Becky B’s Squares: Bright Colors of Excalibur

#BrightSquare- Day 6

“As usual for a Squares Challenge month I will be sharing squares daily, and I would love it if you did the same. However if daily sounds too daunting, don’t worry. It is fine to join us weekly or even just pop in occasionally with your squares. The frequency of your squares depends on you and also your blog. All I ask is that your image has 4 equal sides, and that it reflects the theme of bright.”

Becky B.

Virtual Vacation to Las Vegas – #4 Resorts Galore

bright red, blue, gold spiral roofs
bright red, blue, gold spiral roofs at Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas

In February 2020 before the pandemic, we ventured back to Las Vegas. As a former pastor’s wife, Las Vegas was not somewhere I ever aspired to go, Bow I have been there, and there are lots of things to do besides sit in a casino and lose money. It’s a wonderful place to take pictures, both in and around Las Vegas.

Upcoming

  • Don’t forget to look for quotes or use mine to write or share your pictures about travel, vacations, your favorite place to go, your travel bucket list… #Writer’s Quotes Wednesdays – Travel. Hope to see you soon. 🙂 New topic starts tomorrow.
  • April Story Chat: Coming today, “Miniature Planet” by Doug Jacquier

Have a great week!

March Story Chat: “Wanda-Lust” @daveryshiftn, @Charli_Mills, @HughRoberts05, @cathincade, @Annecdotist, @geofflepard

Welcome to March Story Chat

This month we have a special guest who has done more to publicize Story Chat and attract and support “real authors,” if I may quote him, than I have.

I am super honored to introduce A. Kid and his friends Pal and Curley to my friends in the Always Write Community. His handler, D. Avery, was a little nervous about letting him loose, but here he is. Please welcome, A. Kid from the Carrot Ranch Saddle-Up Saloon.

Story Chat
Friends sit around the table discussing the latest unpublished short-story.

*The followin’ is a fictionalized account of a fictional tale writ by a fictional character on a local worldwide virtual ranch.*

“Wanda-lust”

by A. Kid

Story Chat Wanda Lust

“Kid, come quick. Shorty’s called a meetin’ a some sort over ta the cookhouse.”

“Meat’n what, Pal? Eggs? Better not be eggs an’ bacon. Ya know I ain’t never eatin’ bacon agin now that I have my pet puglet Curly.”

“This here’s a meetin’ a the minds, ain’t ‘bout breakfist er fillin’ yer pie-hole. Now git goin’.”

I got goin’ ‘cause Shorty’s the boss, though truth is she ain’t very bossy at all. Somethin’ was up. With my pink puglet taggin’ at my heels I followed my pal Pal ta the cookhouse.

We went in an’ set down at the plank table where Shorty was, an’ settin’ next ta her was Ernie, formerly Ornery Ernie, but he’s mellowed consider’bly lately. My frien’ Pepe LeGume an’ even his wife Loggatha was there an’ a course Aussie an’ Doc Ranger was there too, along with Tip and Top. T’day the Lemmon brothers’d left the sparkle an’ stilettos in the bunkhouse, was dressed fer ranch work.

An’ jist then Frankie burst through the door. Actchally she walked inta it, then come through it, her head turned so she could see the opening better with her one good eye. I could see her faithful hoss, Burt, drinkin’ from the water trough. But when I noticed that she’d stood up ta talk, I give Shorty my full attenshun.

“It’s good ta see so many a y’all here an’ a good thing this is all fiction,” Shorty began. “’Cause Carrot Ranch is a safe space fer real folks, but the fictional fact a this story is— Wanda’s been kidnapped.”

At that proclamation Ernie howled like a sad ol’ coyote. Ain’t gonna lie ta ya. First thought was Wanda’d done wandered away agin, ‘count a her nut-orious Wanda-lust. But some folks figgered Wanda an’ Ernie was back permanent since he give up drink an’ was workin’ on his inner calm.

“Whut makes ya think it were a kidnappin’?” Pal asked.

“She’s been gone a while, an’ nowhere’s ta go,” says Ernie. “An’ if it were her Wanda-lust she’d a left a note; she always leaves a note.”

“Really? What’s her notes say?”

“Say, ‘I’m wand’rin’ off ta pick up a nuther man.’ She kin do thet too, she’s mighty strong. Kin haul full kegs a corn liquor ‘thout no hep.”

Then ol’ Ernie howled agin, broke down ta blubberin’ what with his fond ‘membrances a his b’loved Wanda.

“All right, git yersef t’gether Ernie. I’m gonna depatize all a you characters so’s ya kin git out there an’ solve this mystery.”

When Shorty said that the cookhouse erupted in questions. Was Shorty a sheriff? Would we git badges? An’ was it okay ta say posse? The Poet Lariat ‘lowed as how if there’s been a crime it’d git solved in time. Aussie an’ Doc Ranger got inta it over the finer points a genre an’ tropes an sech, couldn’t jist leave it at “mystery”.

Finally Shorty got us all reined in. “Ernie,” she said, “Ya gotta give ever’one a description a Wanda.”

“Well, her hair’s like corn silk.”

“Jeez, Ernie. Kin ya be more ‘zact? Green corn or dry corn?”

“Fall corn, when the silk is still a bit soft but’s turned brown, too turned ta eat fresh, but still too green ta smoke.”

All the fictional ranch hands nodded their heads. They could see an’ even feel hair like that.

Ernie continued. “She wears a pale green dress, with hints a yeller. She’s purty husky but with stalky legs.”

“D’ya mean ‘stocky’?”

“Nope, stalky, thin as rails.”

Well, I’ve seen Wanda, so I kin tell ya there wuz more’n a kernel a truth ta Ernie’s discription.

Jist as we wuz all d’putized an’ ready ta head out we heard a c’motion outside, an’ more howlin’ an’ bayin’ but it weren’t Ernie. Slim Chance had arrived with some a his best hounds. I wuz gonna give ‘im what fer, tell Slim he could slither on back ta the Slim Chance Ranch, we didn’t need his hep, but you know Shorty. She said all were welcome at Carrot Ranch an’ thanked ‘im fer his willin’ness ta hep. An’ I r’flected that mebbe I was still feelin’ a fool fer takin’ a pig ‘stead a a puppy from Slim, thinkin’ it were a puglet. Well, I love that little puglet, an’ mebbe Curly could save the day an’ show up Slim’s prize houn’s.

I rousted Curly who was asleep at my feet. I was gittin’ a gut feelin’, not like what Pepe gits, more of a inner promptin’ an’ one thing I picked up on at Carrot Ranch is ta go where the prompt leads.

The others rode out, all over the ranch. Pal went ta the saloon, said he wanted ta make sure Wanda wasn’t holed up there. The Poet Lariat went ta the poets’ tree. Shorty went off ta make sure Nanjo Castille an’ Monreal Dorb weren’t behin’ these strange an’ sketchy events. Slim, in what ta me seemed a bit of a cliché, headed fer the hills behin’ his bayin’ houn’s.

When the dust settled it was jist me an’ Curly, both lookin’ thoughtful, though truth is, she was thinkin’ ‘bout breakfist. I weren’t gonna take the time an’ as I started ta tell my little pig this news, my little pig started off, hoofin’ it back ta the barn. I followed, goin’ where the pig led. Curly, her little curly tail a’waggin’, went this way an’ that, sniffin’ an’ gruntin’. Fin’ly she stopped front a the hay wagon, jist kep waggin’ that curly tail a hers. Waggin’ an’ waggin’ in front a the wagon.

Then she squealed.

But wait! It weren’t Curly! Yep, it was Wanda. Her head popped up outta the loose hay on the wagon, an’ her eyes popped like corn when she saw us. Then Curly did squeal, ‘cause truth is, Wanda smells like corn, which is why Curly tracked her down.

They say two heads is better then one an’ sure ‘nough a secon’ head come up outta the hay, but I didn’t rec’nize the wispy fella. A stranger! Then I ‘membered a spooky story, a skeery thing happened ta Pal. This was that character Pal’d come across, the one’d never been brought ta life; was unwrit, hauntin’ the ranch. Kin ya ‘magine, a poor un’magined character jist waitin’ fer a story?

Well I musta said that last sen’ence out loud, ‘cause Wanda answered.

“Oh, I ‘magined somethin’ fer ‘im ta do. Don’t know ‘bout a story, but I kin tell ya, I give ‘im somethin’ ta talk about.” But fer the moment the stranger was tongue tied, huddled there ‘neath the hay.

Curly an’ I give ‘em their privacy an’ got ourselves some breakfist. Wanda made her way home ta Ernie’s shack, told him some tale ‘bout gittin’ lost on her way ta her granma’s. I think it were all too much fer that stranger, ‘cause he ain’t been seen since.

I guess it’s a happy endin’. As Curly says, better a tale a debauchery than da butchery.

Bio

A. Kid is a free ranging fictional character who lives and works at Carrot Ranch. Since March 2020 Kid also manages, along with fictional ranch hand Pal N. O’Roun, the Saddle Up Saloon, the virtual watering hole and gathering place found just over the line. Their adventures are archived in the Ranch Yarn pages at ShiftnShake, the blog maintained by their writer, D. Avery.

What in the World Is Story Chat?

Story Chat is to short stories as Book Club is to New York Best Sellers. We come together over a cup of hot chocolate or an adult beverage, sit around the coffee table and discus the story with the author. We ask questions and challenge each other’s thinking, play with the story and enjoy each other’s company.

Two weeks later or so, the edited transcript of the chat comes out with links to some of your latest blog posts. (my favs – as the privileged hostess).

Now it’s your turn.

Bitmoji

to the fun of Story Chat.

February Story Chat: The Trophy Cabinet

Welcome to Story Chat where the authors come right into your living room to chat with you and your friends about their short story. You can ask them any questions you want. And they can ask you some, too. 

Story Chat

So let’s peek in and see what’s going on. First of all, who’s here? The first two links for each participant takes you to a specific blog post. The remaining links go to the participants’ website.

Participants in Story Chat

  1. Hugh W. Roberts
  2. Marsha
  3. Robbie
  4. Kevin Cooper
  5. Willowdot21
  6. the Eternal Traveller
  7. Anne Goodwin
  8. Dgkaye
  9. Derrickjknight
  10. Joylennick
  11. V.M.Sang
  12. D. Avery @shiftnshake
  13. Cathy Cade

Summary 99 Words No More No Less

Detective Inspector Triblane (Blane) Pettimoron responded to a call about the murder of the doctor who had preformed surgery on him ten weeks prior. Nervous and itchy, he pointed out several clues that Detective Sergeant Dribble missed. 

They found a cabinet containing vials labeled and filed alphabetically by the patients’ last name filled with testicles. The evidence pointed to men who might have a motive for murder, when they discoverd one of their testicles was missing. When did Pettimoron know there would be a jar with his name on it? So many unanswered questions for the detectives and readers.

Story Chat
Trophy Cabinet

Controversy about Open Ending

By the time the Hugh Roberts had read all the way to the end of the story without finding out if Pettimoron was investigating a murder he committed, the controversy erupted.

Hugh: “I love open-ended stories where the reader can come to their own conclusion.”

Geoff responded, “One challenge in this case was Blane’s interior monologue. How can I maintain the essential ambiguity in his position and not appear to be deliberately hiding anything from the reader (were there to be anything to hide)!? Is his nervousness a result of guilt or embarrassment? Glad it left you thinking (which was my aim) but is that as satisfying to you as a neat resolution?”

Hugh: “Where murder is involved, I think most readers like a resolution.”

Geoff: “When I wrote this the main issue was the resolution. Should I point at the culprit? Or leave it to the reader to speculate? What is more satisfying? Are you short changed by this or given something for your imagination to work on after you’ve finished.”

Hugh: “When murder is involved, I believe most readers like an outcome. The TV show ‘Murder In Paradise’ comes to mind where we find out whodunit and how they did it.”

Geoff: “On TV and film, I’m with you utterly because I fear I’ll miss the sequel or they’ll not commission it!! Though in literature a hanger is not that unusual, I suppose because the author decides if they are going to finish it off. I’ll ponder on the follow up!”

Robbie: “I have drawn my own conclusions, Geoff, so it isn’t really open ended for me. I quite like being able to do that. I enjoy this type of story that allows the reader to do this.”

Marsha: “In a book or a Netflix series, I would eventually want to know the end or I would be dissatisfied, maybe mad even. I’d feel like I invested my time reading or watching only to not know what happened and I’d feel cheated. Even a movie makes me mad if there is not a good resolution.”

What do you think?

Should a short-story murder mystery have a cliffhanger or come to a resolution?

Liked Open EndedDidn’t Like Open EndedNot Committed
Robbie
Marsha
 Willowdot21
Derrickjknight
joylennick
Hugh W. RobertsKevin Cooper
the Eternal Traveller
Anne Goodwin
Dgkaye
V.M.Sang
D. Avery @shiftnshake
Cathy Cade

Emotional Responses to “The Trophy Cabinet”

  • Kevin Cooper Made me feel squeamish.
  • TanGental It’s not easy typing with your legs crossed…
  • Dgkaye There’s a helluvalot more to this gross but intriguing story LOL. A true Geoff story! I read it because I enjoy Geoff’s stories, but I gotta tell you guys, sounds eerie and gross, lol, but fabulously written!
  • Joylennick Gross subject but well written
  • D. Avery @shiftnshake Great balls of fire, Geoff. I’m left with a whole lot of whys, and what the hecks, feeling like there’s, if not two of everything, at least two mysteries here. A real head scratcher and a fun story.
  • Anne Goodwin Ha, fun story. I love the names, but they also confused me.
  • Cathy Cade Love the names.

Discussing the Case

The Clues

There were clues that might lead the reader to think that Pettimoron (don’t you love that name?) was definitely guilty.

  • The itchy groin.
  • The basement, but kept that to himself.
  • The blue door he remembered from before.
  • Pointing to the secret door in the corner.
  • The place was as he remembered: all-white walls and tiles and sharp lighting.

Questions and Some Answers

Q Hugh  W. Roberts Well, the clues are all there, aren’t they?

Q Marsha Why would he give the DS all those clues?

Q Marsha Was the Sergeant trying to help or implicate Pettimoron?

 Q TanGental Is his nervousness a result of guilt or embarrassment?

Q TanGental Is the perp Blane, who is using his position to try and manage the investigation?

Cathy Cade. I suppose it was about halfway through it became clear Pettimoron had been there before and Something Was Up. I didn’t get the impression he was necessarily the murderer – just one of a long list of possibles. He knew the sergeant wouldn’t keep the find to himself but I reckoned he would spread the story all around the station to get a laugh. I got the impression his discomfort was from embarrassment rather than guilt – otherwise he would have been more concerned about getting into that basement and hiding the evidence.

Q Marsha Was the end an admission of guilt?

A TanGental No, I don’t think the end was an admission of guilt,  not really, more an admission of anxiety but why… hmmm!

Q TanGental One question around the doctor’s motivation that I worried at is Blane’s knowledge. He knew about the room and it appears to be secret. So why not report what appears to be an egregious medical assault to the authorities?

Q Marsha I hadn’t considered that he should have reported the misdoing. Do they have mandated reporters in England?

A TanGental I know there are a lot of professions required to report these days to report all sorts – lawyers if suspecting money laundering, social workers and police is suspecting human trafficking, child exploitation and so on, so a policeman would be duty bound if he thought there was a crime… though he might have his own reasons not to!! 

Q TanGental Or could he be so embarrassed about what happened to him he tried to pretend it didn’t exist and now he’s both exposed and looks guilty?

A Anne Goodwin I never suspected for a moment that Pettimoron was the murderer – is that because embarrassment is more my thing?

Q Anne Goodwin I’m thinking of the medical issues. I know police are very juvenile but if he’s had to have an orchiectomy, wouldn’t it be for something serious, in which case, would he be so embarrassed? So maybe his discomfort IS about him being a murderer.

Marsha I don’t think he had an orchiectomy on purpose. I think he was having erectile dysfunction issues and he came out of surgery minus one important body part. I didn’t think someone would itch that long after surgery.

Anne Goodwin Gosh, Marsha, I see what you mean and what I missed. Fascinating how we bring our own issues to a reading. I was triggered by the image, but read on because it was Geoff, not realising what must’ve been going on for me underneath! I have to disagree, however, that skin can itch as it scars.

TanGental So much to chew on, Anne! I am certain that, even if it had been a serious issue – testicular cancer say – as a man he’d have been awfully embarrassed especially in a macho profession like the police. I had a triple hernia – no biggy but after I told two colleagues they told me they had too but had hidden it as they were embarrassed, given it related to their view of their robust maleness. Maybe younger men are more able to be open than my generation and above. My father for instance wouldn’t have told anyone if he could possibly avoid it. So embarrassment is a likely cause of his anxiety, especially if he’s been the subject of egregious male banter already.

Marsha Either way, what plans could the creepy doctor possibly have for all his specimens unless they were for a biopsy? 

kevin cooper Not sure I want to know. Lol

TanGental I’m sure there is a sexual perversion in there somewhere, or maybe he has a little side hustle as a purveyor of novelty Christmas decorations…

Anne Goodwin You’re probably right about the machismo. I guess that’s also a foil for other anxieties any of us might have in relation to alterations to our bodies.

I like the idea of the fake testicle. Must be possible, I presume they create them for trans men.

TanGental Yep, I have a friend who I played rugby with. He had one removed – cancer – in his late twenties and was more concerned about how lop-sided he might look than a return of the cancer – or so that’s how he made it sound. But rugby men are good at bravado and crap at honesty emotions. Back then anyway…

Marsha I would be more concerned with what the doctor put in place of Blane’s testicle. how clean it was, what material was used. He could be allergic to latex or some other material used in the prosthetic device. Also what did Doc Pretty fill it with? Maybe the prosthetic leaked. My mind is all over the place trying to solve the mystery of how to fix this poor guy, not how to solve the crime of the doctor’s murder. 

TanGental In my head Marsha is right; he didn’t actually know he’d lost a testicle; in one scenario it is replaced by the good doctor with something akin to a fake one; I wonder if they do that for people who have had one removed?

Story Chat
Trophy Cabinet

Author Talk

Anne Goodwin I think you could do more with the alphabetical listing at the end. It could build up more tension. And as we’re in Pettimoron’s POV, and can see he’s unusually anxious, it might be fun if they got to the other guy first. Not sure.

TanGental You’re right about the reveal; I could have made more of the discovery of his jar. Part of me feels the whole ending is rather rushed and would benefit from a longer exposition – maybe he tried to hide the jar or remove it. 

TanGental It’s very difficult, knowing where the ‘line’ is in writing gross material. A bit like trying to write a convincing sex scene (I can’t, it’s hopeless). But gross out is slightly easier. I was encouraged to try my hand at horror and I’ve had a couple of stories in anthologies. I tried, mostly to push myself into areas that are uncomfortable. You know you’re going to risk upsetting some people. 

When I did a Creative Writing masters, the Professor who was moderating the course took issue with a character in what became my first book. It was the mother of the main character and someone who you were meant to empathize with. But because the book was set in rural Hampshire in 1976, when the character found herself dealing with an Indian immigrant her unconscious racism came out. My prof thought I’d alienate my reading audience whereas I thought this was exactly how that character would have reacted in white rural Hampshire in the 1970s. I stuck to my guns and she marked me down. Tricky!

Anne Goodwin I agree with you but I’ve subsequently cut the term ‘darkie’ from my next novel. It was culturally appropriate, even mild for the times, but it wasn’t essential for the story. But I’ve left ‘loonies’ and ‘nutters’. It’s a tricky balance.

TanGental It’s a balance and in the end it’s what you are comfortable with. My current WIP has a twenty something lesbian protagonist. Some will say I shouldn’t write from that POV as an ancient pale male, because I cannot understand their experience. But why on Earth not? As with all my characters I need to use my imagination and the work will stand or fall by the effort I made to understand that character. There are characters I can’t imagine writing – a paedophile (pedophile) for one, someone addicted to violence – but that’s because I don’t want to use my imagination in their service. Personal choice again.

Dgkaye Your style brings us in the story, but though a bit gross subject does not give off a horror vibe despite, lol. That’s what makes your stories true Geoff LePard! Don’t change your style to accommodate anyone’s requests. 

V.M.Sang That’s not good, Geoff. You were right to stick to your guns and write what would have been true in the period of the book. Bad on her for marking you down.

And with that, everyone wagged their finger at the imaginary writing professor, finished their drinks and headed back home. Thank all y’all for joining us for Story Chat this month. March will feature authors Kid and Pal and their handler D. Avery telling us about Wanda-lust.

Friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Story Chat as much as I have. Please feel free to leave comments. You never know when you, too, will be quoted!

Story Chat
Friends sit around the table discussing a book.

January #Story Chat: “A Postcard from the Past” @annecdotist @charli_mills @shiftnshake

Hi friends, grab a cup of hot chocolate or glass of your favorite beverage and gather around and enjoy this international story chat.

By the way, spelling and punctuation have not been changed and reflect the norms of the countries of the bloggers who participated. Thank you to my many friends at Carrot Ranch that participated in this #Story Chat. Thanks especially to D Avery for the awesome post with Kid and Pal at the Saddle Up Saloon introducing Story Chat.

If you follow the links in this post, each one will take you to specific posts on the participant’s blog, or in Anne’s case to guest posts. It takes a ton of time to visit each link, but you get a glimpse of the writing quality each blogger brings to the round table.

9-Word Summary: 

Sugar and Snails’ minor character, Thompson relives past mistakes.

In “A Postcard from the Past,” Ms. Thompson, a young social worker, called in to counsel Diana as a college student, hopes Diana’s life choices have turned out as well as hers. In spite of the spikey green writing on the postcard Diana sent her assuring Ms. Thompson that she had made friends in her new town, Ms. Thompson remains unsure of her own advice to the young woman. Some years later she rejects visiting the town Diana had lived in so that she wouldn’t accidentally run into her. 

Let’s listen in as the story chat gets underway.

Readers’ Reactions

“What an interesting story.. Love it…”

Lisa Bradshaw

“Anne, I enjoyed the dip back into Sugar and Snails and the profile of the social worker. She seems reluctant yet to meet up with Diana. Too bad because I see a sequel where we find out how it’s going with Diana and where these two meet again and finally talk and share the impact each had on the other.”

D. Avery @shiftnshake


This was a great opportunity to learn about Anne’s books.
Anne, both of your books look compelling and I’m in agreement a sequel could be in order. Such a great story. 

Cindy Georgakas

“I like the Story Chat format here Marsh. It’s always fun getting to know the backstory of a book’s character. I have Anne’s book and am looking forward to digging it out in my Kindle.”

Dgkaye

Sequel or No Sequel?

Right from the start, followers of Anne’s books foresaw a sequel and throughout the evening, urged her to turn the story of Ms. Thompson into a stand alone novel. Her friends bombarded  Anne with diverse questions about the writing process as well ones that arose from the exploration of the story at hand.

“Interesting idea, D. I have a sequel idea in my head (actually it’s located in one of my walks) but didn’t think of involving Ms T. Not sure I’ll get to write either. I think I’d need a much more detailed knowledge of the social work profession to write Ms Thompson’s  story – although that hasn’t stopped me making one of the three main characters of my next novel a social worker! But then she’s working in a specialism that is very familiar to me.”

Anne Goodwin

“If you were to write a chapter two, where would you start? The end or the beginning? Why do you suppose Ms. Thompson is so reluctant to meet Diana. Does she feel guilty? Did she ever get over her fear of going back to that city?”

Marsha

“If I were to write it, I’d force her back there, mostly because I love that city – Newcastle – so much!”

Anne Goodwin


“Ann, if this short story was an excised scene from earlier drafts, why did it not make the cut? Curious revisionist wants to know!”

Charli Mills


“I love this scene, Anne, and am now intrigued about Ms T’s transformation and what she was/has become. I know Diana’s secret. Now I want to know Ms T’s too. 

Like Charli, I’d also like to know why the scene was cut from the book, but I have to admit that, at the moment, I don’t recall any conversations with Ms T in the novel. Perhaps I need a reminder. I can see that adding intrigue with another character may have distracted from Diana’s own story. Perhaps Ms T. needs her own story.”

Norah

“It’s interesting too that you don’t remember her in Sugar and Snails, Norah, and I wonder if that’s because she doesn’t appear in the contemporary strand as she’s part of Diana’s past, but she’s named in the first chapter when Diana remembers her. I thought of it this way before, but maybe minor characters like her are meant to be almost invisible, because it isn’t really her story.

Anne Goodwin

“Very good point, Anne. When I think about long-running series, that seems to be what happens – a minor character appears, then becomes a memory that everyone points to, or possibly even a main character, like Stuart in the Big Bang Theory.”

Marsha

“Charli, I struggled with structure over several drafts and, as far as I can remember, this was from a point when I thought I could tell Diana’s story from multiple points of view. Then I started working with a mentor who, although she never completely got what I was trying to do, I think was right in persuading me to keep the very single voice. Although, who knows? Perhaps it could have worked. I’m thinking of Olive Kitteridge, which we’ve just been discussing on my blog.

Another thing to say is that this piece is much edited from the fragment I found from the earlier draft – it’s tighter and more of a story. In fact, I had fun discovering another strand to the character.”

Anne Goodwin

Getting Back to the Short Story

The thread running through the stand alone story was one of Ms. Thompson’s feelings about herself, how she felt about her conduct as a social worker and Diana’s impact on her life.

What was with the parents anyway? They puzzled me. The father a jerk, but the mother – an ostrich?

Marsha

“I think they found Diana too confusing and didn’t have the skills to rise to the challenge.

Norah, regarding Ms Thompson’s transformation, I think she tells you at the end – divorce, cutting her hair, getting into a relationship with Françoise – but maybe you didn’t take it in because you were expecting something as dramatic as Diana’s?”

Anne Goodwin

Perhaps you’re right. Maybe I was expecting something a little more dramatic. Aspects of Ms T’s transformation are more commonplace now. And I agree. Perhaps I was more intent on Diana’s story than on the minor characters who moved it along.

Norah

“It sounds like Mrs. T did not have a big impact on Diana’s life, but Diana had a big impact on her life. Reading between the lines, I think it is possible for a reader that did not read the story to guess the secrets of both characters. I thought I had read this book, but it did not sound familiar, so now I need to go back and read the book and refresh my memory.”

Marsha

“Marsha, in the novel, I think she did have a big impact on Diana’s life, as she told her to put the past behind her without providing any real help to do so. But she didn’t have any impact on her life-changing decision.”

Anne Goodwin

“Nobody has tackled Ms. Thompson’s fear of seeing Diana. We know she wasn’t pleased with how the case went and in her part in resolving it, but why didn’t she step up to the plate sooner and admit that she made a mistake., if she made one? I understand that type of cover-up behavior when she was young, but the post card showed that she hadn’t totally lost touch. She must not have written back, and she could have done that at least without admitting how badly she felt.”

Marsha

I think Ms. Thompson felt guilty and embarrassed for how she handled (or didn’t handle) the case way back when. And maybe even chagrined in the face of Diana’s courage and resolve when she had lesser issues to confront within herself. Maybe. It doesn’t matter for this story, the questions are best left for readers to mull and not know. And, they will be answered in the sequel, “Ms. Thompson Steps Out”.

D. Avery @shiftnshake

Ha, love your title!

Yes, your ideas re Ms T’s motivation make sense. Maybe also resentful deep down that Diana wouldn’t open up to her. Also, how did her supervisor advise her to handle the case? She was inexperienced but there would’ve been someone with more knowledge behind her. I have a sense it was just all too overwhelming.”

Anne Goodwin

“So what you’re saying is that she empathized with the character but didn’t really know how to help her.  As a young teacher, I did not have the skills I needed to meet all my student’s needs. There comes a time in both Diane and Ms. Thompson’s  lives when they realize that no one is born experts at our jobs.

I think it might have been too much for the supervisor at the time when norms were maybe just beginning to shift. Maybe the supervisor was not able to shift with the times. Maybe he was trying to fix Diana making her into someone who fit his norms. Maybe that was part of Ms. T’s discomfort.”

Marsha

“As both a recovering social worker (and someone who has taken to mining my past occasionally in my writing), I’m always confronted with whether the way I am remembering things is actually what happened or a polished/re-shaped version of how I felt or acted at the time. I sense that Ms T (and Ms G) may be struggling with the same question. Your thoughts, Anne?”

Doug Jacquier

Great to have your recovering social worker perspective on this, Doug. (And indeed on the novel it’s based on, if you had the time to read it. I wonder what you’d think of Ms T’s actions when you know what Diana is going through.)


Yes, our memories are less accurate than we imagine (there’s research on how really vivid memories can be false), although that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind writing this (and I might come back to it when I’ve thought some more).

Anne Goodwin

“So what you are thinking, Doug, is that Mrs. T may not have done such a bad job with Diana at all, but only remembers it badly?”

Marsha

“Oh, that’s an interesting perspective, Marsha. She might be being over critical of her past self.”

Anne Goodwin

“It’s interesting that Ms T doesn’t know if she helped Diana. But if Diana sent a postcard after their professional relationship had ended, she must have found something in their relationship that she wanted to acknowledge.

When someone is accustomed to bullying and gossip and has never before known a supportive, non-judgemental presence, that alone will make a difference. Especially to someone inclined (or forced) to keep things to themselves.

We aren’t told what the crisis was that Ms T was brought in to deal with and, to some extent, this mystery keeps us reading until it becomes irrelevant. Diana wanted to protect her parents so, other than being inadequate in terms of support, they don’t seem to be part of the immediate problem that brought in Ms T.

‘Twenty years after closing the case, she’d have felt awkward bumping into the girl.’ Doesn’t speak to me of a fear of meeting her, only embarrassment. If Ms T has undergone a noticeable transformation she might perhaps feel embarrassed because earlier honesty on her part could have helped Diana to be more forthcoming with her problems. I am sure we’ve all known situations where we wished we could have done more to help, but hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing – as is experience. This makes the character believable, and the story one we can relate to.

The only suggestion I might put forward is that if Ms T had actually made a mistake or omitted something radical – other than having done, in her own opinion, little to help – might it have further engaged the reader in wondering whether they supported or condemned Ms T.

(I have yet to read the book, so I will be interested to see if I recognise Diana in it.)”

Cathy Cade

“Thanks for your thoughtful reflections, Cathy.

I wonder if Diana felt she got anything from Ms Thompson (which is explored more in the novel) and was simply being a good girl in sending the postcard. But it does imply a willingness to connect.

Yeah, I thought Ms Thompson was more embarrassed than afraid but you make a really good point about the magnitude of her guilt. It would definitely be a stronger story if she has actually been negligent, rather than well-intentioned but inadequate.

You’ve made me realise that although I’ve tried to write this as Ms Thompson’s story, because I’ve spent so much time with Diana, I still see Diana as the main character (as she is in the novel, but shouldn’t be in this story).”

Anne Goodwin

Similarities Between Teaching and Social Work

“As a former teacher, there are multiple bits in this story that relate to me. So …. were you a teacher, Anne?”

Frank @ Beach Walk Reflections

“In what way, Frank? No, I wasn’t a teacher, I was a clinical psychologist … and there’s one of those in the novel but again not managing to be as helpful as Diana needs.”

Anne Goodwin

“Interesting. I asked because the situations you described were very applicable to what I’ve experienced. Must be some parallels. How much of your professional experience is in your writing?”

Frank @ Beach Walk Reflections

Indirectly, a lot, but this didn’t come from there. My next novel is loosely based on my experiences of working in a long stay psychiatric hospital (before they closed them down).

I think the assumptions we make in any profession are hard to replicate from the outside.

Anne Goodwin

The clearing out of piles and files is retired teacheresque; and that student you don’t forget, the one that educates you or haunts you or even inspires you? Maybe that is what Frank is thinking.”

D. Avery @shiftnshake

“Good point, D. But I can see that a psychologist or psychiatrist would have the same issues. I don’t think they are as likely to retire, though. My neighbor is still working and she’s in her 80s. A teacher, on the other hand, does not keep files on their students – usually. The district would have those. Teachers are not private clinicians . Their files would consist of curriculum, books, journals, maybe, but mostly not on the children, but on how the lessons went.”

Marsha

“Yes, I agree, mountains of paperwork in most professions, whether or not there are files on individual client/students / patients. I think psychologists and psychiatrists working in the public health system – which would be the norm in the UK – would retire around the same age as teachers do. 

Practitioners in private practice might choose to work longer, partly because they’d have more choice and flexibility around working hours and clientele. But, yes, in statutory services the files are not the property of the professional but belong to the institution. So Ms Thompson has been very naughty in hanging on to that file. 

This was actually explained in the original text I developed this story from, but I decided to cut it out. This was in the original:


At the back of her desk drawer she came across a couple of old case files dating back to the Seventies. The cases had never been closed, although they’d long been inactive. They’d accompanied her through half a dozen office moves, which was somewhat irregular, she had to admit. Nowadays client files were housed in a secure storeroom but these few had somehow slipped through the system, languishing in an anonymous limbo for almost thirty years. Without a recent contact the clients couldn’t now be registered on the computer and without a computer code the files could not be securely stored.”

Anne Goodwin

“That really makes the story interesting. What a naughty lady! And she really didn’t want anyone to discover what she had done, I think. I think she had an enormous amount of guilt about the entire affair.”

Marsha

In my head, it wasn’t so extreme. More apathy and a sense of unfinished business. But your angle is more interesting!

I do have a story in my head that’s similar to this but with different characters, where a former student – now famous – comes back to visit the school. The teacher/safeguarding officer has let her down badly, partly due to her own issues. So it looks like this is a theme for me.”

Anne Goodwin

Teachers sometimes become friends with their former students. Do you think this might have been a similar situation given the post card. Was Diana maybe reaching out to Ms. Thompson?

Marsha

Maybe, although friendship between professionals and former clients is considered dodgy because of the built-in power imbalance, so not somewhere I’d be happy to go.

Ah, but did she have an address to write back to? I’m wondering now how she set about closing the case with Diana. There must have been some kind of goodbye. Before or after the postcard? I’d assumed before, but maybe not.

Anne Goodwin

Good point. And by this time she was busy in her practice and did not have time to be a sleuth.

Marsha

“Marsha, going back to your comment about teachers, I think an awful lot is asked of teachers, without giving them the skills and resources to deal with them. A lot of kids come to school with complex needs way beyond learning.

When I did a course on organisational consultancy we analysed the burden on a headteacher at a primary school in an area of high levels of social deprivation. The consultancy – carried out by someone at the top of his field – led to the head taking sick leave, a better result than him dying of a heart attack! Overall extremely moving.”

Anne Goodwin

“You are right. Teachers are on the front line. They see the cases before social workers and psychologists get called in, if they get called in.”

Marsha

Encouragement about Editing and Rewrites

After trying to write a best-seller and getting stuck on the editing process, I got a little carried away asking about Anne’s experience going from drafts to a published novel. Her advice reassured me somewhat.

“Rewrites are hard when you’re starting out. I had some extremely positive feedback on my first draft of S&S, but it went steeply downhill from there. It was tough. I think I went through 5 drafts before the one that was published.

Anne Goodwin

“Editing discouraged me a bit too much. Do the five drafts include your own edits? I had 2 editors and a number of Beta readers. It still ended up being rough, but it changed completely from the very beginning to the end of the writing process. Each Beta reader had a slice of the puzzle.”

Marsha

A mixture of both. The first feedback was from a professional editor, acting in an advisory capacity, but others thought differently further down the line.

Anne Goodwin

“Works very well with the recent Carrot Ranch column! I loved the build. EAT YOUR HEART OUT, JK ROWLING!”

H.R.R. Gorman Gorman’s Column

Advice for the Author

Participants in story chat suggested how Anne Goodwin might go about writing her sequel. 

I wonder if two minor characters could meet? Who else did Ms. Thompson touch anyone else in Diana’s story? Francois might be able to step in and help move Ms. Thompson along in the sequel leaving Diana’s story in the back where it belongs.

Maybe having some conversation between Ms. T and Francoise about how grumpy she’d been and try to delve into why or explore her unresolved guilt would be a good place to start, Anne. Or better yet, a call from someone else – the supervisor possibly who also felt guilty and was dying and wanted to get it off his chest before he passed.

Marsha

I like how your mind is working: the supervisor possibly who also felt guilty and was dying and wanted to get it off his chest! Ideas sparking ideas.

Anne Goodwin

“You could give her a dog…”

D. Avery @shiftnshake

“Who is getting the dog? What kind? A pig-dog maybe?”

Marsha

“Oh yeah. Marmaduke.
Ms. Thompson needs a dog. Even a poodle perhaps.”

D. Avery @shiftnshake

“A French poodle, since that’s where she’s retiring.”

Anne Goodwin

And with that, everyone had a good laugh, finished their drinks and headed back home.

Friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Story Chat as much as I have. Please feel free to leave comments. You never know when you, too, will be quoted!

I Want Everything! – Big Little Talks series – by Alberto Pellai and Barbara Tamborini

Remember I promised to share children’s books about bullying and self-esteem problems children have? Here is a blog where you can find books to help you heal almost everything. If you can’t find something that troubles your family, then contact Patricia Tilton directly following this post.

Thank you, Norah Colvin for the recommendation. Norah offers many positive activities for your young children on her Readilearn website.

Children's Books Heal

Perfect Picture Book Friday

I Want Everything!, Oh Brother! and I Don’t Want to Go to School!are three new books in the Big Little Talks series published by Magination Press Oct, 13, 2020, for children 4 to 8 years old. The empowering series is written by Alberto Pellai, MD, PhD, and Barbara Tamborini  and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.

I Want Everything! 

Opening: “I want the moon as my kickball, snow in the summer, and the sound of the ocean as my lullaby!  You think that tricycle is yours? It’s not, it’s mine. I’m the king of everything, not you.”

Publisher’s Synopsis: A boy wants everything in the world, but his parent tries to help him realize that maybe he’s okay with what he already has and that he cannot have everything that he wants. As the boy’s tantrum persists and he wants to be…

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