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.

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.

The Craft of Writing Mini-Conference

FREE CONFERENCE

From the Tulsa NightWriters Club in Tulsa, OK

Who should attend the conference this Saturday, Nov. 5th?
Writers who are new.
Writers who have been around the block.
Writers who want to know more about the craft.
Writers who are not published.
Writers who are published.
Wannabe writers, who would like to know how hard or easy it is to write.
People who write books for children, teens, adults, old folks.
People who write fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.
People who write for magazines.
People who write for newspapers.
People who write books.
People who want to learn more about the books they read and how the really good ones can be so exciting.
YOU.

NOTE: You do not have to be a member of the club to attend. But, you do have to download the agenda/registration form at https://tulsanightwriters.wordpress.com/the-craft-of-writing-mini-conference , fill it out, and return it to the email address listed.

See you there!

The Summer Scoop

So, here’s the scoop. It’s summer. It’s HOT. We’ve had our grandchildren over, one by one, for two weeks, each. Well, the last one has been more in piece-meal visits. He’s a homesick boy, so he has to go home for a day or two in the middle. He’s at home, today. I miss him, but I have a moment to myself, too.

I hope you’re writing. If not, I hope you’re putting together some fabulous event for writers, or marketing your latest books. Do something writerly, today.

I’m working on last minute preparation for the Writing for Children workshop I’m holding this weekend. I’ve had some folks write in about it, which is always encouraging. At least two may be driving in from a little distance. I plan to offer some information not always shared by other speakers. I have some great door prizes for this week. If you’re interested, there’s more info at this website.

I found another conference I’d like to check out this September. I added it to my list of area events on my LINKS page. Are you going to any conferences, this year? Did I miss any area writers’ conferences in my links?

The new school year is about to start in most places. Some of my grandchildren will be going to new schools. I’m excited, but nervous for them. It’s almost like I’m the one going to the new schools.

I better get back to my planning. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on Saturday.

 

Conference Fears

Have you ever had the opportunity to go to a conference in your area of expertise, but you chose to stay home? Why? There are many reasons people don’t attend conferences and conventions. Here are a few.

1. Finances… Not everyone has the money to pay out hundreds of dollars for an event they aren’t even sure will help them. If you look around, you’ll find some events are more affordable than others. Check into them.
2. Fear of looking stupid… Don’t even allow this one to bend your brain. It’s not worth it. Everyone who attends a conference has a first time. Why do we keep going? That’s discussed soon enough. But fear of looking stupid is not an allowable excuse.
3. Fear of being found out… All of us feel a little under-educated in our field in the beginning, and sometimes later on. If you’re afraid you won’t know things others know, don’t worry. Plan on letting everyone else answer any questions at your first conference, unless you are absolutely certain of the answer. Silence while paying close attention to the speaker looks good on anyone.
4. Fear of not knowing anyone… Ask around to see who’s going. If you can’t find anyone you know who’s going, and you don’t like to go alone, bring a friend–even if you have to share a room or pay for part of their expenses.
5. Fear of big places or crowds… This one is a little harder to help you through, but if attend with a friend, it will help you focus more on learning and sharing with your friend and less on feeling swallowed in such a big atmosphere.
6. No time… Make time. Most conferences are worth every penny you pay and every minute you give up. Ask a family member to watch the kids for a couple of days. Find out which events are the best in your industry and region. Make it a point to attend one or two of those a year. If you can manage a trip to one or two of the best known national or international conferences, go.

What will you gain if you attend a conference that you can’t gain through a workshop or discussion with friends in the industry? Why do so many others attend conferences? Why do they keep going, again and again? What makes it worth all that?

1. Vital connections… Even if you don’t speak to them (but you should!), you will learn who makes things happen and has achieved the highest respect in your field. When you have questions or needs, you will feel more comfortable contacting them and asking for advice or references.
2. Surprises… Most likely, you’ll know more than one person at the event, especially if it is local. It doesn’t matter if you’re only acquaintances. If they know it’s your first time at that particular event, they’ll often introduce you to other professionals you need to connect with. You may have new friends when you return home.
3. Special offers… Sometimes, just being at an event gives you an opportunity to take advantage of special offers only given to those who attended the conference.
4. Support… A conference is about helping others achieve their highest goals in the field. It is about learning, sharing, and friendships; being part of a camaraderie in a larger field than the one you have been playing in, so far.
5. KNOWLEDGE… When you leave, you will most likely know much more about some things than you knew before. At the very least, you have gained confidence in your own skills and insight and that’s worth the trip, in itself. And that confidence will show in your everyday work, too.

If you’re a writer, editor, publisher, or even a reader who wants to know more about the field, you should attend a good conference or two each year. If you’re around northeastern Oklahoma, I have listed a few of the area events on my LINKS page. If you want to go to the same conferences I’m attending, you can find them listed on my EVENTS page. Let me know if it’s your first time and I’ll gladly spend a little time helping you adapt to the format and meet others who will help you along.

If you’re into people-watching, try sitting near the sign-up tables at a conference and watch as attendees walk near, but seem to be taking in too much at once. It makes many of us look lost, even if we’ve been there for the past three years. So, don’t be afraid to walk up and look lost with the rest of us. We’ll never know you’re a conference newbie unless you tell us. And since we’ve all been there, we understand how overwhelming it can seem compared to how simple it really is.

See you at the next conference!

I am currently packing to attend the Arkansas Writers’ Conference, in Little Rock, Arkansas, this weekend. Will I see you there? I hope so!

Workshops…

I finally got my workshops listed on the Designing the World with Words website. Click on the link at the top of this page to visit the website. I added a few new workshops for this year, including Writing for Children, Writing Emotion, and Basic Computer and Internet. I had a lot of requests for the last one, so I decided to offer it twice. Those who attend  it may request up to five things they’d like to learn and I’ll do my best to make those five things part of the workshop. I’ve tried to keep the prices as low as possible. Click on the link and see for yourself.

It’s almost time for my annual trip to Louisiana. There’s a cemetery meeting and folks who will be gathering for multiple reunions, as well as a story I want to finish writing at a couple of cemeteries. And I hope to spend a little time with some of my very special family members, too. Nobody is getting any younger and I want to make sure they all know how much I love them. I’m also looking forward to meeting some writers in the area. There’s a critique meeting on May 12th, in Minden. If you’re interested, visit Designing the World with Words and scroll toward the bottom, where you’ll find a link to WONLA.

Did I mention we’re raising chickens? Life has been a little crazy these past two months, but much of the reason is our wonderful flock of chicks: Bossy, Greta, Chippy, Scooby, Chloe, Zippy, Fluffy, and Thelma. I seem to be building chicken runs and over the next week, a chicken coop. I never run out of things to do around here. And just when I think I have a few spare minutes to relax, the chickens tear a hole in their box and I have to do some quick mending. I hope the outdoor contraptions are impossible to escape, when I’m finished building them.

I have actually had a couple of chances to write lately, so I’ve entered some writing contests. I hope my stories win some prize money. I am trying to find a few minutes here and there to enter more, soon.

Do you ever enter contests? Have you won a lot of prize money? What’s the best thing you ever won for a story you wrote?

 

 

Read.Write.Share! Writers Weekend — and Family Appreciation Day

It’s here! I can’t wait to see everyone at this great event. I am driving in from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Will you be there? I hope so. We have some wonderful things planned.

We have Iris M Williams, Brittany Reese, Janis Kearney, and ME lined up for sessions that will give you the head start you need in the publishing world. I can promise there will be lots of discussion!

I may have a very special surprise with me. I’m not sure, yet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On Saturday, April 9th, Gene and I will be celebrating our “best friends” anniversary. We’ve been best friends for 30 years, now. Because of the trust that grew from that friendship, we will also be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary in August. So, we have always called April 9th our FAMILY APPRECIATION DAY and encouraged others to use it for that, as well. Buy a simple, inexpensive gift for each of your family members, or go somewhere special together, just to celebrate how lucky you are to have each other. A single rose, a good book, a tank of gasoline, or just an afternoon free of housework can do wonders for a person. Show them how much you appreciate all of them. Make it an annual event… every April 9th. That’s when you’ll see we are celebrating. Always.

To my wonderful husband… If you happen to read this, I’m still very thankful for every year we’ve had together. I couldn’t think of a more handsome, more wonderful man to spend my life with. (I hope that’s okay with you.) I’m sorry I won’t be home until late, but you will be on my mind all day and I’ll be looking forward to hearing your voice on the phone! I love you!

 

Meet the Publishers! Monday, March 28th

To all authors, publishers, illustrators – anyone who wants to know:

Meet the Publishers! is coming to Tulsa in mere days. Learn how the publishers work with your books in different settings. This is a FREE event.

Monday, March 28th, 7:00 PM
Martin Regional Library (Auditorium)
2601 S. Garnett Rd., Tulsa, OK

Website: http://jespiddlin.com/designingtheworldwithwords/meet-the-publishers.html

See you all there!

This year’s event is brought to you by Tulsa Area Children’s Book Writers and Designing the World with Words.

Also…
– COMING ON APRIL 8TH AND 9TH –
In one fabulous weekend, learn how to take your manuscript from the first draft to book signing. Register soon! Time is running out! (Click on the flyer for more info.)

Read.Write.Share! Writers Weekend

 

Tulsa – Meet the Illustrators! Monday, March 14th

As the organizer of Tulsa Area Children’s Book Writers, I started a new thing, last year. I decided to introduce my writers to some local illustrators  and give them an opportunity to ask questions. It’s back this year and open to the world.


To all authors, publishers, illustrators – anyone who wants to know:

Meet the illustrators this coming Monday evening and bring all your questions! Learn how the illustrators work with your books in different publishing settings. This is a FREE event.

Monday, March 14th, 7:00 PM
Martin Regional Library (Auditorium)
2601 S. Garnett, Tulsa, OK

Website: http://jespiddlin.com/designingtheworldwithwords/meet-the-illustrators.html

See you all there!

This year’s event is brought to you by Tulsa Area Children’s Book Writers and Designing the World with Words.

Writing Believable Dialogue

This Saturday, August 22nd, I’ll be holding another workshop in Broken Arrow for folks who want a little more insight on writing believable dialogue. Visit the website for more information.

http://jespiddlin.com/designingtheworldwithwords/believabledialogue.html

In the meantime, here’s a tip:

Include the setting in the dialogue. Let your characters use that setting. Have them pick up the piece of paper they are talking about, stare at a picture on the wall, or spill a drink on new clothes.

People don’t just talk with their eyes closed, in the dark. There are things all around us. We move within that space and use those things. Let your characters do the same. Let them “experience” their surroundings the same way we do. When you go back to edit your work, don’t forget to make sure you activated all the readers’ senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) through the characters.

See you on Saturday!