Diamond in the Rough

Diamond in the RoughHe stared at them through thick lenses distorting the size of his eyes. West Texas heat shimmered up from the ground, obscuring the face of every kid standing on the far side of the baseball diamond spray painted on the dirt. The white lines zigzagged in places where the finger depressing the nozzle of the paint can had grown tired.

As he sized up the other players, he noticed there were several girls among them. One of them had her ball cap pulled so low she had to tip her head back to see out from underneath the brim. She blew a large pink bubble. Particles from a plume of dust kicked up by a sudden breeze stuck to the gum. She sucked it back into her mouth to resume chewing, crunching dirt and all.

The boy looked too big for a twelve year-old. He knew how he appeared in the short, striped tee shirt revealing his soft brown belly and the glasses meant for a senior citizen. He figured it’s what kept them from motioning him to come over. But he didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. Most of them had seen what he could do with a ball and bat in gym class.

Besides, none of them owned cleats let alone a real uniform with sponsorship from some local pizza shop emblazoned on the back of a bright orange or green shirt. There were no freshly pressed baseball pants among this crowd of imitators smacking their dented aluminum bats against the bottom of their Goodwill Nikes. Their gear consisted of worn out relics discarded from the Y. In this respect, they were all equal with the exception of one detail.

He owned his own bat. It was the best part of him, an extension of his true self. With care he swabbed an alcohol-soaked cotton ball across the wood to remove excess dirt before massaging it with linseed oil. The treatment was stringent but soothing, not unlike his own personality. Every night he stored the bat handle side up in the cool, dry closet of his concrete block home.

With confidence as solid as the maple bat he held in both hands, the boy walked over to where the bottom of a blue plastic milk crate marked home plate. He informed them in a voice as deep as a grown man’s that he would captain one team and didn’t care who led the other. Braced for their rejection, his shoulders relaxed when they nodded their reluctant agreement.

Every kid stood taller, straighter, to ensure they were not chosen last. With nods and waves as subtle as those at an auction house, players were selected until they stood in a ragged group behind their respective captain. Each silently swore allegiance to their leader simply because no one wanted to be on the losing side. They would expend every ounce of energy to secure a victory regardless of who led them.

Someone’s lucky Mercury head dime flashed in the air, tails was called, and the boy said his team would take the field. A few skeptical glances were cast in his direction, but he reassured them that if they were down in the ninth inning they would want to be last at bat. Not that he planned on being behind.

With a touch of swagger, he left his precious bat in the care of the only girl in a dress as she sat on the swaybacked, wooden bleachers. Then he selected a glove and ball from the pile. He took the mound with authority, made eye contact with his first, second, and third basemen, nodded to the catcher, and caught the first batter off guard with his best four-seam fastball.

When several members of the other team cheered as their own captain struck out, the boy knew he had made friends and enemies. He also knew he would be invited back if only for the sake of a rematch. That pleased him; bruised egos made for good opponents. He wished he had the money for a round of Slush Puppies. It would probably help to ease the sting of defeat. Since it wasn’t an option, he focused instead on earning their respect rather than buying it.

Saved by the… Beef?

The year is 1927. John Welles’ best friend, Claude Willoughby, has had a falling out with his father. John isn’t aware of the details yet, but he suspects J.D. Willoughby isn’t as charming as he would like everyone to believe.

Part of Claude’s punishment is to remain in Baltimore while the rest of his family returns to Kentucky for Christmas. He’s heartbroken. Only the support of his two best friends, John Welles and Sam Feldman, manage to lift his spirits.

Part of their suggestion for Claude’s untraditional holiday is to spend some time with both of them at their respective homes. Sam goes one step further and proposes an after-the-fact Hanukkah celebration including traditional Jewish dishes such as brisket.

I had the following recipe in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. My family looks forward to eating brisket every Hanukkah. This recipe is perfect for celebrating any time of the year. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

Jewish Brisket

4 pounds beef brisket

Olive Oil

1 cup water

1 cup ketchup

½ white vinegar

2 onions, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Drizzle olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.  Add the brisket and heat over medium-high heat. Cook the brisket until browned on all sides. Mix water, ketchup, vinegar, onions, garlic, brown sugar, and salt. Pour mixture over the brisket and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue simmering until tender, turning brisket occasionally, 2 hours and 30 minutes to 3 hours and 30 minutes. Check often after initial 2 hours and 30 minutes to keep from burning or drying out.

Remove the brisket and allow it to cool slightly before slicing the meat against the grain. Place slices of brisket in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan or large platter, pour sauce on top, and serve. Cover any remaining brisket and refrigerate. Spoon off any excess fat and reheat before serving.

Eager hands waiting to attack the brisket after prayer.

Eager hands waiting to attack the brisket after prayer.

Character Study Questions

Character Study Questions

I promise there is no pop quiz with the questions featured in today’s post.  I’m simply sharing with you that with which I have chosen to stock my Writing Toolbox.  The Writer’s Digest post featuring Brenda Janowitz’s article, “Novel Writing: 10 Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters,” provides great information.

Depending on your writing style, Outliner or Pantser, you’ll find Ms. Janowitz’s character study helpful.  Whether employing it at the beginning of your writing process or using it to relieve writer’s block, the simple questions presented create a foundational benefit.

Happy Writing!

The Terror of Querying

The Terror of Querying

I don’t know about you, but the idea of querying an agent terrifies me. I have two opinions of this process based on various articles I’ve read.

One: As long as Starbuck’s doesn’t mess up the coffee order for the assistant to your chosen agent, your manuscript might have a chance of landing in said agent’s hands.

Translation: As long as everyone is having a good day, your manuscript might be smiled upon.

Two: Agents are fearsome gatekeepers to the world of fulfilled dreams, and I’m standing outside the gate.

That one is pretty clear.

Today I’m stocking my Writing Toolbox with a blog post from Writers in the Storm guest blogger, Julie Glover. Her post, “Are You Ready to Query,” posed questions to me that I hadn’t seriously considered before. What I had been doing is letting the answers jumble around my brain without pinning them down because I felt foolish about them. Now I think I may have been on to something.

Admittedly, I need to perfect my answer to question number one. Yes, I know what my story is about, but do I communicate that well?

To questions number two and three, I have a combined answer. I used to play a game where I fantasized about what critics would say regarding my brilliant novel. It went something like this:

If Wally Lamb and Billie Letts had a child and Isabelle Allende was her nanny, that author would be HL Gibson.

Grandiose, isn’t it? And yet, I believe this game answers the questions about writing voice and comparative titles. I consider the above-mentioned authors to be some of the best storytellers on Earth, and this is the role I want to achieve with my writing. So now I have published authors and titles to which I can compare myself and my novel.

As for voice, it’s all about the storytelling for me. My style is easy and familiar. It reads like the voice of an older relative relating family tales and history, the stories you grew up listening to at every family get together, and the ones you now find yourself telling the next generation.

As for question four, I have feedback from several beta readers, and I have completed two rounds of edits. There are beta readers waiting in the wings to assist me after I complete round three edits. A daunting process for sure, but after reading Ms. Glover’s post, I’m encouraged that I’m on the right track.

Celebrating with Buttermilk Biscuits

IMG_20140814_143324December 1907. The Welles Family has been blessed with another child. Part of the celebratory breakfast the family enjoys includes buttermilk biscuits. Collie Mercer, the midwife who helped deliver the baby, takes it upon herself to feed the family so Lyla, wife and mother, can rest. Also, a hot meal is part of Collie’s payment, and she plans to make the most of it. Her excellent cooking skills mean everyone eats well and eats hearty.

Like cornbread, everyone probably has their own version of biscuits that they enjoy the most. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above for my novel The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.


Buttermilk Biscuits

Sift together:

2 c flour

1 T baking powder

1 t salt

½ t baking soda

Cut in:

5 T cold butter (I used unsalted)

Mixture should look like coarse crumbs


1 C buttermilk

Toss with a fork and form a dough ball. If mixture looks dry and/or won’t form a ball, add more buttermilk one tablespoon at a time.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times until smooth. Pat and form a circle of dough ¾” thick. Cut with a 3” biscuit cutter.

Bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 425 degrees for 12 – 15 minutes or until golden on top.  Serve with butter, honey, molasses, apple butter, jam, jelly.


Cryzzk’s Journey

I do not write fantasy.  I repeat: I DO NOT WRITE FANTASY.  And yet, when I saw the picture below, a visual writing prompt from the writing circle to which I belong, a fantasy story popped into my head.  Go figure.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to ‘world-build’ because I used good ole Earth as is for my setting.  My main character was also somewhat created for me.  His story is all mine though.  Enjoy!


Cryzzk’s Journey

Yeti, Sasquatch, Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, Offspring of Fallen Angels, Marked of Cain–all the stupid names Humans have attached to his kind. Their own unfounded fears put fangs in his mouth and claws on his hands. Their so-called encounters were nothing more than staged hoaxes. Occasionally the drunken fools would tangle with an ape or bear and blame it on him. Him, the last of his kind for at least five hundred years.

Cryzzk cannot keep the angry thoughts from tormenting his mind as he walks through the frozen land to which he has exiled himself. No longer can he tolerate foolish Humans. They were never really a threat to anyone but themselves. In their ignorance and superiority, they denied what his people had to offer. Gifts of healing and knowledge on how to preserve the Earth could have been theirs.

He continues to trudge through the waist-deep snow, never looking back, always pressing forward. The drifts yield to his strength like dust before a breath of wind. He drags his fingertips, the only part of him devoid of fur. Ten even trails flank the ruts made by his powerful legs.

“Let them figure that one out,” he says to hear the sound of his own voice in a land free from the pollution of noise.

He doesn’t break stride when he reaches the slushy river, plowing through to the other side. Ice and water are shaken from his fur as he keeps on walking. The elements are unable to penetrate the many layers. Cryzzk is warm despite the freezing temperature. Loneliness is the only thing he cannot keep at bay. It penetrates his very being the way the icy winds burn his lungs, an indication that he is getting older. It was his choice to remain alone after Moerge died. He still misses his mate, knowing she would scorn his solitary life.

“It is our responsibility, Cryzzk, to ensure the Earth goes on. Keep reaching out to Humans. One day they will accept us and our gifts.”

It was Moerge’s mantra until the day she died from mercury poisoning. Cryzzk blames Humans. It is why he must continue his journey alone.

Redbones Revisited

Redbone CoonhoundI have been in love with redbone coonhounds ever since I read Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls in eighth grade. It’s probably why I chose a redbone for the protagonist of my short story, “Zane in the City,” even though I own a collie. I wrote the story for a contest hosted by the AKC.

My research on redbones led me to Wayne Campbell’s website, Timber Chopper Redbones. I couldn’t have found a better source of information on my chosen dog than Wayne’s site.

The history of Timber Chopper is fascinating as is the pedigree of their dogs. The dogs themselves are impressive to look at with their gleaming red coats and gentle eyes. Take time to watch the video of Kobie under the Dogs & Pedigrees tabs. Not every ear will appreciate the sound of a hound baying, but take a minute to understand the magnificence and strength behind their voice. I believe a hound’s bay is generated from within the fiber of their being. They live to bark.

One of my favorite tabs on Wayne’s site is the Terminology page. What a bonus find for my research on redbones. I was able to correctly depict my fictional redbone’s actions by incorporating the terms found here.

Wayne provided the most help when writing my story. He patiently answered my e-mailed questions, and we even spoke on the phone once. His praise for my story let me know I had nailed the character and qualities of redbones. His return e-mail said, “Heather, You did good!! So…very true! Thanks.” I still get thrilled when I read his message.

Thank you, Wayne, for helping to make Zane memorable.

Peace by Proxy

The following piece of flash fiction was written based on the visual writing prompt below.  It wasn’t the original idea that came to mind, but it is the one with which I was most pleased.  I have been writing flash fiction lately for a writing circle contest.  I hope you enjoy my latest installment.


Josiah watched the soldier march up the long road snaking across his property. Fog shrouded the young man, but his uniform and unique helmet marked him for a Brit. When he reached the front porch, he stopped and saluted smartly.

“Excuse me, sir, does Jenny Coates live here?” the young man asked in a Cockney accent.

“No, son, she doesn’t.”

The soldier chewed the inside of his mouth, narrowed his eyes.

“All right then. I’ll ask at the next house.”

He disappeared around the side of the house as the screened door creaked open. Josiah’s wife, Kathleen, stepped out carrying two cups of coffee. She handed one to her husband and scrutinized his pale face.

“You saw the soldier again, didn’t you?”

“Yep,” Josiah admitted. “He just left.”

“Why do you think he keeps coming here?”

“I suppose his ghost is attached to that old Lee Enfield I bought for my collection.”

“Why don’t you sell it at the next gun show?”

“I can’t. I have to find out his name and why he’s looking for this Jenny.”

Kathleen smiled into her cup. She took a sip and asked, “You aren’t afraid of him, are you?”

Josiah snorted. “He’s just a boy.”

“A boy who’s obviously been dead since World War I.”

Josiah sighed and turned up the collar of his Carhartt against the November chill. Kathleen sat beside him on the glider, setting it in motion.

“You believe you can bring some peace to this boy, don’t you?” she asked.

“If not him, then perhaps me.”

“It won’t bring our son back, Josiah. Tommy’s sacrifice in Afghanistan–”

“Look, Kath; if Tommy is out there wandering, his ghost attached to some piece of gear, wouldn’t you want people to do right by him?”

“Let’s start with the initials R.W. carved into the stock, okay? We can trace it back through dealers next.”

Josiah squeezed his wife’s knee.

“Thanks, babe.”

Maleficent – Movie Review

images (3)My desire to support the local library, even if it is destroying itself from the inside out, means I’m coming in late with my review of the movie, Maleficent. I’ve already mentioned this in a previous post, so enough said on the subject.

I’ve discussed the movie with my friend and co-worker ever since the trailers for Maleficent first appeared. We agreed that Angelina Jolie was the perfect choice to play the character. My friend is into behind the scene facts and gossip about movies. She mentioned that Angelina studied the Disney cartoon extensively to ensure she portrayed Maleficent correctly down to her razor-sharp cheekbones.

I must admit I’ve only ever seen clips of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty, but what I’ve seen clearly depicted Maleficent as the bad character. All of Angelina’s efforts in makeup and costuming certainly went along with what I’d seen.

My biggest concern when it came time to watch the movie was that I wouldn’t be able to turn off my internal editor and enjoy watching. I worried that the makeup, costuming, cinematography, and scenery would distract from the storyline. It didn’t, and I was able to take it all in.

But let’s actually discuss the movie.

If anyone could rage onscreen with the strength of a betrayed woman scorned beyond all reason, it would be Angelina Jolie. Factor in those horns and cheekbones, and she’s one scary lady. That didn’t happen in Maleficent.

The backstory did a good job of explaining why Maleficent ended up bitter and angry, but along the way, someone decided to remove the teeth from what could have been an incredible tale. Maleficent was all bark and absolutely no bite.

Instead of watching the main character deteriorate into a sociopathic, homicidal maniac bent on the destruction of a kingdom via the cherished princess, we were treated to a kinder, gentler Maleficent. Seriously?

What was the point of making her look fierce if she’s going to offer a clause to her own curse, attempt to revoke said curse, grow close in heart to the victim of her curse, regret her own actions when the curse is fulfilled, and be the only one who could actually break the curse? These changes in script were bland at best and completely undermined the entire story.untitled (6)

Perhaps Disney was trying to make a subtle point? Bad people can be redeemed. Perhaps the writers and producers didn’t want to scare children? Take a look at what kids watch on TV. Has Disney forgotten how to portray good versus evil? They certainly blurred the lines this time.

I could ask many more questions and read many themes into Maleficent. Quite frankly, it’s just not worth it. For me, the movie didn’t satisfy, and I will be much more skeptical of the upcoming remake, Cinderella.

Pastrami and the Teenaged Carnivore

This isn’t another article about how a boy’s appetite explodes when he turns teen. Rather, it’s a post about how my odd little duck approaches food in general.

Even before he hit the teen years, Joshua didn’t ask for food by its specific name, that is pizza, sandwiches, chicken, spaghetti. Instead of “What are we having for dinner?” he would ask “Is there any meat?” It didn’t matter what kind of meat as long as an animal-based protein appeared on his plate, preferably cooked.

Now that I think about it, as a toddler, he stood on a chair at the dining room table and attacked a platter of steaks with a spoon, trying to drag one off, shouting, “Meat, meat!”

Tonight I served pastrami and Swiss cheese sandwiches toasted under the broiler. For those of you without a teenager, meat is an okay word, but pastrami runs the risk of sounding foreign. Fortunately, Joshua recognized the concoction as two of his favorites: meat and cheese. So far, so good.

Joshua didn’t attack his food as I expected. He looked at the sandwich from the side, his cheek parallel with the table. Then he flipped his head over and examined the sandwich from the other side. I wasn’t two feet away from him, but he was oblivious to my observation.

Next he sniffed the food on his plate like a dog approaching an unknown yet potential food item. I worried the banana peppers would be offensive. Luckily, the melting Swiss cheese overpowered his finicky senses.

Gently, the sandwich was lifted off the plate with all ten fingers since Princess Boy hates anything greasy on his hands. He looked to the left then the right like a demented meerkat watching out for larger predators. The only threat at the table was Joshua’s father who is actually a pushover where Josh and food are concerned.

Before putting the sandwich in his mouth, Joshua proceeded to lick the broiled edge of the pastrami sticking out the end of the sandwich. His tongue flicked back and forth, trying to detect unpleasant tastes. At that point, I lost it laughing. Joshua also burst out laughing because he knows he’s been caught.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

We laughed some more before Joshua finally devoured the sandwich, moaning while chewing. He doesn’t know he possesses this habit.

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