The Finishing Touch


This is one of my favorite fiction short stories I’ve written. It features our grand dog as a hero. I hope you enjoy it.

The Finishing Touch

LaptopComputer Finally, I’m going to finish my novel. The thought danced in my head as I packed the last few items in a suitcase. The tattered manuscript, with all its scribbled edges and sticky notes, was already stuffed in a padded pouch with my laptop. Food for a week, essential chocolate and wine stash included, were secured in the oversized cooler. The plan was simple. No television, no internet access, no interruptions. Just me and the computer. Oh, and one sixty-five pound grand dog, Hammie.

Convincing my husband that I could survive alone for a few days in our daughter’s summer home in Missouri at the Lake of the Ozarks required a plan of action. I memorized the exact procedure for turning on and off the water source and for operating the heating unit. Short of using flash cards, I demonstrated on paper that I could recognize and eliminate (or avoid) venomous snakes and spiders. Emergency phone numbers were entered into my speed dial and I promised to call him every evening reassuring him I hadn’t been murdered by a stranger lurking in the woods. At first I rejected his insistence that I take our daughter’s black lab with me. An unspoken sense of insecurity made me agree.hammyA

I appreciated his concerns and knew he would worry until I returned, but my desire to accomplish a task started years earlier pressed me forward. “Our forty-four years of marriage have been a blessing,” I reasoned with my spouse, “but a week of independence to complete my first novel is a necessity.” He didn’t share my passion for writing, but he respected it.
Splashes of crimson dappled the nearly bare hills, the result of nibbling cold fronts that visited the area the past few weeks. I made a brief pit stop in Kingdom City to stretch my legs and empty my bladder. Of course my four-legged friend needed to do the same. As he stopped and sniffed every few feet, I laughed, remembering my daughter’s warning that he’d want to check his “pee mail” too.

Back on the road, I sang along with Willie Nelson as he strummed his guitar to On The Road Again. Hammie stared out the window. I swear he shook his head as if to remind me I can’t carry a note. Too bad. My car, my rules. Soon, the billboards boasted the many venues near Bagnell Dam, my exit. The sparsely populated countryside reminded me of cherished excursions in my grandpa’s ‘57 Ford Fairlane. The blacktop road twisted and turned for the next twenty minutes. I slowed to a crawl at the last turn where the tree covered road narrowed to one lane. At the crest of a hill, I made a sharp left onto the graveled driveway where the red wood A-frame, greeted me.

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I turned off the engine and set the parking brake. Leaves blanketed the ground all the way down the steep hill to the water’s edge. No cars or neighbors were visible at the other few cabins that shared the remote cove. “Looks like we got the place to ourselves, Hammie.” His tail wagged approval as I attached his leash and helped him leap from the car. He tugged hard, ready to romp. “You can’t run free until I set up the wireless fence. Sorry buddy. With the door key in one hand and the lead in the other, I unlocked the door and entered my sanctuary.

First order of business was kicking up the heat. I pulled up the shades on the dozen windows that enclosed the Florida room to allow sun to filter in. “You’ll have to wait inside while I unpack the car.” Hammie whined and showed me his best pitiful look. “Save the guilt. It doesn’t work on me, remember?” As if he understood my announcement, he sauntered into the sun room.

Three trips to the car finished the task and I decided it was time for a break for both of us. I filled Hammie’s bowl with water and tucked a dog treat in my pocket, a bribe in case it was needed later to get him back inside. After flipping the switch on the wireless contraption, I picked up the second collar and slipped it in place. Long ago I resolved that I’d never fully understand how the machine knew how far a ninety-foot circumference was and how it could relate it to an animal. “Time to breathe in a little of this country air, buddy.” Hammie’s tail wag and pitiful moan as he nudged his nose on the door handle summed it up perfectly. I grabbed a bottle of water before heading to the deck.

The lake’s water near the dock was low and still, stirring only when an acorn dropped from a nearby tree where a squirrel packed away its final stash for the winter. Hints of late afternoon sun filtered through the towering oaks that still clenched some of their vegetation, perhaps as a cloak in anticipation of the deep cold inching closer by the hour. Leaves rustled beneath the elevated cabin as Hammie explored within his allotted space. I leaned on the railing and listened to the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker interrupted, or perhaps accompanied by, the chirp of a cardinal warning others that company had arrived.

The temperature dipped quickly as the sun slowly disappeared. “Think it’s time to go in Ham.” A flash of the biscuit brought him running. Two crunches and the treat disappeared. “How about dinner? You getting hungry? Me too.”

After we ate, I closed all the shades and headed to the bedroom to read for a while. Hammie joined me, circling around and plopping down, then pressing his back into my side. I smiled and stroked his shiny coat. With the added warmth and enhanced sense of security, I sent a silent “thank you” to my husband.

###

We settled into a routine over the next few days with the majority of time devoted to my novel. Whenever Hammie wasn’t exploring the enticing animal scents in his designated circle, he curled up at my side with his backend toward me to show his true feelings. His deep sighs made me laugh. I guessed even dogs get bored with my writing.

So far, my plan had come together with only minor interruptions. The final chapter neared completion, yet I was distracted by something. I put the laptop in sleep mode and stood up. Perhaps the tedious attention required to complete the edits or maybe the isolation from human contact was taking its toll, but the continuous hammering by a visiting woodpecker wore on my nerves. I took my cell phone and Hammie onto the deck and searched near the roof for the enemy. I located his head pounding on the side of the cabin. A Pileated Woodpecker, one not often seen back home. My irritation turned to awe.

The sharp red crest and white underwing color of the crow-sized bird deserved to be captured, at least on my phone so I could show hubby upon my return. I needed to get the best angle. “What do you think Ham?” I swear he shook his head no. Ignoring his warning, I contemplated my move. Common sense stepped aside for the risk-taker I had become and I pushed the wooden lawn chair close to the edge of the deck. With the phone in my pocket, I worked my way higher, placing one foot on the top of the chair and the other on the hand railing, steadying myself by gripping the side of the cabin with both hands.
Perfect, I thought, as I focused in on the knocker. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on how to balance myself with both hands working the phone’s camera. I tapped the screen, pleased with the result for a nanosecond, until my foot slipped off the railing. My head crashed against the redwood railing, sending stars and instant pain. I plummeted down the fifteen foot drop to the ground, landing on my already injured skull. I screamed as unbearable pain split my skull and sent me into a blackened state.

###

“Honey. Honey, please wake up.”
The whisper of the faded plea stirred in a distant corner of my mind. The pain. Oh, the pain. Why so much pain? I struggled to raise my hand to message my temple, but something weighed my arm down.

“Babe, I’m here.”

I struggled to open my eyes, feeling caught between stages as if coming out of a dream. Where am I? Who’s calling me? As the fog in my brain dissipated, the stabbing leg pain intensified, then my arm joined forces with the excruciating headache. I twisted and how could turned trying to escape the torture.

“Honey, I’ll get the nurse. Hold on.”

The voice traveled closer then faded as I sensed the release of warmth from my hand. Something heavy warmed my left leg. Think, I urged myself. Flashes of memory interrupted the agonizing battle inside my body. Footsteps, rushing around the room, unfamiliar voices shouting commands to each other.
“I thought we’d lost you.” The voice that called me honey choked.

Think harder. People tugging on an arm, tape ripping, alarms. I hear alarms. I’ve heard those before, many times, but where? “Nooo!” This time I heard my own shout as the voices faded away, my futile attempts to stop the drugs from sending me back to the dark place.

###

Six weeks later, with my discharge papers signed, hubby wheeled me to the car. A metal contraption kept my neck in place while my left leg and right arm had progressed to temporary casts. My eyes grew moist as I neared the car. My daughter smiled from behind the wheel. Hammie anxiously bounced up and down in the back seat. An unexpected and welcomed sight.

My husband helped me make the painful transition from chair to car, and then settled into a back seat driver position. The dog wiggled and squirmed until he managed to gently place his nose on my shoulder, the rest of him pressed in the gap between the seats.

“I thought you might like a visit from your buddy. He visited you a few times while you were in the medically induced coma.”

“I felt his heavy body snug against mine, but I thought it was my imagination.” I stroked his furry head in appreciation. My recollection of the accident was limited to memories before the fall. Some things continued to puzzle me, like how my husband got the call after I fell. I glanced at him and started to ask again, but not wanting to test his already frayed patience. He read my thoughts and shook his head.

“Look, I’ve told you everything I know. You’re phone flew out of your hand when you fell and somehow it dialed me. I heard the screams and the continuous bark and knew something bad had happened, so I called the emergency number you left with me.”

Hammie’s eyes met mine and I studied his face for the answer and nodded. “You were right. I shouldn’t have tried it. But how did the phone dial itself?”

The black lab’s lip curled upward.

“That’s his “Elvis” smirk.” My daughter’s laughter filled the air.
“Guess it will be his little secret.” But silently I knew.

My husband’s hand extended toward me, a grin on his face as he handed me the phone. “Great picture of the woodpecker.”

Writers Encouraging Writers


Saturday Writers, a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild, recently published its 8th anthology, Under the Surface. Saturday Writers's photo.

The stories, poems, essays and memoirs represent the winners of the monthly contests sponsored by Saturday Writers.  The contests are open to writers across the nation.  More information can be found at http://www.saturdaywriters.org

“Writers Encouraging Writers”  is the motto of Saturday Writers and they certainly deliver that to their members.  With their support and encouragement, I dared to submit four entries this past year. Three of my submissions are in the book.

So to all my fellow writers, I share words of encouragement.  Write from your heart, dare to be heard and give thanks for the gift. You never know what you can do until you try.

Write Up My Alley


 

My Sunday morning started off with my coffee splashing out of the cup onto the front seat of my car.  Of course there were no stray napkins around to soak up the mess before it stained the upholstery, my pants leg and part of the sleeve on my coat.

Then there were the fifty-mile an hour winds that helped push me across the parking lot of church.  The weather man predicted another snow filled day in Missouri with the high of 32.  Guess I shouldn’t complain since it was 72 degrees yesterday.  Seems Mother Nature refuses to allow us to enjoy spring type weather for more than 24 hours.

The lunch plans I had looked forward to all week were cancelled because of the snow prediction.  All minor disappointments in the big scheme of things, but I could feel myself slipping like a Slinky down a long staircase.  It’s been a hard winter with too many similar days.

I’m not a dumpster diver, but I do get down in the dumps sometimes and wander around aimlessly looking for direction.  Sometimes it’s hard to find my way back to the main road.  I began considering the familiar options.

Hubby refused to play Sorry, Chinese Checkers or Dominoes with me anymore.  He headed to the bedroom to watch some sports.  I roamed through the kitchen to look for some comfort food.

Chocolate’s my first crutch in desperate times.  There are three problems with that choice: weight gain (which I certainly don’t need); there isn’t a speck of the dark sweet treat in the house; it’s still Lent and I gave it up for forty days, that’s why there’s none in the house!

Wine is my second choice.  Too bad my daughter and I consumed it all last night as we played cards and celebrated her birthday.  Besides, drinking wine before noon just isn’t a good idea if you want to get anything accomplished the rest of the day.

As I walked through the dining room (my official writing space), my laptop glared at me.  No, really, it did.  If I knew how to program it, my screensaver would say STOP PROCRASTINATING!  Still, I wasn’t ready to commit to hours glued to the keyboard without some assistance.  I wandered through the house looking for another distraction.

Tucked in the nightstand drawer I locate the MP3 player my daughter’s boyfriend loaded for me some years ago.  (Please, you didn’t think I did it myself did you?)  I turned it on and it immediately shuts itself off.  So I begin searching for a new battery and find one in the freezer (someone told me it makes them last longer).  I spent the next five minutes warming it up before I insert it into the small music player.

I gathered all the papers for a new project I’m supposed to be working on and sat down by the computer, but my hands were cold from messing with the AA, so I headed back to the bedroom and dug out a sweater that was packed away in hopes that it wouldn’t be needed again. 

Finally, I forced myself to begin pecking away on the keyboard, but instead of working on the new project, I started writing this post.  The good news is that I was no longer headed down the dark depressing road; I was playing in the alley.  Maybe I’ll find my way back before the day is done.

What do you do when grey skies hover overhead?  What are the little distractions that help you procrastinate?

Variable Weather Ahead


Like chameleons, the maples transform their luscious green cloaks to crimson and gold foliage. Shades of ChangeDSCN0101 Shorts and T-shirts are replaced with long sleeves and jeans on my early morning walks. The last few tomatoes have been plucked from the vines and the stakes stored in the garage until next year’s harvest. These unmistakable signs of fall stir a conflict of emotions within me.

Fields of pumpkins ready for harvest, colorful baskets of mums Chrysanthemumand the sweet smell of cider bring a smile to my face. I cringe at the thought of frigid winter winds, shoveling mounds of heavy snow and scrapping ice from frozen windshields. Red and green store displays with signs that warn of the number of shopping days until Christmas cause my blood pressure to rise in frustration.

National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) http://nanowrimo.org/en/faq/how-nanowrimo-works
has the ability to elevate all those emotions within 30 days. Still, I cannot resist the challenge of setting a lofty goal and working diligently to achieve it.

The first time I challenged myself to participate in the NANOWRIMO experience, excitement filled my every thought. With nothing more than two characters created in my mind some ten years prior, I counted the hours waiting for November 1. Pads of yellow paper and a selection of the finest writing pens rested patiently on the table. DSCN0788 Much like nuts hoarded by squirrels, bags of chocolate were stashed in secret places. Thirty day warnings were given to my husband and daughter of the madness ahead.

Surprisingly, the first three chapters flowed like melted butter across a mound of warm mashed potatoes. Before then end of week two, the side dish had stiffened and the melted goo sat atop the mountain in a pool waiting to be stirred. By week three, I was ready to toss the unattractive mound into the trash, but the encouragement from the staff who support NANOWRIMO insisted that if I warmed up the concoction in the microwave, it wwould be edible once again. There were roadblocks and detours, but on November 31, I had completed 55,000 words and my first novel. DSCN0722

Excitement, surprise, frustration, hope, and a sense of accomplishment all rolled into one large binder. The roller coaster ride was exhilarating and well worth the late nights in front of my computer.

Procrastination, lingering doubts and limited resources have kept the book in manuscript form. Still, when the weather changes and the email from NANOWRIMO arrives reminding that I need to prepare, the urge to start another book tugs at me until I relent.

Last year, my story came to an end after just 25,000 words. Brief disappointment joined my list of emotions, still, I accomplished more than I had in the 11 months prior to the event. I’m confident that when I start the rewrites, the book will develop into a sequel to my first novel.

My mind is already buzzing with new characters, plots and possibilities. Will you be joining me along with the thousands of others who always wanted to write a book? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Pen Pals in Today’s World


Computers rock! LaptopComputer
I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it is true. I’ve often written post in support of pen and paper (Rock, Paper, Laptop). Don’t get me wrong, they still occupy plenty of space in my home and always will. Yet, my appreciation and respect for my keyboard increased significantly during the past five weeks.

My daughter sent me a link, https://www.coursera.org/courses?stats=upcoming, because she knew I might be interested in taking a class that was being offered, Crafting an Effective Writer. Coursera is an education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. I’m all about learning and jumped at the chance to take a free class to update my grammar and punctuation skills. For the record, the site also offers many classes that have nothing to do with writing.

Besides refreshing my over 60 brain on the proper use of pronoun antecedent agreement and compound-complex sentences, it connected me to the rest of the world, much like pen pals could when I was young. Information shared in the discussion forums indicated 43,000 participants initially signed up for the class.
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Imagine my delight in communicating with students from Mongolia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Ukraine, just to name a few, who all shared a similar interest in writing.

I gained a profound appreciation for my native tongue. For a large majority of the students, English was a second language. Having only taken Latin in high school, all of which I have since forgotten, I couldn’t imagine trying to achieve success in a challenging course written in another language. I admired and learned a great deal of humility from my fellow writers across the world. I also hope to take a second language as soon as the class becomes available.

One of the first expectations of the course was to record the weekly writing assignments in a blog, such as WordPress http://wordpress.com. My knowledge of this blog site, as limited as it is, helped me immensely and the weekly assignments gave me new ideas for my posts. What a win-win situation and I even gained quite a few new followers.

Yes, I can honestly proclaim, computers rock. Getting and giving immediate feedback is better than snail mail, especially when you are taking a five week course, but there is still something endearing about finding a handwritten letter in my mailbox from time to time.

Preserving the Written Word


There are many benefits to having writing as a hobby, especially if the tools used are pen and paper. DSCN0788

Letting ink flow on unblemished, pre lined paper is an inexpensive opportunity to relieve stress, release unspoken emotions, provide entertainment and possibly fulfill a life-long dream, like publishing a book. Divulging one’s deepest fears, childhood memories or built-up resentments in private could save a person many dollars and hours in treatment. Besides, even if carrying years of unnecessary baggage buried deep inside doesn’t apply, perhaps a humorous antidote will emerge, providing a good laugh when needed.

In addition, scripting your thoughts can be done any time day or night. No reservations are necessary and inclement weather does not prohibit participation, in fact, it can provide a perfect setting, such as It was a dark and stormy night. Some of my favorite poetry spilled forth while sitting on a sandy beach in Maui while waiting for my daughter to get off from work.
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Whether it is five minutes or five hours, having two simple items within reach have made me feel I wasn’t wasting time while sitting and staring at four walls in a doctor’s office or waiting for the dryer to finish the cool down cycle.

While many people enjoy hobbies that require physical stamina, I’m sure there must be some calories burned during the challenge of writing. Why else would they call it an exercise? Of course, taking long walks provides me with loads of inspiration and sometimes I carry a small notebook or voice recorder to remind me of what it was – not that my memory is slipping or anything like that.

Yet, my strongest reason for writing with my trusty ballpoint and spiral notebook is to preserve the art of the written word. While I must confess that I have long used a laptop to record my stories and novels, I continue to scribble my first thoughts on a yellow pad or record them in a journal, DSCN0792which I keep close at hand at all times just in case a treasured thought floats by and justifies the effort.

One thing for sure, even though writing a thoughtful poem or interesting article may have slipped my mind over the years, I recognize my own handwriting and I know that I composed something that was worth committing to paper. It’s fun and satisfying to see how I’ve grown as a writer and a person. Life’s challenges have changed dramatically over the years, and so has my reaction to them.

So to all of the people who have not tried writing with good old fashioned pen and paper, I recommend turning off the television, silencing the phone, grabbing the nearest ink pen and blank piece of paper, and get writing. Who knows where it will take you! Give it a try and let me know if it feels as good to you as it does to me.

Stick a fork in it?


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My Galileo thermometer lets me know when the temperature changes.
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The oven timer suggests when the roast should be removed for the perfect doneness.
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Even the gas gauge warns me when I’ve exceeded my mileage.
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The story’s been written for more than a year. Four avid reader’s have read it and provided critique. It currently is undergoing what I hope is a final edit and still, I hesitate to commit it to the publishing stage.
When will I know it’s done?

What’s your quest?


What’s the quest that drove you to blog?

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I drained the last of my second bottle of cabernet into my wine glass, took a deep breath and clicked on the Publish immediately prompt on my first post twelve months ago. https://authordianemhow.com/2012/03/09/what-now/#like-7
It took every ounce of that liquid encouragement to jump into the unfamiliar blogging world. The yellow paper that sat next to my laptop reminded me of why I should take the plunge.

Here is what it said.
1. Sixty is not too old to learn something new.
2. Twenty-four x seven is too much togetherness for two retirees.
3. Either throw the journals out or do something with them.
4. With thousands of ears out there, surely someone will hear me.
5. Why not?

Here’s what I know today.
1. Sixty-one isn’t too old either. Widgets still elude me, but I’ve learned to add media, change my theme and was Freshly Pressed once. https://authordianemhow.com/2013/01/24/rock-paper-laptop/#like-273
2. Twenty-four x seven is still too much togetherness for two retirees.
3. Some of my journals are worth re-reading and sharing.
4. I’m not alone. The positive affirmation I’ve received gives me encouragement. I’m down to two glasses of wine.
5. Why the heck not!

So what is your story? What passion makes you tap away at the keyboard till early morn?

The Disciplined Writer


A great writer shows discipline; she adheres to a plan
She’s seldom distracted by the presence of man
She embarks on a mission with an outline in hand
Ignoring the dishes, the mop and dust pan
Her coffee gets cold while she’s pecking away
Till wee hours of the morning at her laptop she’ll stay
I think she’s fictitious, this goddess of pens
She exists in the mind of imaginary friends
Too many distractions that get in the way
Too many expectations in the course of a day
Like Smartphones and Ipads, tv and much more
The children and shopping and knocks on the door
And even at night when the rest are in beds
Temptations invade us and dance in our heads
There’s red wine, dark chocolate, tidbits of cheese
Sudukos and novels, guilty pleasures to seize
Procrastination some call it; excuses others say
But a writer who avoids them? I don’t believe it. No Way
by dianemhow

No blood and guts, please


I confess. I have never read the Twilight series http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilightseries.html. My remote control would never stop on a channel airing The Vampire Diaries http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilightseries.html. I’d rather go to the dentist than be forced to watch a blood and guts movie.

The ability to create fantasy escapes me. In fact, I have a difficult time closing my eyes and imagining that I am someplace I’m not. Perhaps my DNA makeup does not include much of the imagination gene.

My interests focus on real life stories, not the reality shows aired on television today, but the slice of life stories of everyday people. Humor often serves as my crutch in difficult times and I make light of challenging situations rather than defer to the martyr syndrome, as evident in my book, Peaks and Valleys http://www.amazon.com/Peaks-Valleys-Mrs-Diane-How/dp/0967490170.

While my imagination may be limited, I still love to write and my dream is to write other people’s stories. I firmly believe everyone has a story, although I find most people think no one would be interested in hearing about his or her life.

It doesn’t require imagination to write someone’s life review. It does take time to listen and ask open-ended questions and it takes honesty by the person who is sharing their story. The end product can serve as a legacy for younger generations who will someday want to know about their ancestors’ journey.

The Missouri Humanities Council and Warriors Arts Alliance http://www.mohumanities.org/proud-to-be-writing-by-american-warriors/ recognized that the unembellished stories and poems written by veterans do not need props or imaginary characters to be worthy of inclusion in their anthology of remarkable and inspiring stories. In fact, they currently are accepting admissions for their next book.

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At a recent writers meeting http://www.saturdaywriters.org/, I listened while four American veterans read excerpts from the recently published book Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors. Their tales brought tears to my eyes and stirred intense feelings from years of reading similar letters while working for the Department of the Army.

Although the painful process of writing the story reflected in the quiver of each voice as the scripted words were read, there was a therapeutic benefit for each of the veterans. Each shared his reason for having done so during the question and answers period that followed.

Having listened to the veteran’s stories, I realized that not all writer’s need to have a vivid imagination. While my reading material and viewing time is limited to less imaginative works, there are many possibilities for me to suceed in my writing efforts.

How about you? Do fanciful characters dance in your head? What stirs you to pick up paper and pen and write?