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.

Dangerous Storms Cross the Nation

Tornado-Purple-1000x288Tornadoes are sweeping across the nation. When the number of tornadoes that dropped out of the clouds on Wednesday are finally determined, I wonder what those numbers will be. It’s not going to be just 5 or 10, and, unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of damage displayed on every news show and then some. They may make special TV shows about it, maybe even a movie. Some of the tornadoes have been huge and violent.

And there are the floods. Northern Oklahoma has been inundated with heavy rainstorms overfilling lakes, ponds, rivers, and reservoirs. So many of our lakes are nearly at their peak containment levels. That water has to be released and will flow southward. Hundreds, probably thousands of residents have been evacuated; told to grab what they can and get out. Their homes will be damaged or completely destroyed by floods. No way to save them. Just get out. Some homes are washing into the rivers and lakes as the rushing water claws and etches new boundaries along its southward path.

And the runaway barges… When and where will they settle? If they crash into the dam, they could cause massive destruction and more flooding downstream. But, where are they? Why haven’t they already reached the dam? Did some cowboys lasso them and prevent them from making their way there? Could we be so lucky that such superheroes might possibly exist? We need such a dream to come true, right now.

A lot of people will either sleep lightly or not at all, tonight. My heart goes out to those who have damage they are trying to deal with and nobody knows about it, yet. Nobody knows to come to the rescue, because the storms have refused to let up long enough to allow us to share such news.

When the sun rises in the morning, we will see thousands of photos of damage and destruction. We will hear unbelievable stories of people who stood in doorways or lawns and watched rotating storms pass them by, or others who barely escaped floods. We may even learn of lives lost. I sure hope not.

God bless those who are able to help others put their lives back together in even the smallest ways.

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?

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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!

Time keeps on moving along

A couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law passed away. But, time kept moving along. Everything she stood for lives on in those of us who loved her. My husband is the last survivor of that immediate family. We almost lost him more than once last year, so I feel very, very blessed. I’m probably also a bit over-protective of him. I hope everyone will keep that in mind as I try to relax that mode.

In about a month, we’ve also lost a good friend in the pool/billiards industry, three cousins, and a long-time friend’s dedicated husband.

Another friend lost her dog who helped her through some of her toughest days, and a very close friend (one of our classmates) within a couple days of each other. My heart breaks for her huge loss. She needed one to help her deal with the other, but she lost both. I hope to always be present when she needs a friend.

This has been a year of great losses. If you are also dealing with the loss of loved ones, my sympathies go out to you. It is not easy to lose someone, even if you have known they were suffering and moving in that direction for a long time.

But, life moves on. The world keeps on turning. Nothing stops just because of our losses. I once had a best friend whose heart sank every year during the holidays because he lost his grandparents at that time of year, when he was young. It was very hard to be a close friend and have his intentional depression looming over all of us during a time when our family was supposed to be cheerful and thankful for what we did have. We were thankful for him, as well, but he did not see that. I tried many times to help him feel better and to find a way to be LESS focused on his childhood losses and MORE focused and thankful for having the rest of his family and friends to enjoy during those months. But sadly, but we weren’t that important to him. He purposely focused on his loss, because he was afraid he would not be properly acknowledging his grandparents if he did not keep their memories and his loss constantly in his mind.

Most people would never want you to lose your happiness in order to remember what they stood for. You can honor their memories by being what they wanted you to be, or succeeding in what they did not expect. That would make them proud. And that can help you smile. Focus on doing that and be the happy person they loved.

Focus is the key. We have to intentionally FOCUS on the good of here and now, even if we can’t see it, yet.

It is not easy to let the past go. So many of us worry we will forget those who left us behind. Don’t forget to appreciate those who are still here and present and NEED us to be present, in return.

I HOPE, as I lose more of the people I am very close to, I will always be able to focus harder on those who are still here with me. I also hope that if I have trouble focusing, someone will care enough to help me along to that place. It is where I want to be.

Hmmm… This is not what my blog post was supposed to be about, but it seems to be what is on my mind. Maybe I am having to work a little harder on my own focus, right now. So, I’ll go do that and come back later to post the blog I intended. In the meantime, I hope this helps someone else, too.

New Things

In recent weeks/months:

I’ve been promoted to Children’s Corner Imprint Editor at 4RV Publishing. It has been a wonderful move for me, although I’m still adapting. I love my job!

I’ve got my own car to get around town, now. I love having my freedom, again.

Our son and his family have temporarily joined our household. I love having them here, but it does put a little crimp in my work time. I’m still learning to work around everyone and all the activities.

I have acquired a new “writing room.” When the weather permits, this is my private space to work. It is small, but warm and offers windows and a door to let the sun or breeze in, so the claustrophobia monster doesn’t disturb my progress.

Moments ago, I added a new page with links to books I’ve edited, or helped edit, etc. Click on the Edits link, above, to learn more.

See you again, soon!

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