A Holiday Flash Fiction Story

I recently offered to post this story on my website for the holidays. I wrote the first version for a contest in 2013 and changed it over the next six years. Here is my new and improved 2019 version. Please enjoy, and have a wonderful Christmas, however you spend it!

Look What the Wind Blew In
by Renee’ La Viness

Steam rose from Opal’s cup of hot chocolate as she carried it to the living room.

The early December snow was beautiful, but to an elderly woman living alone, it was cruel. It made the bones ache and the body shiver. She set the warm drink on the side table then wrapped the small blue afghan around her legs and settled into her easy chair.

A soft thump sounded on the front porch. It was probably a wandering dog, but she decided to check it out. Slowly, she rose from the chair and shuffled across the room.

When she opened her front door, the bitter wind barged in without permission, and tiny ice crystals danced in with it. On the porch floor, a mess of shoe prints led to a pot of poinsettias trimmed with a wide gold ribbon. They were her favorite holiday flowers. In the middle, a small note attached to a plastic stick fluttered in the icy air.

Careful not to slip on the porch, Opal leaned over and snatched the flower pot. She quickly carried it inside and shut the door, locking out the wind and snow.

In the warmth of her living room, she read the note.

“WILL YOU…” The rest had been torn off.

“Will you what?” she asked out loud, as if expecting an answer. “I need the rest of the note. I wonder who left it.” She set the pot on a small table between her matching chairs. The bright red flowers seemed to make the room smile.

“I bet this is from Betty.” She picked up the phone to call her friend. It rang twice before anyone answered.

“Hello?”

“Betty? It’s Opal. Thank you for the poinsettias. They really brightened my day. But, part of the note was missing.”

“What are you talking about, Opal? I’ve not left this house. I’m not stepping outside until the ice and snow melt.” Betty chuckled, then gasped. “Flowers, you say? A note? Did somebody leave you flowers, Opal? Do you have a boyfriend I don’t know about?”

“I’m not sure,” Opal replied, absently running a finger around the rim of the flower pot. “I’ll let you know.”

After hanging up, she leaned back in her easy chair. Trying to occupy her mind with something else, she opened the newspaper. She had read all the stories yesterday, but there wouldn’t be another issue until tomorrow, so she would read ads and clip coupons today.

A dentist was running a special on dentures and cleanings, a furniture store was having a price blowout, a book club was searching for new members, and the senior center wanted grandparents for needy children, especially for the holidays. She had signed up for one of those surrogate grandchildren last week, when the medical folks gave free blood pressure checks. She always took advantage of the health checkups. A person should be watchful of their health.

When she finished reading the ads, she reached for her scissors.

THUMP.

Another sound on the front porch. She headed to the door with great curiosity. Nobody was there, but another poinsettia had been delivered. She brought it in and set it beside the first plant. Taped to the side of the pot, she found the other half of the note.

“PLEASE…”

Opal raised one eyebrow and lowered the other. “Great. Will you please what?”

Her mind struggled to put the clues together. It wasn’t her birthday, but it was almost Christmas. Could it be a romantic gesture from a secret admirer?

“No,” she surmised. “Just like Betty said, nobody my age in his right mind would be out racing to disappear after leaving me a secret admirer gift, no matter how important the question. Not in this weather.”

Her face melted. It had to be some heartless kids playing a practical joke. There was no other explanation. She wondered if they knew her husband had recently died. Having no family left, she was all alone in the world.

With shaking fingers, she called Betty and asked her to help watch for the pranksters. She would not let those brats taunt her. She would catch them and call their parents or the law. If parents don’t know what their kids are doing, they can’t fix the problem.

Opal sat back in her chair and picked up her newspaper and scissors. Maybe clipping coupons would help her sort things out.

She considered calling the police. Even if she did catch the kids, what would she say to them? She’d heard today’s teens could be dangerous to deal with.

The phone rang, startling her out of her daydreams. She quickly answered.

“Opal, someone’s walking to your porch. They’re—”

“Thanks, Betty.”

Opal hurried to the door. When she opened it, a woman and a young boy stood before her on the front porch. The boy raised a handmade sign that said, “BE MY GRANDMA?”

Opal’s heart melted and a smile stretched across her face. “Oh, my surrogate grandchild is here! Please, please, come in.” She held her door open as they entered the warm, loving atmosphere of her living room and her heart.

Seasons Come and Go

We are nearing the end of the conference season. I’ve had a wonderful year. I’m even catching up on some projects I’ve been way behind on. It feels good, but I’m definitely tired and not even close to done.

I’ve already started my 2020 schedule on this website, so folks can plan ahead. As I confirm more dates, I’ll list them.

The Craft of Writing Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is this Saturday, October 26th. Find more information here, or sign up as “going” on our Facebook event page. It’s going to be another great experience.

On my AWARDS page, I recently listed the winner of my middle grade fiction contest that I sponsor at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference.

The STAGE FRIGHT short story contest deadline was October 22nd, so I hope you sent your submissions on time. Good luck to all who entered!

I’m currently working on the 6th Annual Meet the Publishers! event, which will be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, March 28th. This year, I’ve added magazine and newspaper publishers to the lineup.

The 2020 Read. Write. Share! Writers Weekend is scheduled for April 24-26 in Little Rock, Arkansas, so put that one on your calendar, too. (Website coming soon!)

I hope to see you this Saturday at the conference in Tulsa!

Conference Season is HERE!

I’m excited! Today, I’m leaving for the Read.Write.Share! Writer’s Weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas. We have a great schedule planned. Visit my SCHEDULE page for the link.

Another wonderful event about to begin is my very own short story writing contest! I have the website started, and I’ll add more details when I return home from my weekend trip. Check out the website and sign up for updates on the contest HERE.

This week, I received exciting news that one of my stories won SECOND PLACE in the Friends of Tulsa City-County Library Adult Writing Contest. What an honor!

If I don’t see you this weekend, I hope I’ll see you soon at a critique meeting, or another upcoming conference. Again, check my SCHEDULE page for clues on where I’ll be attending or speaking and when.

Conferences, Workshops, and More

It’s that time again, folks. Spring brings lots of great opportunities to meet other authors, publishers, illustrators and editors when you attend the conferences around the nation.

Check out my LINKS page for many of the area conferences within a six to eight hour drive from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Some of those conferences offer opportunities to enter writing contests and win some cash. Visit their websites to learn more. Find out how your writing competes with others!

If you’re looking for a chance to actually meet some area publishers and learn more about the industry and how it’s changing with self-publishing, traditional publishers, and more, don’t miss the 5th annual Meet the Publishers! event in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, March 30th.

If you’re interested in following me through the year, check out my SCHEDULE page.

Got questions? Send me an email from my ABOUT page!

Have a wonderful conference season!

Gifts for Writers

If you have a family member or friend who is a writer, and you want to give them gifts—for birthdays, holidays, or just because—but don’t know what to give, you’re not alone. Even writers have trouble offering ideas.

Most writers use and keep the inexpensive basic supplies listed. Listen for them to mention they are almost out or need to buy more, soon. Some don’t use all these things, so you do have to familiarize yourself with your writer’s preferences.

On the more expensive end of the list, you will find items we need—like conferences and workshops, or things need done but don’t always remember to do—like fixing the car, or things to help us get away from the desk, once in a while.

Below are some good ideas. They start small and move up in price. Free or almost free ideas are at the bottom.
Erasers – Hand-held erasers or pencil-tops?
Pens – Plastic, wood, metal? Ink or gel? Ink color(s)? Clip on side? Rubber pads around the middle?
Sticky Pads or Stickers – Color? Size? Design?
Paper Clips – Color? Size? Design?
Staples – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Stapler – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Highlight Markers – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Permanent Markers – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
White-out – Color? Design? Brand?
Spiral or Other Notebooks – Wide ruled? College Ruled? No lines?
3-Ring Binders – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Copy paper
Printing paper – Some of us use colored paper or cardstock, too!
USB/Thumb Drives – Do they prefer small or large capacity? Is there a preferred brand or style?
Earbuds or Headphones – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Yarn – Some writers crochet or knit while conjuring stories. Know their brand, color, type preferences before you buy! There are other needed items, too, such as needles, hooks, etcetera.
Desk Organizer – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Chair Pad – For more comfortable sitting.
Business Cards – Only order these with your writer’s approval. You can reorder their normal ones or help them design new ones.
Pamphlets – Only order these with your writer’s approval. You can reorder their normal supply or help them design new ones.
Books – Hardcover? Paperback? Ebook? Audio Book? Listen for wished-for book titles.
Magazine Subscription – Ask which ones they really want.
Ink Cartridges – This is a great gift! All writers need these! Buy the cartridges their printer/copier requires.
Light bulbs – Type – CFL, LED, Halogen?  How many watts? Brand?
Haircut/Hairstyle – Great when the writer has an event coming up.
Manicure/Pedicure – Do they have a preference?
Bus Pass – If they ride the bus a lot, buy a season pass to help them get from Point A to Point B.
Taxi Pass – Is there a way to pay some taxi time in advance?
Turnpike Pass – Some writers use the turnpike. Apply some cash to their stash.
Computer Program or App – Which ones have they been wishing for?
Clothing – For desk time or public events. You’ll need sizes, colors, styles, brands, etcetera.
Cozy socks or houseshoes – Color? Size? Design? Brand? Style?
Photo Shoot for Author Picture
Cover Art / Illustrator
Carry Bag – For laptop, luggage, books, and more.
Gift Cards or Prepaid Credit Cards – For specific stores (print shop, gasoline, restaurant), or whatever they wish. These would be extra welcome just before a trip.
Advertising – Help them announce their new book, new project, etcetera.
External Hard Drive – Is there a brand or style they prefer?
Display Rack – for book signings and sales. Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Author Poster – for books, events, etcetera. (Design should be discussed with writer.)
Easel – to Display Posters. Color? Size? Design?
Computer – They will use this a LOT and need one that is up-to-date and suits their specific needs. (So, please learn their needs before purchasing one.)
Professional Edit – Is the work almost finished? Pay for a professional copyedit to polish the story.
Desk/Table/Chair – For office, or travel? Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Bookcase – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
File Cabinet – Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Video Camera – For book trailers and more. Color? Size? Design? Brand?
Webinars – Listen for subjects your writer wants/needs help with.
Workshops – Listen for subjects your writer wants/needs help with.
Study Courses – Listen for subjects your writer needs help with.
Gym Membership – Staying healthy can be hard for a writer who spends much of her time in a chair.
Writer’s Retreat – Alone or with a friend or friends, it’s nice to get away and write.
Conferences – Pay their way to a conference they want to attend.
Online Conferences – There may be an online conference they wish to attend.
Travel – Pay for a plane trip, rental car or other transportation to get to conferences or other events.
Hotel – Pay for their hotel costs to attend a conference or other event.
Research Trip – Would it help them to be on location? Send them there, or help them afford it!
Automobile – Upkeep, repair, or replacement.
Home – Upkeep, repair, or replacement.

A fun get-away is always a good idea for a writer who stays shut in a lot.

Day/Night Out – At the fair or carnival, concert, movies, swimming pool, skating rink, bowling alley, pool hall, learning to ride a horse, or?
Hiking, Fishing, Camping – Take time away from the writing to enjoy some of their favorite down-time hobbies.
Cruise – Where do they want to go? Is there something to celebrate, or would a cruise help them get away from all the interruptions of daily life?

Other ideas which are shareable:

Walk – Walk or jog together, or walk the dog(s).
Drive – Take a drive to nowhere in particular. Just hop in the car and go away for an hour or two.
Join them at a conference. Some writers want to attend a conference or other event, but won’t drive there alone. Just having someone along is a blessing. Take something to occupy your time while they’re at the event, or sign up to attend with them!

There are many more I could add, but these are items we use and/or need. And, if you’re reading this, you care enough to buy your writer something useful. Thank you for that.

If this list helps you find a gift for your writer, or you have other ideas, please share. I’d love to hear from you.

Have a Very Merry Christmas!

(Watch for more about the FREE 5th Annual MEET THE PUBLISHERS! event in Tulsa Oklahoma. The 2019 date is Saturday, March 30th. Mark your calendars!)

We interrupt this program…

Yes, I was supposed to post a list on this page a few days ago. However, I went to a fabulous conference and totally wiped out when I returned. I’ve slept a lot and not had any brains most of the time, so I seem to have lost my next blog post. No worries. I’ll find it in the next day or two, I’m certain. I took it with me to the conference, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

In the meantime, celebrate with me, if you will. At the conference (Ozark Creative Writers), I won three awards:

2nd Place (romance)
3rd Place (another romance)
1st Honorable Mention (a romance gone bad).

For what it’s worth, I don’t write romance. I’m starting to consider it, though.

My wonderful husband, Gene La Viness, did one better and won 1st Place in the Oxbow Award. He’s a very good writer. I’m proud to be his wife for many reasons.

I’ll try to get that gift list for writers on here real soon. Thanks for understanding!

If you’re looking for me on Facebook, here’s my author page: Author – Renee’ La Viness

Gene also has an author page on Facebook: Author – Gene La Viness

Give us a LIKE and follow us there. Thanks!

The Ins and Outs of Writing

If you’re interested in writing, or recently found yourself sucked into it, here are some important things you need to prepare for. Old-timers may also find a gem or two below.

Being a successful book author is a “whole life” plan. It’s nothing like being a machine shop operator or assembly line worker, or even a desk jockey, although you will spend much of your time at a desk. You are not doing the same thing over and over. You can’t survive on knowing how to do only one job. It requires learning as much about the whole industry as possible and keeping up with the constant changes that happen as the internet molds our way of thinking, buying, selling, and communicating. Before long, the daily challenge to be a successful author consumes your whole life.

So, what does an author really do?

Renee-Office-BlogPic

Along with writing, many other skills are required to be a successful author. One must know how to use a computer writing program, most of all. Manuscripts must be formatted to the requirements of different publishers and contests.

We also have to join online and offline groups, purchase programs/memberships that will be helpful in one manner or another. Before long, we’re also attending conferences, workshops, and webinars. If we do not buy into the most popular plans and products, we may be left behind when the writing industry moves forward. Then we scramble to catch up.

It is important to have some understanding of the skills others do for us. This often requires knowing whether we plan to self-publish, use a hybrid publisher, or be traditionally published. Do we need an agent? Some need illustrators or cover artists. Others might need formatters or marketing specialists. Many authors use a video or audio specialist, or both. Learning your publisher’s schedule also alleviates unnecessary frustrations.

Regardless of how you plan to be published, critique groups and beta readers are important for polishing manuscripts. And, all writers need to learn how to work with editors.

We need to determine whether our work is for newspapers, magazines, anthologies, or books. Different publishers have different writing rules, style manuals, and different submission preferences. We even have to learn how to pitch our work to a publisher during a short elevator ride!

Once we learn how to write and submit our stories, we have to learn more about selling them. Most of us start out selling to family and friends. Then we join a plethora of social media sites, schedule multiple book signings, speak at events and purchase advertising online, in printed publications, etcetera. If we’re smart, we also have a “street team.”

If we don’t have a website when we start our writing journey, we soon will. Learning to blog is also important.

During all this shuffling of skills and knowledge, we adjust our schedules again and again. Our family lives can easily be hindered or lost to our careers.

Just when we think we have mastered most of the skills and sit back to draw in a nice, long, relaxing breath, a new skill is required, we see something we missed along the way, or some fantastic new product, group, or idea comes along. Being the good authors we are, we must learn this new thing. And, so we get after it before we can exhale that beautiful breath we just took.

Somewhere along the way, our health comes into play. For many authors, health doesn’t become an issue until something serious happens or the doctor gives an ultimatum. Or both. So, we find ways to fit healthy foods and almost daily exercise into our plans. By this time, many of us already have physical limitations, so this can create a downhill domino effect if we do not take it seriously. Ultimately, most of us learn that a health plan of some sort must be added to our busy schedule. (If you’re just now starting out, please take this into consideration and plan ahead.)

How can you find your place in this constantly shifting field?

If you are an aspiring author, prepare to take on these challenges. Learn what you can about each stage as you move into it. Although many things different as times change, so try to stay in touch with the writing community.

If you’re a trailblazer, find your area of expertise and create new paths for other writers to follow.

If you’re a friend or family member, try to imagine what your writer is going through. Share their successes with your friends and family. Writers NEED your support. They can get overwhelmed in this craziness, and it’s nice to know someone close to us is paying attention. One of the best things you can do is acknowledge their career choice as a real job and help them set aside time to meet their daily challenges.

Need some great gift ideas for a writer? That’s my next post, so stay tuned!

Young Writers

Kids will be kids. Kids love to read good stories. Kids love to hear good stories. Some of them love to write good stories, too.

Over the past two or three years, we have taken a couple of our grandchildren (ages 10 to 13) to area writing conferences. They enjoy learning more about the writing industry.

Conferences create opportunities. They offer a chance to meet publishers, editors, illustrators, formatters, and many other writers.

At conferences, our writing youth can learn what publishers want and how other writers overcome their problem areas. They learn that support is a huge, important part of the writing industry, which is largely a solo career.

By meeting publishers and others while they are young, they will feel more comfortable approaching them in the future. This is very important.

This is a rapidly changing industry. Getting the younger generation involved is a wonderful way to encourage future success. If they are brought up seeing what conferences have to offer, they will be more likely to continue such educational experiences as they grow older and more independent. They will be less intimidated by the process and more willing to be involved.

I was so pleased to see a twelve-year-old win an award at the White Country Creative Writers Conference, recently. For such a young one to do so well, he is going to be a great challenge at a very young age. I hope to see him win many more awards in the future.

NaNoWriMo is right around the corner. It is a great challenge for adults and youth. It is the opportunity to write a novel in a month. Learn to write without editing, then go back and edit after it’s finished. What if you don’t want to write a novel? Then write a bunch of short stories you can enter into contests. Or, write a whole lot of children’s books. Maybe you can write down all the stories you’ve heard from your loved ones as you great up. Just write.

Tonight, I met a fourteen-year-old writer at a monthly writers’ meeting. I look forward to watching her grow as a new writer, too.

It’s all so exciting!

Autumn Events

It’s almost here! Autumn is days away and we are looking forward to a serious reprieve from this summer’s heat wave. I’m sure it will return in another eight or nine months, if we just hang in there.

A lot of things have been in the works, lately. Wonderful changes are taking place. We have managed to get one of our most important domain names back after years of watching it be trashed by someone who was trying to get us to pay a large sum of money to get it back. We decided to wait it out. We are glad to have it back and will hopefully have it up and running around the end of the year, although it’s going to be a little longer before we start making pool cues, again. We have felt like life was pressing us down for a long time and this seemingly small change has given us a huge emotional boost.

I have two new books coming soon. They are part of the Diary series. It is hard to contain my excitement.

I’ve also been working hard on some old and some new short stories for conference contests. I have some new stories that have surprised even me.

My computer finally decided it was tired of the flack Windows 10 was giving it. When it finally refused to start Windows, I took it to the shop. I was so scared I’d lose all my stories and other stuff I’ve collected in here for the past five years. Yes, I back everything up, but it had been a good month since the last big save. When it choked, I was in the middle of writing one of my best stories, yet. There was only one serious problem. I had to send that story with the next day’s postmark (contest deadline), so I was a bit frantic. The guys were awesome. They saved practically everything on my computer AND got that story file to me, so I could finish writing it and get it submitted on time, too. After all that, I sure hope it wins something!

Anyway, here’s a SHOUT OUT to the guys down at Same Day Computer Repair of Tulsa. Thanks so very much for saving the day and not breaking the bank! You guys are my heroes!

I’m excited about this Saturday, September 1st. A few years ago, Gene and I took a trip to Searcy, Arkansas for the White County Writers Conference. We had a wonderful time and wished we could go back. Well, this year, I’m not just getting to go back, but I’m also one of the speakers scheduled for the event. There will be three of us: Best selling author Robin Caroll, who will share some insight on writing suspense and mystery; President & Creative Director of Oghma Creative Media, Casey W. Cowan, will help authors have a better idea what publishers want; and I will be giving away secrets on writing dialogue and emotions, first thing in the morning. So, be there early, if you want to know what I know!

In October, we’ll be at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference, again. We always look forward to seeing our friends out there. I won’t be representing 4RV Publishing, this year (since I resigned in January), but I’ve been told they are planning to be on Publisher’s Row, again. I will be glad to meet up with my fellow authors from Oghma Creative Media.

Another school year is upon us and I will soon be having lunch with my grandchildren and reading for their classes, again. I am looking forward to it.

I will be back with another update as soon as I can. Things are moving along and life is good.

May your lives be as blessed as mine.

Keeping up

So much has been going on lately. I am not used to the fast pace my life has taken since I resigned from 4RV Publishing to focus on building my writing and editing career.

At the moment, so much is going on that I am having trouble keeping up. I hope you’ll forgive me for not posting more often.

Watch this page for some great info over the next week or two. I have a LOT to share.

Also, keep your eyes on my other website: JesPiddlin’s Books