Friday, October 28, 2011


I have to admit, this week's flash fiction prompt photo was a challenge!

An old stick of dynamite!

Visit Madison Woods' blog to read some great flash fiction based on her photo prompt!


     I found it in the damp, smelly darkness, as I crawled on my belly searching for the stench of something that died under the porch. Had I known what it was, I might not have dragged it into the light.
     What surprised me more—that it was an old stick of dynamite, or that it was wrapped by a letter?

     "If I cannot have Sarah and the child she carries, no one shall."

     Sarah. My mother.

     I stared at the letter. Was the relic of failed destruction it had wrapped all that I had of a father I never knew?

Sunrise and Sunset in Phuket

We arrived in Phuket, greeted by a spectacular sunset. The next morning, as if a jealous sister, the sunrise challenged the beauty of the night before by donning her colors of pink and orange.
We’d risen early, excited for our excursion to Phang Nga Island, better known as James Bond Island, named for the movie, Man with the Golden Gun.
I’d seen photographs of pristine beaches, pearl-white sands washed by azure waves, and its signature towering pillar-rock in the bay. I couldn’t wait to experience the area.

My first hint that the area might not be what we see in magazines and movies came at the dock where we boarded a large boat with approximately 50 other people. It was only one of about ten other boats departing from the dock. As we left the bay, we were joined by various other watercraft—from Thai long boats to huge speed boats, all racing to Phang Nga Island.

I wondered just how pristine those beaches would be.

The trip to the island took approximately an hour, and during that time I enjoyed meeting fellow passengers from all over the world – United Arab Emirates, England, France, Spain, Italy and Australia. In fact, our little group of four was the only group from the United States.

At last, the jutting rock formations began to appear ahead of us. Breathtaking does not adequately describe the beautiful, almost prehistoric landscape.

But as we turned into the first bay, I was disappointed to see the area flooded with boats, humanity oozing off of each. Dozens and dozens of inflatable canoes battled (though I must say, it was quite a polite “battle”) to get through the tiny opening to a cave that led to a secluded—though not solitary—lagoon.

At times, my thoughts alternated between enjoying the magnificence and thinking about how to balance leaving nature alone versus allowing humanity to enjoy it. After all, while I cursed the invasion of what was once untouched and unspoiled, I was one of the invaders.

I don’t mean to complain and don’t wish to imply that I didn’t enjoy the excursion. But I do have to say that when we finally arrived at the actual beach where the Bond movie was filmed, I was disheartened that the beach was flooded with vendors selling their wares, desperately trying to gain the attention of passengers disembarking the exhaust-surrounded longboats. Once I escaped the diesel fumes, I was accosted by the smell of toilets from an overwhelmed public bathroom.

Like a beehive surrounded by a swarm of bees, the pillar-rock was swarmed by tourists, though with enough patience, we were able to get a couple of photographs that made it look like we were the only people on the island.

The next day, I looked forward to our excursion to Phi Phi Island. From what I’d heard from people who had visited it, the area was cleaner and more secluded than Phang Nga Island, due to its distance from the main island of Phuket. But again, as we boarded a huge speed board with twenty-five other passengers, and as many other speed boats raced out of the harbor with us, I wondered just how clean and secluded it could be.

For an hour, we bounced over waves at a speed fast enough I had to hold onto everything around me. The engine was so loud I could hardly hear what the guide attempted to tell us about the island where The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed.
I remembered how beautiful the landscapes in the movie had been, and imagined myself walking along soft, white beaches, listening to the sound of waves rushing to the shore as  wind whispered through the palms.

But it was not to be.

We turned around a peninsula and the guide sighed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “Look. Too many boats and people. I suggest we skip this beach and spend more time snorkeling later.”
Though disappointed, I had to agree. With speed boats parked side-by-side and people swarming the beach like ants, it was far from the idyllic fantasy I’d had in my mind.

Once again, I wondered about the balance of nature versus tourism. How long can paradise remain paradise, once too many people have overrun it?

Still, I was awed by the color of the water all around us, with hues that ranged from deep blue to blue-green to light turquoise, so clear I could see the colorful fish swimming below the surface. I couldn’t wait to jump in to experience the world below.

Finally, the captain stopped the boat. We put on our snorkel gear and jumped in. The water was cool against my sunburned skin and I tasted the salt of the ocean.  When at last, I dipped below the surface, I was greeted by a school of yellow and black striped fish and a soft clicking sound all around me. Every time I make the transition from the dry world to the ocean world, I am awed by the sudden peace and softness enfolding me.

But I couldn't ignore the occasional plastic bag I found wrapped around the coral, or the destruction of the reef. It was clear that this was yet another area that had been overcome by humanity ravenous to experience unspoiled nature. Yet, in experiencing it, we are spoiling it.

At the end of the excursion, the speed boats raced each other--as well as the receding tide--back to the harbor. In fact, the boat that followed us ran aground in the shallow water and had to wait for almost an hour for the tide to rise enough to return.

At the end of an incredible, yet ambivalent day, I watched another spectacular sunset.
I couldn’t help comparing the sunrise and sunset to the life of Phuket itself. If tourism is like its sunrise, bringing much needed money to its economy, is it also on a path of exploiting itself to its detriment, drawing toward a sunset that will not be nearly as beautiful as those I enjoyed?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Train Sounds

Last night, I fell asleep to the sound of a train in the distance. With the rumble of the engine and the mournful song of the horn came a flood of memories. For much of my life, I lived in the proximity of train tracks and I was surprised by how its sounds returned memories to me.

When I was a child living in California, my house was only a block away from a track. Several times during the day, the windows and doors in our house rattled as the trains passed. I remember walking along the tracks, imagining where they would lead me if I kept walking. When I felt the ground rumble with an approaching train, my heart quickened with anticipation for the frightening energy of what approached.

And for more than 25 years, I lived within hearing range of a train that passed by our neighborhood several times a day. Often, as I lay in bed at night, I would listen for the train. Sometimes it came as a lullaby, soothing me to sleep with its deep rumble. Sometimes it was a soundtrack to my dreams, taking me to far away places. Sometimes it serenaded my loneliness.

Last weekend, my poem , "Sayonara," won second place at Ozark Creative Writers Conference. It is in the Tanka form, (Five lines, not to exceed 31 syllables) which is a form of Japanese poetry similar to Haiku (Three lines, 5-7-5 syllables):

Comes a sudden storm,
Words crash like thunder
But silence rings louder.
A train whistles far away,
I hug my pillow closer.

Does the sound of a train return memories to you? Are there other sounds that bring forth recollections of the past?

Monday, October 10, 2011

How Rambo Helped Me Find My Groove

Though my annual trek to Eureka Springs is always filled with learning and laughter, I wondered if I should skip this year's Ozark Writers Conference. We are leaving for Thailand tomorrow and items on my Things-To-Do-Before-I-Leave list keep popping up like dandelions in springtime.

But the keynote speaker was David Morrell, creator of Rambo, as well as dozens of other bestsellers, and I am always drawn to successful authors who are willing to share their experiences and knowledge with fledgling writers. Still, after attending countless conferences and listening to many authors—and with my Things-To-Do-Before-I-Leave list looking like a field of yellow weeds—I wondered if I'd learn anything new.

Fortunately, I decided to attend and keep an open mind. You see, Mr. Morrell and Rambo gave me an "aha moment."

He told us about his history--about his abusive stepfather and his resulting troubled youth. He described his fascination with the 1960's television series, Route 66 and how it led to his interest in writing, which ultimately inspired him to contact co-creator and screenwriter for the series, Stirling Sillliphant. Mr. Silliphant replied, establishing a path that would lead David Morrell to become the writer and man he is today.

So what was my "aha moment?" The theme of Mr. Morrell's discussion was to pay attention to our daydreams. He told us that in those daydreams, we would see the theme that would open up our writing. Mr. Morrell talked about his fear, even despising, of his stepfather, and described some of his daydreams and fantasies that reflected those emotions. As he spoke, I stared out the window and began to daydream about my daydreams, wondering what about their central theme.

Then, it hit me. The "aha moment."

Of course, because of its very nature, I hesitate to say, worried that one will think it silly or dumb, or simply too plain. But it's the truth, and that is a part of what hit me. My daydreams, as well as almost everything I write, has the theme of wanting to be understood, and once understood, accepted. We all need to break out of the cocoon--what others expect us to be--to free ourselves to become who we truly are.

I wrote a haiku as the opening to my short story, "The Butterfly's Song," which won 2nd Place for the Showcase Award at this year's conference.

A caterpillar
Crept along her timid path
Until she grew wings

"The Butterfly's Song" is a short story taken from my novel, Broken Dolls, in which each of my three characters, Sachi, Nobu and Terrence, deal with the back and forth struggle of being understood and accepted. Two will find success in that truth, and one will not.

Sometimes, the shell of my cocoon is so thick and stringy, it chokes my writing. But upon hearing the courage in David Morrell's presentation, I realized if I withhold my truth, whether in my life or my writing, then any misundertanding of who I am is only my fault.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of thanking David Morrell. Funny, before this weekend, I would never have dreamed I'd have any reason to thank Rambo. But I do.

I would love to hear from any other conference attendees who may have had an "aha moment." Or, if you didn't attend the conference, what is the single thread that weaves through your daydreams?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Departure #fridayflash #fridayfictioneers #100words

It's always been my favorite day of week, and now I have another reason I look forward to Fridays.


Madison Woods is the founder of this fun group. Here's the picture she posted for our flash fiction prompt this week:


At dawn each morning
He comes to me with the mist.
Why must they leave me?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The World Beyond a Dirty Windshield

It's a beautiful autumn morning. As I drove into town, I decided to record the segment of my drive that takes me to the only stop sign along the way, hoping to share the first whispers of reds and golds in the trees, the blue sky above.

I found myself thinking, "Dang, I wish I didn't have such a dirty windshield. It's ruining everything."

I told myself the world was still beautiful, beyond that dirty windshield. Of course, as a writer, I saw this as a metaphor for life. How often do we get so caught up in focusing on the dirty windshield--the bugs, the day-to-day problems in our lives--instead of focusing on the good and beautiful things?

There's a big, beautiful world out there, if only we can see beyond our dirty windshields.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hog Jowls and Caviar: An Interview with Author, Pamela Foster

I still remember first listening to Pamela Foster read Redneck Goddess at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop. Let's see. How can I best phrase how I felt, listening to her story? Have you ever felt tension and longing as you watched a performer, artist or athlete struggle through a performance? And then comes another  performer, so completely competent that you are able to let down, relax and enjoy the show? Well, Pamela is that second performer, and that's how I feel every time I hear or read something that she has written. She is a master of combining humor with elegant prose - thus the title of this interview, Hog Jowls and Caviar, taken straight from her book, Redneck Goddess, released earlier this year and now available on Amazon.

I hope you enjoy getting to know Pamela as much as I have. I know you'll see some of the magic of her writing in her words below.

Q. What first influenced you to write?

As a kid, I lived mostly in my head. I used to stay up half the night, lying in bed, living life as a pioneer woman or as a cowgirl or--and this scenario crossed over into erotica as the estrogen kicked in--as the slave of a gladiator. When I was eleven I was diagnosed with scoliosis. What followed was three years of body casts, surgeries and about eight months in bed. This is when I began to write. The ability to create a world that I could drop into and disappear was honed during that time.

Q. In Redneck Goddess, you've created characters (Goo Goo, Julio, Aunt Ruth,) that readers will be completely drawn into, and places, (Noisy Creek) that live in our imaginations. What do you think is most important in a story: characters, sense of place or something else?

Well, first of all, thank you. Nothing makes an author happier than knowing a reader has fallen into the world she created. I think being your character, each character, as you write is critical. I've never acted, but I imagine it's very similiar to what an actor does to get into a part.

Generally, I know what scene I want to write, what information I'm trying to convey to the reader. But, once the words start to flow from my fingertips to the screen, the characters themselves know what to do, how to react. Many times I'll begin a chapter with one thing in mind, only to have a character balk at the words or actions I envisioned. I always listen to my characters. The process is similar to what preachers call 'getting out of the way and letting the spirit flow through you.' If the people in the story are not real, no matter what else you get right, no one is going to be inspired to keep reading. I see sense of place as part of the development of the characters, because the reader, and the writer, is seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, tasting the world through these characters. A grumpy, negative character is going to experience a day in the woods much differently than a joyful person. Every word has to match the mood and personality of the character living it.

I use the weather as a character in my books. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the fog and rain and wind, this is easy to see and to feel. I'll fess up to the truth here. I did this automatically, with no thought whatsoever.  But, once it was pointed out to me, I have honed the skill, employed the art more and, I think, better. The use of weather as a living-thing is in Redneck Goddess, but in Bigfoot Blues, it's much more intense, much more an integral part of the book.

Having said all this, to me, voice is the most important quality of a book. It's hard to define, but like they say about pornography, we all know it when we see it. Voice is the difference between the authentic and the fake. It's partly a product of the writer being comfortable in their own words and partly about being honest.

Q.You have created such beautiful, "ah"-inspiring prose in much of your writing. How do you write? do you create a "shitty" first draft (in the words of Anne Lamott) or do you perfect as you go? 

Actually, my first drafts are often longer, with more description, more detail and more mood setting than the final edited version of the book.  This happens especially in the first few chapters, because I'm still dropping into the bodies of the characters.  Still getting inside their heads and finding the experiences that make them who they are. Once I've gotten that solid, then there are really very few changes in the writing.  Line editing.  Misspelled words or, my nemesis - the incorrect use of dashes or hyphens.

Q. Any writing quirks you'd like to share? What's the best piece of writing advice you've gotten? 

Quirks, huh?  Well, let's see. I know Jan, that you've talked and written about interviewing your characters and I've heard the beautiful results of those interviews.  Ruth Burkett Weeks says the characters speak through her.  I may be misquoting Ruth, but I think that's the general idea and certainly the process works for Ruth. Her characters could not be more real.

For me, the characters live in a world and I simply step into that world. I don't mean to get all supernatural here and I don't necessarily mean other dimensions or parallel universes.  Though I'm not ruling that out either.
The best piece of advice I've received. That's tough. Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards and everyone at the  Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop have helped me improve my writing.  That's a given. But I think the most beneficial thing ever said to me about my writing came from my husband.  When I was lamenting, pissing and moaning about yet another rejection letter, he said simply, "If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else is gonna believe in you either." For me, the writing is as easy as breathing and darn near as important for my survival.  It's the self-promotion and marketing and walking past fifty rejections to get to the one glorious acceptance -- that's the difficult part of being an author.

Q. If you could only write one more thing in your life, what would you write about?

Ah. A trick question.

The Buddha taught that we can never enter the same river twice. To me that means that everything changes.  No two moments are the same. The creative river in my head holds thousands of possibilities.  The choice of which one to focus on and spend months clarifiying, changes from day to day.

At the moment I'm concentrating on the sequel to Bigfoot Blues, tentatively titled Loony Ticks. Once that's completed, I'll dip back into the creative river and see what hits me in the head and gets my attention.

Visit Pamela at:

Contact Pamela at:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Swallowed by Ugly

Sometimes I think the world is being swallowed by ugliness. Bickering in Congress, so vitriolic they can't seem to get anything done. Bullying so despicable it drives a person to take his life. Nasty comments on the internet. Constant griping about whatever is wrong in our daily lives.

You know it's gotten pretty bad when pictures like this appear on Facebook.
Usually, I tune most of it out. But lately, I feel like I'm being swallowed by it, too. The constant griping, complaining and arguing. A lack of respect for others.

It happens all around us, so much so that it's begun to feel almost normal to me. Then, last week, I saw a story about a 14-year old boy named Jamey Rodemeyer. It was another incident of a teen who had been bullied so relentlessly, he committed suicide. Sadly, these kinds of stories have been in the news so much, even they have become almost "normal." What??

But Jamey's story especially, struck a nerve. This young man struggled to help others who might be going through the same thing. Even through his own pain, he tried to get the message out that "it gets better," until it became too much for him, and he took his own life.

Jamey's story broke my heart. It made me think that we have not progressed beyond a pack mentality.  We sense weakness, whatever makes a person different--whether it's race, religion, sexual orientation, political philosophy--and we attack like wolves, hungry to destroy whatever "stands out" and makes us uncomfortable. Whether we know it's wrong or not, sometimes it feels more comfortable to "run with the pack," rather than to stand up against it or fight it.

I didn't intend this post to be only about bullying, though that is serious enough. But bullying is just a byproduct of the pervasive ugliness.

Is it worse than it used to be, or in our world of the internet and 24-hour media, do we just hear about it more? Perhaps our high-tech world enables it to spread more quickly, a contagion of ugliness. Are we all so miserable that we need to draw others into our pack?

Whether it's worse or not, how do we stop it?

Accentuate the positive.

I still remember waking one morning as a teenager, with this strange concept flashing in my brain like a neon sign. I thought I'd made it up and was pretty darn proud of thinking of such a profound and simple statement. Of course, later I learned it wasn't my creation, but the title of a song written by Johnny Mercer in 1944. I must have heard it somewhere, sometime, and placed it in a jam-packed, disorganized drawer in my mind, labeled, "Neat Things to Remember When Needed."

For some reason--maybe it was my parents' divorce, or the loss of my first love--I pulled the phrase out of storage that morning long ago, and it has been with me ever since.

Still, even as I recite the quote, I hear a collective, "Ick," or "Oh, brother." But I don't care. It's what is needed today. Rather than focusing on all that we DISAGREE on, why not focus on what we AGREE on?

When we are uncomfortable with someone we perceive to be DIFFERENT, why not focus on what is the SAME?

When we are having such a BAD day that we have to make others' days miserable too, why not focus on what's GOOD about the day? And if you can't find something good, take a deep breath and be grateful for that breath.

There's something good--positive--in everything and everyone. Find it. Maybe then, instead of ugliness eating away at each of us, we can eat away at ugliness instead.