Quarantine Writer’s Block Short Story by L.H. Westerlund

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!

Image by L.H. Westerlund

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

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”.

Her author website is The Literature Goddess. You can also connect with her via Twitter or Smashwords.

Her first book, University Strange or My Strange Life Amongst Academics is available for purchase now. If you would like a preview, the first chapter is available through the publisher’s website here.

Short Story: “Friday, I’m In Love”

Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash – two people leaning on each other.

Disclaimer: The following story is based on true events, but the names of people, places, dates, and other identifiers have been changed to ensure anonymity. The only name left unchanged is my own.

I stared at Bea’s lips as they moved, half-registering the words as they vibrated the air molecules between us. The kettle clicked off, and she turned to the teacup and licorice tea. Her soft pale skin and hazel eyes glowed beneath a halo of an artificial burgundy pixie cut. I’d never had a crush like this before.

“Here now, this will help.”

I smiled as Bea passed me the piping cup, my sleeves pulled up over my hands as I wrapped my palms around the vessel and felt the warmth through the porcelain. Sitting dazed on her dorm bed with my eyes fixed into the cup of tea, the back of her hand pressed gently against the side of my face and forehead.

“Have you been to the clinic?”

I tried to speak, but my voice, entirely shot, sputtered; no words came out. Defeated, I shook my head instead.

“You’re sick, Lo.” Her head tilted, and she let out a sigh, raising half of her mouth in a way that I found more beautiful than any other woman I’d met in my life before.

I looked up at her, unaware of my facial expression that resulted in her busting out laughing. It must have changed because she sat next to me on the bed, her own face changing in a way that I couldn’t quite understand. It lost energy – the expression fell into that chasm my brain can never quite figure out. Above us loomed a framed black and white image of The Cure – a gift from her absent mother. It had been a fun past time to look at the poster and try to guess if one was her dad based on her chin and height. Raised by her aunt and grandmother, she knew her mother had been a roadie and had gotten pregnant on their 1992 US tour.

“I’m leaving at the end of this semester.”

Pain blossomed in my chest as I forced myself to make eye contact and stare into the peaks and valleys of her hazel eyes. Bea contained an internal sun that could only be seen upon close examination of her irises. Around her pupils and radiating out were flecks of golds and greens that emerged from a stormy brown-grey sea. I memorized her eyes as I waited for her to continue. When she began to speak, I focused on the bridge of her nose to try and appear as though I maintained eye contact while my attention shifted to my ears.

“I need to go home to Lennoxburg. My grandmother is sick, and,” she paused, “I don’t know if college is for me anyway.” Turning her head away from me, she stared at her door and lowered her head. “I’m not smart enough for this. First person in my family to try – first person in my family to fail.”

Inside my head, I screamed at myself, DO SOMETHING. Instead, I sat there with Bea in silence as I sipped my licorice tea next to the most beautiful woman in the world. Attempting to will my body to do anything to tell her, a panic rumbled beneath the surface. What if she doesn’t like you back?

“You look so rough. Here – I’ll grab some of these tea bags and walk you back.”

Walking through the cold December air of that Friday evening, the world disappeared. At the front of the building, she insisted on walking me up to my room. Outside that door, she faced me and lifted both corners of her mouth and tilted her head. 

“Feel better, okay?” She hesitated, waiting. “I’m leaving Tuesday, so you probably won’t see me again.” And with that, she attempted to give me our first and last embrace before I retreated into the room, confused and hurt by it all.

Short Story And A Few Additional Announcements

New Short Story

We’re back with a new short story: Part 2 of “Waking Up”, titled “On The Third Day.”

I would love to hear feedback on what impressions are on the story so far. At this time I’m trying to mimic memory, awareness, and the cognizance during the recovery process with the length of each new part. If this isn’t working I should know.

Let’s be clear: recovery from being in a coma and brain injuries is a very long process. I’m trying to recreate that for the reader.

Writer’s Block Challenge Update

Writer’s whose works are selected to be placed on the site will receive t-shirts of their choice from the selection of Bonfire t-shirts I made. When submitting your short stories please remember to include your t-shirt size and preference with your random number for the winner announcement on Twitter and the website.

Book Giveaways!

There are 4 book giveaways coming up. Each giveaway includes 2 books that have been selected and paired from our family library. The opportunities to win these will be announced over the next couple days relating to a treasure map challenge that will be cross posted on a friend and fellow author’s blog 🙂 Stay tuned!

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy 🙂

Quarantine Writer’s Block: Exercise 1

Object Oriented Fiction Writing

How To Use An Object (Short Story // Warm Up)

Visualize an object in your mind, or better yet, look for something “weird” you own.

Nana’s embroidery project from three summer’s ago that she gave you for your birthday? Perfect!

That Betsy Johnson cat locket ring you picked up for 50 cents at a yard sale? Golden!

That polaroid you found on the sidewalk while jogging last week? Best one I’ve heard yet!

Grab it, mentally or literally. Now, forget its past. That object is now foreign to you. Write 250+ words of new, completely fake information about that object and how it relates to a story. Think about the setting transitions the object goes through. What characters handle it? What experiences does the object witness (though it has no eyes)? To follow up with the previous examples:

Who were the people in the polaroid and how did it end up on the sidewalk?

Who bought the cat ring for who? And what was put inside?

Why did that embroidery project go terribly wrong and what shenanigans did that embroidery circle get into?

Who bought the cat ring for who? And what was put inside?

How To Use An Object In A Pre-Existing Story

In every story there are objects that characters interact with and often we forget how critical we make objects for the progression of a story. Be it a quest for buried treasure (object) or the consequences of a cursed [object], there are objects that come into play each with its own unique role. To use this exercise, you could consider one of these objects in your story as your object of focus.

Thought Examples:

Arthur is not king until he has his sword and unites the Britons (every King Arthur legend ever)

The one ring to rule them all must be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom. (Lord of The Rings, JRR Tolkien)

Trisha uses her Walkman to survive the Maine wilderness. (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Stephen King)

Arts & Crafts

I have found that in severe cases of writer’s block a physical representation of the object is very helpful. In this case, break out the arts and crafts. No matter how bad the representation, having something you can physically interact with while brainstorming will help immerse you in that world. The act of creating the object can be its own helpful therapy. Also, the models that you make bring your story to life in your own mind, and could help ease writers block on their own. Put them on display in your writing zone.

Collage & Antiquing

Some authors will hunt for objects in antique stores – in the time of quarantine, antiquing is not really an option (except online). Pinterest albums and other collaging methods are much friendlier. Finding an image to create a sketch from or even print out as your representation is useful!

Write Around The Object

Now that you have the object, physically, mentally – whatever way works best for you – start thinking. Sometimes, I prefer thinking of minor objects in a particular scene I’ve been trying to write because it helps lead me into writing the scene I’ve been blocked on. There are many ways to flex your brain around the existence of objects within a story and how they are playing a role. This allows the object to be written around – it’s there to help break down the mental block.

Do I Leave It In The Story?

It’s easy to edit out anything once it has served you, but a writing exercise can get you writing when you’re struggling. I have based entire short stories on objects, and I have cut entire objects out of stories. The choice is up to the individual author and what they want out of their writing.

Exercise 1 Summary: With an object related to your story, either physical or imaginary, write at least 250 words about that object fitting it into a scene you are trying to write or relating it to your story.

Bonus: Do some arts & crafts to make a physical representation of your object.

TL;DR

  • Objects can be useful for helping your brain overcome writer’s block
  • Think about the role objects play in your story and select an object from your story to focus on.
  • Physical representations of objects in your story are sometimes helpful in overcoming writer’s block – these can be made with arts and crafts.
  • Try to write at least 250 words fitting an object into a story to overcome writer’s block.
  • You never have to leave what you have written from a writing exercise in a story.

I would love to feature your writing on my blog!

Please let me know if this helps you in the ways it has helped me! I would love to read every single short story written using this methods (100% serious). Tell me about your stories and the best ones will be featured in their own posts – please submit using the subject line: Object Oriented Writing. I am planning on getting a group of judges other than myself to read these if people actually participate. This contest will be running through 30 April, 2020.

Rules:

  • Word Count: 250 – 2000 words
  • grammar or spelling mistakes do not interrupt reading experience
  • Must be capable of being rated PG
  • Has the entire story written following the exercise above (Beginning, Middle, End, etc)
  • Please be sure to include your name or pen name, contact e-mail, and other identifying information in the body of the email.
  • Please submit your short story in a .pdf (an attachment that can be read by Google Docs) with a unique 5 digit number you pick at the top (do not include this in the e-mail). I will use these 5 digit numbers to announce winners on Twitter.
  • (Optional) include a picture of your object
  • The story cannot have been previously published elsewhere as it needs to be a new composition using the above method.
  • Author retains all rights beyond the printing of the story in a blog post on LoPotterWrites.com with any other promotional material the author provides for their writing. The author can request that the story be removed at any time should they wish by contacting me.
  • If the above rules are not followed your story will sadly be disqualified.
  • You will be notified if your story is chosen (or not) by 31 May 2020 (assuming there are not thousands of submissions).

Prize: TBD

Right now there is no prize besides having your short story on my blog. I am working on figuring out ways to improve this and how many prizes I can offer.

Thank you for reading – without you, this would be a shout into the ether.

Short Story Announcement: “Waking Up” Part 1 “The First Day” and Life Update

My first multipart series is upon us! It went live on Monday, but I’ve been preoccupied with this whole coronavirus thing and writing book reviews.

This first part is short.

I didn’t mean to time the release of a story related to waking up in a hospital with a pandemic. Today is Day 17 of a fever of ~100-101 F (37.7 – 38.3 C). I have ice on the back of my neck as I write this. There will be a delay in the release of part 2.

It’s all surreal, right?

I grew up among hardy people that believed in staying put when the hurricane came and destroyed the town (this literally happened and I was out of school for 2-3 months in high school while we rebuilt the town). One of the places I lived was almost wiped off the map by the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Entire families died – their bodies buried in mass graves next to their homes by the brave neighbors who ventured into the houses later. The houses and all of their belongings were either burned or were left to rot until us, curious, mischievous rural kids with nothing better to do broke in and wandered around those unwired houses like the generations and generations of kids before us. Look but don’t touch. The objects are cursed and haunted by the disease. Even then the belief was that the ghost of the disease persisted and could kill.

On that note, stay tuned for a short story exclusively posted here since I’m taking a week off. Don’t expect it to be edited well because, frankly, I feel like s***.

Take care and I hope everyone is staying well. As always, thank you for reading. Without you I’m writing words into a void.

UPDATE (26 March 2020):

Today WaffleHouse closed 365 of its 1,627 US locations. That thing I mentioned above about being from an area that was regularly destroyed/impacted by hurricanes and my town was DESTROYED by a hurricane?

Check out this thing called the Waffle House Index – it’s used by FEMA to determine how bad a natural disaster is in the United States based on the number of Waffle Houses still open in an area. I’m not joking. It’s a real thing. Waffle House is historically known for being open 24/7/365 and has called itself a “trucker shelter” during inclement weather.

We live in interesting times.

Book Promotion! "And Then We Vanish" by D. H. Schleicher

Hi Everyone! While I finish up working on another book review, I’m going to post something a little bit different. As some may recall, in October 2019 I read D. H. Schleicher‘s book “Then Came Darkness” and loved it. I had the pleasure of beta reading a couple short stories for Schleicher’s new collection “And Then We Vanish“. In exchange I received an ARC. I feel it would be unethical for me to call anything I write a “review” given I helped with feedback. That said, I like the author’s writing style and attention to detail. They are one of the authors that helped me develop my rating scale. I genuinely enjoy the stories and as an unpaid favor I want to support their book here.

I did have the chance to chat with Schleicher about the process behind putting together a collection of short stories. The stories in “And Then We Vanish” are everything from petrifying to hilarious, but they all share a common theme: disappearing. Using a theme, he narrowed down which stories to include and edit for the collection from the vast collection of short stories authors accumulate over the years.

For beta reading, I read “Upon The Unfortunate News Of My Death” and “Blue Heather”. While I loved them both, particularly the latter, I will focus on the former because it is incredibly relevant. There’s also something poetic about having the opportunity to harpoon one’s metaphorical white whale. My teaser:

In the digital age information can get misconstrued. Between all of the likes, comments, and shares when does real action need to take place beyond the armchair activism? What if we get it all wrong? As if poor Kayla Spaulding hasn’t dealt with enough insanity in her life, here’s one more fire to put out. At least we can enjoy some sadistic revenge.

I hope you consider picking up a copy of “And Then We Vanish” to read about Kayla Spaulding and the ten other stories. Did I mention that these stories are inclusive of a variety of well-researched and presented diverse characters?

There is a story in this book that opens with a school shooting. Please don’t let that deter you from reading the story and instead act as a content warning. It is one of the most moving stories in the entire collection in my opinion and is a reminder that Schleicher is talented at painting emotions onto pages with words. I am glad I had to wait to read it.

Thanks for reading and check back soon for another book review. As a friendly reminder, wash your hands and call your loved ones.

New Short Story And A Lot of Vulnerability: “Stronger”

Wedding picture!

Before you read this post, please take a moment to read my short story on Coffee House Writers here.

Read it? Alright then. Let me take a deep breath. It’s time for me to get vulnerable with you. These emotions are weird and difficult for me.

This piece is fiction, but there are pieces of this story that are true. I left out parts. I toned it down. I changed names, places, and made up new people and circumstances. Hannah is fictional. My partner is my best friend, he would never abandon me, and is one of the most understanding human beings on this planet – don’t you dare think that this story is in any way about him. Time to clarify some things just in case.

What is based on truth is the public transportation incident that the main character experienced as well as other aspects of trauma. I’m unusual. There was never a time in my memory before vitiligo and for that I am grateful. I never experienced loss, though it has grown. When my parents first took me outside as an infant and I started to tan it was there. Family members talked. They knew it affected me, but when I heard the words “deformed” and “disfigured” I internalized it. Growing up in very remote areas of the United States, even today there are people that believe it is a mark of demonic possession or worse. Luckily, I have a loving amazing family.

The public transportation incident in the story is based on when I lived in San Francisco. In 2016, an elderly woman beat me with her cane during evening rush hour while yelling, “Leper,” and, “Stop Touching Me!” I was not touching her. No one said anything or stopped her, but they sure stared at me. I got out early and walked the rest of the way home. Try and imagine the terror of being beaten in public by an old woman in front of a crowded light rail train car in rush hour while no one said a word. You there yet? Cool.

I didn’t include every example of vitiligo changing what someone saw or how they acted toward me in the story. I have been refused service at restaurants because they didn’t want a “leper” touching their plates or tables (this happened in Niagara Falls, ON). Questions like “when were you in a fire?” or later, after years of working in laboratories, “were you in an accident?” are always a fun time. These are the examples that come to mind.

This has been my whole life. And I’m white. Imagine what it would be like for someone with darker skin than mine. Indeed, one review mentioned, “In a study of 53 [vitiligo] patients in India, major depressive disorder was reported in 57% of patients, social phobia in 68%, and suicidal ideation in 28% (high risk 8%; low risk 21%). These findings stress the need for psychological and/or psychiatric intervention (Ramakrishna and Rajni, 2014). Papadopoulos et al. (Papadopoulos et al., 1999) reported that counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy could improve self-esteem, body image, and overall QoL [Quality of Life] in patients with vitiligo.”

Now, let’s flip vitiligo to any other visible disfigurement or disability a child internalizes as being their fault because it impacts a child’s life significantly. It’s your turn to help a kid with a completely different life face that internalization and you’re thinking of becoming involved in foster care like I am. There are additional realities that you need to face. Over 35% of children in foster care have a parent with a substance abuse disorder and have been exposed to substances. Given the age range that my partner and I are looking to foster with intent to adopt, the reality is that our future foster children will likely have been exposed (directly or indirectly) to alcohol, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines and/or opioids at some point. They could have addictions of their own. One study suggests that kids that have been through foster care will develop substance abuse issues later in life if they don’t do so while in the foster care system. It’s complicated.

We’re not looking for a perfect child. We will love a child with an addiction – even if it was a choice of coping mechanism in the moment or however it started. We already love people with addictions. They aren’t broken and they can be successful if given the support they need.

Readers don’t like ugly stories and I get it. The world is ugly enough as it is. They don’t like thinking about the fact that therapeutic foster care homes are severely underfunded. But here’s the thing, foster care produces brilliant minds if given the chance, and, as a reminder, here’s a list of successful people that survived the American foster care system. Any names look familiar? Steve Jobs? Colin Kaepernick? I have met successful doctors, scientists, and lawyers that fought their way to where they are now through this underfunded system. I love people from this system and look forward to loving more of them.

Want to help make change? Donate your time as a mentor or become a foster parent. Respite care can be for anything from a couple hours to a couple days and helps kids in foster care and families within your community that may need temporary childcare. Mentoring involves spending time with a kid to provide them with a role model and someone to spend time with. Multiple organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Big Brother Big Sister offer mentoring opportunities. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a great way to support children going through the legal system – a terrifying process for kids. Before donating money, look to your local community first.

Anyways – this story is dedicated to an incredible young person named Olivia. There’s my soapbox. I’ll get back to writing my short stories and book reviews. These emotion things are weird.