Posted in flash fiction

Fire is Contagious

Sitting side by side on the sofa, close enough to feel each other’s warmth without touching. She knows that if she touches him, she will burn, and he knows that if he touches her, he will burn her.

He begins to stretch, hands curled into fists, elbows bending, then reaching over head, over, out– He seems about to rest his arm on the back of the couch, but she’s in the way, and he retreats.

She folds her arms on her stomach and shivers even though it isn’t cold. She pretends she didn’t notice, pretends she isn’t disappointed, pretends she isn’t a little bit relieved, too. She doesn’t take her eyes from the sitcoms she thinks are like distant mothers whose children learn by watching their parents interact from the top of the stairs and learn about make-up by sneaking into Mom’s vanity.

When the laughter track plays, he laughs. She smiles at his laughter, not at the television.

His laughter reminds her of crackling bonfires, and she knows that if she looks at his smile she’ll want to touch it like the glowing pool of embers that look so soft when the flames fade.

Neither of them remember what’s happening on screen anymore. They don’t think they need to.

“What do they think they’re doing,” she says. She’s annoyed, and it alarms him. It takes him a moment to realize she’s still staring at the screen. Her cheeks blush with heat, and her voice is the low hiss of water about to boil over.

Two characters are pressed against each other, fingers grabbing at clothes, tangled in hair and she uncrosses her legs and crosses them again. She wipes her sweating palms on her thighs. Her knee bumps into his. She doesn’t notice. He doesn’t move.

“Stupid.” He says the right thing, apparently, because she’s throwing her hands in the air.

Praise the truth. Raise it up to the LordThat’s what his mother says. She thinks it’s funny. But he can’t stop staring at her hands.

“They’ll be broken up by season 3.” The anger has faded, fizzled and he realizes the hiss in her voice came from the water hitting the coals, challenging their right to burn. She sounds disappointed to know their fate so early. 

He shakes his head because he doesn’t care about the fictional fates of television characters, and neither does she.

But still, she’s annoyed.

“Stupid,” she echoes. “They’re best friends.”

“It doesn’t matter what they are or aren’t anymore.” He’s saying the words he’s said a hundred times, she’s said a hundred times. They curl away from his lips and hang in the air between them like smoke. “They’ll never be friends again.”

“Exactly.”

She looks at him then, for the first time all evening, and she looks incredibly sad that he looks incredibly sad. Their knees are still touching, and she quickly pulls it away. A second longer, and she might have seen the smoke rising from the hole in the knee of her jeans. He’s burning her.

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Posted in exercises, flash fiction

Pumpkin Spice (Welcome to Autumn!)

pumpkin spice

Title: Pumpkin Spice

Word Count: 655 words

Summary: The author is a huge fan of all things autumn, especially the pumpkin products that are so hard to find the rest of the year. She is teased mercilessly for her fondness for pumpkin, but she doesn’t handle it nearly as well as Mona does when her boyfriend of three months discovers her annual ritual of filling her apartment with all things Pumpkin Spice.

Continue reading “Pumpkin Spice (Welcome to Autumn!)”

Posted in flash fiction

There’s No Place Like Home

It has been many years since she has sat across from her mother at the kitchen table, her father’s voice coming from the living room. It rages over that of the sports announcer coming through the television speakers. There’s a smack of flesh against wood, a can opens with a forced pop.

Her mother’s hands are folded peacefully on the kitchen table. A muffled vibration sounds from Sarah’s purse sitting on the counter by the door. There are no dirty dishes, no shoes lined up beside the door. Her father likes the “My home is a show room” aesthetic.

“Aren’t you going to get that?”

Sarah thinks of Neal, of dirty dishes and her shoes beside a door, of the bag of clothes in the backseat of her car. There were two new voice mails last night when she fell asleep on her friend’s couch. There were four more after she’d gotten out of the shower and with frozen waffles in the toaster and a fresh pot of coffee and her friend asking her if she was going back home.

“You can’t do this, tell me you aren’t really doing this.”

Her mother doesn’t point out that she didn’t answer the question. There are round cork coasters Sarah doesn’t recognize stacked in the middle of the round table. Her mother selects one, slides it under Sarah’s untouched mug of green tea, pats the mug with a satisfied expression on her face that Sarah doesn’t understand. When she looks back up, she’s smiling. There are crow’s feet growing out of the corners of her mother’s deep set, hooded, almond-shaped eyes. Sarah can’t remember the last time she heard her mother laugh.

“He doesn’t belong here.”

“This is his home, sweetie.”

“It was, but then he left, and we were happy, remember, we were happy without him.”

Sarah used to have a collection of porcelain dolls from an aunt who lived upstate. Each one of them smiled serenely, watched her with soft eyes as Sarah brushed their hair and changed their dresses. Sarah’s mother smiled. Her father smacked his hand against the coffee table as a roar erupted from the television.

“Your phone is ringing again. Are you sure you don’t want to get it?”

“No, Mom.” She didn’t want to talk to Neal, with his love and forevers and Sunday nights and Christmas mornings. She felt seven-years-old again, socked feet resting on the stretcher of the chair. Sarah had been sitting here on the morning her father had left and waited here the night he didn’t come back. She couldn’t imagine Neal sitting beside her, waiting with her while she waited for her father to leave and never come back again.

Sarah, Sarah, sweetheart, talk to me, tell me what I did, I promise I didn’t mean to do it, let me apologize, let me prove I’ll never do it again, just talk to me, please talk to me, Sar–.

Neal’s Christmas mornings didn’t belong in this house.

Posted in Dear Readers, opinions, Uncategorized

Dear Readers,

Copy of Dear Readers Header (1)

I’ve been writing the last few days, but unfortunately nothing that’s ready for the blog. I’m chugging along on Chapter 4 of my YA gothic horror novel and working on a few opinion pieces that still need some fact checking and sourcing before I can post them. It’s been a while since I’ve written nonfiction pieces. One of them is a discussion on what representation in the media means to me, and it’s been a struggle to keep it from spiraling out of control. There’s so much I want to talk about, and it’s a conversation I have all the time offline, but trying to structure it into a post and conveying everything I want to say has been a challenge. It’s a conversation that receives a lot of backlash too, which is intimidating. Maybe you can tell me in the comments here what representation means to you, so I can reflect on your words while I continue to find mine.

I was also distracted by Book Twitter’s discussion about The New York Times YA Best Sellers List. The conversation has been changing from ethical behavior of authors and their networks to the value of these lists, given that they don’t celebrate literary merit so much as marketing teams.

Personally, I’ve rarely liked the books that make these lists, especially the adult fiction. I’ve never considered the factors that created the list before, even though I’ve always been aware of them. Working in a library, where I see these books being requested and checked out all the time, I attributed it to being heavy with “cheap thrill” reads like crime mysteries and bodice ripper romances. These books are definitely popular, would they still be beloved if potential readers hadn’t been assailed with the titles and cover images on ads, blogs, and Instagram before even walking into the bookstore?

And if the only qualifying factor is sale quantity, how do they decide which sales qualify? Is this practice so uncommon, and was it only spotted and called out because it was a new publisher and author raising red flags? (I do have to say, though, I love how quickly the YA community came together and went “Something about this is weird. Let’s ask some questions and huddle.” and influenced the NYT to update their list to reflect more “accurate” purchasing trends that kept by all accounts a better deserving author on that list.)

Share your thoughts with me, readers. How did you react to Thursday’s unveiling?

Posted in poetry

Return to Sender

A single letter envelope sits in the mail box,the corners battered and stained by travel and rain.

Across the front, the words:
RETURN TO SENDER
in violent red, the color of her anger
and her overnight bag.

She’s been gone for a month now.

He wrote to her to beg for her back.
Her cell phone was sitting on the dresser, 47 missed calls.
Her friends knew where to reach her.
He knew, they knew he knew, but they would
take their secret
into her next life.

The letter hasn’t been opened,
but he knows the address is right.
They spent Christmas there every year,
along with her cousins whose names all started with K
and rooms filled with blonde hair and brown eyes.

Till now.

He didn’t cry when she left.
What does “I’m leaving” mean, anyway?
That she’ll be back by dinner,
by morning,
that she’s going to see her friends
her mother
or going to do the shopping?
Whatever she said–
what she really meant–
he didn’t hear her
and now she wouldn’t hear him

and the only thing worse than no reply–
he didn’t even say “see you later” or ask where she was going,
assuming he would always have later to ask her–
is having never been heard in the first place.

Posted in opinions

Dear Sarah Dessen,

The first book I read of yours, Someone Like You, I found in a $2.00 bin at Walmart. I was maybe 13 years old. My teacher got annoyed with my mother for letting me read it because it discussed teen pregnancy, and my mom laughed at her because it was not the first or the last time she would have a conversation with a teacher about my reading material. I devoured that book. I reread it every time one of my friends seemed to be going through something bigger or more than me, and again when my friends started getting pregnant.

It was the only book I read of yours until my senior year of high school. Some of my friends were teasing me for not really knowing how to ride a bike. I’d had one when I was very small, but my parents divorced and we moved to a downtown apartment with no storage before I had my training wheels taken off. I couldn’t swim very well either. I had never been to the ocean. The only tree I could climb was the Japanese maple tree outside of my brother’s old room. They asked me what kind of childhood I had, and I shrugged, annoyed and embarrassed by their standards.

My best friend at the time gave me one of your books, Along for the Ride. I think it was meant to be an encouragement, but I took it as a comfort and a reassurance. There are so many “rules” we place on our own actions, rules about when we can do things and when our time has passed, but so often the only person telling us we can’t do something is ourselves.

I found that old, battered Walmart copy of Someone Like You when I went to put Along for the Ride on my shelf. An obsession was born. For the next six years, I hunted down your books with enthusiasm and drank them like lemonade in the summer. I loved them for their humor that often mirrored my own, for their literary references slipped into character names, for their food (because in a Dessen novel food is almost always a way to bond with friends and family) (and I’ve learned to judge a place by the quality of its guac from your novels), for their characters with their loneliness and insecurities and flawed logic. I felt the thrill of recognizing those characters’ names dropped into someone else’s story, like I was in on a secret.

I remember when Saint Anything was announced. I was excited for you. As a writer myself, I know the panic and existential fear that crawls under your skin like termites when you are struggling to produce. I know the anger and frustration that bubbles and boils when you try and try and it’s just not working. I was excited for you when it climbed the best seller lists, and the spark returned to your blog, and your self-talk sounded calmer and more comfortable with yourself.

I was excited even though the book itself was the first one I did not fall in love with, one where I found myself annoyed more often than entertained by or concerned for the characters. It was beautifully written, and tight, and addressed a lot of interesting concerns faced by teens as most Dessen novels do, but I just… didn’t feel anything. I didn’t care. I’m still a little heartbroken, for all the wrong reasons. It was the first time I felt far enough from the teenage years to struggle to sympathize with their decisions.

Sometimes, we just don’t like things, even things we were looking forward to, even things from our favorite people and makers. That was a strangely difficult concept for me to swallow at the time. I think I was in a period in my life where I needed a Dessen novel, but unlike all the other times I couldn’t find the one I needed. I don’t think it’s been written yet. I’m sure it will be, though. I don’t think you’re out of stories yet.

I gave your books away recently. I sent them to live with my friend in Louisiana. I still love those old stories, and I miss them sometimes, but she sent me a letter thanking me for giving them to her and how much she loved them too and I knew I made the right decision.

I will continue to read your books and I will continue to think about Halley and Auden and all of the characters who faced my fears with me. I will continue to look forward to your blog quotes and tweets. I will continue to be startled that your daughter is no longer the three year old toddler in your posts, but old enough to bake (with supervision). I will miss your chicken posts. I’m glad your husband found the lizard before you had to. I’m so glad you found your stories again. You gave me the strength to keep looking for mine when my voice fell silent. I’m so glad you chose to share them with us, and that I found that $2.00 Wal-mart copy all those years ago that led me to you.

Thank you for everything.

Ris

Posted in short stories

The Strangers

The Strangers

Title: The Strangers
Word Count: 1059 Words
Summary: You’ve spent your entire life seeing each other on the playground, in the hallways, in classes, and thinking you knew each other. You thought of each other as friends, or at least friendly, for a time. But when you sit across from each other, you realize the only thing you know about each other is when you’ve been in the same place at the same time.

Continue reading “The Strangers”