I’m excited to share the winning short story composed by L.H. Westerlund written for the contest associated with Quarantine Writer’s Block: Exercise 1. This short story seized an every day object sitting on the desk and turned it into a curiosity adventure. Enjoy!
It looked inconspicuous. It looked like a hair accessory, that was the only way to put it. A soft fabric circle curled around an elastic, meant to be used to tie your hair up. It was made with half grey, half pink but in matching white-plaited fabrics and it stretched readily around the cord inside if pulled at.
But it lay on the working desk of the single most prized student of the greatest crafts magician of all time – well, excepting the mentioned disciple if the master was to be believed. And perhaps he unceremoniously should be.
The delicate, almost invisible white pattern going across the two colours, the gentle curve of the fabric and the hidden stitches from where it had been sewn together told nothing about the power it might hide within. The fabric was soft and felt maybe slightly warm to the touch, but was it all a trick of the mind? Was this merely something the crafter had left behind, dislodged accidentally by a hand running through her long hair as she worked?
Or was it the product of some new spell? An artifact of unspeakable power using magic most mortals could only dream of wistfully? Who knew what magic it could contain!
The fabric item lay there peacefully, mocking with its secrets. There was no way to tell. None at all… except perhaps… A shout.
“Kiera! What’s that on your desk?!”
L. H. Westerlund is a Nordic author, engineer and playwright living in London. She is currently working on several new novels, including “The End of Elena Heart” which will be available at the end of the summer, and a sequel to the children’s-series “The Truth About Monsters”.
I have a tendency to wander off – in grocery stores, in parking lots, in Costco. I get this trait from my father. At one point this led to an interesting scenario where I was 17 and in the back of a police car, but that’s a story for after I’m dead.
This is why I wear a GPS enabled watch with Find My Friends and cell service. It’s because my husband loves me and genuinely cares for my safety and is the only person on this planet that has access to that information in case he can’t find me one of these times I’ve wandered off somewhere. Flowers and books can be distracting when you’re in the woods.
There are a lot of people like me in this world. And there are a lot of people mixed up in bad 💩 one way or another. I look at these cases and I see missing people that could have been me, but I’ve always found my way back. I’ve never been lost – for some reason I have a confident sense of direction even when in wilderness areas. I can’t explain that part, but I bet many of these people felt the same way – they tripped and fell without a way for someone to find them.
I think about their families and that’s where I get stuck. I struggle with understanding extremes of emotions – I tend to shut down instead. I think about how many of those families also shut down and the generations down the line that shutting down impacts. It’s like a death with no closure – it’s so much worse because it’s unknown.
With these newer methods we are finally putting faces to the skeletons of unidentified remains. These faces have helped family members identify lost loved ones years after their disappearance and finally put what happened to them to rest.
Last autumn I listened to The Disappearance of Des on my commute. It’s a podcast about Desmond Francis Carr – an Australian man who died in 1979. It was when I started listening to missing persons podcasts that I realized just how many unsolved disappearances. In fact, every few years a news network like NPR in 2013, or even Local News Stations in 2019 notes just how many cases go unsolved and that some states seem to have more than others – in that report Alaska, Arizona, and Oregon has the top 3 lead, with Georgia, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts having the fewest missing people per 100,000 residents.
According to NAMUS the United States has 4,400 unidentified bodies found every year and 600,000 people go missing. I think of the number of lives impacted by those 600,000 missing stories and then I realize that’s why all of those podcasts exist. That’s why people need to keep talking about these missing people.
Recent Cases In Montana
As of Friday, 56 children are missing in the state of Montana. The demographics break down as follows:
Without equal representation in both sex categories, I can’t run a full analysis, so I had to throw one of the categories out. If we focus on just the white and native children and look to see if there’s any statistically significant difference between the numbers of children missing in these groups, there isn’t (this is assuming boys and girls all have equal representation within the population).
There are going to be those that argue with me about the inaccuracies of this analysis because of the identities of these children. If the identity is impacting the way the child is now presenting to the world that’s important information that people should come forward about, but that is not information available on the sheet provided by Montana DOJ. I am working only with that information.
I ran it with a generous 95% confidence interval:
The chi-square statistic is 0.1922. The p-value is .661126. Not significant at p < .05
The chi-square statistic with Yates correction is 0.0195. The p-value is .889073. Not significant at p < .05.
There is one thing that is significant though – these populations are supposed to be statistically different. Only 6% of Montana’s population is Native American, so why are 37.5% of missing children from that demographic?If children were being selected randomly from the population, then the distribution should be proportionate to our population, not insignificantly different between the two groups.
That would mean that if missing children were proportionate we would expect only 3.36/56 missing children to be Native American versus the reality of 21/56 missing children (following the percentages mentioned above). Comparing these proportions with a one-tailed Z-test and a generous significance level of 0.05:
The value of z is -4.0403. The value of p is < .00001. The result is significant at p < .05.
Anyways, that’s a lot of rambling. This is a heavy subject to write about. If you have any interest in this topic consider volunteering your time to write about a missing person cold case for some form of media. There are a lot out there – more than have been written about.
Thank you for reading. Without you these little bits of data aren’t anything – communication requires a recipient and for you I am grateful.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Unresolved situations are frustrating.
Example: If a character experiences trauma, they will be traumatized and then display signs of trauma as a result of the event.
To not experience trauma in response to a traumatic event indicates something other. This could be used as a literary device. If it is not being used as a device it is distracting and takes away from the work. Make sure all actions have consequences.
Does The Characterization Of Each Character Match Up With The Timeline?
Characters are on a journey. Each character is moving from A to B and some will go on to C or D. Along those paths each character is changed. This creates the timeline of a book. How a character is portrayed in a scene needs to match the point in the timeline a character is at.
Example: A character that is in her twenties thinks about bills and her job as opposed to a character in her teens that is thinking about school. Because of this, the relationships formed around these areas are most important in life and are the most emotionally impactful outside of family and those that might as well be family.
We Didn’t Go Anywhere
When the setting of a story changes it’s important to have some form of transition to show movement of time and place.
There are some stories that don’t include enough details about objective indicators of passage of time and check that they are consistent such that all of the details of the story align temporally.
There are some stories that don’t include them at all and it’s somehow eternal summer somewhere bizarre like Alaska.
There are some stories that include way too much detail. It’s overwhelming and distracting from the story. I am suddenly studying the passage of time and the changing of the seasons instead of the nature of man.
There are some stories that include lots and lots of details. So many details. All the details. But none of them align temporally, so suddenly April was both 6 months ago and 2 months ago with Winter only 3 months away. This is when I start getting headaches. James Joyce does this. A lot.
Characters Have Hidden Lives
It’s Okay To Have “Offensive” Characters
There’s a huge difference between an “offensive” character that upsets readers and an overdone inaccurate stereotyped character that upsets readers because it doesn’t resonate.
The best offensive characters speak to the group they’re offending because they are too accurate and too real. This will be upsetting to some people. That’s the kind of “offensive” I relish. There may be those that demand a content warning. Good – research is showing that content warnings increase the reads a piece gets much like good tagging because people are seeking them out.
I don’t care who the author is – I promise if you have done your research and shaped your character in a way that reveals truths in your observations, I will love your character even if people get really upset with you over it. Cut the wound deep and hit where it hurts, not where it’s been done ad nauseum unless it’s real. Reveal something no one else has, but remember that pen names exist for your protection.
Your Characters Have Conversations The ReaderDoesn’t Know About And Doesn’t See
An author cannot document everything. They are writing down a snapshot of a potential alternate universe that could exist because someone thought of it, right? That means all of those characters have private inner lives the reader can’t possibly know in its entirety. This means characters can have relationships with each other that are implied instead of explicitly stated. All of this helps to create depth.
It helps to come up with a full backstory for every character in a story even if it’s never talked about or mentioned. This will influence how dialogue is written and how hidden relationships between characters are revealed.
Your Characters Have Moods
Depending on your character’s internal state they will have a mood. This mood will translate into action or inaction in response to a stimulus and that will result in some consequence. Moods and energy levels related to exhaustion as an effect of the story timeline should all be cohesive.
Your Characters Of Different Cultures Are Going To Have Trouble Getting Along
Culture clash is real. The minority of people will be peaceful and fine and that’s great, but your characters aren’t the saints you think they are. Nope. They are averse to change and other cultures and view other as dangerous. This goes all ways. Be real – your characters from different cultures are going to be uneasy around each other and hesitant to make friends for legitimate reasons evolutionary wired in (if they’re humanoid).
Settings Are Places That Can Only Be KnownThrough Experience
Setting Descriptions Have A Time And Place With Characters In Them
It is not uncommon that I run into setting descriptions that are detached from the story either by the characters not interacting with the setting features or by the characters existing completely separate from setting descriptions.
By integrating setting details with the story as a whole the sensory experience can be the focus. The integrated sensory experience of the setting provides the reader with a greater sense of passage of time.
Settings Indicate Culture
Think about it – In the United States, if I set a story in the South a reader is going to anticipate a lot of passive aggressive saccharine manipulation straddled by y’alls happening. If I set a story in the Northeast, there’s a more WASPy social norm puppet show expectation.
But that’s based on the dominant culture of an area. What about when you’re writing about an area’s subculture?
I like to refer to framing subculture structures in writing as “country clubs” – it’s exclusive, you need to know someone to be someone, and there are generally specific central gathering places.
Make sure everything makes sense temporally
Ground the reader in temporal details outside the character
Offend by speaking the truth and make very effort to ensure that truth resonates in an effective and impactful way with the audience
Characters have conversations the reader won’t see but totally influence what the final dialogue will be.
Characters have inner lives, states, and energy levels that change as a result of the story. Write that.
Culture clash is real. Observe it and describe it. Be curious and nuanced. This gives a story so much depth.
Details of setting can be added to show passage of time in the story and immerse the characters and action in the location.
Settings indicate dominant culture and can somewhat indicate subcultures.
Thank you for reading! If you like this post on writing please like and let me know. What are things in books that drive you crazy?
Our trusty fan/heater for our bedroom stopped working. When we turned on the heater it smelled like burning hair and set off the fire alarm. When we turned on the fan the blade wouldn’t turn. Were we going to throw it out and get a new one? No way! That’s not the Berg Potter thing to do. We were raised by families that believed in repairing objects instead of replacing them for many reasons:
It’s more fun
It gives us something to do
It saves money
You can modify objects to your specifications
It keeps the item out of a landfill
Should we decide to replace the item anyway we can now donate it to a charity shop instead of throwing it out, therefore still keeping it out of a landfill.
So that’s what we are going to do.
Besides, Jacob prefers the white noise from this fan over my Dohm white noise maker. I can play-pretend either of them into music in my head while falling asleep, so it does not matter to me.
Before opening the fan up Jacob suspected that hair had wrapped around and was clogging the axle similar to the hair tangling disasters involving the Roomba.
I suspected that the problem was dust, grime, and general filth. My suspicion was driven by the burning smell and smoke each time we turned the heater on.
There were 4 screws holding the two sides together – 2 weren’t necessarily hidden so much as they were not recognizable immediately. The screws are of different lengths and threads depending on their location, so be sure to keep track of where the screws go.
As you can see upon opening up the fan it was, in fact, filthy. But was this really the issue?
We needed to detach the fan and heater from the tower in order to start taking it apart and hopefully get it clean and see what the problem was.
We did try to turn the blades by hand once the tower was opened and noticed that there was a fair amount of resistance.
We were able to detach the fan and heater from the tower. This allowed us to take a closer look at the connection between the fan and the motor. For this we needed fine point tweezers, Jacob used electronics tweezers.
Upon examination we did see a small amount of hair wrapped around the axle, but nothing that would explain the resistance we noticed while turning the blades. Either way, we removed the hair.
We decided it made the most sense at this point to detach the fan motor from the heater. This is when things got a little scary and gross. We found the hidden civilization of dust bunnies and discovered that every time we turned on the heater we were likely sending a death ray to kill them all. This may explain the fire alarm issue.
So we relocated them to the belly of the vacuum.
Removing the fan blade proved a bit challenging. We brought in the WD-40.
This is when we remind readers that it is important to always work WD-40 in to an area because it is a solvent. The principle components of WD-40 are kerosene and mineral oil according to boffins that like to do analytics on proprietary substances because we’re curious. You can do this simply by spinning the fan blade. This was enough to get the fan blade unstuck.
And there you have an exposed motor! A very dirty exposed motor.
After much cleaning (remember to remove the Q-tips once you’re done and try not to leave any cotton fibers stuck in the motor), we examined the construction of the Vornado and discovered it was assembled with the intent that it would not be disassembled and repaired (in our opinion).
We think this because many of the connections inside were permanently riveted instead of being removable and the wires to those connections were short, bundled, and zip-tied in place making it difficult to repair.
Next, we approach the heating element that still has quite the lost civilization of dust bunnies. As part of our dust bunny refugee relocation program, we did use our high speed Dyson relocation machine (aka vacuum).
Hopefully there will be significantly less smoke with future use from now on.
This detail is important for those that are interested in replicating our repair. Remember how in the beginning both Jacob and I had different ideas about what was wrong with the fan? We both were incorrect. What the fan and motor needed most was new lubricant.
WD-40 helped by acting as a solvent during the cleaning process and will provide lubrication in the short term. However, kerosene (one of the primary ingredients in WD-40) evaporates quickly and it will not provide long lasting lubrication. Due to this issue, we needed to provide a better, longer lasting lubricant.
We went with a spray White Lithium Grease lubricant – this can be purchased in either a paste or spray and works great in situations where you have metal rubbing against metal. The spray is better for fine moving parts, so we recommend going with the spray. If you need an alternative to White Lithium Grease an easy solution is with bicycle lubricant.
All we ended up using was a screw driver for the screws, WD-40, some isopropyl, Q-tips, tweezers, the White Lithium Grease, and a vacuum.
While the lubricant soaked in I verified that the vents were cleared and we worked on preparing for reassembly.
Success! The lubricant was the major issue. An inexpensive fan/heater is now running again with basic tools and supplies we already had at the house.
In retrospect we may have preferred using bicycle lubricant for lower viscosity, but we’ll see how this lubricant ages.
Did you enjoy this post? If you did like this post and/or let us know in the comments. My husband and I would love to write up more of our tear down and repair projects.
But I really like cookies and my sister has gotten me craving cookies. I blame you dear sweet sister, Becky.
Except, unlike her, I am not an angel of the kitchen. No. I create abominations behind closed doors. I present to you:
The Pillsbury Gluten-free [Cayenne Surprise] Chocolate Chip Cookie*
“But Lo,” You ask, “What’s the surprise if you tell us the cayenne is in it?”
Well, most people aren’t prepared for a cayenne chocolate chip cookie made with coconut oil instead of butter.
Don’t forget to preheat your oven to 375F because Pillsbury says,“🦆 the metric system!”
That’s 1/2 cup of softened coconut oil, couple dashes cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon tap cold water, and an egg.
Blend until decently homogeneous such that unsuspecting husband cannot see the cayenne pepper flakes.
Advise him that he can taste how spicy they are if he would like. Watch as he makes his “ew that has raw egg in it” face.
Laugh on the inside as you taste it and suggest adding more. He says, “No.”
Elevation seems to impact cooking time a lot for this baking mix. At 3205 feet elevation (at MSO) the cook time is approximately 10 minutes. I have made this recipe at 6000+ feet elevation and 10 minutes was not the correct time. Both were gas ovens, but there are other variables to be aware of.
Listen, gluten-free baking is weird and I’m constantly whispering incantations like “you better work you 🦆ing box of baking soda tasting 💩 “ over it. I’m not a wizard, contrary to what my last name may lead some to believe.
Once the cookies are out you have to let them cool a little, then detach them.
Next comes the fun part – the cayenne.
Dust the cookies with cayenne then transfer to a rack to finish cooling because I obviously trust you to do the right thing. Right?
Psych! Get that second batch in the oven and get your favorite homogenized nut juice some weirdo is insisting you call nut milk. Pour a glass and get a plate with at least 2 cookies.
If you are using horchata instead, you’re the true goddess, my friend.
Are you ready?
Yay! 2/2 approve! Cayenne Surprise is the good kind.
So What’s The Surprise?
The spice sneaks up on you. The tingling starts around your lips and crawls around in your throat balanced with the flavors of chocolate and cookie. It’s subtle, but you can’t eat too many. The cayenne isn’t super noticeable visually. It adds a brightness close up. Overall, I’d say this was a success. Have you tried similar with a different chocolate chip cookie mix or recipe? How did it turn out?
What should I try to add to cookies next? Do you have another domesticpotentialdisasterfor me to attempt? Comment below!
I’m excited to share that Alaine Greyson is partaking in #AuthorTube. With each video Greyson takes the time to share what she finds helpful in her journey as an independent romance author.
Romance is a genre I admire Greyson for writing. I find emotions to be one of the most difficult aspects of the human experience to capture, describe, and communicate. Greyson is a natural at writing human emotions if you read her books.
Today we did something crazy. We drove from Missoula, Montana to Eureka, Montana and back to give a friend a ride back to civilization from their family’s compound after they tested negative for COVID-19. What a great chance to show everyone this amazing place I live!
I am blessed to live in a place of wide open spaces and the optical illusion that creates a bigger sky
Where glaciers collide with clouds
Flathead Lake is always a welcome sight
Flathead Lake is a gem
We hit a bit of rain on our way, but it eventually subsided.
As with any good Montana road trip you have to stop for the wildlife.
Don’t worry – they move eventually
Nearing Eureka as it begins to get darker
Blue sky still visible at 9 PM? Not for long!
Near Trego, Montana the last bits of day find their way into this beautiful night
We managed to catch the sunset on our way in to town
As I’m pleased to share with you some of the magnificent clouds we witnessed about 15 miles south of the Canadian border at the port of Roosville
As we return from Eureka we see signs reminding us to social distance and stay close to home. Missoula County and Lincoln County both have 0 active cases. Our friend safely in tow, they are also high risk, have been isolating, and need to get to Missoula for a doctor appointment that cannot be done over a video chat.
Whitefish looks desolate. There’s no one on the roads here. It makes sense – Flathead County is among the hardest hit in the state – every case that’s been traceable has been connected to travel. Flathead County is where the airport for West Glacier and Whitefish is. We head south toward Kalispell.
We stop in Kalispell to charge the car and use a disposable barrier for handling the charging cable. Charging will require a couple of hours.
It’s dark, so the pictures aren’t going to be very interesting for the rest of tonight. We will be safely back in Missoula soon.
And there’s your Montana road trip during this crazy time. The world is a mess. Stay safe – hold your family close.