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Solitary Spark

Monday, June 10, 2019

Photo Prompt: Midnight Train

Where is the train coming from or going to? Is this forest a late-night beauty or something hauntingly sinister? Who is on the train and why? Let your mind run wild!

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Dialogue: How to Hear Voices in Your Head

One of the hardest parts of writing is getting the dialogue right. You ask yourself question after question, debating line after line:
  • Does that sound natural?
  • Would she really say that?
  • This is the stiffest argument I've ever read.
  • Oh. My. Goodness. Why did ever I think that sounded right?
  • Pffttt. Who is he? Homer? No one would phrase it like that in 2016!
I've found that many times I just cannot connect with the dialogue in some books that I read, leading me to reflect on my own dialogue style. It seems that sometimes when trying to make something sound realistic, it's easy to try too hard. So how do we fix that? How do you make dialogue a strength?

One of the more interesting resources I came across was Nadia Kalman's TED-Ed original titled "Three Antisocial Skills to Improve Your Writing." Check out the short video below and find out how eavesdropping, imagination, and muttering to yourself may help to improve your dialogue skills. As Kalman puts it, it shows "how to hear voices in your head" and improve your writing.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Writer's Social Media Toolbox

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Poetry: Understanding Rhythm and Meter

Many people have a difficult time understanding and using rhythm and meter in poetry. I was certainly one of them.  For this reason, when I took a seminar in teaching writing for my master's degree, I included activities to tackle them in my lesson plans. If you find yourself needing extra help, or even a refresher, on rhythm and meter, check out the video below.

Do you try to work in rhythm and meter in your poetry? If you usually stick to free verse, give it a try sometime! It really helps to solidify an understanding of the concepts.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writing Prompt: Aftermath

In short story or poetry form, write about the aftermath of a life-changing event in your main character's life, including a face-to-face moment with someone who was directly involved, good or bad.

What follows below is the inspiration for this prompt: a short story I wrote 5 years ago.
I woke with a start, heart racing and head pounding. My eyes snapped to a small white fan spinning overhead, immediately halting the rapid beat of my heart. Nausea bubbled in my throat as I tried to remember where I was and how the hell I got there. Not again, Raelyn, I thought as I prepared myself for another awkward morning and quick exit.

As I sat up and scanned the room for clues, my assumption was at least half confirmed. The small, neat room screamed masculine, but somehow my clothes from the night before were still on and there was no trace of indiscretion on my part. My purse even sat neatly on the end table alongside a glass of water and two small brown pills. Although the gesture was nice, I’d learned that I was far less likely to have a repeat of recklessness if I made myself suffer through the hangover.

After I swung my legs off the edge of the bed, I stilled to listen for signs of life outside the door and let my head stop spinning. Silence filled me with relief. Not wanting to waste any time, I quickly slipped on my shoes, grabbed my purse, and made my way to the bedroom door. The cold knob turned slowly and quietly in my hand as I peeked into the next room. Not seeing anyone, I moved toward the front door. Just as I reached for the knob, a loud snore vibrated my eardrums.

I spun toward the sound and held my breath. Lying on the couch was a mop of messy brown hair attached to a lean torso. The body began to stir and I stood in silence, hoping that it would not turn to face me. To my relief, the man stilled and began to snore again. I waited with hand on knob until the next snore peaked, then quickly opened the door and slipped outside. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed that my apartment complex was right next door; all I could do was hope that the guy remembered as little of me as I did of him.

Glancing at my watch, I realized I had only a half hour until I had to be at work, meaning I had only fifteen minutes to get ready if I was going to make it on time. The strange morning’s adrenaline boost worked to my advantage because I was ready in ten and made my normal fifteen minute walk to work with plenty of time to spare.

Walking in the door of Willow Street Books always calmed me. There was something about the quiet atmosphere and smell of books that drew me in, but that’s not surprising. I’d spent my childhood reading anything I could get my hands on. As I got older, I realized that I could temporarily escape the real world through my favorite books. When I moved to the city six months ago, I was thrilled to find a bookstore so close to my apartment. Since I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have a car, I spent most of my free time there wandering the rows of novels, flipping through the pages, and enjoying the adventure of finding the perfect book.

After two weeks of seeing me almost every day, the owner, Julia, offered me a job. Apparently she had been looking for someone to help her around the store and open or close on days she couldn’t. I didn’t need the job—my parents left behind enough money for me to live off of for years—but I needed the distraction. Julia gave me much more than a job though; she gave me friendship and family.

“Good morning,” Julia smiled from behind the register, holding out a steaming cup of coffee that I gratefully snatched from her hands.

“Thank you,” I mumbled, savoring the smell as I rounded the counter to set my bag down.

“Rough night?” she asked, reaching out to cover my hand with her own as I sat on the stool beside her.

“Could have been worse.” Julia simply nodded, understanding she would not get more out of me today.

Since I started working with her, Julia had been the mother I wish I’d had. Her warm disposition and understanding nature won me over immediately. I’d been here a week when I found myself pouring my heart out to her. She knew my fears. She knew my secrets. She was the only one here who knew anything about my past. Despite everything I said or did, Julia was there when I needed her. She was more than my boss, which was why she deserved a better explanation. Sighing, I turned toward her and took a deep breath.

“I don’t remember much since I left here last night,” I began, shifting my eyes to my hands. “On the way home I stopped at the bar next to my apartment to have a drink. It was a bad night, you know? Like I told you yesterday, the nightmares kept me up the night before. I hoped that a drink or two would help me sleep through the night once I got home.”

Julia nodded in understanding, squeezing my hand to urge me on.

“The next thing I know, I am waking up in a strange man’s apartment.” I waited for a reaction but only saw sympathy in her warm brown eyes. I guess she was used to this story by now. “I was clothed, thank god. He left water and tylenol for me. When I left, he was asleep on the couch.”

“Sounds like he was looking out for you, sweetie,” Julia responded with a smile. “It’s not too often that you come across such gentlemen.”

I gave her a small smile and rounded the counter to busy myself with my morning routine. “I’d been doing so well lately though,” I said, turning away to straighten a stack of books as my eyes began to water. “What did I do to make him think he needed to take care of me? Even though my back was hurting I made sure I hadn’t taken anything before I drank last night. I knew something like this would happen if I did, but I can’t remember anything anyway! What’s the point?”

A set of hands quickly turned me around and grasped my shoulders. Staring me hard in the eyes, I started to sob as Julia held my face.

“You look at me, Raelyn Matthews. Do not let this one night ruin all of the progress you’ve made. When I found you, you were a broken, lost young woman. I didn’t know if I could help you, but I sure as hell was going to try. You have come so far. I am not going to let you go back down that path. I refuse it. You are a good, strong woman. We all heal in our own way and in our own time. Do not forget that.”

Holding on for dear life, I let all my frustration out as I sobbed into Julia’s shoulder. I wished in that moment that my mother was with me, yet I knew our interaction would be far from the same. The thought sobered me. My voice was soft as I thanked Julia, then slowly pulled away to get myself together.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Julia avoided mention of my earlier breakdown, choosing to move on as if nothing had occurred. I couldn’t have been more grateful. We worked all day to clean the bookcases, restock the stacks, and rearrange the displays at the front. Our stream of customers was slow yet steady, but that would soon change as the holidays arrived. The thought of the first Christmas without my parents brought a lump to my throat that I quickly swallowed; another break down at work today would be unacceptable, although I knew Julia would understand.

At the end of my shift I headed straight home. The emotion of the day weighed heavily on me. My mind wouldn’t stop racing and I could feel my anxiety rising as time passed. By the time I stepped into my apartment, my hands were shaking and my chest ached with pressure. The sound of my keys hitting the table made my heart skip. Each step I took down the hallway seemed long and slow. When I entered the bathroom, my shaking hands could barely open the pill bottle. Even though I knew it was not an instant fix, when the medicine touched my tongue I could feel my body relax. All I wanted to do was sleep it all away.

As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was asleep.


The next morning I woke to the sun streaming through my windows. Despite sleeping for twelve hours, my body was exhausted. Normally on my days off I choose to make breakfast and sit around the house until the afternoon, but since it was early I decided to walk up the street to the coffee shop.

After getting my coffee and bagel, I walked across the street to the park and settled under a large shade tree. The weather was just cool enough to need a jacket and with a cup of coffee the temperature felt just right. I leaned against the trunk of the tree, eating and sipping my drink until I was full. I then pulled out the real reason I decided to visit the park.

It was a perfect day to sit in the shade and read. As the sun rose in the sky, I lost myself in a fictional world. Time stood still for me as the day wore on, which wasn’t unusual for on my days off. I left behind the stress of the day before. I escaped the constant torrent of thoughts that normally assaulted me. I didn’t have to be me in those moments, and it was sobering to know that’s what I loved most.

It wasn’t until my stomach growled that I realized the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was turning cold. I grabbed my things and stopped by the grocery store on the way home. As usual I struggled to carry my bags the five blocks to my apartment, but I had no other options. By the time I reached my street, my tired arms threatened to give out. I adjusted my hold as I rounded the last corner and the next thing I knew I was on the sidewalk.

The reason my dinner was scattered across the ground stood above me gaping. His tangled brown hair looked uncomfortably familiar, but his face I couldn’t place. Snapping his mouth shut, the man quickly reached his hand out towards me.

“I’m so sorry,” he said, running his other hand through his dark hair. “I didn’t see you coming around the corner.”

I smiled tightly, placing my hand in his and allowing him to help me up. “It’s okay,” I said as I bent down to collect my things and straighten my clothes. I sighed as I noticed my spaghetti sauce staining the concrete. “I wasn’t hungry anyway.”

When I didn’t receive an answer, I glanced up at the man to see him gazing at me curiously. He shook himself from his thoughts as my eyes caught his and began rambling.

“I’m sorry. I’d be happy to buy you dinner. Or spaghetti sauce. Or just give you the money for the sauce. I didn’t mean to ruin your night. I’m Jackson, by the way.”

I held my hand up to stop him. “Don’t worry about it,” I answered, waving him off as I picked up my bags and stepped around him. I had a gut feeling this was the man whose apartment I was in and I sure as hell did not want a reunion. “Have a good night.”

I began to walk home but halted when I felt his hand gently grip my upper arm.


Pushing his hand off me, I spun toward him and took a step back. My gaze hardened as I met his concerned green eyes.

“It’s as simple as this. I don’t remember anything from the other night and I’d like to keep it that way.”

The man simply stared back at me as I eyed him seriously. Taking that as a sign of acceptance, I turned to continue on my way.

“Raelyn,” he spoke softly once again.

His reluctance to leave me alone lit a fire inside me. My fists clenched as I slowly turned to face him again. All interest in being nice evaporated the instant I saw him looking at me as if he expected I would relent.

“I don’t know you and you sure as hell don’t know me,” I spat.

“But I do,” he stated simply. “At least, I know more than you think.”

My mind raced as I tried to remember anything from that night at the bar. In my drunken state there was no telling what I told him. I eyed him suspiciously. What the hell is he getting at?

“Look, I was drunk. You don’t know if anything I said was true or if it was just drunken rambling. Don’t expect us to be great friends just because I slurred a few heartfelt words to you.”

I turned quickly and started off, dismissing him and signaling an end to the conversation.

“Wait!” I heart him yell. I heard his footsteps getting closer as I sped my own pace. As I reached the stairs to my complex, his steps stilled.

“I found them.” Just as a sarcastic reply was about to leave my mouth, he spoke his next words.

“I found you, Raelyn. Eight months ago. I saw the car as…” His voice trailed off as I was lost one of the many nightmares I relived every night.

I woke as squealing tires, crashing metal, and three separate screams filled my ears. My body was thrown around like a rag doll as our SUV began flipping. I could hear my own screams drowning out those of my mom and dad until at some point I blacked out.

When I opened my eyes next, I saw someone leaning over me. I could feel the cold, wet grass beneath my body in stark contrast to the pain and fire that lit various parts of my body. I tried to move, but the pain caused me to cry out. The man with me spoke softly, urging me to stay still. As the world around me blurred, I reached for his face and felt myself smile softly.

“You saved me,” I whimpered as I felt his warm hand cover mine. His words became less clear as he replied, but I felt comforted knowing I wasn’t alone.

Before I lost consciousness for the final time, I saw his face clearly before mine for the first time.

“It was you,” I murmured. He simply nodded and smiled softly while I stared quietly at him.

“You saved me,” I stated. Again, he nodded and let me process the information before speaking.

“When I found out that you had not one left, I couldn’t get the way you looked at me that night out of my head. I came to see you at the hospital whenever I could when you were in ICU. I spoke to you while they had you in a coma because I wanted you to know that despite everything you were not alone. Then they moved you I couldn’t find you or get any information since I wasn’t family—or even a friend. When I saw you in that bar the other night..”

I cut him off. “Why didn’t you just let me die?”

The question seemed to shock him. He stood there staring at me wide eyed. “I couldn’t just let..”

“Yes, you could!” I screamed as I lunged for him.

“You should have let me die!” I began sobbing over and over again as I beat him with my fists. He allowed me to let my rage out until I didn’t have the energy to move.

As I sank down onto the concrete, Jackson held me against him. My fists ached. My eyes hurt. My throat was dry. I felt completely numb.

I barely remember him picking me up. I don’t know how he figured out my apartment number. The only thing I remember clearly after my breakdown was his face looking down at me as I drifted off in my bed.

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