FLASH FICTION (published in Story Sprouts Anthology)

THE KNIFE

He was pointing a knife at me. I had just rinsed the soap from my favorite stainless steel pan; the one I boil fresh beans in every morning, when I turned to find him stiff armed and resolute. He had not been his usual self all week, ever since that segment on the Sunday news. We had all watched it together like we were witnessing the debut of what was going to be a long and successful acting career. After all, he was the star of the segment. They called it Sunday’s child. Made me think of that rhyme, “but the child who is born on the Sabbath Day, is bonny and blithe and good and gay.

We were all gay as we turned on the television set and munched on the chips we dunked in the salsa I had made special for the occasion. I drank a coke while he and the other children sipped from juice boxes. We were antsy as we suffered through the last of the real news stories before we would get to his big moment.

He enjoyed being the center of attention. He shook his leg trying to calm his stage fright. I was so happy that he was getting this chance. Now maybe he would find a permanent home with a loving couple who would cultivate his naturally inquisitive nature into a high achieving member of society. I hoped that the couple who would see the segment and fall in love with his happy face and athletic body would be black, so he would look at them and see himself.

I had taken him in when he was eighteen months old and showered him with the love I had given to my own, now grown kids, and the other foster children we had taken in when our nest became empty ten years ago. I relished the first time he spoke, looking at me and saying “Mama.” I took pride in his ability to make friends easily and his natural curiosity about the world around him. But I knew it must be hard for him to look at our family and see the brown skin and wavy, black hair that our grandparents carried with them from Mexico. At five years old he was starting to notice these things.

After an endless series of commercials, his segment began. We all clapped with joy when they showed the first shot of him. His smile lit up the screen. I turned in time to see that same look on his face as he stared at himself. They showed footage of him playing on the beach and climbing the monkey bars. The other kids patted him on the back. He was a star – at least in our house.

But then the man’s voice narrating the story became serious as he told us, and who knows how many other thousands of people about how our star had been born in the county jail. In all of our excitement that unpleasant fact might have slipped by us, but the narrator continued to report more heart breaking information about a mother who was a crack addict and multiple-offender. My mouth fell open, my heart raced. It took too many seconds for me to comprehend the blow being delivered to him. It took me too long to grab the remote and turn the segment off. It was too late to erase this memory from any of our minds

He was the first to try and save the day. He played the celebrity and boasted how he was the only one who had been on t.v. I hoped that he was as they say about children, resilient, able to forget a bad taste in the mouth as soon as he put a better one against his tongue. I refused to see how with each passing day he grew more quiet, less playful.

As I washed the dishes, I asked him to put the dirty napkins in the trash. I heard him say “no” with a particular venom in his voice. I put my favorite aluminum pan in the dish rack to dry, and turned to scold him, discovering the knife in his little hand. I was relieved to see it was only a butter knife. But the anger on his face vibrated through my body and my knees buckled. I begged him to put the knife down but he stood his ground. I don’t know what would have happened if my husband hadn’t walked in.

The knife hit the tile floor with a dull thud and he ran out the back door. My husband held me tight. He did not ask for details. He did not say anything. But I knew what he was thinking.

A few days before Christmas he was taken from our home. I never saw him again. My husband and children were full of anger and fear. I knew they had never seen him as one of us like I had. I knew there was nothing I could say so that he could stay with us

Now each Christmas fills me with melancholy. I wonder what ever happened to him. I wonder if he remembers me whom he used to call Mama. I wonder if he ever found that couple and made that perfect life I had pictured for him. I hope the system didn’t fail him the way I did.

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IT’S SEED GATHERING TIME

hands sorting_seeds
Like the farmers who have gathered this summer’s seeds

I too am culling.

Kernels of an idea

for a new novel

pop incessantly

from the heat of my excitement.

As they crowd out the air of doubt from my wily ego-mind,

I am drawn to the seat of creation.

My heart-soul soaks up the fertile thoughts

as it celebrates the gestation,

encouraging me to play.

dirt image

My ego-mind begs

to organize the spores,

seedsort

(it loves doing that).

I say okay.

But please be quick about it.

I so want to put words to paper.

And so the season begins…

 

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A WONDERFUL REVIEW FOR STORY SPROUTS!

Story Sprouts, a book review

From My Holistic Soul     Posted on November 6, 2013  by Posted in Writing 1 Comment

Story Sprouts: CBW-LA Writing Day Exercises and Anthology 2013 is a collection of writing exercises to help you get started with your own story, and an anthology of things written by nineteen different children’s book authors. Can you say wow?

Let your story sprout!

Let your story sprout!

So, as a writer I was pretty excited to get the chance to check out this book for review purposes. I have written and published children’s books, even though I now focus on self-help topics. I love writing, more so even than I love reading. It’s why I started writing reviews. Having my hands on this wonderful text, I imagined, would open up my creativity and get me writing even more. Did it?

The book starts off by describing what the CBW-LA is, and how they came about publishing this book. Then you get into the first set of exercises. I like that the book explains why these exercises are important for your writing, why it is important to practice. Free writing has always been one of my favorite forms of writing, and was something I used a lot while I was in college. Story Sprouts teaches you how to do free writing and even why to do it!

The anthology part of the book is filled with wonder, and amazing writing. I started out as a poet, so I really enjoyed the poetry included within. I have often thought of getting back into poetry, and this book is really giving me some great new ideas. The prose section is full of many great short stories.

The third section continues with more in-depth exercises that are sure to even get the novice writing. And finally, there are more essays, short stories and poetry.

If you are a writer, or have ever thought about becoming a writer, I highly recommend you check out this book. It’s an easy read full of tons of useful information!

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I’M PUBLISHED… AGAIN!!

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STORY SPROUTS ANTHOLOGY went live on Amazon on October 29th!
This summer, 19 talented children’s book authors accepted a challenge to workshop, write, revise, polish, and submit two stories – in public, under the pressure of a six-hour deadline, with the promise of publication. On October 29, 2013, their work was revealed with the global release of Story Sprouts Anthology 2013.

Guided by the writing exercises and handouts, anthology authors produced two pieces. One revealed insights “On Writing” and the other was a fictional piece based on a photo prompts. Submissions range from poetry and narrative essay to flash fiction and picture book manuscripts.

Some of the author names will be familiar to Hollywood and literary insiders. Contributor Abi Estrin wrote the animated adaptation of Ben Hur and produced several episodes of On the Road in America. Contributor Lynne Southerland has 20 years experience in Hollywood; her credits include co-directing Mulan 2 and co-producing Disney’s An Extremely Goofy Movie and HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. Contributor Donna Marie Robb’s stories have been published in several literary magazines and she her children’s book reviews have been published in the School Library Journal.

Please encourage our efforts by buying the book in either print or for Kindle at Amazon.

Thanks for your support. Lynne

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5 Ways to Give Off Positive Energy

I love this blog post.

5 Ways to Give off Positive Energy

Have you ever walked into a room and felt negativity in the air? Feeling another person’s energy is actually very common. If you give off positive energy, other people will feel better around you. In contrast, if you give off negative energy others are likely to feel tense and likely want to leave. Positive beliefs, thoughts and feelings turn into positive energy that you put into the universe. YOU control your energy. Whether it be positive or negative, your energy affects everyone you come in contact with. 

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Watch A Student Totally Nail Something About Women

http://www.upworthy.com/watch-a-student-totally-nail-something-about-women-that-ive-been-trying-to-articulate-for-37-years-6?g=2&c=upw9

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THE SILENT PARTNER – Flash Fiction For Your Enjoyment

Thought it would be fun to share one of my flash fiction pieces. For those of you who have not heard the term, flash fiction is basically a short story no longer than 1000 words. A fun and interesting challenge.

Enjoy!

THE SILENT PARTNER 

by Lynne Southerland

     Our shoulders are in lock step, like in a sack race. We move back and forth on a circuitous path around chairs, a dirty clothes hamper and the morning’s rejected clothing choices in my parent’s large bedroom. Although I am tall for someone who will turn thirteen in a couple of months, I do not have the physical strength of a woman and have a difficult time keeping up with the woman on the other end. She is my mother’s best friend, Joan. The woman in the middle, whose eyes are fighting to stay closed is my mother. Not only are her eyes heavy beyond sleep, her head hangs limp like a broken bobble-head doll.

I try not to think about how the sight of her in this state makes me feel. I’m used to doing that. The way I see it, feelings produce moments like this disastrous scene we’re in now. So instead, I count out each step we take. I don’t want to focus on what could happen if Joan and I can’t get her to wake up, or the ambulance doesn’t get here in time.

My eyes divert to the nightstand on her side of the bed. It has always been a source of fascination to me since Mommy keeps her private stash of candies behind its closed doors. I think about the times when the stars have aligned just right and she opens those doors to share one of her precious delights and what seems like the inner sanctum of her soul. I can see her unsealing the wrapper of the Mounds Bar and letting the first of the chocolates slip out. She presents it to me in a manner that turns her simple hand into a sterling silver tray. Once she crushes the wrapper she looks at me, and smiles. Mmmmmm. I learned to love dark chocolate sitting on the edge of Mommy’s bed, next to that nightstand.

But now my eyes are drawn to the brownish yellow bottles on the top of the table, their lids capped tight. A full glass of water sits next to four pills resting loose near the edge.

Just a half hour before, I had played the role of the can-do daughter, a role which, at that time I was proud to own in our family. It was 11 P.M. – an hour past my bedtime. I had used the excuse of tending to her to cheat the rules and watch a little more TV before delivering another dose of medication to her.

She had come home later than usual. We sat down to dinner, without my father who often ate with some of his car dealership associates. It seemed to be a very normal evening.

But, as my siblings and I did clean up duty, my mother calmly explained that she had not been feeling well and the doctor had prescribed something.

“I need to take four of these pills every hour. Rocky, you’ll have to wake me so I don’t miss a dose.”

“Okay,” I responded despite thinking that she didn’t seem sick.

With unquestioning pliancy, I woke her at eight, nine and ten o’clock. Between these markers, we finished our kitchen duties and then did our homework and watched television, an advantage to being beyond my mother’s watchful eyes.

My father called around nine thirty.

“Rocky Road,” he said when I answered the phone.

“Where’s the old bag?”

I hated that he called her that. She was a beautiful, petite woman with great legs. Where did he get “old bag” from?

Using me as the go-between, he explained that he was stopping off for a drink and she should not wait up for him. Of course now I realize that she had heard those very words many times and they probably contributed to her state of mind for weeks before tonight.

Blissful at the guilty pleasure of having stayed up late, I gladly approached her room ready to give a last dose before going to bed myself. I filled the glass from the bathroom sink, placed it on the nightstand and then poured four pills into my cupped hand. Now that all was ready, I spoke quietly into my mother’s ear, hoping to arouse her gently. I knew this is how she would have handled the same situation if it were one of us.

Unlike earlier in the evening, she did not respond. I then tried a soft jostling of her shoulder. She moaned at the disruption to her unconsciousness. Seeing her that way made my stomach queasy. An instinct tugged at me – something was very wrong. I patted her hand in another attempt to arouse her, but it was limp and clammy. I wished to hear the sound of the front door opening and my father coming in, just in the nick of time, to save the day, to save my mother. But that sound did not come. And neither did he.

Thankfully, the can do part of me took control. Joan was the only other person to call. It seems like forever until the ambulance arrives. Numbness is the only feeling I’m willing to take on. This is happening in our house, to my mother, but it seems so unreal – like I’m watching that movie with Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine – only my story has a different ending.

My siblings slept through the whole thing. I wish I had too. Then I wouldn’t have heard her moans as the EMTs tried to revive her or seen her lifeless face as they carried her down the stairs.

I stare into my closet, realizing I own nothing black – if you don’t count the empty, dark feeling squeezing my heart. I consider the option of burying myself underneath the pile of dirty clothes lying on the floor. Maybe in there I can snuff out this burning feeling that if I weren’t such a stellar can-do girl she’d still be alive.

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GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS

The folks over at The WritE Practice posted this list of questions that Marcel Proust

marcel-proust

was asked once by a friend. What better way to get to know your characters as you prepare to write about their world?

Wouldn’t be such a bad idea to ask some of your friends these questions too. Look how much more you’d know about them by question 35!

I’m thinking I could discover a lot about myself if I dare to take the quiz. Hmmmm….

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
  7. What is your current state of mind?
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favorite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?

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MEDITATION ALTERS THE BRAIN


meditation

Scientists are proving what people who meditate already know: that the brain has plasticity and can be directed towards positivity.

Read about in this fabulous article from Huff Post.

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Have You Used a Mirror Lately?

My day job is producing animation. I’ve been doing it a long time, but still remember the first time I walked through the studio and noticed 1) how quiet it was as each artist worked with headphones on, and 2) that the storyboard artists and animators spent a lot of time

chuck-jones-animator-cartoon-bugs-bunny-daffy-duck1looking into mirrors they had mounted over their desks. That’s how they work out the expressions they are wanting to convey based on what is happening in the story at that particular moment. Many years later, I spent a great deal of time trying to show an animator the expression I wanted for a scene in Mulan 2, unsuccessfully I might add. I was looking for a way to visually show the sarcasm in Mulan’s voice. Much harder to pull off than I had expected.

But, on that first day I immediately understood the multiple layers of emotional exploration the animators need to explore to become great storytellers. Sure they can make faces until the right one becomes apparent, but if they actually conjure up feelings as they play, they’ll hit pay-dirt.

I was reminded of this the other day after a girlfriend and I had been talking about our spouses (yeah, okay, we were dishing on them big time). In the midst of my criticisms she hurled a great question at me. If my spouse were having this same kind of conversation (fat chance) what would he say are the things that drive him crazy about me?

I was flummoxed by this. After all, I’m perfect (just kidding). Her question plagued me on the drive home and as I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning while on my walk the answer surfaced. “He probably thinks you’re a know-it-all.” It was difficult to hear. I felt embarrassed, as if someone else could hear my inner voice chattering away. I felt like a kid re-experencing the humiliation of getting caught chewing gum in class and having to wear the wad on my nose for the rest of the school day. I could feel my ego rise up to protect me, to help me hold onto the way I want to see myself, perfect in every way. But then an image of Homer Simpson popped into my head. See how delusional he is?

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I don’t want to be in his club! So I turned (metaphorically) towards the mirror and took a peek. Yeah, I could see more people than my spouse perceiving me to be a know-it-all.  I even had to admit that I get tired of hearing my advice. But it still didn’t feel good to acknowledge it. I was present enough to realize that meant I needed to ask my ego to go play somewhere else for awhile, and soon I felt a mental leveling of the playing field take place. Now that I had faced this ugly part of myself I’d have a harder time being self-righteous the next time my spouse pulled one of his uglies on me. I could live with that.

But it wasn’t until later that I fully understood the larger gift my friend’s question had bestowed.

If I want to become a writer who can cultivate a base of appreciative readers (and I do), then like the animators who have given us unforgettable moments in movies like Toy Story 3, Wall-E, or The Lion King, I must look into the mirror and know the good, the bad and ugly of myself. For without a deeper understanding of what makes me tick, how can I fully know and give authenticity to my characters? How can I convey the degree of loneliness my protagonist feels to have lost her mother at age 16, the pitch of the downward spiral she finds herself in as she rejects the father who abandoned her 10 years earlier, or the breath of the joy she feels when she plays her harmonica, if I do not risk looking into the mirror and becoming deeply connected with the parts of myself I have safely hidden away?

My AHA moment made it clear to me that if I want to be a conduit for expanding my readers’ emotional lexicon then I must explore my own without resistance.

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So, I turned towards my internal mirror and peeked through my fingers with trepidation. What would I see buried in the crevices of my heart or staring at me from my ego mind? Mostly, I saw the little girl I never seem to shake away. Look at her. 6:18:08_2 copy

She’s confident and capable, yes,  but she often feels like an outsider. Is that a legacy from my parents’ experiences as  children not raised with their own parents? Is that why I’m exploring a protagonist who has lost a parent? I keep returning to this, not to rub an old wound, but to FULLY FEEL and use it to inform my writing.

I move my face closer into the reflection and acknowledge the fear of being judged hidden behind those eyes. My mind races back to high school when in 9th grade I was passed over for a position in the student government. I cried all the way home on the bus. My mother was only capable of consoling me with the realities of the world, “you can’t expect to always win, Lynne.” She didn’t know how to address my dreams of making a difference or being significant. She had never aspired to such things. Or I wasn’t aware of that part her if it existed. Thinking that makes the wound seem deeper. Could my disappointment be genetically encoded?

But now these wounds I’ve worked hard to bury or have used to justify my behavior can be put to better use. If I allow myself to REALLY FEEL the emotions locked inside these memories, my characters’ choices can be cultivated with the detail necessary to reveal the emotional through-line that is driving them.

This is so exciting!!!

So, like the animators I work with, I am now a fan of the mirror. Sometimes I make faces, other times I just stare at the other me who is eager to share everything hidden behind the looking glass.

The alchemy that happens by throwing what I’ve discovered about myself into the bucket with the words and ideas and plot that will become a manuscript is magic. I’m feeling equipped to make some magic happen.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall…. Lynne

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