#Story Chat: Jenny’s Bumpy Start

Introducing Story Chat – a unique way to promote Hobby Bloggers who love to write.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I’m Marsha Ingrao from Always Write, a blog dedicated to promoting hobby bloggers.

Hugh Robert’s story, “The People Under the Stairs,” published on Always Write just before Halloween was a huge success.

I want to open up Story Chat to any writer who would like to submit a 750-1,000 word previously unpublished story. It might be a chapter of an unpublished book, like my sample below.

After publication on Always Write, reblog the story on your own site, and/or invite your friends to reblog to increase the dialogue. Anne Goodwin suggested using the story afterward as a newsletter enticement. Great idea Anne!

A few weeks after publication, I will summarize the commentary, interview you, the author, and publish a second post about the story.

Jenny’s Bumpy Start

By Marsha Ingrao 

Sandy Lassiter looked over at Jenny and mouthed the words, “Behind you,” then looked down at her paper as if her eyes were filled with iron filings, and her desk was a magnet.

Jenny looked around the room. The teacher had stepped out of the room.  Jenny Hatfield did not need to look around to know that Sandy meant Jeremy Crawford. He had been poking her in the back with his pencil all morning. All of the kids quickly looked away as she tried to make eye contact. 

Only one ally in this room, and Sandy was obviously not popular with the other kids. As usual, being the new kid at school was already off a bumpy start.

Jeremy stood and loomed over her staring down at her paper. “You think you are so smart, don’t you, Nerd?” He grabbed her paper, and stuck it in his math book.

“You’d better hope I’m smart, if you’re going to copy all my answers.” Jenny looked up but didn’t smile. 

“What’s wrong with your mouth? Did your dad punch you in the face?” Jeremy whispered loudly enough that other students around her looked up, then buried their noses right back into their books. He started laughing loudly enough that the teacher looked back in the room. 

“Jeremy, what are you doing out of your seat?” Mrs. Miller called from the door. “Sit down, and don’t let me see you get up until I tell you to.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” The thud when he sat down shook the floor.

“You’re ugly, new girl,” he whispered again leaning forward in his seat.

“That’s your opinion. You are a bully, Jeremy Crawford. Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to make friends?” she hissed without turning around.

Jenny knew she had to be strong. She couldn’t ignore him, threaten him, insult him back, or even tell the teacher. Many others before Jeremy had asked her that question about her face before. Sometimes she answered, and sometimes she didn’t.

“Like I would want to be friends with you, Freak. Here’s two cents. Go buy yourself a new smile. You need one.”

Jeremy threw two pennies on her desk and laughed as they slid to the floor. Jenny leaned over to pull out her binder from under her desk, ignoring Jeremy as best she could. Her grandmother always told her to be friendly if she wanted to have friends, but she didn’t want this misfit as a friend.

Jeremy’s thick hair rested on his shoulders and looked and smelled like he had not washed it all week. Like a mangy stray dog, his smile, chocked full of crooked yellow teeth, looked more menacing than friendly, and Jenny didn’t want to get close enough to smell his breath. She certainly did not feel like giving him a smile, even a crooked one.

She put the two pennies in her pants pocket and wished for the millionth time that she was back with her friends in Portland rather than god-forsaken Latham School in the middle of nowhere. She quietly placed her binder on her desk, opened it, took out a new piece of paper, and began redoing her homework. Jeremy poked her again.

“I’m not afraid of you,.” Jenny mouthed. She already had three problems finished. Glancing behind her as she spoke, she could see that Jeremy hadn’t even copied one of her problems yet.

Other kids stole glances at Jenny, but quickly looked away, whispering among themselves.

“Oooh, I’m scared,” Jeremy’s voice must have carried beyond the classroom.

Mrs. Miller returned to the room and stood between Jenny and Jeremy. Jeremy pretended to work on his math homework. Mrs. Miller was so close Jenny could smell soap on her hands.

“You’d better be scared of me, young man, and your homework better be started. You’ve only got three weeks before Christmas break to bring up that F in math,” Mrs. Miller said as she hammered a ruler on his desk near his fingers. “Now get to work.”

Mrs. Miller clicked to the front of the room, her just-brightened red lips in a straight line. Jenny wasn’t sure which one of them was the bigger bully as she heard the rivets on Jeremy’s jeans scrape the wooden seat of his desk as he slumped down in his seat. Miss Magnolia at Grandview would never have told the entire class someone’s bad grade no matter how awful they were.

Jenny felt a slight breeze as she  heard Jereny’s book slap the formica top of the 1940s metal desk as he opened his book. Papers slid onto the floor and skittered towards her. Jeremy cursed. Mrs. Miller stood up as though she was going to come back over then turned and wrote Jeremy’s name on the board. 

Jenny picked up the papers, kept hers and gave the rest back to Jeremy. As he grabbed them and growled, she thought of an abused dog. Jenny wondered if Jeremy’s parents were as mean to him as Mrs. Miller was.

What are your thoughts?

To submit your story email me at marshaalwayswrite@tchistorygal.net or fill out the form below.

Blog Challenges

If you host or participate in blog challenges, and want to write a guest post or have an interview about the experience for my Blog Challenge Series, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

Story Chat #1

Book Chat: The People Under the Stairs

Scary as it was, there was a deeper message to Hugh Roberts short story than a mere Halloween horror story.

Welcome to the first Always Write edition of Book Chat. If you have a short story you’d like published on Always Write for our next book chat, contact me below or by email.

What started out to be a spooky short Halloween story by Hugh Roberts turned out to be something real and sinister. 

Nine-Word Summary of People Under the Stairs

People under the stairs tormented Gloria, suffering from dementia. 

Progression from Scary Story to Menacingly Real

Hugh thought that his readers might focus on fear of the ghoulish people under the stairs like children worry about the Nightmare in the Closet.  He and many of his readers toyed with the fear of imaginary people in the comment section.

“I hope Gloria’s story doesn’t give readers too many nightmares. It may be worth not looking in the cupboard under the stairs for a few days.”


Readers responded to the fun spookiness of the story. However, most took the discussion in a different direction and focused on the protagonist’s struggle with mental illness.

“…Are they real? Or are they figments of her dementia?”


“…Gloria’s dementia fueling her ghosts under the stairs, especially since she sees herself. Just vague enough though to make you wonder, though! Reminds me a little of the movie The Others(?) with Nicole Kidman, thinking she and her kids were haunted by ghosts, when in reality they were the ghosts!”


Some readers inferred facts.

“Apparently she carries a love hate relationship with the people under the stairs. I see them as her alter ego, her bad side maybe even having murdered her husband some years ago. …No, I think she’s living with the guilt.”

Mr. Ohh

While readers played along with the idea of the people under the stairs being scary, they always turned back to ponder Gloria’s dementia.

“Luckily, we don’t have stairs in our camper van! …I cannot imagine Gloria having dementia for thirty years, so she must have an incredible imagination.”


The Dreaded Disease – Dementia

Diana drew the discussion to a conclusion and moved it from being scary to being one of society’s most unnerving health issues.

“Eek. A scary story, Hugh. The element of dementia complicates the reality. … The unreliable narrator was a great addition to the story.”


For me, the phrase, “unreliable narrator” unlocked all the mysteries and discrepancies that troubled me about the story. Hugh responded with incredible transparency.

“My mother had dementia, and some of the elements of this story were what I picked up from her. I often thought that she seemed to be living in a book, yet other times I wasn’t quite sure what she was saying was true or just what the dementia was showing her.

My mother died at the age of 78. We first noticed the signs of dementia when she was in her early 70s, so she went through the different stages of the condition at a slow rate, Marsha. It was heartbreaking watching what I can only describe as something else taking over her body. The worst part for me was when she could not remember who I was. 

Dreams fascinate me, especially when they include strangers. I’ve often wondered if they are figures of my imagination or are people who are real and who I may have had a fleeting encounter with.”

Hugh Roberts

After reading Hugh’s comment, there wasn’t much left to say. The story of a demented narrator trying to share her dream world with those on the outside made perfect sense.

Thank you so much, Hugh, for sharing, not only the story, but the amazing discussion in the comment section.

Understanding and Preventing/Decreasing Dementia

Book Chat 2

I am looking for more brave souls to send me their short unpublished stories to publish on my blog Always Write supporting hobby bloggers. Following the publication of your story and the discussion, I will do a follow-up summary of the comments – typical teacher -style. Hugh suggested that I include a pingback to your blog as well, which sounded like a great idea to me.

Stories should be no more than 750 -1,000 words. Please include a brief biography, a picture or headshot, and contact information. If you want to include a picture or photo with your story, please feel free to do that.

You are free to publish your story elsewhere after it appears here.

As always, thanks for visiting and commenting.

Marsha Ingrao- Always Write

What to Do When Your Muse Disappears 60,000 Words Into Your Book

You don’t give up when your muse leaves town. You start a new challenge. Join me in giving author Suzanne Burke a warm Always Write welcome!

Always Write Series: #Bloggers Hosting Writing Challenges

Writing Challenge hostess #1 Suzanne Burke AKA Soooz

Have you wanted to write fiction and struggled to get started? Or maybe you wrote a book, and your muse disappeared or you got snagged somewhere in the process of publication.

If this sounds like you, read on.

Author, Suzanne Burke hosts a flash fiction challenge and supports her participants with multiple social media shares. 

As I read her posts, it occurred to me how much goes into hosting a writing challenge of any kind. She responds graciously to every comment in her inbox. 

After exchanging a few comments and emails, I feel like I have known her forever. 

Suzanne agreed to write the first guest post/interview for Always Write to tell authors everywhere how she started and what it is like to host a writing challenge. 

Take it away Soooz.

Firstly, my grateful thanks to Marsha for inviting me here today. I hope I have given you a glimpse into my experience hosting a visual writing prompt. 

Q: What prompted you to begin to host a writing challenge? 

A: It all came down to the timing. I was already 60k into my latest WIP (work in progress) when my muse decided to grab a stagecoach and get out of Dodge. It’s happened before and the frustration and procrastination genies were warring with each other for dominance. I needed to commit to something creative, something I would also need to contribute to. That’s when the idea was born. 


I can feel your pain. I have never made it to the end of a fiction publication. Grrrrrr.

Q: How long have you been doing this? 

A: It’s only been six weeks since the first prompt went up. It’s been a huge learning curve. But I’m having a marvelous time with it.


Q: How much time does it take? Is it all-consuming so that you don’t blog about anything else?


A: I must admit that I underestimated just how time-consuming the process would be. I spend many hours scouring the internet for free to use images. Images engage the creative juices. We writers tend to be intensely visual creatures, taking mental snapshots of everything that catches our muse’s attention. 


The marionette image evokes some strong emotions. Your 750-word example kept me on the edge of my seat. 

I heard recently in a class that a blog needs some type of image every 100 words. I use Canva.com and have tried Unsplash.com as well. They both have thousands of images you can sort through in the click of a search word.

Q: How did you determine the genre?

A: I chose not to impose a genre restriction. That tends to isolate some folks from participating. I’ve been lucky to have had some wonderfully diverse entries, yours included, Marsha.


Thank you, Soooz, with three o’s.

Q: What steps do you take to get your challenge ready? 

A: Because it can take almost a week and sometimes just before the deadline before the entries start coming in. I write my own contribution during that time. 

Then I share all the entries over the course of the week. 


That’s a benefit for your participants to build the traffic to their blogs. 

I check daily for comments on the Author’s blogs who have shared the challenge, respond to those. 

Another great benefit to those who submit, Soooz. I found my entry that you shared on Twitter. How fun! I also found a typo in my customized excerpt. I need a better proofreader.

I’ve had a great response doing that. Finally, I put up the next week’s prompt. I’m determined to still make time to write and post Book Reviews and support other authors on my blog. 


Q: How did you attract people to participate? / How do people usually find out about your challenge? 

A: I have been so fortunate to have met some wonderfully talented and supportive writers since my first foray into writing. Many belong to an online book club I’m a member of, and still others I’ve met via Twitter, all have been amongst the most generous and supportive folks I’ve ever met. These folks share my posts via tweets and the word begins to spread. I find Twitter to be a very effective platform.


Q: Do you have help reading all the entries?

A: No, I enjoy reading all of them.


Q: What do you do with the entries – like do you ever publish anthologies, award widget certificates?

A: I’m keeping it as simple as possible at the moment. I may use some of my own entries in an anthology in the future.


In Conclusion

Thank you, so much for this wonderful post, Suzanne, Soooz, S., Stacey. It’s been a super pleasure to have you as the first interview/guest post in the Always Write #Bloggers Hosting Writing Challenges Series.

I hope you will come back to write another guest post again.


Contact Suzanne at …

Her author page on AMAZON.

On Twitter.

On Facebook

On Goodreads.


Suzanne Burke resides with her daughter and grandson in a small country town located hundreds of miles to the west of her previous home in Sydney Australia.

Life interrupted her routine and allowed her to begin her journey into the world of writing in her early fifties, a journey she’d wanted to start for many years.

You can find Suzanne’s memoirs under the pen name of Stacey Danson.  Search for her powerful thrillers Acts Beyond Redemption and Acts of Betrayal and her paranormal anthology Mind-Shaft under the name S. Burke. 

Both of Suzanne’s non-fiction books, Empty Chairs and Faint Echoes of Laughter, have ranked in the top one hundred paid in Kindle on Amazon and continue to earn wonderful reviews.

Welcome Suzanne with your comments and check out her #6 Challenge.

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Two Easy Foolproof Tricks on Writing Flash Fiction When Not a Single Idea Crosses Your Mind

Take some advice from T. C. History Gal. Get past the white screen by studying history.

How to Get Past the White Screen Syndrome

Have you tried writing Flash Fiction? Do you suffer from white screen syndrome?

I do.

Why I hate writing Flash Fiction

I love to write, but for me fiction writing on command is like test-taking.

Years ago my dad took pictures of his teddy bear doing silly things. My job was to write a story about Teddy’s antics. In reality Teddy just sat there with a dumb grin on his fuzzy face doing nothing. He/she/it sparked nothing. Teddy had no background, no name and the pictures were only so so.

To please Dad, I tried and tried to write something. No results

He’d ask me how it was going. I’d try again. Nothing.

Finally even Dad gave up on making a million from his cute Teddy pictures and my adoring story.

I thought I would go back to it after Dad died as sort of the last legacy for his the 10,000 slides he bequeathed me.


That was before the internet.

Two Tricks So Simple Your Pre-schooler Third-Grader Could Do It

Trick #1 Ask Google

  • If you can’t make up something, find out what really happened.
  • Everything has a background, even Dad’s Teddy.
  • Wikipedia is amazing. Wiki has researched it and given you links to trace back anything.
  • If you’ve never been to a place, fear not. Google has been there and taken pictures.

Trick #2 Read Another Entry

  • Don’t be the first to enter a challenge.
  • Reading other entries will not only spark your imagination, it will encourage the other person
  • It will grow your blog traffic.
  • It will grow your challenger’s blog traffic and make them look upon you more kindly than a random participant.
  • It’s fun.
Flash Fiction Routte 66

My Non-Flash Fiction Entry

In a stranger’s comment box I wrote. I even spelled her nickname wrong. It has 3 o’s.

Hi Sooz, I read Debby’s Flash non-fiction entry and thought I check out your website. Nat King Cole Trio recorded Get Your Kicks on Route 66 in I946 before there were 45s, before there were interstate highways, and before most of us were born. ………   

I’m sorry I got distracted researching about Route 66 in the middle of my comment. My husband and I talked about it, and we found out that Bobby Troup had intended to write about US 40, but his wife pointed out that Kicks rhymes with six, so he changed his tune.

We wondered together what kind of kicks they were getting on Route 66 in 1946. On the Historic Route 66 website –  https://www.historic66.com/, we scrolled through countless events going on from Chicago to Santa Monica – car shows, the battle of the bands, museums, art fairs, Octoberfest, just to name a few. In 2020, you can get your kicks on Historic Route 66 every weekend and most weekdays from June through December 31. Only a few of them have been canceled due to CVD – 19. 

The Route started in 1926, the year my parents were born, to create a road from an 1857 wagon trail. Some of it would not be paved until 1938. Before it was paved fights erupted between politicians over naming the road 66 rather than 60 or 62. Some things never change.

Can you imagine the excitement when the road was finally completed? Publicity for the road started with a footrace schedule in 1928 from Los Angeles to New York. The $25,000 prize was more money than winning the lottery dream home is today. Runners got, even more, kicks when they met movie stars stationed along the way. Will Rogers got involved in the scheme integrally tying his name to the highway’s legend. 

Then the Dust Bowl forced hundreds of thousands onto the flat highway to escape their bad fortune in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas seek prosperity in California. History tells us the road was hard to travel. John Steinbeck’s penned his famous Grapes of Wrath novel blemishing Bakersfield and Visalia, CA so much that the book was banned for several years. 

Teenagers sat google-eyed two feet from the television drooling over Martin Milner and George Maharis as the two handsome guys in their classy Corvette got their kicks on Route 66.

But your readers can learn all of this from Wikipedia and put flash fiction magic into a scene somewhere along the 2,488-mile road and at some time between 1926 and today. The historic highway has captured the imagination of many creative people, event planners,  photographers, songwriters, authors, runners, restaurant lovers. No fountain of creativity springs out of my head onto the computer screen when I see a road sign. Nothing trickled through my synapses – except curiosity. And now, until I can no longer use my brain, I will know more about Route 66 because of a picture of a sign on your website and my blank, uncreative mind. So thank you for that suggestion that kept me reading and writing for over an hour, not approaching the 750-word mark. It may be the longest comment I have ever left in my life. I hope you and your readers enjoyed the fruits of my curiosity. And now we know the roots of Route 66. 

Marsha Ingrao Always Write
Mr. D's Diner near Kingman on Route 66

Her Response


Marsha, thank you so much for this comment. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this iconic location. I’ll include this on the entries blog post as a non-fiction comment. Again, thanks so much for participating.

Suzanne Burke AKA Soooz

My First Attempt at Flash Fiction

Get Your Kicks Right Here

“Cinnie, settle down back there. Where’s Teddy?” Bobby smiled at his two-year-old bundle of energy. “Put your blankie over you and cuddle up with Teddy.”

The bathroom break took forty-five minutes but Bobby didn’t care. He winked and grinned at his wife as they pulled away from the gas station. He was going to be a movie star.

“Are we almost there yet?” Cinnie asked bouncing up from her mattress laid across the back seat of the 1941 Buick.

“Honey, sit back down. Do you want a fruit cup?”

She and Bobby dreamed of going to California. He wanted to write songs after he got out of the military.

It was early May of 1946. Cynthia was due in late June. Bobby suggested they take a cross-country trip and check out Hollywood possibilities before she had the baby. Cynthia could barely turn around and touch Cinnie in the back seat.

“How long do you think it will take, Bobby?”

“It will be quicker if we take US 40 all the way to San Francisco,” he answered. 

“True, but I’ve always wanted to see what the big deal was about Route 66, too.”

Cynthia handed Cinnie her book, The Carrot Seed. Tiny fingers thumbed through the well-worn pages as Cinnie recited the words to herself.

“She’s such a good girl. I can’t imagine doing this trip with a baby, too,” Bobby smiled, his white teeth flashing as he handed Cynthia the map.

“I can’t imagine trying to get this map to lie down flat on a a stomach bigger than all of Cinnie.” 

Cynthia punched the map, wrestling with the folds, turning it right side up to read the names all the small towns they would be going through. She trailed her finger trail along Route 66 reading the names out loud.

“Galena, Tulsa, Elk City. I wonder if we could get some pictures of elk. Shamrock, Amarillo, Tucumcari. I really want to go on Route 66, Bobby.”

On the third day away from home, the threesome drove through the green corridor from Pennsylvania to the Smokey Mountains. At lunchtime, they pulled to the side of the road and took out their sandwiches. Other lunchers stepped out of their cars and snapped pictures of their babies on the backs of the wild bears who had come to the road for food.

“Me want big bear, Daddy.” Cinnie jumped on her mattress, hitting her head on the headliner of the Buick.

“Too dangerous, Cinnie. We need to go. Let’s sing a song. Better, let’s write a song about our trip. Which one, Westward Ho on US 40 – Let’s Go or Motor Best on Sporty Forty?” 

Bobby couldn’t get the crazy tune out of his head. Over and over he sang, “If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway, that’s the best. US Forty, Forty, Forty it’s so sporty, sporty, sporty.

Cinnie chortled. “No, no, no. Sing journey song.”

Bobbie cruned, “‘Gonna take a sentimental journey. Gonna set my heart at ease.” That one, Cinnie? That’s what we’re doing.”

Cinnie sang along until she fell asleep.

Two days later they had to make a decision, to finish the trip on US 40 or veer off onto Route 66. A cool, dry breeze blew through the open windows. Cynthia felt bigger than when she had left home. Cinnie woke up from a nap and laughed as a gust of air blew up Cynthia’s skirt almost blowing the rumpled map out the window.  

Cynthia patted her map and started reading city names, “Winslow, Flagstaff, Oatman, Amboy. What about Get Your Kicks on Route 66?” she said humming the first strand of Bobby’s song. “If you ever plan to motor west, Travel my way, take the highway, that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66. It rhymes.”

“It shore do, beautiful lady.” Bobby reached over and took her hand. “It winds from Chicago to L.A. More than 2000 miles all the way,”

Five days later they arrived in Los Angeles. Bobby and Cynthia finished the song. 

“I have a feeling this is going to be the one,” Bobby said as he wrote the last words in his journal. “Won’t you get hip to this timely tip When you make that California trip? Get your kicks on Route 66!”

And he was right.

Word count 728

It helps to know something about the topic before you start to write. Thank you Google and Wikipedia. Thank you Deb.

“Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Week #4. Image Prompt: Join in, have fun, and let loose your creative muse.#FictionInAFlash @pursoot @IARTG #ASMSG #WritingCommunity.

Thanks for reading. Encourage others to write – pass it on.

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