Tempus Fugit

28 01 2012

I had the urge to write and no real desire to work on something already in progress. Instead, I looked at my surroundings and took in the sound of the town clock chiming and this is what came out.

Tempus Fugit

It’s funny how time flies.

Moving back to the city I grew up in is in equal measures familiar and alien. As much as this city changes, its core stays the same. There are reminders on every street of my past, the ghosts of remembered actions and conversations pushing themselves forward in my mind for their short moment in the forefront. Then the next street or building comes into focus and forces the ghosts back as others take their place.

I’m seated in a cafe across the street from the closest thing this city has to a central square. It’s a brick paved open area in front of the local mall, raised planter boxes sporting evergreen bushes trimmed into cotton ball shapes, tufts of wheat coloured grasses ascending with swaying stalks like tentative bursts of agricultural fireworks. Trees rise in the middle of the planters, their limbs bare and weeping towards the ground. The wind rustles them and their tips brush the ground, searching fruitlessly for the leaves they have lost

In them middle of the open, a clock is raised on a brick and concrete platform.  The centennial clock. Green and gold, it echoes the Robert frost poem. Green as the city it is celebrating, a hundred years not even a blink of an eye to the senescent cities of Europe and Asia. Gold like the years this city is heading into, the population ever aging and the city itself hemorrhaging jobs and with it the green that this city needs to renew itself.

The square’s clock is one of my ghosts. The low and mournful tones of its chimes, ringing out, carrying on the wind, making its reach arc out further than the silent sentinels of schools and theatres and playgrounds. The sound of the clock carries with it pieces of the ghost of my father.

He was involved with community groups and those have seasonal ghosts that come with them, fading as the heritage weekend, or historical re-enactment passes by in the waning days of autumn. The clock remains, a year-round reminder of both him and the time that pushes me forward on my journey and further away from the moment when his journey stopped.

Time does fly and even though the seconds, minutes,  hours, days, months, and years have stayed the same measurement of time that they always were, I’m finding as I collect more of them, the faster they, and the ghosts that live in between one measure of time and the next, come.

The ghosts used to be grudgingly accommodated, but now I find that as i collect more of them, they have lost their potency. The memories the ghosts carry with them no longer pull up regrets of past decisions, friends grown away from, or thoughts of paths not taken. Instead they serve to remind me of the journey that I’ve already travelled down and how those decisions have made me into the person, and more importantly, the writer that I am.

The writer in me is the curator of my collection of ghosts, separating those with stories to tell, from those that only serve as a milestone, remembering that point in my past, but offering nothing towards my future. The ones with stories to tell wait for me to give them away, covered in words and dressed up in names that are not their own. I will call them fiction, but my ghosts and I, we will know the truth.

What do you mean it’s the middle of May?

19 05 2011

Ever have one of those months that just seem to be slipping by? May is that month for me. I’m glad it’s going quickly though. May is usually not a good month for me. Bad things happen in May, like people dying and people being diagnosed with brain tumors bad. I usually call this month Aprune in my head, an extension of April and an early June, so I can avoid this month all together.

On the writing front, I’m at about 12,500 words on the Rome story that I’m working on. I had originally thought it would be about 15k, but I’m thinking that half of it will be at the 15k mark. I’ll have to see what it turns out to be when it’s all done and edited. I’m liking the way it’s turning out so far, but we’ll see how my first readers like it when it’s done.

Here in Canada we have this channel called Book Television, which is pretty much my favourite channel right now. They don’t have a lot of new programming, whic

h sucks, but they’ve been running a series where they picked 12 people in 2009 to do the 3-day novel contest and they did it in the middle of a book store, where they lived and slept there while doing their novels. They had challenges and penalties if they lost and it’s been fun to watch. Has anyone ever done the 3-day novel contest? It’s tempting to try it, but I’d have to see if I’m  working at that point or not, because that would make a difference in whether I could attempt it or not.

I’m definitely going to do Nanowrimo though. I found the goal of 30 days and the word count of 50k really gave me a push in my writing and made me sit down and do it every day. Gave me the kick in the ass I needed.

Speaking of kicks in the ass, I better get back to it. I’m in a Starbucks right now inside a book store. Needed to be around humans for a bit. I’m sure every writer has those moments when they need to not be in a room writing alone. Thank goodness for cafes with free wifi.

A Change of Scenery to Stop Chewing It.

21 04 2011

It’s been a bit since my last update about writing. Even though I did my best to not let my first rejection rattle me, even though I knew what I submitted was dark and probably not going to be an easy sell to a publisher, the email was enough to make me start second guessing what I’ve written on the story I’m working on now.

Even though I had every intention of getting back to work on the new novella right away, when I found myself staring at what I’d written and contemplating deleting half of my word count, I knew I needed to lift my hands off the keyboard and walk away for a bit.

I took some time off to be a reader for a bit. I finished two books Room, by Emma Donoghue who is actually living in the same city as me, which gave me a little hope. And Saving Rachel by John Locke. They were both complete mind bender books, one told from the point of view of a 5 year old boy who has spent his entire life in one room, being held there by, along with his mother, by a man he calls Old Nick, and the other being the type of story that loops back and twists and even at the end you still weren’t sure exactly what had happened.

I’m firmly of the belief that writers need to be readers as well. If you don’t read, it’s like saying you’re going to be a pilot but being never having flown because you’re afraid to fly. I also find it inspires and informs my own writing and like it has before, it definitely did that now. It blows a fresh air on where you’re stuck and helps you find the trail of your own voice again, because as you read you start thinking of how you’d word something differently, what plot twist would have been something you would have done, or not done. You start believing you can do this again.

Writing is a solitary thing and usually I’m fine with doing it at at home in the writing space I’ve created or anywhere else in my house, but delving back into my novella, I found that I couldn’t do this in a solitary space. I needed movement and voices around me, maybe to drown out the overly critical one inside of me that wanted to slash and burn as it went. So I went out to a bookstore and situated myself at a small table by a window in the Starbucks located inside. Armed with caffeine and pastry, I took a deep breath, opened my file and dove in.

When I was able to finally look at my own work again, without wanting to start over or take away half of my word count, I read over the 5,000 words I already had with a critical, but not masochistic eye. I edited as I went and only had to lose 1100 words and some of the exposition in those words has since been worked back in.

The voice of criticism that had leapt to the forefront was now being beaten back by the slightly sullen voice of Matthew, who hates the feeling of being ignored more than any other thing and then followed by Jonah who was used to being noticed in public and fading into the background and towing the family line in private, both of them bending my ear with what they’d been up to while the other voice had taken over. The reading and consuming of others words had given mine back to me.

This is why a writer is always, first and foremost, a reader. You find your own words from the words of others.

Six Word Stories – The Graphic Edition

14 04 2011

For sale: baby shoes, never used.—Ernest Hemingway

The above is the  original short short story that was written by Hemingway in the 1920’s after colleagues bet him he couldn’t write a complete story in just six words. He did and won the bet. Hemingway is said to have considered it his best work. 

I ran across a site today that took a visual spin on this concept. They pair up writers with graphic designers and deliver one story a day. Check it out, there is some great work that’s been done. 


My favourite, by far, is the one with the carrot. You just want to know how in the world that happened. 

First Rejection Out of the Way

12 04 2011

Yesterday I heard back from the publisher I’d sent out my novella to and they took a pass on it. I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not. If you’re going to try writing to publish, you’re going to get rejection. And I knew going in that this story may not work on its own as a novella, it’s probably going to work better as part of an anthology, so that’s going to be the next step in its evolution. I had to try to see if it could be published on its own first, just to see if maybe it would work.

Bait is a little creepy and I knew it may not work as a mainstream work, so now I’m looking over Halloween anthology calls for submissions, to see what would be the best fit. We’ll see.

I remember reading in Stephen King’s On Writing, which is one of my favorite books on writing and he describes about impaling his rejection letters on a spike on his wall and when it became full, using another one. So really, one is not a big deal, especially when I figured it was coming.

It doesn’t mean you don’t start questioning yourself, your writing and whether you can actually write well. But, I’ve been writing long enough and been reading books on writing for too many years to let me talk myself out of continuing. Even if I never get published, I’ll still write. This rejection is just one of the milestones when you try to write for more than yourself.

And now, back to work. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned from all the things that have happened in my life, both good and bad, is that you have to keep going to get through it or get it done.

“Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing.  They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.”- Bonnie Friedman

I Know We’ve Just Met, But A Name Would Be Nice.

7 04 2011


I’m still puttering along on the new novella I have in progress. The POV rewrite has been done and wasn’t as laborious as I thought it was going to be, which was a nice surprise.

I’m at about 4000 words right now and it’s flowing nicely, when I can get my scattered mind to work on it. That’s an ongoing battle, but I’m getting better about treating it like a job and scheduling it in as time not to be spent doing something else that catches my attention. I have the idea of where I want to get with the story and now I’m just laying the road to get there.

It’s odd that I don’t have a definitive title for the new story yet. Usually it’s one of the first things that come to me, but with this one it’s been mostly living on my hard drive as MatthewJonahStory and nothing has really bitten me as being the title of the story. We’ll have to see if something during the writing process jumps out at me as a possible title.

I also got my copy of the Chicago Manual of Style in the mail recently. Man, that thing is huge and intimidating. Every time I think I should really delve into it, the sheer heft of it makes me think twice. Right now, I’m just using it on a subject by subject basis to try to get myself refreshed on punctuation.

I grew up during that lovely period of time in the Canadian educational timeline where instead of grammar, we were taught phonetics. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea, but it has haunted me as a writer ever since. I know grammar from reading and writing for most of my life, but to name parts and punctuation rules is like me having to translate to a second language in my head. My hope is that some day I’ll be able to do it as second nature and I’m sure my main beta reader Shae will throw a party when that happens.

Okay, back to it. My goal is to be to at least 5k and in Rome in the story by the end of the week.

I wonder if I could write off a trip to Rome on my taxes as a business expense… yeah, I didn’t think so either. =)

Well… It Could Have Been Worse.

4 04 2011

In my last post, Adding Flesh to Bone , I talked about two of the storylines I have been working on mapping and fleshing out the bare bones of the skeleton of the outlines I have. I’ve been working on one of the stories, a love story based on a school trip to Rome by a group of college film majors. It’s also working in an over-arching nod to the film Roman Holiday.

Matthew is the first voice you hear in the story in the airport as he’s talking into his camera for a video diary he keeps. He first came to me in third person point of view and I’ve put down about 3000 words of his story so far.

I wanted to get his story started, see how it was flowing, before more fully fleshing out the arc of the story and imagine my surprise when the other character who is going to be a main voice, Jonah, started going off in first person point of view.

Really boys? You couldn’t have maybe discussed this before you started talking in my brain?

Jonah has pretty much insisted the second half of the story is told by him. He’s willing to give the first half to Matthew’s voice, but once Matthew reaches his hand out to meet Jonah’s, he’s put a line there and at this point I have no choice but to let him speak.

Now I have to go back an rewrite 3000 words in first person for Matthew. It could have been worse though. I could have gotten to that hand-off point and realized I’d written an entire half of a story in the wrong point of view. That would have sucked.

In a somewhat related note, I was watching Oprah’s Master Class on Friday and pulled up a recorded one that I had on my satellite box on Maya Angelou. I was very much captured by how she sees words as both a person and a writer. I think maybe the universe was using this program to soften the blow of the change in POV in my story.

Here is what she said about words. For a woman who is over 80 and still incredibly sharp and eloquent, all I can say is that I want to be like that when I grow up.

“Words are things, I’m convinced.

You must be careful of the words you use or the words that you allow to be used in your house.

Words are things, you must be careful. Careful about calling people out of their names. Using racial pejoritives and sexual pejoritives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that.
Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls, they get in your wallpaper, they get in your rugs, in your upholstery, in your clothes and finally into you.”
– Maya Angelou

In Progress

18 03 2011

While I’m waiting to hear back on the submission I’ve already made to DSP, I’m working on a new storyline. It has a little bit of a paranormal bent on it, redemption and, above all, a love story.

This is the first few pages of it. Just a first pass edit on it.

Cole Shaw sat on the edge of the bathtub, his feet planted on the cold tile floor. He looked at the faux-marble pattern and wondered how every hotel had the exact same cheesy tile in it. Do they get some sort of rule book when they decide to build a hotel that specifies that this tile has to be in every bathroom? Really? That mocking voice inside of him drawls. You’re about to do this and you’re contemplating the mysteries of hotel tile patterns? Maybe you’re as crazy as everyone thinks you are.

He shook his head and got unsteadily to his feet, feeling the effects of the alcohol starting to play with his sense of balance. Leaning on the wall, Cole made his way to the window. Resting his forehead on the glass, he watched the palm trees sway in the breeze. It was a goddamn picture postcard scene with the row of palm trees edging onto the beach just beyond, the  waves painted hues of orange and lavender by the setting sun. He clenched his eyes shut and turned away from the scene. If he was going to do this, he told himself, now was as good a time as any.

Sitting back on the bathtub he stared down at the dark liquid in the glass. Liquid courage, or so they say. Cole lifted the glass to his lips, his breath fogging the transparency of the glass as it rested there on his lips. With an unspoken toast he tipped it back into his opened lips, swallowing it down. He was so used to the burn now that it barely registered as a spike of warmth in his throat. He leaned forward, his arm outstretched, placing the glass on the edge of the sink. He stayed in that posture, leaning his temple on the crook of his elbow, staring once again at the tile. He had done this circuit two times now.This time he would finish it.

He lifted his head and pushed the glass away from him, sending it rolling into the sink. At least it didn’t break, he thought, management was going to have a big enough clean up bill already.

He turned his attention to the small plastic container that he’d carefully placed on the counter before he’d opened the first of the mini bar bottles. He brought it closer to him, cradling it like he had his first music award, back when music meant something and wasn’t just another way he was failing.

With trembling fingers, he slid the lid back and reached inside delicately, pulling a paper covered rectangle of steel out. He held it in front of him and let the container clatter to the ground now that he had gotten his treasure out from inside. As he unwrapped it, the blade glinted in the light as he turned it around in his fingers. It was almost beautiful in its simplicity. He peeled back the last of the  paper that covered the cutting edge and let the useless strip flutter to the floor between his feet.

He readied the sharp edge over his wrist, his hand pausing as he closed his eyes and sent out a silent prayer for forgiveness from the maid that was going to find him.

I’m so sorry. I can’t. Not anymore.

He gripped the blankets that surrounded him, the heaviness of the sadness making him feel that he couldn’t breathe. His head tossed on the pillow as he tried to inhale. Sweat broke out on his sleeping skin as he felt the bed spin beneath him. Oh God, he thought, let it stop. Please, let it stop.

The wind howled outside his window, adding to the feeling of melancholy that pressed down on him. The soft swish of snow across the panes sounded like waves crashing on the shore of some far away beach. He tossed in the bed and caught onto the image in his mind. A happy place, something out of a picture postcard.  Concentrating on it, he imagined palm trees, a beach, the ocean and in the distance, a perfect sunset.  With a sigh, he relaxed against the warmth of the blankets and allowed the slow rolling numbness working through his veins pull him under.

Instead of the nothingness he was prepared for, he was confused. He’d expected after the drugs dragged him under that there would be nothing but rest, instead he felt the sadness increase, a desperation that wasn’t his own coloring the edges of it. Why couldn’t he break free? Why was he being held prisoner in his mind? He knew it was useless to struggle against whatever was holding him here. It was too powerful, he had learned that long ago. The nothing he’d been inhabiting washed around him once more, but this time he could make out a shape in the distance. As he concentrated on it, the edges of it became sharper, until he could make out a generic beige bathroom and a man, bent over, one hand poised above the wrist of the other hand. Intensely focused, whatever he was doing taking all of his concentration.

He felt more than saw the tremble in the other man’s fingers, the hesitation. He could feel the coolness of the steel like it was between his own fingertips. The rush of blood in his ears as the adrenaline started to take over. He could taste the cold metal of fear in the back of his throat, overtaking the warm sweetness of the alcohol he could also taste there.

Confusion was giving way to panic now.  The fingers were not his own, as hard as he tried to stop them from their task, he couldn’t. He was trapped inside of this…body? Mind? He didn’t know.

Flashes came to him, first was a name, Cole,  a family, younger siblings, another man that was someone special, but refused to be anything more than a friend with secret benefits. Friends that were a surrogate family. No, more than friends, he thought, they were a family. Words and melody washed over him, a perfect harmony of voices that trailed off in the blaze of rapid fire camera flashes.  He saw a best friend that was the older brother so craved for in youth. There was so much love around, even from the reluctant lover, how could he not see it? It nearly enveloped every part of his life.

As soon as he wondered, he could start to see why. A shattered heart, the pieces of it clung together loosely in his chest, ready to shatter at the slightest touch. The family he had seen morphed into line of puppets whose strings were pulled by two Svengali masters, not caring about those at the end of the strings, as long as they continued to perform on command.

Panic washed over him. There was good there, why couldn’t it be seen? This was wrong, that this isn’t what he truly wanted.  He couldn’t let it all be lost. He’d seen it happen before, he had to make him stop. He breath drew in, a deep gasping breath as the edge dug in to flesh and breached the surface.

Cole’s fingers trembled against the steel, his body silently checking his confidence in what he was doing. He gripped harder in answer. Closing his eyes, he took deep breaths to calm himself.

Come on Shaw, don’t fuck this up. Do something right for once.

He took in a breath and held it in unconsciously, bringing the razor’s edge to his flesh. He felt the sting of the blade sinking slowly into the skin and moving in a downward path, slicing a clean line down the length of his vein. A gasp came from his lips as his fingers froze.


The cry roared through the air or inside of his head, he couldn’t tell, but it startled Cole so much that his hand jumped and the razor blade flew, clattering to the floor and leaving drops of blood across the tiles.

His hand instinctively clamped over his wrist, trying to stop the blood flow, or to try to deny to himself what he had done, Cole wasn’t sure. if it was denial, it didn’t last long as the blood crept past his attempt at a barrier and started oozing between his fingers. A cry of pain left his lips, but it wasn’t alone in his ears. Another voice, a softer cry, joined his.

Short Story: Cadence

27 02 2011

Inspiration comes from the oddest places and circumstances. The following short story was started sitting in the ICU area of my hometown hospital, spending time at the bedside of my dying grandmother. One afternoon, a family came in and sang to their relative and it was as beautiful as it was painful to behold. Before the last note even faded from the air, I had my notebook open and the pen laying trails across the page. I haven’t found a home for it yet and it may be that it’s only home will be here.

© D.M. Grace 2009, with exception of lyrics by John Newton



The swish and hiss kept rhythmic cadence, as regular as a metronome. The stuttering scrapes of wooden chair legs over linoleum punctuated a backbeat, while the soft murmur of desperate, pleading, and resigned voices hummed through the air.


Walking through the hallway, eyes carefully trained forward, but seeing the glass doors as they passed by in the periphery. Automatically, you mentally catalogue which were occupied yesterday and empty today. Years may pass between visits, but always the same human symphony. Every now and again, there may be a guest soloist whose anguish rises above the others, but never for long.


Except for today.


Today, a voice starts slowly, steadily climbing above the others. At first it echoes though the corridor, the first pure, keening note. It raises a wash of goosebumps in its wake as it trembles in the air and then tumbles down into the familiar hymn


Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me….

All other sounds are subdued as the voice rises around the words. In each of the other rooms, you can hear the stillness, the shared knowledge of the reason for the songs presence resonating; commanding respect, even from the machines artificially breathing life into loved ones.


One by one, other voices are added, providing harmony. It makes you close your eyes and grip the armrests of your chair, torn between covering your ears to block out the horrible beauty unfolding around you, and wanting to escape.


You know that the escape would be temporary and only physical as the melody has had time to sink below your skin, making its way deeper, into a place that made you think of sunlight through stained glass and the thin vellum pages of hymnals between your fingers.


Even though it’s been decades since you’ve stepped into a church, you swear you smell incense, but by the next breath it’s gone. The cloying astringency of rubbing alcohol and disinfectant rushes back in to take its place and you’re not sure which nauseates you more.


The song continues one voice clear and strong above the others. You know the room it comes from, always filled with family, from your previous circuits of the corridor. Today the curtain was drawn, spilling shadows of the vague shapes behind it onto the floor as the sunlight filtered through.


Every day you fear that the curtain will be drawn in front of your destination, but you’ve learned in the rhythms of this place, that the rustle of fabric being drawn is a random note that can never be anticipated. Today you and yours are merely part of the accompanying hum; relieved as someone else was shoved centre stage today.


As the song goes on, you hear voices fade in and out of the melody; some coming back more tremulous than others, one voice never wavering as it lead the way. The harmony of the other voices followed in its wake just strong enough to hear throughout the rooms, notes carrying an extra beat as they waited.


You know the moment it happens. There is a pause that drags a split second too long, and then only one voice returns.


T’was grace that brought you safe thus far,

And grace has led you home.


The lull that falls after that last note is filled with quiet grace as everyone seems to shake off the spell that has enchanted them and gradually you begin to hear the familiar swish and hiss of air forced into lungs and the muted footfalls of the soft soled shoes of the nurses.


You raise your hands out to grasp a slowly warming, hopefully healing, hand as you lean closer, talking softly, not wanting to be the one to shatter the calm. “Did you hear that?” Letting the awe you were feeling shine through in your voice. The only answer was the swish and hiss, as you knew it would be.


Sitting in the quiet, the cadence of the ventilator fills the room again and again until you hear the slow roll of rubber wheels and the measured footfalls of people walking come closer. You raise your head to see the slow procession of a sheet draped gurney and behind it walked the family, their faces laid barren in their grief, but their heads held high.


Rising from your chair, you are guided by an instinctual knowledge of respect, turning to face them, meeting their eyes and exchanging nods of recognition as they passed.


Taking your seat again, you squeeze the hand still inside yours.


And wait.