Creative Business 101: What to Say When You Have Nothing to Say

“There is nothing new.”

Anyone who has ever attempted to create something new has come across some version of this lie.

How can I write a book or a song, paint a picture, or start a business that is completely original? “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Well, guess what? You’re right.

That is not the lie.

The lie is the subtext of this thought. The lie is that we we think this means:

“There is nothing new, and therefore it is pointless to try.”

“I can’t say it better than it’s been said before, so why bother?”

“It’s been done before.”

WRONG.

People have been creating stories, images, ideas, and more for thousands of years. Why do we do that? Is it because we have all of these brand-new-never-been-seen-before inventions that pop into our skulls like a bolt out of the blue? No. It’s because ideas evolve. One thing sparks a slightly different thing, which goes on to spark a few more.

Human beings are especially primed to understand and love stories. We love stories because they follow recognizable patterns, but surprise us with their details. We see the same archetypes represented throughout literary and art history. They get little makeovers to suit the current generations, but the tropes have been around for a long time.

This is why books that follow a traditional structure become so much more successful than the experimental ones. This is why popular music follows particular trends. Why art can be categorized by the period it was created in. It’s even why we can pass five different sandwich joints on our way to work.

No one likes new ideas.

New ideas are scary. It takes people a really long time to warm up to new things. If you think you are going to become a successful writer/musician/artist/entrepreneur by doing something completely new and original…

It’s not going to happen.

Or at least, it’s very unlikely to happen that way. First of all, coming up with something truly new and original is extremely difficult to do. Second of all, even if you could do that, people would be too afraid to give you a chance.

If you want to pursue your passion for the sheer joy of doing what you love, go ahead and try for those new ideas. But if you really want to build an audience or a customer base, it’s best to stick to what people know.

But I don’t want to be like everybody else!

You aren’t. And that’s what makes this whole crazy thing work. Listen up.

Whatever you are working on right now, you have been inspired by those who came before you. Your book could be inspired by an artist, your song could be inspired by a sandwich joint. It doesn’t matter. The point is, creativity does not happen in a void.

Are there any completely original ideas left? Not many. Can you still make your project original?

Of course!

You are unique.

Whatever it is you want to do has been done before. But it hasn’t been done by you. The way you do it will be just a little bit different from the way the next person does it, and this is how you find your audience.

You are the secret sauce, my friend. The way that you take all of those little bits and pieces of inspiration and mash them together is your brand. No one can do it like you can. Even with the exact same set of inspirations, with the exact same creative prompts, with the exact same business proposal, you will execute it differently.

Because there is no one exactly like you out there.

If everybody is special, then no one is special.

Okay, now you’re just being a downer.

Let’s take a moment to think about why we like the things we like. What do you like best about the bloggers you follow, the restaurants you eat at, the music shows you go to?

Would you rather go to a crowded chain restaurant where the server barely makes eye contact and you have to jump on your chair, waving your arms in the air just to place a drink order? Or would you like a small, family run business where the owner comes out and tells you how much your patronage means to them?

Would you rather go to a massive, sold-out stadium concert where you can barely see your favourite band? Or would you rather see them in a smaller venue, meet them with a VIP pass, and get your T-shirt signed?

Would you rather browse endless, sterile how-to blogs that read like an instruction manual? Or do you want to hear personal anecdotes, have your questions answered in the comments section, and provide feedback that affects future articles?

I can probably guess your answers.

So what makes you special?

The bits of yourself that you share, along with your process, that help people get to know you. To care about you. Essentially, it’s intimacy.

Intimacy matters.

In an increasingly digital world, intimacy has become more important than ever. We lack basic human connection in almost every facet of our daily lives. Even our relationships with our friends and family are filtered through screens most of the time.

Your project is a reflection of you. Even if you are doing a cover of your favourite song. If you’re writing fan fiction. If you’re duping recipes from Krispy Kreme donuts. There is a piece of you going into the final product (hopefully not literally into the donuts, though.)

Big famous writers, musicians, actors, and business people don’t have time for all of their fans. They might pay someone to answer fan mail and have scheduled meet-and-greets or do select interviews. But it is impossible for someone to keep up with thousands, if not millions of fans.

That’s good news for us little guys. That’s what gives us the edge. We don’t have to have a completely new and original idea. What is original these days is our ability to connect with our fans, followers, and customers. Intimacy is our edge.

Quit worrying about being original, and start being yourself.

What do you have to offer that no one else does?

Yourself. You must show people who you are, engage with your followers, fans, and customers. Give them a little piece of you beyond the “product.”

I’m a speculative fiction writer. My first book came out in 2014, The Timekeepers’ War. Is it the best book ever written? No. Is it completely original? Again, no.

Why should anyone buy my book? It’s pretty fun, for one thing, if I do say so myself. But this is the biggest reason I hope readers find my books:

I want to connect with them.

I love getting comments on the blog, or my Instagram account. I even started my Facebook page up again, so you can find me there, too (please do! It needs all the help it can get).

And I always, always, always respond to emails, comments, and DMs from my readers. I love it. That is my true passion. Connecting with people.

Connection is a win win. I get feedback on my published work and then apply that to my next book or short story. My fans make a difference to me, to my work, and I hope I make a difference to them.

And that is something no big-name block buster writer can offer them.

There is nothing new. So What?

Get out there. Share your work. Find your people. Start that business. Meet your fans and customers and start letting people in on who you are.

You never know. Your next super-fan might be watching.

Creative Business 101: Imposter Syndrome aka Why You Are Self-Sabotaging (And How to Stop!)

There comes a time in nearly everyone’s life when they are struck by a sudden fear that they are a fraud. No matter how much evidence you have for your skills, success, and potential, there is a niggling little worm in the brain that whispers “You’re a fake! You’re a loser! This is never going to work!”

In fact, the more successful one becomes, the more likely they are to suffer from these kinds of anxieties and insecurities. It’s called Imposter Syndrome.

Who Gets Imposter Syndrome?

Everyone is vulnerable to Imposter Syndrome, but some groups of people more so than others.

  • Entrepreneurs who see a sudden surge of success are more likely to be hit buy fear and insecurity than those who have had to build their business up slowly over time.
  • Creatives are more susceptible than those in traditional occupations because there is so much social pressure to have a “real job.”
  • Women and minorities are more likely to doubt their worth than others.

If you fall into more than one of these categories, you might be at higher risk than others.

10 Signs You Suffer From Imposter Syndrome

  1. You don’t think you’re anything special.
  2. You think others can easily achieve the things you have.
  3. You feel generic and replaceable, a placeholder in your field.
  4. You give other people credit for your success, thinking “I couldn’t have done it with out so and so’s help.”
  5. You feel uncomfortable when others praise your skills and achievements.
  6. You believe your connections are more valuable than your actual skills.
  7. You believe people who praise you are just trying to be kind, or you mistrust praise as flattery with an ulterior motive.
  8. You attribute past successes to luck or being in the right place at the right time.
  9. You believe you haven’t worked hard enough to deserve the success you have had.
  10. You are afraid that other people will realize you aren’t as great as they thought, that you have somehow tricked them into believing you are better at your job than you really are.

2 Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome That Are Hurting You

If you frequently find the above thoughts passing through your brain, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Unfortunately, the damage of Imposter Syndrome is deeper than just self-consciousness. Your fear of being a fraud can actually drive self-sabotaging behaviours.

Overworking Yourself

Some people, when struggling with feelings of inadequacy and a fear of being discovered as a fake, believe they must work harder than anyone else in order to make up for their perceived deficiencies. These people show up early, stay late, take on extra projects, and work themselves to the bone. Then, after they do all that extra work, they try to minimize their efforts as if anyone else would do the same thing!

Procrastinating

On the flip side, the belief that you must be perfect in order to be worthy can result in a paralyzing fear of starting anything. People suffering from Imposter Syndrome will often make excuses for why they can’t take the next steps they need to make in their business or creative projects, because they are convinced that failure is not an option. Failure will expose them as the frauds they are!

Cure Yourself of Imposter Syndrome

Negative thoughts have power over us when they are allowed to fester and squirm around our brains unchecked. The longer they exist without being challenged the more real they become to us.

If you believe you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome there are some simple steps you can follow to shine a light on that wormy dark place in your brain.

The Emotional Rx

  • Acknowledge the negative beliefs to yourself, and identify them as toxic thoughts.

The Social Rx

  • Talk to someone close to you about them: your partner, close friends, family members, and colleagues. Share your experiences, and listen to theirs. You may find comfort in knowing that others have the same thoughts and fears.

The Mental Rx

  • If these beliefs are out of control and are taking over your life, seek the help of a mental health professional. In fact, seeing a counsellor regularly can be a great tool for setting and achieving your goals, even when you aren’t suffering from negative thoughts.

The Physical Rx

  • Learn a new skill, completely outside the sphere of your usual work. Allow yourself to be an amateur. Allow yourself to fail and to learn. Get comfortable with not being perfect. Then see if you can apply this newfound freedom to your professional life as well!

Conclusion

As more and more people are working from home, pursuing creative work, and starting their own businesses, it is important for us to talk about the very real threat that Imposter Syndrome has on us and our livelihoods. Fortunately there are many resources out there to help you if you are struggling with negative beliefs about yourself.

Discussion

Have you ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome? How did you handle it? Do you have any advice for others in your field? Please share in the comments!

April Update: It’s Still Winter

My garden. This is no April Fool’s joke.

I know I’m not alone when I say 2020 isn’t exactly working out the way I planned. Somehow I neglected to account for a global pandemic, massive economic shut down, suddenly having to home-school my three kids, and being temporarily laid off in my World Domination Schematics. Also, we appear to be trapped in an eternal winter.

I’d ask for help, but we’re not allowed to actually do that in person any more. Please send warm thoughts, if nothing else. My seedlings could use a little pep talk.

Among other things, the turmoil caused by COVID-19 has also disrupted the attention of my beta readers and I have only received feedback from one person. My husband. He pretty much has to do these things for me, though. Even when the rest of the world falls apart, I demand support for my pipe-dreams.

The good news is, he hasn’t found any major plot issues. Other than fixing a few detail inconsistencies, I am ready to package it up for my publisher more or less on schedule. I would have like to have more eyes on it, but I trust my editors to help me with the final polish. Hopefully the upcoming recession isn’t going to delay publication too much. If so, I may have to look at other options to get Book Two out to the world.

One other exciting thing I’m working on is some character art! I’ve commissioned two artists with very different styles to illustrate some scenes from both The Timekeepers’ War and Ghostlights. As soon as they are complete I will be sharing them here and on my Instagram feed. So stay tuned for that! I’d love to see some other artists try their hand at these characters, too, so if that is something you’d be interested in let me know.

I have started an online Permaculture Design Course to help stave off the stir-crazies and ease the transition to my new garden site once the snow finally melts. Gardening has become one of the things I look forward to the most right now, and which helps to ease the anxiety of our current situation. I hope you are staying safe, keeping sane, and reaching out in the midst of all this madness.

Tell me, what are you most looking forward to these days? How are you staying present? Let’s share our ideas!

Blood, Sweat, Tears… and Success!

I take it all back. You’re pretty cool.

So last week, I had a bit of a vent after a particularly horrendous bout of drafting, editing, and rewriting. In my mentally and emotionally exhausted state, I said some pretty terrible things about my friend, Fantasy.

So I’m a little embarrassed to share this next piece of news with you.

That horrible, no good, very bad story I was writing? Well, all of the figurative blood, sweat, and literal tears paid off. I won second place in The Arcanist’s Magical Short Story Contest! You can see the announcement HERE.

This is all extremely exciting to me. I’ve never won a real writing contest before. I have yet to sell one of my short stories in a semi-pro or pro market (but I’m working on that!).

And second place came with a $250 USD cash prize which, I’m pretty sure, is more than my book made in the first year. This is officially my most successful piece of fiction writing!

Better yet, the winning stories and the runners up, will be published in a collection called Magic, Mayhem & Monsters coming out later this week!

Stay tuned!

I’ll post a link as soon as I have one.

The absolute best thing about this whole experience, though, is how validating it is to be recognized after I worked so hard on this story. I say it all the time: if you keep working, keep failing, and keep trying again, eventually you will succeed. That is all you have to do. And sometimes it sucks (just see my rant). Sometimes I feel like I’m just telling myself this fairy tale to drive off the swirling void of depression. But it’s proven true once again.

Fail. Learn from it. Fail again. Keep trying. Your next attempt will be a little bit better. Eventually you’ll get it right!

I’m newly motivated to keep working on my short story submissions this year. And as my editor friend has assured me, it won’t always be this hard. The more you fall down, the easier it gets to pick yourself up again. You start to notice those cracks in the sidewalk before you catch your toe. Practice makes progress.

Now I need to send a huge shout out to my readers during this whole process. Some of these benevolent spirits read every single draft! That’s a lot of work in a very short time. And even those who were only able to read one version all gave me valuable insight into what was working and what wasn’t. I couldn’t have done it without you guys! I should get them to write the next installment of Critique Mystique.

Thank you to everyone who reads this, and comments, and offers support on my bad days. I’m so glad you’re here to celebrate my successes with, too!

“Making Suds” by S.C. Jensen: 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition

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Note: This is a re-post in order to make my short stories easier to find. You can read the original here.

Once upon a time, when stories flowed like rivers and rivers were never what they seemed, there was a girl. Her name was Suds. It wasn’t her real name, but her parents were soap-makers and they thought themselves very clever.

They were also very sad. Suds’ parents longed for another child. In fact, the soap-makers whispered that they were cursed.

Suds knew that was nonsense. But that was the way of grown-ups, she thought, always wishing for more and forgetting what they’ve got.

Then, when Suds was twelve years old, her mother gave birth to a baby boy. Suds loved her brother. Everyone was very happy.

With her parents so distracted, Suds enjoyed her freedom. She roamed the woods outside their village, picked berries, snared rabbits, chased pheasants, and never once thought about making soap.

The weeks turned into months, and her parents’ infatuation with the new baby grew. The family needed money. But neither the mother nor the father could bear to leave the boy, not for a moment.

“Suds, we need you to go down to the river today,” her mother said one morning. She rocked the baby boy and cooed.

“For what?” Suds asked.

“You must leach the lye and make the soap,” her father explained. “Or soon we will starve.”

“Alone?”

“Your brother needs us,” her parents said. “We need you. Please go to the river today.”
Suds collected her tools and glared at the soap-makers.

“Don’t forget your gloves,” her mother said, looking at the baby. “And don’t talk to the Nixe.”

Down at the river, Suds built up a fire. She hauled the great iron tub up over the coals, filled it with water, and waited for the water to boil.

All the while, a creature watched her from the bank. Suds never looked directly at it. If she did, it was sure to start talking to her. River spirits loved to talk to children, especially children who were not with their parents. The thing crept closer. It smelled of rotting fish.

“What are you doing, child?”

Suds ignored the Nixe and stirred the water in the tub. She hummed quietly to herself and waited for the water to boil.

“Where are the grown ones, girl?”

Suds ignored the Nixe and watched the bubbles begin to rise from the bottom of the iron tub. She hummed quietly to herself and shovelled some ashes into the boiling water.

“Let me try, will you?”

At this, Suds looked up. The Nixe cocked its head. Milk-white eyes rolled in sockets of water-logged flesh. The fish smell was much worse up close. Suds knew better than to make a deal with a river spirit. But she longed to go exploring in the forest.

So Suds showed the Nixe how to keep the fire hot, boil the water, scoop the ashes, and skim the lye. And, most importantly, she showed the creature how to protect its delicate skin from burning with the heavy leather gloves. Soon, the creature was doing all the work for her.

“Delightful!” The spirit’s black tongue flashed out between its lips and it tugged at the gloves. “But this soap-making is giving me an appetite. Let us make a deal. I will do your work for you if you bring me something to eat.”

“I can fish,” Suds replied warily.

“I hate fish. All I eat is fish. Cold and slimy and flip-flopping,” the creature said. “No. Bring me a basket of berries from the forest and I will make fifty bars of soap.”

Fifty bars of soap was twice as many as Suds could make in a day. It was a deal worth taking. So she went off to gather berries and enjoy a day in the forest.

When she returned with the berries, the Nixe bared its sharp teeth in a smile. It gobbled the berries up, presented the pile of soaps, and leapt into the river with a splash. Suds carried the soaps home to her parents.

The soap-makers were thrilled. They hugged Suds and praised her and wondered how they had been blessed with such a wonderful daughter. Suds basked in their love and privately vowed to make a deal with the river spirit again tomorrow.

“I will make one hundred bars of soap for you,” the Nixe said the next morning. “If you bring three plump, juicy rabbits to fill my belly.”

Suds knew her snares were full and she looked forward to another day in the woods. She took that bargain, too. And when she returned, the Nixe had all of her soaps prepared. Again, she returned a hero to her parents. The next day the price was six pheasants. Suds thought herself very lucky.

But on the fourth day, the Nixe was harder to please.

“I am very, very hungry,” the river spirit said. “Today I need something more.”

“What is your price?” asked Suds.

“I will make your soaps for the rest of your life,” the Nixe fluttered its gills and sniffed. “But you must bring me the baby.”

“That,” said Suds, “is something I will not do.”

“You will,” said the Nixe. “Or I will have you instead. I am very, very hungry.”

“No!” Suds lunged at the Nixe, but it was a slippery creature and much wilier than the girl. The river spirit slipped right out of Suds arms and it shoved her into the hot tub of lye.

The Nixe knew just what to do. It pulled on the protective gloves, and stirred the pot. When Suds’ bones had dissolved, it made the broth into soap.

Then, the river spirit drew upon its glamour. It turned itself into a girl, very like Suds, but for the wet hem of its dress and the rumbling of its stomach. And it brought the bars of soap to the grateful mother and father.

And everyone lived happily ever after. Except, of course, the soap-makers.

***********************************************************************************

“Making Suds” was my submission for Round Two of the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. My assignment was Genre: Fairy Tale, Location: a hot tub, Object: a pair of gloves. I placed third overall in my group. The judges feedback is below:

Judges Feedback:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1651}  This has all of the elements of a classic fairytale. We gets a strong sense of Suds and that she would rather play in the forest than make soaps.  {1597}  I really enjoyed the classic fairy tale structure you used, complete with negligent parents and children who just want to wander in the woods. The kind of Faustian deal with the Nixe was fun to read about. The ending is dark but satisfying.  {1739}  In the beginning, Suds seems to be clever and her deals are basically made in the hopes of her parents’ adoration. The anticipation built as we work toward the payoff is well paced.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1651}  If a creature told you that it was going to eat you, why would you lunge for it? Instinctually, it does not make sense. I also didn’t understand the ending; why did the soapmakers not live happily ever after? For all they know, they still have their two children and all the soaps they can sell.  {1597}  One flag that was raised for me is that since the parents are aware of the Nixe and warn her not to speak to it, they would probably be suspicious when she comes home with 50 perfect soaps on her first day. It seems strange they wouldn’t have suspected and put a stop to it. Also, I wasn’t sure I believed Suds would be reluctant to sacrifice her baby brother. I’m not sure if you need that last line.  {1739}  If the Nixe has the ability to ‘glamour’ why hasn’t it done this already and worked its way into a home? Why would a river sprite be able to live in disguise as a human? Suds doesn’t display any love for her brother. Why wouldn’t she agree to hand him over?

Assignment #1: 2019 NYC Midnight Short Story Competition

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Our assignments for the first round of this year’s NYC Midnight Short Story competition arrived at midnight EST last night. I was violently ill earlier in the evening, and was blissfully asleep when they were posted. But it was the first thing I looked at when I woke up this morning (now feeling totally fine, thankfully). I just thought I share my assignment with you, since I thought it was funny. It will definitely push me to write something different than I otherwise would, which is the whole point, really. Even if it does seem a bit *ahem* cheesy *ahem*.

Genre: a Fairy Tale
Subject: Superhuman
Character: a cheese maker
Words: 2500

We have eight days to submit the first story (considerably longer than the 48 hours they give you for the Flash Fiction competition!) and I aim to get my first draft done this weekend so I have lots of time for revisions.

I think my story last year could have placed better if I’d had my first draft done earlier and had time to apply all the suggestions my writing groups gave me! You can read that one here if you want to: Flash Fiction Friday: “Tongue Tied” by S.C. Jensen. I am still going to do those revisions, though, and include the resulting work in the short story collection I plan to release this year. You know what, I’m feeling a bit inspired after reading this piece by Matthew Whiteside over at Seeking Purpose Today, so let’s give that a solid deadline. I plan to release it in September! <– Hold me to it, folks!

Anyway, I thought you all might get a kick out of this assignment. I wonder if I’ll be able to pull it off in my usual style–festering, my husband calls it. Are any of my fellow writers inspired by this prompt? Feel free to join me and post your own versions (link in the comments if you do!)

I’ll share what I come up with in 7 days, 11 hours, and 10 minutes. Stay tuned!

“The Hollow” by S.C. Jensen

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The lifeless eyes hung level with Ginny’s gaze. Blue nylon cord twisted around the thing’s naked body, diving in and out of the flesh like a hungry worm, so that she couldn’t see where it was tied. A mask of blood matted the fur on the tiny face and pooled in its ears. The rest of it was hairless. It looked a bit like a cat, but Ginny couldn’t see a tail.

Behind her, Bea made a sound in her throat almost like a laugh.

“I told you,” Ginny said. “I told you something like this would happen.”

The fallen leaves crunched beneath their feet. Bea blew out a cloud of steam in the crisp autumn air. It hung like a ghost between them. “This is bad, Gin.”

The sun sank into the trees behind their house. Rose-gold spears of evening light broke through the remaining leaves of the season and cast an otherworldly glow over the macabre scene.

Ginny reached out a tentative hand and recoiled quickly. The body was still warm. “I don’t what to do anymore, Bea.”

“Well, we can’t tell anyone.” Bea cupped her hands around her mouth and blew into them, trying to stay warm. “That’s for sure.”

“I didn’t do it,” Ginny said. She rubbed her fingers against her pants. A smear of blood stained the denim. “You believe me, don’t you?”

“They’re going to take you away, Ginny. You’re going to celebrate your sixteenth birthday in a straight-jacket.”

Silence fell between the girls until the air quivered with it. Ginny’s body shook with more than the cold; her heart hammered painfully against her chest. Spots swam at the edges of her vision, like ghost-lights. Will-o-the-wisps. An aura of light seemed to swell around her sister’s face. Ginny was afraid she would pass out if Bea didn’t say something soon.

“Go get the shovel.” Bea turned toward the tree. “I’ll cut it down. Mom’s going to be home soon.”

Ginny walked to the garden shed on legs like sandbags. She kicked each step forward, feeling the impossible weight of her body with every step. Bea was right. No one could know about this. They were just waiting for an excuse to lock her up. Voices rose, unbidden, to whisper in her ears. Maladjusted, delusional, unstable…

Her therapists and social workers said they were on her side, but she could hear the excitement in their voices when they talked to her mother. A very unusual case. Like her mental health was a sideshow they could observe from the front row, munching on popcorn and planning their next sabbatical project.

She heard the kids at school, too. Freak, psycho, bitch… Sure, she threatened to cut Bradley Schaeffer’s pecker off with a pair of sewing shears in home-ec. But Bradley had started to look at Bea the way he used to look at her. The way he looked at her before that night. Slut. Ginny wasn’t going to let that happen again. Not to Bea. Bradley would stay away from both of them from now on.

Ginny’s hand pressed against the weather beaten door of the shed. Her coat sleeve fell back to reveal a cross-hatch of raised silver flesh on her wrist. Ginny didn’t like to look at her wrists. Her limbs felt like they belonged to someone else, dull, heavy things she had to lug through life. The ghostly chains of her sins, hanging off of her, dragging her down. She pushed the door open with her hip and stepped into the frigid darkness inside. The shovel was there, just as she’d left it.

The thing was on the ground when Ginny came back. The frayed cord lay in a tangle at Bea’s feet, electric blue and unnaturally vivid against the dead flesh and dead leaves. Bea said, “Give me that.”

The girls trudged through the forest behind their house, single file. Bea held the shovel against her shoulder, like a rifle, and led the way to the Hollow. Ginny dragged the mess of meat and twine behind her. The creature deserved better, but she couldn’t stand to carry the body in her arms. The skinny limbs, red and wet and going cold. It was too much like—

“Here.” Bea stopped abruptly and stuck the blade of the shovel into a patch of churned up earth. “Put it next to the other one.”

Ginny released her grip on the nylon rope and took the spade from her sister. She pressed her foot into the top of the blade until she could feel the edge cutting into her foot through the sole of her shoe. She pressed until it hurt, but the blade wouldn’t pierce the frozen soil.

“Hurry up,” Bea said. “Mom’s going to be home any minute now.”

“I can’t.” Ginny threw all of her weight on top of the shovel. The handle dug into her ribs. “It’s rock hard.”

“Well put it in with the others.” Bea’s exasperated voice burst out in another cloud of steam. “You’re really cutting it close this time.”

Ginny eyed the fallen leaves at their feet. If you didn’t know to look for them, no one would ever know they were there. Little mounds arranged in a pyramid. The original on top and, supporting it—or maybe keeping it company—the tributes. Servants in the afterlife.

“The big one,” Bea said, suddenly. The ghost of a smile touched her lips. “It’s the freshest.”

Ginny’s heartbeat slowed. It struck with the great, anvil-clanging blows of a blacksmith. She forced her eyes to see the other grave. This one was easier to spot, even if you didn’t know to look for it. But after another good wind the raised earth would be completely camouflaged by the last of the leaves. With any luck, it would stay hidden until spring.

“Or do want Mom to find you like this?” Bea whispered. Something like glee tainted her voice. “She’d lose it. You two can be roomies in the nut house.”

Ginny pushed the shovel into the softened soil of the largest mound and flicked it aside. Something had gotten to the body, already, cold as it was. Black holes stared up at her from where the eyes should have been. Greying flesh sunk into the bones beneath the sockets. Teeth smiled up at her, liplessly. Ginny held her breath.

Like she was proving a point, Bea said, “There.”

Bradley Schaeffer’s face, what was left of it, glared up at Ginny accusingly. “I didn’t do it, Bea. I swear I didn’t.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Bea’s voice dripped with scorn. “You never stand up for yourself, do you? That’s why I’m here.”

Ginny’s limbs began to weigh on her again. It wasn’t possible. Not this. “Bea?”

“Come on,” Bea said. “Tuck it in with him nice and tight.”

As if being moved by something outside herself, Ginny crouched next to the shallow grave. She tugged the mass of meat and twine through the leaves and, lifting it by the rope, lowered the thing onto Bradley’s chest. Bea was right. It suited him. She dropped the twine and the raw, naked body rolled. It caught in the crook of Bradley’s arm, like—

“Just like a baby,” Bea said.

Ginny’s legs began to cramp and she stood slowly. Without taking her eyes off the bodies, she dragged the shovel through the leaves and dirt she’d churned up. She pulled it over the pair like a blanket, gently. Tears stung her eyes and burned her cold cheeks.

“Good.” Bea’s voice cracked like a twig. “Now let’s go. The last thing we need is for mom to see you out here. They’ll put you away for sure, even if they don’t find this mess.”

“Stop saying that!”

“Come on, Gin. Wandering around the forest with a shovel, crying and talking to yourself. You look like a bloody lunatic,” Bea looked pointedly at the stains on Ginny’s clothes. “No pun intended.”

“I’m not crazy! You know I’m not. You’re just trying to upset me.”

“Upset you?” Bea’s mouth twisted into a cruel sneer. “That implies that you were settled in the first place. We both know you’re off your rocker.”

“Don’t you turn on me, too” Ginny whispered. “I need you.”

“I,” Bea said, “am not going anywhere. That’s your problem.”

“Tell them we were just out for a walk,” Ginny begged. “They’ll believe you.”

“Me?” Bea laughed, then. The harsh, joyless bark of sound shook the leaves off the trees. “Who exactly do you think I am?”

Bea’s face flickered in the waning twilight. Ginny had to concentrate to focus on her, like looking through murky water at a mirror. Bea had her dishevelled hair, her tear-streaked cheeks, her blood-stained clothes. They were identical, except for Bea’s cruel smile.

Then the cruel smile softened. Bea reached out and took Ginny’s hand, her damp fingers like ice, and led her back to the house. She said, not unkindly, “You really are crazy, you know.”

Ginny knew.
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This is my piece for the January prompt for 12 Short Stories. The prompt was “No one can know” at 1500 words. “The Hollow” came in just shy at 1498. I don’t technically submit this one until the 30th, so if you leave comments and feedback, I have time to apply it before the official due date! Please do. I am now awaiting my assignment for the NYC Midnight Short Story competition, which will be arriving at midnight EST. I wanted to get this one out of the way so I can focus one NYC Midnight next week. Stay tuned for that one, too! As always, thanks for reading.

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Temporary Tales #1

There was a story draft here, once. But I’m currently reworking it in order to submit to some magazines. Thank you to everyone for your feedback!

989 Words

This piece was inspired by the January prompt “Flower” at BlogBattle! Thank you so much to Simon from Planet Simon for the suggestion to try this challenge as well as the others I’ve got going this month. I had a lot of fun with it. Can you tell? What did you think? As always, thanks for reading!

Flash Fiction Friday: “The Foxhole” by S.C. Jensen

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Genre: Horror
Wordcount: 1154

Tobi crouched in the tall grasses that had grown up next to the old barn. The dun-coloured spears rustled in front of his face. He peered through them like a wary fox. A chicken feather, stuck to one of the strands, tickled his nose. Twenty feet away, more feathers littered the ground around the old well, like delicate white petals around an altar.

“I don’t see anything,” his sister whispered beside him. Her voice was as scratchy as the grasses, irritated. Irritating. He wanted to sneeze.

Tobi’s eyes fixed on the lip of the well. A sheet of splintered grey plywood lay propped across the mouth of the cistern. A chunk of ancient concrete weighted it down. To keep children and animals out; that’s what Mama said. Tobi had other ideas.

The plywood hadn’t moved. He was sure of that. A rusted twist of rebar, exposed by decades of prairie winds blasting against the concrete wall, made a perfect T with the edge of the wooden lid. It hadn’t budged an inch.

And yet something was different.

A dark patch blossomed against the light grey stone. Strands, like fingers, crept out from beneath the plywood cover. Tobi was sure it hadn’t been there before. The sun peeked out from behind a cloud and shifted the light with it. The dark patch glistened.

“There. Do you see it?”

Tina rocked back on her heels. “It’s wet.”

“Told you.”

“So what,” his sister said. A born skeptic, Mama called her. Typical first born. The pride in Mama’s voice came through in Tina’s confidence. “That doesn’t prove anything. It’s probably just condensation.”

Know it all, he thought. “Something is in there,” he said. “I’m telling you.”

“This is ridiculous.” She stood abruptly, breaking their cover and knocking Tobi on his ass in the process. She glared down at him like he was roadkill or something. Disgusted, the way only a teenage girl can be. “Why don’t you just admit that you left the gate open?”

“I didn’t!” He could hear the wheedling in his voice and he hated himself for it. “I swept the coop out, fed and watered them, collected the eggs, and I closed the gate, Tee. I swear I did.”

“Mama’s going to be pissed either way. You might as well fess up.”

Tina was probably right. He would be grounded until school started. Mama would never trust him with anything important ever again. It wasn’t fair. “Nobody ever believes me about anything.”

“Because you are a liar. You lie all the time.”

A born trickster; that was according to Mama, too. Just like your Daddy. Daddy, the good-for-nothing, layabout, joker. The story-teller. Capital L-i-a-r, Liar. “You can’t still be sore about your stupid doll.”

“You cut her eyes out and hung her in the cellar! Daddy gave me that doll.”

“I told you, that wasn’t me. Besides, it’s not fair. He never gave me anything before he left.”

“Is that why you did it?” The disgust in her eyes swelled and spilled out over the rest of her face. She hated him. Tobi had suspected so before, but now he was certain. “What’s your excuse for all the other stupid pranks and stories, then? I’m sick of it!”

It’s not my fault he left, he wanted to scream. But somehow the words wouldn’t come, because no matter how hard he tried he didn’t believe it. Tina backed away from him, stumbling toward the well as if whatever was wrong with him might be contagious. You fucking liar! Like father like son. Maybe it was contagious. Maybe it was a sickness. Because Daddy had always believed him.

…I heard a weird noise last night. I did too. There were green lights in the yard. I know, I saw them. I had the strangest dream. It wasn’t a dream, Tobi. Something bad is going to happen. It’s not safe for me here anymore…

There’s something in the well. I’m going away for a while…

Tobi stared at the dark patch of concrete. A downy white speck fluttered in the breeze where a feather had stuck in the liquid as it dried. The sharp white crescents of light reflected on the wet patch flattened and dulled. The patch didn’t disappear like it should. Instead of fading back into the light grey of dry concrete, the spot turned a dark, rusty red.

“Did you even actually forget the gate open?” Tina’s disgust escalated into rage. “Maybe that’s giving you too much credit. You probably let the chickens out on purpose just so you could—”

His sister’s voice faded into the background as he focused on the stain. The shape of a hand revealed itself on the surface of well with long fingertips trailing backwards, into its depths. If she would just turn around, Tina would see.

“—she’s got enough to worry about!” Tina was still going. “And you know we can’t afford to—”

“Tee,” Tobi said. “Stop.”

Tina stood in the midst of the feathers, her back to the well. Tears streamed down her face now. A rivulet of snot ran, like a tributary, into the tears and over her chin. Her angry eyes narrowed into swollen, red slits. “What?”

“I know you’re mad, but—”

“Stop looking at me like that,” she sniffed suspiciously.

“Just look behind you.”

“Don’t you try to scare me!” Her calf almost touched the well, but she couldn’t see. “I’m not falling for it again. I’m done with your stories, Tobi. Lying isn’t going to bring him back!”

The concrete block wobbled slightly. If Tina wasn’t crying so loudly, she would have heard it. She would have looked. The block jumped again and Tobi saw four raw, red fingers slide out from beneath the lid.

Tobi lunged for his sister.

So did the thing in the well. The plywood lid flipped back and, like a trapdoor spider, its red-streaked limbs shot out at them. Tobi jumped backward, staring in horror as the thing wrapped itself around Tina’s torso and yanked her over the edge. She didn’t have time to scream.

Tobi did.

Mama came running when she heard the commotion. She found Tobi standing behind the barn, surrounded by a flurry of feathers, like a fox in a henhouse. Speaking of which, the gate to theirs flapped against the barn door, for all the cats and coyotes and, yes, foxes, to waltz right through. And the lid of the well lay cocked into the grass; the old concrete block sat like a huge misshapen head beside it.

“Tobi, what’s going on?” she placed a hand on her son’s cold, rigid shoulder.

“You’ll never believe me,” he said.

Then Mama saw the blood; the cold seemed to seep out of his skin and into hers. “What have you done?”

Tobi’s hand absentmindedly floated before his face and he plucked a feather from his lip. He said, “I found Daddy.”

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Thanks for reading! Please leave your feedback, comments, and questions below.

 

 

 

Challenge(s) Accepted!

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My writing space looks nothing like this but I love stock photos and it’s fun to pretend.

Well, I suppose it wouldn’t be January without a flood of blog posts and news articles about New Year Resolutions. I’ve never been the resolution type. I don’t think I’ve ever even halfheartedly made a New Years Resolution unless the timing was just coincidental (I do occasionally resolve to be better at things, and sometimes that happens in January…)

One thing January is especially good for, though, is that there are a surplus of writing challenges going around right now! With the holidays winding down and real life starting back up on Monday, I’m ready to get settled back into a regular writing habit. Not all of it will show up here, although I have decided that I’m going to push myself to blog more. But January brings a few opportunities that I will be jumping into.

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: Round One kicks off January 18th. I have done two Flash Fiction Challenges with NYC Midnight, and this will be my second Short Story Challenge. It’s a really fun and exciting competition for a relatively affordable entry fee. I only do the two each year, so I might have a different idea of affordable compared to someone who participates in more challenges/competitions. But the feedback is quite good, and I love the random assignment format. It really pushes me outside my comfort zone!

12 Short Stories Challenge: I participated in this last year, and I think I made it through half the year before I got side-tracked. This year, I’ve signed up for the the paid membership for some added accountability. I really loved the community when I participated last year, and the feedback was really excellent. I’ll be using these entries as my Flash Fiction Friday pieces for the first of Friday of every month (starting February as our first prompt comes Jan. 9th and is due on the 31st to 12SS). If (when!) I complete all 12 assignments on time, there is a competition at the end of the year with prizes, and that’s my goal this time. I vow to submit something every month, even if it’s not my best work.

Jeff Goins’ “My 500 Words” Challenge: Jeff Goins is a writer that I have followed off and on since I was more active in the world of Facebook writing groups. I don’t Facebook anymore. But I do still open most of the emails I get from Goins’ page, and one of the ones I read was an invitation to participate in the “My 500 Words” Challenge. I understand that this Challenge runs year round, basically a challenge to write 500 words every day for 31 days straight. There are prompts if you like, and email reminders. I mentally committed to this project a couple of days ago (and I’ve completed my 500 words for three days in a row now!) But this is my official acceptance of the challenge. I’ll be posting my blog in the participants section, and following some other writers doing the challenge.

Linda G. Hill’s “Just Jot it January” Challenge: I stumbled upon this challenge when (finally) going through my WordPress reader and catching up with what my favourite blogs are up to. I haven’t been a follower of Linda G. Hill, but I like the looks of her challenge, so I’ll be doing some of these ones, too. I like the idea of “Stream of Consciousness Saturday.” I might not post all of my submissions, but I’d like to add weekly stream of consciousness exercises to my writing habits. So I’ll give SoSC a try at the very least.

So that’s what’s going on with me. Are there any other writing challenges, competitions, or blogs that you think I would enjoy? Please share what you’re up to in the comments!