Presto! Presto?

I’m a novelist, but on occasion I am inspired to write a short story. I was looking though my files recently and found this one.  Unlike my novels, my short stories tend to be dark. I don’t know why this is … maybe another part of my sub-conscience wanting its turn?

Presto! Presto?

By Sandra Bruney

Heeding the advice of her mother, Helen had followed the same format for Timmy’s birthdays ever since she had invited Fat Margaret to his first.  One child for each year, Mrs. Owens had said, and so far it had worked like a charm. On his second birthday, she invited Fat Margaret and Benny next door, and on his third she had added Leroy Strunk from nursery school. From then on, Timmy had chosen his own guests and, without her urging, always invited those who had attended the year before.

On this birthday, nine children eagerly awaited the promised festivities. Fat Margaret, who had been so chubby even her dimples had dimples, was now as slender as a reed and a head taller than Timmy.  Susan Givens’ parents had moved away six months ago, allowing Timmy to invite the twins, Alex and Andy, from his Cub Scout den.

Helen had hired a magician, only later wondering if the entertainment would be too tame for children recently introduced to electronic adventures of Mario and Donkey Kong.  She had more second thoughts when he arrived, clearly past retirement age, his costume faded and shabby.

She needn’t have worried: he took control immediately, corralling the guests in a circle and leaning over Timmy to exchange a few words to the birthday boy. Timmy beamed and nodded to whatever the magician had said, and then they settled down.

Magus the Magnificent took a Kennedy half dollar from Leroy Strunk’s ear and pulled yards of gaudy silk ribbon from Fat Margaret’s pocket. He even produced a docile Belgian rabbit from his top hat. He handed it to Helen, who stroked the soft fur.

“Now,” he said at last, “for my grand finale and most famous trick. I need a volunteer.” He looked about with an inquiring expression.

“Me! Me!” the children cried but, not surprisingly, he pointed to Timmy, who jumped up as if on springs.

“I will hold out my cape,” Magus the Magnificent declared in his deep voice, “and when I refold it, Timmy will have disappeared into another realm.”

Leroy Strunk looked frankly disbelieving and one of the twins snorted.

The magician held out his cloak, effectively hiding the guest of honor.  “Abracadabra! Presto!” he said, and pulled the cloak back to his body.

Timmy, as promised, had disappeared.

“Now bring him back so we can have cake,” Fat Margaret commanded.

Magus smiled and held out his cloak again. “Abracadabra! Presto!” he said triumphantly. He whirled the cloak about his body with a flourish.

Timmy was not there.

Two or three of the children giggled uncertainly. Magus looked vexed and said in a loud voice, “We will try one more time.” Again, the cloak was extended, the words intoned.

No Timmy.

Helen stood up, dumped the rabbit from her lap. “Timmy? Come on out. This isn’t funny,” she ordered.

Magus muttered, “He was supposed to hide behind the drapes and then come out when I held out the cloak the second time. I’m certain he understood how the trick worked.”

But Timmy was not behind the billowing drapes Helen had so proudly installed only a few months ago, nor was he behind the wing chair or the dining room doors. He was nowhere to be found, in the house or outside.

Helen called Roger and told him to come home from his office, where he had decided to wait out the party. She then called the children’s parents to come and collect them. And then, she called the police.

The children were questioned together and separately, but none of them could provide a clue. Magus, who in reality was Dominic Vasco, was questioned at length at police headquarters, but in the end they had to let him go. He had violated no law except, perhaps, one of metaphysics and they did not know how to charge him with that.

Volunteers spent a week searching the house and grounds, then the neighborhood and its perimeter. No trace of Timmy was ever found.

During the first year after his disappearance, calls came from all over the country. Timmy had been sighted at Disney World, at a shopping mall in Erie, Pennsylvania, at the top of the Empire State building. None of the boys was Timmy.

Unable to stand the look of puzzled grief in Helen’s eyes, Roger asked for a divorce and a transfer to his company’s west coast office. Helen never saw or heard from him again.

Fat Margaret got married and Leroy Strunk was killed in Desert Storm. The twins created a dotcom company and were almost as rich as Bill Gates.

Helen kept their letters, always sent around the date of Timmy’s birthday, in a special drawer in the rosewood desk in her bedroom. And on his birthday, she sat in her empty living room and whispered to herself, “Abacadraba! Presto!” hoping that this time when she opened her eyes her son would be standing, grinning at his cleverness, in front of her.


If not now, when?

Do you read about authors who write for eight to twelve hours straight or until they produce  certain number of pages or word count, and decide that if that is what it takes, you will never accomplish your goal of writing a book because you can’t carve out that block of time in your day?

Just remember that these people are the ones who made it to the goal of being a full-time writer. It is their profession, so spending eight hours or more working on their next book is not so unreasonable.

Jack is wondering why you haven’t worked on your manuscript lately.

But for each member of this elite group, there are hundreds more who haven’t yet attained that elusive goal. They don’t have the luxury of an eight-hour block of time with no interruptions. They are raising children, holding down full-time jobs, enjoying hobbies such as painting landscapes, sky diving, or Tai Chi. They are active in their church, synagogue, or mosque. They take time to participate in community events. Yet they still manage to publish their books.

I’m not saying full-time authors don’t also do all of these things ( except the full-time job, because writing is their full-time job) that give them inspiration and satisfaction. After hours of doing research that may yield one paragraph in their story, they also need to take a break and … bake cookies. Time out refreshes the brain, body, and soul.

My point is, most of these full-time writers started out like the hundreds of aspiring writers who look up to them and envy their position. They, too, just managed to fit writing into all their daily tasks and obligations. Maybe it was after the kids were asleep. They bypassed Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and went directly to their writing spot, be it a well-equipped office or a corner of the kitchen. Maybe they got up an hour early in the morning, before they went to work. They didn’t whine that they couldn’t find the time. They found the time. And it paid off.

And, perhaps surprisingly, many big-name writers also hold down jobs in universities, or hospitals, or other professions along with their writing career. Have you ever noticed how many doctors have written books? Where on Earth do they find the time?

And if they can, why can’t you?

So don’t tell me  you haven’t time to write that masterpiece you’ve been daydreaming about for years.  I know I’ve written on this theme before, but it’s worth saying again. To borrow a phrase, Just Do It!

And if you still can’t get started, join a writing group near you or join one on line. Being around other writers can give you the push you need to begin.

After all, if the assignment is to bring in three pages of your manuscript, what better incentive is there to write them? No one wants to be the only kid in class who didn’t do their homework. Especially if that kid is you.

Those three pages can lead to 300 pages, and then to publication if you are determined enough to follow through with the query letters, revisions, and all the rest.

Not everyone who writes a book will be discovered and land on the NY Times best-seller list. You may never achieve that enviable position of being a full-time writer because publishers are demanding more books from you. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing you achieved your dream of being an author.



Genre riddles, free books, and #lovetoread

I have stated before that I love experimenting in different genres. No doubt in my mind that’s because I read just about every genre there

Today starts a book promotion that I’m part of–my books are either free or $1 just this week. There will be many authors participating so be sure to click the link and load up your cart with books! And here’s the Smashword link to find my free and discounted books:

is. So I have novels in Women’s fiction, Historical, and well, Whimsy, since I can’t find an established niche for my paranormal/alternate history/shape-shifting trilogy.

I’d read about other writers who dabble in different genres. I guess, like them, I should have had a different pen name for each genre so my readers won’t get confused. But then, I thought that if they bothered to read the blurb, they’d see right away what genre the book is and know if they wanted to read it or not. Luckily, I have loyal fans who don’t mind jumping from one genre to the other.

Now I read that no matter my inclination to write what I enjoy writing, I’m doing it all wrong. If I wanted to build up a fan base of considerably more numbers than I have now, I should have picked one genre and stuck with it. I should have written all books within that one framework no matter how much my fingers itched to try something new.

Looking at my reading list, I have to admit that advice is sound. My favorite authors (excluding a select few) have made their career writing in the same genre, book after book. Historical writers continue to write about historical figures or in historical settings. Writers of women’s fiction (and my favorite beach stories) write book after book exploring the same theme, but always with enough difference to keep the reader from whining that she’d read that story before.

Well, heck. I’ve been having so much fun I’ve missed the boat.

It’s a little late for me to decide on one genre and stick to it. I’m finishing up two women’s fiction stories and have a historical knocking on my brain and demanding to be written. And I’m too old to look at establishing a long-running career in  one field. By the time it got up and running I’d be looking at brochures for assisted-care facilities.

So, for you younger writers who are reading this, pick a genre and build your career on it. Don’t deviate, don’t look back. If you do have an uncontrollable urge to write something different, be sure to publish it under a different name and build a different fan base. Chances are someone will put two and two together and realize what you’ve done (we all know who J.D. Robb really is), but it won’t matter by then. Or too much.

As for me, that boat has sailed. So I’ll continue writing the stories in my head and forget about the wonderful career I might have had if I’d stuck to one plan. And if I’d started fifty years earlier.

But that’s another story.




Why I don’t use my desk and other excuses

Writers often share photos of their work space:  organized desks with computer, printer, and file folders neatly aligned.

Mine is not like that. I am not even going to take a photo of my messy, disorganized and paper-strewn table (yes, a gate-leg table that may or may not be an antique because I  can’t remember where or when I acquired it). It gets progressively worse when I am working on a book because I don’t have the patience to put things back where they belong.  At any given moment, it holds the printer and computer, a stack of CDs I seldom play, a

calendar, phone, several 5 x 8 yellow tablets for notes, a coffee cup filled with pens, my camera, and and a glass of iced tea, a church bulletin, a flashlight, and my external hard drive because I learned the Lesson of the Lost Files the hard way.


I do have a desk. It is bare. I add this picture to show the reason why it is bare. I have three cats and during the day one or two of them are draped across its surface. I don’t put anything on the desk because within minutes of said cat(s) jumping on top, objects are swiped off and onto the floor.

They don’t jump on my table either because there is no room for them or because (my favorite reason) they see all the stuff on it and realize they are too inherently lazy to push it all off.  Also, the desk faces the windows and gets the afternoon sun.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy formatting my book. That has been accomplished, and now I am trying to come up with an alternate ending for the one that was rejected. So I am not so much writing as thinking. I don’t believe non-writers realize that when writers are sitting gazing off into space that they are actually working.  My hope is if I turn the story over in my mind often enough I will come to an Aha! moment and visualize the perfect ending.

And, I have been sending out my completed ms. to agents. I am by turns either hopelessly optimistic or bleakly despairing of ever again publishing another book. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and if I don’t at least try, the result will be a big, fat nothing. It’s hard to have faith in yourself and your story-telling ability, which is why I occasionally re-read my reviews so I can tell myself that somebody out there likes my books.

I don’t know if all authors are this neurotic. I suspect most are. What other professions depends so much on someone else’s opinion, which may or may not be objective?

Meanwhile, there are days I just wish I were a cat. Basking in the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing.



Ain’t nothing easy

Formatting is such a frightening word. When I hear it, I think of some guy in his room, window shades down, typing away on his computer and generating strings of mysterious code.

I recently formated Riverbend for submission to Smashwords. In case you don’t know it, Smashwords sells books in every available format so readers can download their purchased book on a Kindle, iPad, Nook, telephone, or even, I suppose, their watch if they like to read books on their wrist. Moreover, Smashwords uploads your book to other outlets such as Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Overdrive, and I don’t know where else, saving the author the trouble of individually uploading each book in a different format.  You only have to do it once and they do the rest.Image result for hacker images

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. I spent two entire days formatting my book. But, and here is the kicker, all I had to do was follow the instructions in Mark Coker’s guidebook. And the book is free and very user-friendly. If you follow it precisely, your book will be readable with no deep paragraph indents or inches of white space. I’ve read other books with a table of contents and buy links at the back and wondered how they did it. Now I know! Never too old to learn new tricks.

The other thing I’ve been working  on is converting Riverbend to Audible. I put up the info and a script, but so far no one has auditioned. I’m not very hopeful as an experienced reader can charge up to $500 an hour to read a book and ACX calculated it wold take 7.9 hours to read my book. That isn’t just reading, but editing. I can’t afford that, so I went the second route, which is to share royalties 50-50 with the reader.  Because I don’t have a large “platform” or following, I really can’t expect anyone to take the chance that their hours of work will pay off.

I thought of reading it aloud myself and making a file to upload. I like reading aloud and am told I have a pleasant, if soft, voice. That might be just right for Riverbend, whose main character is a genteel Southern woman. But where would I go to record? I’m afraid any recording I made would be interrupted by barking dogs, meowing cats, cars honking, birdsong, and me coughing when my throat gets dry. The birdsong might be a nice touch if I knew how to edit everything else out.

So that’s what I worked on this week. And you thought writing was only about thinking up a plot and inventing characters to act out the story.

I did too, once upon a time.

Commercial: If you want to read an excerpt from Riverbend, here’s the link:






The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

Have you ever had a let-down that left you sobbing in your pillow?

I’m sure you have, way back in your angst-driven teenage years. But we get older and learn to ride these disappointments into the sunset with a brave grin on our faces, hiding the fact that we don’t know where we are going from here.Image result for woman crying cartoon

I have spent the last couple of months back and forth with an editor with a pretty well-known publishing house. Not one of the big 5, but respectable. She loved the story but hesitated on the ending. If I would re-write it, she’d take another look.

So I sweated out an alternate ending and got–a rejection. It was a very nice rejection and she gave me some invaluable advice on further revisions. But I guess it came down to that she lost faith in my ability to give her what she was looking for.

I can totally see it. I plan to take her advice and revise yet again, and submit elsewhere. And if you are a beginning writer and just now sending queries, you should know that getting a personal, two-paragraph reply is relatively unheard of. Any rejection that isn’t a form letter with one impersonal sentence, is gold.  The sender isn’t just saying no–she is telling you that you have a good story, it just needs work.

On to the other book in progress. I submitted the first 500 words to a workshop in mid-January. The idea was that other participants critiqued my entry and I critiqued several others. It was very worthwhile in that I got some great suggestions as to how to make my beginning stronger. The first 500 words are critical to engage the reader, as writers have been told from the get-go.

So now I have two books I need to work on before I submit (again!)

The moral of the story is that disappointing news can become the platform from which you leap to greater things. And when people gently point out what you’ve done wrong and suggest how to make it work, you don’t sob into your pillow.

You get busy and use the advice you’ve been given because you know, deep down, that you are not perfect. And the only way to get there is to be humble and accept this help, which was freely given, as opposed to arguing that your book is publishable as is and those editors and other writers in the workshop don’t know anything.

I have to admit that the person who doesn’t know everything is me. But I’m learning.



A short essay about a short story

I had clear schedule of things to do written on my dry-erase board. I needed to prepare for a week away from home due to a family emergency that required two days of travel both to and from my destination. So, I had to get a cat-sitter, pack, pick up my meds from the drugstore, and do all the other things necessary for the trip. I planned to tackle that list as soon as I woke up Monday morning.

Instead, I headed for my computer and brought up a blank Word document. Before going to sleep the night before, a story had crept into my brain and wouldn’t let go. I went over it several times in my head before I finally fell asleep, and went over it again before I got out of bed. I knew I would get no peace until I wrote it down.

It didn’t take long. The words were already there.

This has happened a few times before. I have learned from bitter experience not to delay in transferring thoughts to paper (or to a Word document). Only a day or two can erase it from my mind as if it had never been.

I am not a short-story writer. I’ve never published any short stories (except for two in a women’s magazine some 20 years ago), although I’ve won or placed in a few local contests. I find them harder to writer than a 90,000-word novel. Yet once in a blue moon,  as on this occasion, one begs to be written. No, it demands and threatens until it has its way with me.

I have two novels I am working on right now. I could say I don’t have time for such nonsense. Nobody reads short stories any more. There is no market.

But I would be wrong. I am reading Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, (Yes, that Tom Hanks) and he is as accomplished in story-telling as he is acting. Maybe his collection of short stories is what inspired my midnight visitation. But it has happened before and Mr Hanks was not involved then.

I guess we just take what the fates hand us and try to justify the gift. I don’t know what I will do with this story yet. I need to let it ripen, add a little polish — or maybe I’ll do nothing at all because it seems already finished; finished as soon as I typed the last word.

I don’t understand why this happens every so often because it defies explanation. I share this because people ask where my ideas come from and this is the best answer I can give: Out of nowhere.





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