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On summer bummer.

Published September 5, 2017 by mandileighbean

Good afternoon, all. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the Great Garden State; a little warmer than most would like for September, especially after a cool spell of a couple of days, but even though it’s a bummer, summer is winding down. I reported back to work on Friday, and was back in the building today. Truth be told, I’m excited to be back and I’m more than ready for fall. This summer has been a rough one for me, and even though I haven’t been updating regularly (it’s been over a month since the last time I posted), I’m back and ready to take my life back from whatever gross apathy and complacency has settled upon me. And I’m going to start with this blog.

Some thoughts for today: as I was walking the boardwalk (trying to get my weight under control), a sweet old man stopped me to tell me about a turtle he saw. I listened patiently, nodded encouragingly, and then simply kept on keeping on. It made me think about how all anyone needs is a little compassion, a little effort on the part of someone else to make them feel like they matter. I’m going to do my best to do more of that.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #6.2017: Months after receiving a gunshot wound to the head, a patient is discharged from the hospital. She wears a pendant made from the bullet that was embedded in her skull.

Luna stared deep into her own reflection and she was trembling. She was in the ladies’ room of a fancy Italian restaurant that required patrons bring their own alcohol. She was dressed in an emerald green dress that glimmered like the scales of a fish – or a mermaid’s tale, if she was feeling especially fanciful – when the light caught it in just the right way. Her best girlfriends had insisted the color did wonders for her complexion and for her eyes. Luna assumed that same would be said of her hair, as it was the same shade of brown as her eyes, but her hair was gone. Her head was shaved. And although it had had about four months to grow back, her hair was taking its sweet time to return. The imperfections of the shape of her skull were exposed for all to see, and she felt so vulnerable. Her trembling hand moved to the side of her head, and trembling fingers traced the scar that ran from the front of her skull all the way to the back. It was ugly and purple and bloated, and it separated her hair in an unfashionable line.

The bullet entering and exiting her skull had done the same, had separated her life by an unfashionable, hard line. There was life before the bullet, and then there was life after the bullet.

Luna had been walking her overweight, long-haired Chihuahua named Teddy in the park just a block or two from her apartment building. It had been a marvel of a September day; warm enough to forego a coat beneath an unblemished blue sky. She saw the kids playing basketball and heard their raucous shouts and laughter. They added to the atmosphere, became ambient sound, and so she paid them no special attention. If she had, she might have dropped to the pavement when everyone else had.

In the shot of a lifetime, a stray bullet from an attempted drive-by shooting traveled through a chain link fence, across a blazing blacktop, and through another chain link fence before coming to halt inside the skull of Luna. She collapsed to the ground, falling at the same rate as the blood that spurted from the wound and splattered the fence. It made a neat pool on the ground around her, but Luna didn’t really remember all of that. She didn’t remember anything. It was all a black void until she woke up in the hospital about a month later.

When Luna was released, the doctors presented her with the bullet they had extracted from her skull during surgery. She had it melted down and molded into a neat oval, and she wore it around her neck. Her mother said she was morbid, and her friends never talked about it, but all of them had encouraged her to move on, to keep living, to be happy for her second chance. And Luna supposed she was.

But it was hard. It was hard looking like some oddly feminine monster of Dr. Frankenstein’s while trying to date. And it was hard to keep from crying when someone asked about the pendant she was wearing. And it was hard to escape to be confronted by a mirror.

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On life-changing events.

Published March 20, 2017 by mandileighbean

I know it’s been a while since the last time I wrote, which is a phrase I use much too often to begin these posts. I promised myself I would make writing a priority and I haven’t. To paraphrase William Wordsworth, the world is too much with me. I let work and friends and television and social media and solitaire and invented melodramas take up much too much of my time, but that is all changing, slowly but surely. After all, they say you need to acknowledge and admit to having a problem before you can even begin to solve it.

It is a REAL tragedy writing hasn’t moved more into the forefront of my thoughts and ambitions and desires because that conference/workshop was truly life changing. It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I left feeling validated and prepared and motivated and determined. I mustn’t lose sight of that, or it will all be for nothing.

So today, I kicked my own ass running along the Barnegat Bay (good for body and soul) and am sitting down to properly update you all on that amazing, life-changing, soul-affirming trip to St. Augustine. The trip to Florida was relatively unremarkable; I left my parents house at about midnight (after only shutting my eyes for three hours before the 15-hour drive; I was too anxious, too excited, too eager) and essentially took I-95 all the way down. I passed A LOT of accidents, which I worried might be a bad omen, but I also drove by the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and the Pentagon, which I don’t think I’ve ever done despite my many years traveling up and down the Eastern seaboard. Once I arrived in St. Augustine and made it to the hotel, all of my fears were assuaged. I made it, and I had never felt so blessed in my life. It was stunning – absolutely breathtaking – gorgeous! There were so many boats out on the water – the weather was pretty much perfect the entire time I was in St. Augustine – and I could see the boats in the bay from the balcony outside my hotel room. It was impossible (well, almost) to tell the residents from the tourists because everyone was walking along the water in the sunshine. Handsome men were running shirtless, couples were taking leisurely strolls with cool beverages in hand. Such clichéd phrases don’t even do it justice, but they’re all I seem able to muster. I was – and still am – SO grateful, SO thrilled for the opportunity. It was AMAZING and I was continuously in AWE.

How did I ever come back to Jersey?

People in St. Augustine seemed – to me, anyway – to have MONEY – like Gatsby money, and I didn’t bring a laptop to a flipping writers’ workshop/conference (because I didn’t have one; couldn’t afford one). I momentarily felt like an utter moron, but I was okay. And the first thing I purchased with my tax return money was a laptop so I feel like EVEN MORE of a writer now.

Anyway, the first night in St. Augustine was marked by an informal, get-to-know-everyone-dinner. It was … interesting, tp say the VERY least. I went down to the hotel lobby around 7pm and sat outside and waited. Naturally, the others had gathered inside so when I awkwardly meandered in after creeping about the greenery, I met everyone.

Greg is a retired firefighter from the Midwest. Joanna published two novels twenty years ago, and has a house in Palm Beach and a house in the Hamptons. Paula was in medical communications but now she lives in Houston and I think she’s writing full time. Add me to the crew and we were the writers all staying at the hotel.

I instinctively liked Michael Neff, the editor. I hoped I made a good impression and toyed the line between desperate and casual, if such a line even exists. During dinner, I sat between Joanna and Noreene, who just flew in from the Grand Cayman Islands; completely chic and fabulous. I sat across from Doug from Cincinnati; he was hard to read at first, but shortly became one of my favorite people from the whole experience (he used to be a stand-up comedian and the last few days in St. Augustine, he made me laugh so hard, I cried and on top of that, he really is a phenomenal writer, so whatever. Maybe I’m mostly jealous; favorite might be too positive a word. But I’m just kidding. Maybe). Greg was across from me as was Literary Agent Paula (who I’m only referring to as such to differentiate her from Paula from Houston; don’t worry, I didn’t call her that or anything).

I LOVED Literary Agent Paula and on the first night, she gave me GREAT advice. I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Marketplace, have decided to really focus on finding an agent, am endeavoring to attend more “pitch” conferences, and have decided to break away from Martin Sisters Publishing (the separation ended up being mutual … more on that later). But from listening to everyone talk about the conferences they’d been to and the important people they knew, I felt overwhelmed and realized I was greener than I thought. I was the youngest person there by decades. I knew I had the talent and the passion, but quickly began to understand that I needed the wisdom.

Cris is an author from California and Lunka is an aspiring writer with a full-time job (so we had a somewhat instant connection) from Denver; so cool.

So the next day (February 25th) marked the first REAL day of the conference/workshop. I was SCARED; I worked on my pitch for the novel I was currently working on (the title was stupid, so I’ll just call it The Duke Story [even though that’s also stupid]) the night before but still felt mostly nauseous. We met at a beautiful house right on the beach, and it was like something out of a movie or, even better, out of a dream. We sat in a circle and everyone read their pitches. It was so cool and interesting to see how everyone’s pitch matched their personality. I was really impressed with a couple of the stories, and everyone had something awesome to share … except me. At least that’s what it felt like, because my mood went from nauseated to dead when both Literary Agent Paula and Michael told me The Duke Story wasn’t marketable and encouraged me to work on “Don’t Drink the Water” (but that title is different now, too).

I felt deflated and was too wrapped up in my own shit to enjoy lunch at The Reef, but I did get to know Cris. When we returned to the house to wrap up the day’s session, Literary Agent Paula advised me to ask Hallie Ephron (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?) about the possibility of working on Her Beautiful Monster; Michael loved the title and wanted me to re-work it, but Literary Agent Paula was nervous because it had been published, has an ISBN number, and can easily be looked up … even though the publisher is so small it’s obscure. I felt lost and was happy to return to the hotel. Joanna drove Greg, Paula and me back to the hotel, but we stopped at Publix and the liquor store first. Paula and I needed some grocery items and we all needed booze after the first day. I happily joined them for the free happy hour at the hotel, and got to know Paula better. We sat on the porch swing outside of her room and talked a little bit about everything in our lives. Then I got to work on our assigned homework (identify five things that make our protagonist sympathetic, interesting, unique, etc. by showing, not telling). I used Charlotte from “Don’t Drink the Water” and did okay.

The second day (February 26th) was MUCH better for my ego, my soul, my passion. When I pitched “Don’t Drink the Water,” both Michael and Literary Agent Paula liked it. Then I went on to meet Robert Olen Butler and HE CHANGED MY LIFE. Throughout the course of our conversation, he validated my dream. He understood The Duke Story and my intention; he took the words right out of my mouth, the words I wished I had when I first pitched the story in front of everyone, and he told me he believed I could do it. I cried and hugged him. He is an amazing man and I will forever be indebted to him, no matter what comes of my so-called writing career.

After the conversation, I reworked my pitch and befriended Lunka. We had a spiritual connection as we were both really moved by our conversations with Robert and we exchanged numbers. I have a new writer friend 🙂 After the day’s schedule, Greg and I got dinner in downtown St. Augustine, and I drank and bonded with Joanna at the hotel’s happy hour. While we were there, we met HALLIE EPHRON. I tried to play it cool, but I was sweaty and I’m almost certain I mumbled and drooled instead of actually forming words. She couldn’t have been nicer. Michael brought her there to check her in and he stopped to say hello and encouraged me to do his online course after the workshop/conference. Spoiler alert: I definitely am.

The third day (February 27th) was INTENSE. The morning was actually low-key; we re-worked our pitches and shared our character traits of our protagonists. We all broke for lunch after, and I ate Chinese with Joanna, Paula and Greg. We shared a bottle of wine to calm ourselves because the second half of the day, we pitched our stories to Executive Editor Lyssa Keusch of HarperCollins Publishers (WHAT?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!), Brendan Deneen of Macmillan Entertainment (IS THIS REAL LIFE?!), and Hallie Ephron, the New York Times Best Selling Author (SERIOUSLY?!?!). It was a whirlwind and while I didn’t feel 100% about the experience, it was SO informational and beneficial.

To commemorate our last full day together in St. Augustine, we had dinner together and it was AMAZING, GREAT, WONDERFUL! Joanna and I became as thick as thieves, Doug made me laugh, and Noreene was as sweet as she was fabulous. Joanna and Greg and I drank together back at the hotel and Joanna convinced Lyssa to join us. SO EPIC. SO AWESOME.

All that was scheduled for our very last day (February 28th) were individual consults with Michael Neff. After each consult, the writer left amidst heartfelt goodbyes. My consult was GREAT; Michael was so helpful and encouraging. I left the conference/workshop with a definite purpose and direction and really, what more can a writer ask for? I am in the middle of research, of signing up for the novel development online course, and am beginning writing very soon.

So when I returned to Jersey all fired up, I emailed Martin Sisters Publishing to inquire about my second novel, MOODY BLUE. I had signed a contract and sent it back, but that was back in the final month of 2016 and had heard nothing back. As it turns out, they had no intention of publishing my novel (said they “…couldn’t give it the attention it deserves”) and offered to send it to an even smaller online publisher.

I told them not to bother, but thanked them for everything. I emailed Literary Agent Paula, Michael, and have begun to query agents once again.

Here we go.

Below are links to Joanna’s website and Doug’s website.
JoannaElm.com
DougSpakWrites.com

And I’m sharing some pictures below.

Prompts start again next week … I promise!

On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On new material.

Published April 17, 2016 by mandileighbean

Last week was seemingly the longest week of my life. I could list all the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments and create a self-serving litany of complaints, but what good would that honestly do anyone? What kind of energy is that to offer up to the Universe? Instead, here’s an excerpt from the novel I am currently working on. I hope you enjoy it! Please comment with any comments or suggestions you may have – everything is greatly appreciated! 🙂

 

James’ eyes were bloodshot, whether from lack of sleep or too much drink Charlotte couldn’t tell. His eyes were also wide and vacant as he stood beside the coffee maker, staring into some void that only he could see. James seemed mesmerized, entranced, and it was creepy, terribly unsettling the way he could be present and a million miles away all at the same time. Charlotte wanted to call out to him and break that awful concentration, but she was too sick, too tired. She just continued shuffling by, too exhausted to even pick her feet up off the ground. It could have been her oh-so-clever subconscious, discreetly forcing her to make noise to call James to attention, but Charlotte was too sick to think. And truth be told, Charlotte had never really been all that clever, certainly not clever enough to figure out her own subconscious. And so, she shuffled outside.

The sun was hot and bright, but Charlotte didn’t remove any of her excessive layers of clothing. She was too tired, simply too tired, and besides, maybe she’d sweat the fever out – wasn’t that how it worked? She couldn’t remember. She was too tired.

Charlotte breathed heavily through her mouth, as her nose was congested enough to be rendered useless. She stared across the quiet street, too exhausted to turn her head, and her squinting, bleary eyes fell upon one of the only kids inhabiting the whole apartment complex. The kids belonged to the wonderfully nice family who had moved in a month ago much to Charlotte’s delight. The young girl currently in Charlotte’s view was a little sister to a big brother, both under ten years old. The last time Charlotte had seen them, they were yelling with youthful abandon, chasing one another in twisting, ever-widening circles across the dry lawns of their adjacent neighbors. What a beautiful sight! What joyous noise! Charlotte had been absolutely thrilled to encounter signs of life – FINALLY – at her new home. Once poor Kelly left, the remaining inhabitants had all been so odd, frighteningly so, and they had all been dying, or so it seemed.

Charlotte could certainly understand that now.

And apparently so could the kids Charlotte had affectionately begun to think of as Jem and Scout. She was looking at Scout now, and Scout was sitting at the start of her squat driveway, crying. Huge, mournful-looking tears leaked from her eyes and rolled down her round cheeks as if they were trying to be discreet, trying to avoid a scene. Her soft whimpers cut the silence and they sounded so pitiful. Had it not been so tired, Charlotte was sure her heart would have simply shattered. The little girl sat cross-legged on the hot asphalt, just crying. What was wrong? Where was Jem? Despite her extreme exhaustion and growing concern that any kind of movement would kill her, Charlotte turned her head to the left and moved it slowly to the right, endeavoring to scan the landscape to find the brother.

Charlotte didn’t have to look far.

Jem was standing in the middle of his lawn, just a few diagonal paces forward from his sister, standing and sweating in the sun, and staring, staring at Charlotte.

Their eyes locked.

Charlotte gasped and stumbled back a pace or two, unnerved to recognize the look in the little boy’s eyes. James was somewhere behind her in the house, presumably still in the kitchen, with an identical expression. But Jem was much too young to be lost in his own thoughts in such an unsettling way. What ghosts could he possibly have to gawk at? What horrors from his past could he possibly have recalled to the surface to relive in some masochistic ploy? The stare remained intact, unbroken, as Charlotte lost herself in her questions, in imagined possibilities of Jem’s infant traumas, each one more horrible and devastating than the next.

So when James appeared beside her, Charlotte screamed and lost her balance, falling into one of the cheap patio chairs. The plastic was unforgiving and her teeth clacked together as she landed hard on her ass. She could taste blood in her mouth.

“Jesus Christ, Charlotte,” James growled, closing his eyes against her shrill tones. “Do you always have to be so goddamn loud? I told you I’ve been battlin’ a headache for days. Or do you not give a shit about no one but yourself?” He looked down at Charlotte. The vacant expression was gone. James was clearly present in the moment, and him and his eyes were all impatience and contempt.

“I’m s-sorry, James. I-I w-was -” Charlotte stuttered. She wanted to apologize, but she was just so fucking tired.

“I brought you out some coffee because all do is think about you,” James sneered. He thrust the mug at her. The kind and thoughtful gesture was anything but considering his hostile, impatient tone and the muted violence in his actions. Charlotte flinched, but took the mug. She mumbled gratitude, but either James didn’t hear or didn’t care. “I’m going to work even though I feel like shit because one of us should do something.” James roughly dragged his hands along the edges of his face. “I feel god awful,” he groaned. He was wallowing in his misery until he snapped his gaze back to Charlotte. “Ain’t you gonna drink that coffee? I went through the trouble of making it so you’d enjoy it, not let it sit there and cool!”

Charlotte nodded slowly and lowered her gaze like a shameful child. “I will, I promise.”

She was so tired.

James looked at her for just another moment before storming to his truck. Charlotte listened to his boots thud heavily against the grass and then crunch against the gravel, making his progress. She didn’t want to look at him – he was being so cruel. He was especially cruel in the mornings lately. But Charlotte didn’t hear the expected opening and slamming of the truck door, or the expected and familiar roar of the engine coming to life, so she looked to James, to see of everything was alright in the thick heat, in the muggy silence broken only by buzzing insects and the soft whimpers of the little girl. When Charlotte looked, James was staring at her. This time, there was something dangerously close to pure hatred in his eyes. He was glaring at her. “Drink the goddamn coffee, woman!” James barked the order.

Charlotte flinched again, but did as she was told. Once she started drinking from the mug, James got moving again. He climbed into his truck, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and drove away. Only then did Charlotte stop drinking and pull the mug from her lips. It had been quite the gulp, a few gulps really, and so Charlotte went to lick her lips clean, first the bottom then the top.

As her tongue swept her top lip, Charlotte froze. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. There was a bitter and metallic taste, something that reminded Charlotte of the feel of aluminum foil. It was a bad taste, a yucky taste. Something was wrong with the coffee. Coffee should never ever taste like metal.

The mug fell from her hands. It shattered against the concrete, exploding into sharp shards at her bare feet. Later, Charlotte would discover tiny cuts on her feet and wonder how they got there, where they came from. But currently, Charlotte was experiencing one hell of a moment of clarity. For that moment, she didn’t feel sick or tired or sweaty or scared. She didn’t feel anything. The sudden knowledge was expansive and it filled her completely.

Charlotte knew the coffee was poisoned.

Charlotte knew James wanted her dead.

In the distance, Scout was still crying.

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Be sure to let me know what you thought! xoxo

On maybe choosing what is worst and doing it on purpose.

Published October 25, 2014 by mandileighbean

I haven’t written in over a month.

I sincerely apologize.  There is no excuse.  I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed by work, which in turn has certainly muted the passion and inspiration within.  When I leave work, I mostly eat and then sleep.  I have not been prioritizing as I should and as a result, I seem to be drowning in paperwork, in responsibilities, and other things that do nothing for my soul.  I know I sound like a defeatist, but let me assure you that is not the case.  I’m just in somewhat of a slump, but it’ll all turn around.

I’m crediting Gerard Way’s concert on Thursday, October 23rd as the reason for me to begin anticipating the end of my slump.  Maybe it was the fact that Melanie and I both decided to wear loose, knit hats and flannel, or maybe it was how amazing Gerard Way was performing, and how he spoke to my very fears and hopes and dreams, or maybe it was just being in New York City, but something about that night changed me, I am sure of it.

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WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #18: “I … love you?”

“I … love you?” she croaked.  She had never intended the statement to sound like a question, but she was caught terribly off guard by all of the wide, gawking eyes.  She had never intended for this conversation to take place via a microphone in a crowded, dimly lit bar, and surrounded by unsuspecting and incredibly judgmental coworkers.  Alcohol was a funny thing, she supposed.  It really could make you do and say things you knew would be incredibly mortifying or wildly inappropriate.  She didn’t think she had imbibed so much, and had assumed she had been perfectly capable of conducting a rational conversation with the man she had fallen desperately in love with.

It had been doomed from the start, and she would have realized that had she ever stopped to think about it, but she never did because it made her sad, and it made her feel stupid.  She didn’t like not knowing things.  For example, she’d punch herself in the face – repeatedly, and as hard as she could – if it meant she’d know with absolute certainty whether or not he wanted her in the same way that she wanted him.  She would cause bodily harm to both anyone and everyone if it meant she’d find out if he had singled her out for a genuine purpose, or if he had only been lonely and she had been desperate and voila; a friendship had been born out of necessity, rather than authentic affection.  On some level, she knew she was probably thinking too much, but the alcohol had cured that, and now it was apparent that she was not thinking at all.

For if she had been thinking, she would never have cajoled the microphone from the karaoke singer, with a smile as greased and manufactured as his hair.  Certainly, she would not have cleared her throat to command the attention of the packed room, patrons turning in her direction, sweating drinks in hand.  Their faces were patient, polite and interested; they were actually eager to hear her.  It was a bold, empowering feeling and she rode that wave of energy like an idiot.  Smiling big, like a beautiful, little fool, like an innocent idiot, she stood underneath the hot light, twirling in the dress that was much too fancy for the bar.  She was inebriated enough to think she looked gorgeous, which was enough to help her believe that she was also suddenly inexhaustibly charming.  She beamed and said, “Hello, hello everyone!  If I could just have your attention for just a second, that’d be awesome.”  Patiently, she waited until the crowd quieted and heads turned because she thought she could be something cinematic and perfectly romantic, that this drunken moment would be the beginning of everything good.  Things like that don’t happen in real life to mousey girls who convince themselves in quiet desperation in a cold bed that they are special and that they’ve been saving themselves for someone truly remarkable.  The alcohol had made her forget and so she kept right on talking.  “I just wanted to say thank you for coming to the end of the year party, and I hope everyone’s having a great time!”  Cheers and catcalls rose from the crowd and she smiled wider.  “I would also like to say something to Noah.”  She paused to accommodate for the crowd joining her in her search, craning necks this way and that, and turning to one another to audibly whisper and wonder why this stupid fool was looking for someone so strong and handsome and cool.  “Noah, are you out there?” she called.

The crowd parted and there he was, Noah.  He was embarrassed, never one for the spotlight, so as he walked forward, he kept his face lowered and eyes locked on his feet.  She knew his eyes were light and bright, the way the water looks near the shore in the middle of the day, a translucent kind of blue that invites you to run and splash and ruin its tranquility as best you can, but she only knew that because she had stared at them for what seemed like hours on end.  He was beautiful and brilliant and brooding and guarded, but he had let her in.  That made her somebody.  That made her special.  She couldn’t lose that feeling no matter what, no matter the cost, the way a drug addict steals from her own mother’s purse to achieve the next fix.  She was breathless, watching him walk towards her.  He stole a glance as he neared her, his smile fading with uncertainty and it was the way his mouth thinned that made her realize she had been wrong.

This was all a mistake, a terrible mistake.  One such as he could never condescend to grace one such as she with love and attention and affection.  She had miscalculated, woefully so.  And now here they were, in a crowd of friends and strangers alike, with everyone waiting for her to say something.  She laughed nervously and croaked, “I…love you?”

Bursts of laughter came from the crowd, with their open mouths and merry faces all blending into one atrocity.  Her eyes couldn’t – her eyes wouldn’t focus on the mass of apathetic people before her, but she couldn’t look at him.  If she did, she would throw up and that was probably the only thing that could make everything worse.  She dropped the microphone and took off, slamming against Noah’s shoulder but not mumbling an apology, only running and running until she get to a far enough corner where she could hail a cab in anonymity, tail between her legs.

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On art and crime.

Published January 12, 2014 by mandileighbean

It has been a week since the last time I wrote anything substantial, and I am incredibly pleased to say it is because I have been busy, and not just with work and other ordinary, expected responsibilities. As of late, I have been noticing more and more that an important and integral part of being a writer is striking a healthy balance between living and working, especially because the two are inextricably linked. That symbiotic relationship can prove to be a vicious kind of cycle if that healthy balance is not struck. Writing, at its heart, is a terribly lonely profession. When a writer is hunched over a keyboard or a notebook, fervently typing or scribbling, that writer is utterly alone. He has created a world he can only enter until the work is complete and, if he is any good at what he does, becomes accessible to readers. The process varies in time and intensity, but no one can argue that writing is not time consuming. And writers write what they know, meaning that life experiences serve as inspiration and fodder for creation. Time must be spent away from the writing desk among others, being social and being daring. But then time must be spent recording and manipulating these observations and events into art. Both exercises must be constantly, consistently, and congruently adhered to. This past week I’ve been away from my desk and consequently, I firmly believe I’ve learned quite a bit.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #10: “The owner of a puppet theater goes on a crime spree with an inanimate accomplice.”

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Charles sat in the back of the police car with his knees rammed up against the divider. There wasn’t much room and he was terribly uncomfortable. He realized this should have been expected, but then again, he honestly had not believed he’d be caught. Charles had assumed that when the call came over the radio that a man with a dummy had robbed four banks in four hours, the attentive officers would laugh, shake their heads, and tell a joke or two at the rookie dispatcher’s expense. What else could a story like that be other than good-natured, old-fashioned hazing? Charles figured the disbelief and incredulity would buy him time and by the time a squad car reluctantly arrived on scene to assess the comedic situation, he’d be long gone with enough money to live comfortably for quite a while. Unfortunately, poor Charles had been wrong, just as he had been wrong about so many other things in his life. The cool, metallic cuffs suddenly felt tighter against his thin wrists, and they were pointedly digging into his lower back, so he leaned forward for relief. Charles was only afforded a few inches and the new posturing only served to complete the appearance of complete and utter defeat.

The rear door on the opposite side of the car clicked open and a jovial-sounded cop carelessly threw Buster in beside Charles, and then slammed the door shut again. Buster was splayed out and resembled a chalk outline, the accomplice made victim. His left arm stretched out and over his head towards Charles, as if he were asking for assistance in shallow gasps as the air or blood rushed out. His other arm lay uselessly by his side, and his legs were twisted around themselves. What bothered Charles the most about Buster’s inadvertent positioning were the eyes. Painted on, they were soulless and only stared. Currently, they were staring up at Charles and the manufactured grin, meant to be welcoming and disarming and friendly, looked cruel and like it lacked compassion. The dummy lacked all empathy and sympathy, and his cold eyes were locked on Charles.

Charles hadn’t meant for Buster to get wrapped up in any of this. When the bookings stopped – hell, had they ever really started? – and the savings dried up, Charles knew he and Buster were in for a rough patch. But when Myrtle had kicked them to the curb, hollering something about Charles needing a real job and always picking a wooden boy over her, Charles finally grasped just how desperate his situation was. Walking the rain-dampened pavement in the twilight, with Buster cradled carefully in his arms, Charles knew he needed a fresh start. It would be best if he was somewhere else, where his art would be appreciated, where ventriloquists were in high demand and often admired.

Charles needed to get to Las Vegas. Charles also needed money. He had no way of doing that; his mother had cut him off and Myrtle had very recently done the same. He might catch a gig in the next month, but that time frame wouldn’t cut it. He needed dollars fast. Hence the robberies with a fake gun Buster had as a prop for when they did their cowboy and Indian routine, which upon reflection, Charles realized was incredibly dated and most likely not funny. Well, he certainly had all the material he could handle now, didn’t he?

Charles hung his head and cried.

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On personally defining success and nostalgia.

Published November 17, 2013 by mandileighbean

This week was exciting as far as my blossoming writing career goes.  I had an author event on Thursday, November 14th at Ocean County College in Toms River, New Jersey.  The event was sponsored and essentially put together by the Literature Club, specifically because of Sara Pease, who is a former student of mine and a simply wonderful human being.  There were about twenty people in attendance, most of whom were attentive and asked the best questions I have had the privilege of answering.  I was able to sell seven books and talk to some truly interesting and supportive young adults.  It was a wonderful experience and it made returning to work on Friday SO HARD.

Last night, which was Saturday, November 16th, I was able to occupy a vendor table at Ladies’ Night Out at the Manchester Firehouse in Manchester, New Jersey.  I sold five books and was able to engage in highly entertaining conversations with fellow vendors.  I shared my table with D.O.V.E., which is an organization that helps to empower female victims of violence.  It was a serendipitous pairing, considering the content of Her Beautiful Monster.  It was a great evening, and I was truly humbled by my friends Heather, Ali, Kasey, Melanie, Marie and Jenna who showed up and have done so at every available opportunity.  Though I only sold a total of twelve books and minimally increased my audience, everyone has to start somewhere and these experiences helped to confirm for me that I need to be a writer.  It is a goal I need to work harder towards, because it helps to me to feel fulfilled, complete, and just plain happy.  In the following months, my goal is to be interviewed by a newspaper that serves a large population (like the Asbury Park Press) and send queries to agents, who would also help in marketing.  Speaking of marketing, my friend Kalie invited me to attend an event with her on Wednesday that provides ideas for marketing in viral markets and on social media sites (I believe).  She brought up the important point that networking is key.

Wish me luck, and enjoy this week’s writing prompt.  🙂

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #6: “I rubbed my thumb across her cheek and, buddy, I thought I was going to cry.”

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I am a sad, silly and lonely girl.  I imagine a woman would be wiser and stronger, and refrain from indulging in simple fantasies she plans on forcing to be recurrent.  The latest is this: graduation night will be a beautiful night near the latter part of June.  The moon will be full and bright and hanging high in the sky.  Its beauty will be lost on me, unfortunately, because I’ll be inside the high school, dutifully stationed at my classroom door.  I’ll be stuck handing out official, important-looking, white, large envelopes to the robed miscreants, academics, athletes, everyone in between.  The envelopes will contain various certificates and documents that become so much useless paper in lieu of graduation itself, and of all the accompanying promises and freedom and optimism intangibly included therein.  As such, students will not be rushing to obtain the envelopes and will have to be reminded and redirected several times by the faculty members in attendance.  Blue and gold robes will whip and ripple around sneakers and outrageous heels, slapping and clicking respectively through the hallways as sloppy hugs, final goodbyes, and well-wishes are doled out.  As it grows late, the number of students whirling about in flurries of excitement lessens considerably and the building borders on being empty and desolate and lonely.

 

I will sigh and fall back against the classroom door, keeping the door open while lazily allowing the door made of composite wood to support my weight rather than my understandably aching feet.  I pray I will have lost the weight and that my skin will be clear, or at the very least, clearer than it is now.  I’ll be observing the few remaining students and faculty members milling about, a mere observer whose mind is one million miles away, on to the next silly fantasy as the last thousand never ever came to fruition.  Someone will approach from behind, out of my view, to unintentionally capitalize upon the element of surprise.  He will gently clear his throat and simultaneously become unexpectedly and wildly unsure of himself.  To release the building nervous energy, he will shove his hands deep into the front pockets of his worn jeans, covered in orange-colored dust from fascinating roads less traveled in America, so that his calloused fingertips (worked to the bone, strumming guitars and banjos, gripping the wheel too tightly) bend against the fabric of the lining.  He’ll gently clear his throat, embellishing the strong and solid muscles of his masculine neck and jaw, and say, “Hey Andrea.”

 

Startled from my reverie, my closest and most constant companion, I’ll turn quickly but it’ll feel like slow motion, like trying to move fast in a dream, once my eyes take in his image and my brain comprehends who is standing there.  I am certain I will feel fifteen.  Breathless and deliciously confused, I’ll smile and lamely offer, “Hey.”  In a moment or so, I’ll (hopefully) come back to myself and break out with a radiant (well, as radiant as a smile can be when it’s caged by braces) smile and ask how he’s been.  I’ll already have some idea courtesy of creeping on Facebook and the gossip of mutual acquaintances.  I’ll know he’s been living a bohemian life I’ve always dreamed of, that he’s braver and more wonderful than my adolescent self had ever even dreamed of, even though he had been my schoolgirl obsession for years.  He won’t go into all of that, though.  He’ll keep it politely simple and appropriately simple and only say that he’s been good and doing well.  He’ll ask me how I’ve been and I’ll answer in an extremely similar fashion, lifting my upturned palms as a sort of half-hearted shrug and to indicate how absolutely bizarre it can be to work in the same high school we graduated from.  He’ll smile and let his gaze fall to the floor beneath us, seemingly perfectly content to stew in the impending awkward silence.

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I, on the other hand, have never been so suave or comfortable in my own skin, nor will I ever be.  I’ll need to smash it, to break it, so I’ll do what I never wanted to and bring up the past in all its embarrassing nostalgia.  How could I not, given the present company, our history, and current setting?  I believe he’ll only laugh and shrug it off.  His cheeks will color slightly, resulting from excessive, juvenile flattery and perhaps guilt stemming from the playground torture and adolescent cruelty he inflicted upon me.  Indeed, his grin will ultimately fade and his eyes will rise to meet mine.  His face, so uniquely handsome and so simultaneously beautiful in its stoic sorrow from many troubles and burdens I only ever guessed at among whispering girlfriends, will be set.  He’ll ask, “Do you remember what I wrote in your yearbook?”

 

Shock and nausea will be my immediate response.  My mouth will go dry and I’ll choke and sputter when I ask, “Do you?”

 

He’ll smile, but it will be so muted that I will doubt its authenticity.  “Of course I do!  I didn’t write it lightly.”  There will be a gut-wrenching pause to allow the tears to gather and prick at my eyes.  “I’m sorry,” he’ll say.  “And I didn’t ignore the e-mail you sent me, either.  I’ve just been busy and then I thought –“

 

“Stop,” I’ll command and demand.  “You don’t have to, you really don’t have to.  It’s whatever; I mean, it is what it is, and I don’t know why I sent that message.  Did it completely creep you out?  I’m sorry.”

 

Kindly, he will smile and say, “No, it didn’t creep me out, not at all.”  Another awkward silence will descend and though I will positively squirm, screaming inner, secret prayers for it to end or for me to just die, he will be graceful and effortless in his charm when he says, “You look good.”

 

My face will flush and I will find a spot on the floor incredibly interesting suddenly, and concentrate my gaze there.  It will be in an attempt at being coy and feminine and flirty, but I will be too chicken shit to meet his gaze, so I will be unable to determine its effectiveness.  The lack of eye contact will by no means be a lack of attention.  He will undoubtedly captivate me and rob me of my breath, the way he always did and, most likely, always will.  Grinning, I’ll thank him for the compliment and eagerly return it in a fashion more embarrassing than charming or even sincere.  He’ll nod his head in a charming, gentleman’s way.  “Thank you,” he will say with a slight Southern drawl he never had before that I will suspect him of faking for the moment.  After all, I won’t feel so guilty or so lame if him and I are nothing more than a couple of liars.

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The inability to know what to say next will become unbearable for the both of us.  He’ll hurriedly mumble that it was good seeing me, that it was good to catch up, and he’ll hope to see me around, and then he’ll be gone.  Nothing ever really changes, not even within my precious illusions and foolish fantasies.  But, I’ll shut my eyes tight and envision him somewhere down the line, embellishing the encounter more so than I’ve done in creating it.  He’ll tell of an imagined conversation which lasts and lasts until we’re actually asked to leave by the custodial staff.  He’ll say I suggested moving the conversation to a local, popular restaurant where we stay until we are again asked to leave.  We’ll say our goodbyes beneath unforgiving fluorescent lights in an empty parking lot.  I smile when I think of how he’ll lie and tell his attentive listener that he reached out to touch my face and I yielded completely to the touch, a victim of parting and sweet sorrow and all that ancient, literary jazz.  He’ll say, “I rubbed my thumb across her cheek and, buddy, I thought I was going to cry.”

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