda,
    Great story. Your characters are so alive (despite broken bones) that I feel as though I've met them already. Well, the truth is that I have known similar persons. Funny story. I wan't sure there was a romantic connection until the very end.
    My story is not as sophistcated, but you are welcome to read it.
    Best wishes,
    Anna's WEP-Challenge for June 2014

  4. Hi Linda
    Made me laugh. I enjoyed this story very much. I think it could be a little tighter in a few spots. Like the paragraph that mentions that she is sitting in a wheelchair an then she is exercising from the wheelchair. Since we already knew she was in a wheelchair you don't need to mention it again. But that is minor. Overall, great story.

  5. A nice twist, especially for the mothers! This happens all too frequently now. Care homes tell stories of residents who never get visitors, although they have family nearby. They all look up when someone comes in, hoping against hope. I like your two female characters - well done, I liked this a lot.

  6. It's such a shame that the sons have not grown up into loving adults for their respective mothers but I like the characters of Martha and Rhonda and the twist at the end.

  7. Nice twist, but I had to go back and re read because "Rhonda stared at the house and shuddered. “I have a confession to make also.”

    Shouldn't this be 'Martha stared at the house and shuddered. "I have a confession to make also." ' ? I could be wrong but it didn't seem to make sense otherwise...

    Besides that I enjoyed the two mothers be honest with themselves. I can see them plotting to change this state of affairs!

  8. Linda, sorry I missed this. Didn't realize you'd posted.
    I really enjoyed the story. I like the two women. Very realistic situation. Plenty of older citizens forgotten by their families in this world. Sadly. Those two sons get their comeuppance at the end.

    Well done. Others have pointed out minor crits to improve the tightness of your story. I agree with them. I wonder too if you could find ways to reduce the telling...maybe through more dialogue ?

    Thanks for posting for the WEP challenge. Next month should be right up your alley ~ A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...

    Denise :)

  9. I loved this story, the ending made me laugh. It's so sad when children forget all that their parents have done for them.

  10. Linda, back for my second reading since it's a prize month. I'll be posting a wrap up tomorrow...D