Friday, November 11, 2016

First Drafts: A Literary Social- 8 November 2016

Ellen Plumb's prides itself in showcasing local writers and spreading literacy throughout our wonderful community. Each week we create prompts to engage the community in different forms of writing, allowing writers to practice their skills in a fun, encouraging environment. Here are our submissions for this week's creative prompt.

Write for twenty minutes using the following as your starter: “Homemade Stuffing”.

Homemade Stuffing
By Becca Resner

I don’t know that I’ve ever had homemade stuffing, in the strictest sense of the term. My Aunt Sheryl makes it, but it doesn’t stuff anything, so we call it dressing. In fact, most “stuffing” that I’ve had is made on the stove.
So often in life , or Thanksgiving, we overlook the stuffing and focus only on the superficial. Special are those people who break down my delicious exterior and dig til they find my core.
I watched a clip from Dustin Hoffman’s Masterclass, and he talked about becoming a woman, for his role in Tootsie. The makeup artists transformed him into a woman, but he didn’t think he was pretty. He asked the makeup people to make him beautiful. They told him they couldn’t. So this successful, famous, grown man cried when he talked about all of the people he doesn’t know because of his vanity.

So often, especially now, we have an idea of the cure-all that will transform us into more than what we are. The truth of it is that black, white, short, tall, fat, skinny doesn’t affect people’s stuffing.

First Drafts: A Literary Social- 1 November 2016

Ellen Plumb's prides itself in showcasing local writers and spreading literacy throughout our wonderful community. Each week we create prompts to engage the community in different forms of writing, allowing writers to practice their skills in a fun, encouraging environment. Here are our submissions for this week's grab-bag prompt.

Write a story that opens with this:
“He woke up and was shocked to see that it was autumn…”

A Fortnight
By Becca Resner

He woke to see that it was autumn. The golden sun peaked through the red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees above him. A gentle breeze blew those fallen past his head. Those leaves seemed to giggle in whispers as they wandered by him. Aidan settled back into his hammock. Overnight the world transformed to this serene wonderland.
The quilt his grandmother made him was damp with dew on the outside but mercifully dry on the inside: its warmth cocooned him against the early-morning chill. The day was going to be lovely. He tumbled out of bed, which is the best part of sleeping in a hammock, and took care so that his quilt didn’t fall to the dewy, dirty earth.
Aidan’s feet hit the dusty earth, and he arched his back in a stretch to work the exhaustion out of his muscles. As he did so, he inhaled the crisp, clean Wisconsin air. Its scent, a clean grass and damp earth smell with traces of burning wood filled him and served in waking him more effectively than a pot of coffee.
Oh coffee! The thought of it, no matter how fleeting, filled his brain. He walked a pace on the powdery dirt and knelt to the slightly smoldering embers of his fire. A few minutes bustling benefitted his cold hands and feet with a flare of warm flames licking the bottoms of the two logs he placed on their eager tongues.
Barefooted though he was, and damp though the ground was, Aidan deftly padded to a shallow stone feet away from his hammock. He pried the stone up and uncovered his stash: a rusty kettle, an old can containing a few scraps of coffee grounds, a carton with a sole egg that remained of the original dozen from the beginning of the week, and a few strips of dried beef sitting in a bed of sage he found on his way to this spot. He replaced the rock, grabbed the kettle, and walked a short way through some brush down to the stream for some water.
After the kettle was full, he cautiously glanced to the left, then to the right. ANd only after he determined that he was completely alone, he peeled off his clothing, layer by layer. He was sufficiently naked and knelt by the cool water. Aidan splashed and patted until his body was covered in goose pimples. He ran out of soap, so his wash wasn’t nearly as successful as it was refreshing.
He didn’t want to, but he pulled his clothes back on. Thankfully, the sun was climbing high enough that he knew he wouldn’t be uncomfortable long. Aidan picked up the kettle and trudged back up to the fire. Aidan set the kettle on a flat warming stone by the now crackling fire.
He dug up the egg, coffee, and jerky and began to prepare the last of his food.
He had just dropped the egg in the can that held both coffee grounds and water to settle grounds for the liquid gold. Having satisfied himself that the egg successfully sank the grounds, he poured out the coffee into the empty can that held the grounds.
Aidan bit off a piece of jerky and set about frying the coffee egg on the warming stone when he heard it. A bear.
He gulped. His pulse sped up to a whirring hum and sweat beaded on his upper lip. HIs hands started to tremor with fight/ flight jitters. Every instinct he had screamed at him to run, fly, escape. Now!
Aidan didn’t move. The bear wasn’t overly large. A black bear, he knew it wouldn’t eat him. And as these thoughts presented themselves through the thick fog of fear that clouded his brain, he appreciated that he could still think.
He had fire. Fire might deter the bear, unless it was rabid. No, not rabid. One glance told him that the creature wasn’t feral, yet it was still advancing. It was maybe fifty feet away.
Aidan decided to act. He stood up. As he did so, all of his dad’s wise words flooded back into his head. When he stood, the bear hesitated. Aidan grabbed two burning sticks and waved them.
The bear resumed its advances. Scarcely twenty feet away now the black beast cautiously paced towards him.
“Ya!” he yelled. He gesticulated, waving his arms like a madman. The bear kept its steady crawl, advancing deliberately.
Aidan stopped once the bear came within ten feet of him. Fear froze his muscles. He couldn’t even blink. And still it came.
Five feet away, Aidan inexplicably relaxed. Nothing compelled him to it, but he did. He closed his eyes as the weird calm washed over him. He felt the bear’s hot, sweet breath on his face.
The bear’s right paw settled on Aidan’s left shoulder. Its left rested on his right, and he felt the tongue explore his forehead and his ears.
Before he knew it, the pressure left his shoulders. Aidan opened his eyes. The bear was gone. He drew a breath, realizing that he hadn’t been for awhile.
He stooped and picked up the coffee. After the reassuring smell of charred egg reached his nostrils, he ate the egg.
An air horn sounded in the distance, and Aidan started to pack up his meager camp and pick his way towards his dad. Two weeks alone in the woods and he had nothing to talk about, except the last twenty minutes.


A Place Outside of Seasons
by Lindsey Bartlett

He woke up and was shocked to see that it was autumn. The trees above his head were full of leaves colored orange, yellow, and red. The grass beneath him was starting to fade from green to brown. Rubbing his eyes he pushed himself into a sitting position to better take in his surroundings.

            Suddenly, from beyond the hill where he had just awoken there came the sound of voices singing. From over the hill emerged three children, all girls. When they saw him, the children stopped short, their singing died on the breeze.

            A girl with long brown pigtails, and a blue denim dress addressed the disheveled looking man sitting by a giant Oak tree. “Hello, sire.” She said in a syrupy polity voice. “Who are you and what are you doing?”

            “That is a good question,” he responded. “Maybe it is one you three can help me with?”

            “Oh?” The pigtailed girl crossed her arms while her two companions loitered quietly by her side. “And just how could we possibly be of help to you?”

            “Well, you see,” he paused for a brief moment. “I just woke up in this, um, forest, and I haven’t the faintest idea how long I have been asleep. I see that we are well into autumn. Could you perhaps tell me what month and day it is?”

            The pigtailed girl eyed each of her friends in turn with a look the man couldn’t quite read. Their was a pause in which the only sound were leaves rustling overhead, and somewhere in the distance a crow let out a loud KawKaw! KawKaw!

“If you must know” the girl finally responded. “We don’t really know what month or day it is.”

            “You have to be joking. Please don’t kid me right now” he begged. “This is serious. I need your help.”

            Again, the girl tuned to her companions, neither of whom had yet to speak. In fact the youngest (or so the many assumed anyway) looked positively frightened.

            “I’m not joking,” insisted the pigtailed girl in something of a huff. “We don’t keep track of time here. In fact we don’t keep track of time here. I’ve only vaguely heard of this autumn of which you speak.”

            Flabbergasted the man shook his head, hoping against all hope that everything would make sense or that these three young children would disappear and in their place someone with more reasonable answers might appear. Unfortunately, his hopes were dashed, he was still as confused as ever, and the three girls still stood before him.

            “Fine.” He grumbled. “So you don’t keep track of time here. You don’t have days, months, or apparently seasons. At least not names for those things. Do you have a name for where I am?”

            “The same place you were before,” the pigtailed girl answered brightly. “Just a different version of that place is all.”

            “A place without autumns” the man couldn’t fathom such an idea.

            “Sure. What is so wrong about that” responded the girl her brunette pigtails bouncing almost as if with indignation. “Who cares about this autumn garbage? Why does it matter to you if we do or do not have time or autumn?” She spit out the word “autumn” as if it tasted badly.

            “Well, it isn’t necessarily any skin off my back if you don’t have an autumn or not,” he answered. “I just find it odd.”

            “Odd. Why?”




Thursday, November 10, 2016

First Drafts: A Literary Social- 25 October 2016

Ellen Plumb's prides itself in showcasing local writers and spreading literacy throughout our wonderful community. Each week we create prompts to engage the community in different forms of writing, allowing writers to practice their skills in a fun, encouraging environment. Here are our submissions for this week's memoir prompt.

Make a list of your favorite stuffed animals, starting from when you were a child up to the present. Make a note of who gave you which ones, if you remember, or how they came into your life. Include pictures if you have them. Did you give them away? Do you still have them?

The Brief History of My Stuffed Animals
by Becca Resner

The first stuffed animal I remember was named Teddy Turtle. He was a white bear with a hard brown, ever postured in a sitting position- I think I got him for my fifth birthday. I was obsessed with ninja turtles. At my request, Mom made me a Michaelangelo cake, his orange wrappings contrasting against green skin. Anyway, that’s a rough history of his name. I took him most places and his white quickly became off-white. He developed a permanent Kool-Aid stain on his upper lip, because I tried to feed him orange Kool-Aid. He was my buddy, and being the youngest of four is mildly lonely at times. Especially if I was sent to my room. I often sought comfort in his stained embrace.
My next stuffed animal that I really remember was Fred. He was a gift from my two older brothers when I was in CHildren’s Mercy Hospital. I stayed there for a while after a pretty life-altering traffic accident. Like Teddy Turtle, Fred was an ever-present companion. I dressed him up in our old baby clothes and loved him like a son. He was my comforter after my first eye surgery. It was also at Children’s Mercy and the surgeons were great. I think it was a nurse though, who gave him a matching T-shirt to the one they gave me: a white shirt with a nurse bear on the front that reads: My operation was “bear-able” at Children’s Mercy.
Another bear, Charlie, came from my dear friend Gerri Curss. He’s small and brown, wrapped with a red bow-tie around his neck. He was also a buddy and took place next to Fred in importance.
Lastly, Charles Wallace. I made him, stuffed him and dressed him in a Build-a-Bear store in Orlando, when I lived there. He’s the only one I’ve still got. My roommates and I made our bears together. We even had a designated “Build-a-Bear DAy” at Magic Kingdom, where we toted our three bears all over with us. We put them in aplastic stroller and even got a picture of the six of us in front of Cinderella’s Castle.

Stuffed Animal Prompt
by Lindsey Bartlett

Over the course of my life from childhood until now I have had too many stuffed animals to list here. It would take forever, and I doubt I could remember them all. Most of them I have gotten rid of as I got older, but there are still a few that remain and a few I remember well.
Currently on top of my headboard reside some of my more recent stuffed animal acquisitions:
There is the stuffed Husky dog, that I bought at FAO Schwartz in Atlanta, GA when I was in high school, because it reminded me of our then Alaskan Malamute, Skyler. Skyler would pass away four years later when I was a junior in college at around the age of 16.
Next, there is Thor the Tower Raven from my trip to England with Dr. Storm in 2009, and in addition to Thor there is the unnamed Lemur that I bought at the London Zoo. I have a small obsession with Lemurs. (Like I went to Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita so I could pet a Lemur, but they changed the rules so you cannot pet them anymore. My life is still in a state of crisis over this.)
Residing as my fellow bedmate, is Ivy the pink stuffed seal that Amy bought me as a thank you gift for dog sitting for her last November. She bought the seal, because its smushed face reminded her of her dog’s (Ivy a Pit Bull Terrier) face. Ivy the seal is a much calmer bedmate than Ivy the Pit Bull, because the seal doesn’t think three a.m. is a great time to cuddle up next to you and lick whatever appendage is within reach, but I digress…
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the one stuffed animal I remember being really attached to as a small child. This was a brown and white cat, that I believe wore a little pink hat over its ears, and it somehow had acquired the name Henrietta (I don’t remember how or why). I do remember absolutely loving this stupid stuffed cat. My mom would use my love of this stuffed animal against me. I had to get up crazy early for school as a kid, because we lived in the country and I had an hour bus ride. In an attempt to entice to me to get up at O’dark-thirty, my mom would anthropomorphize Henrietta, giving her a voice and having the stuffed cat “wake me up.” I’m not sure how well it worked (I have never been much of a morning person).
On another occasion, I had taken Henrietta with us into one of the various bigger towns where we would buy groceries and such. I don’t remember where we had stopped, but I wanted to take Henrietta inside with me. Mom told me that I could not take my stuffed cat friend inside. This was just appalling to my little kid self, and I vaguely remember throwing something of a tantrum by the car while my mother argued with me to leave Henrietta in the car. I think I finally did give up, and leave the silly cat in the vehicle, but it wasn’t because I wanted to.

Monday, November 7, 2016

ARC- Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato

Ellen Plumb's is lucky to receive advanced reader copies (ARC) of books yet to be put on the shelf. This allows us to get feedback on the books from readers in our community. 

A review of Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato
Lindsey Bartlett

Edgar and Lucy is part saga and part coming of age story. It is also all parts dark and strange. At the center of the novel is the Fini family, Florence, the grandmother, Lucy, daughter-in-law, and Edgar, Lucy’s albino son and Florence’s grandson. A family still trying, and in many ways failing to overcome their grief; grief at the loss of Frankie, son, husband, and father, and even though he is dead it seems that he is the invisible catalyst for so many of the events that occur throughout the novel.
This story of love and grief is mainly told through the eyes of eight year old Edgar, whose loyalty is torn between the two women in his life. His mother Lucy is flighty, scatterbrained, and usually flitting off with various suitors in the evening. Though she loves her son, she is unsure how to act around him. On the other hand Edgar’s grandmother, Florence, dotes on the boy to the point where the two are fully dependent on the other. Then Florence, the glue that seems to hold the family together dies, and the lives of Edgar and his mother spin horribly out of control.
When Edgar disappears, Lucy is left scrambling trying to find the boy. Here the novel takes a dark and strange turn that is foreshadowed from the beginning by the random appearances of a bearded man in a green truck. Edgar and Lucy will cause the reader to feel all the anger, pain, fright, and sometimes almost hallucinatory feelings that each of the characters experience as a broken family struggles to find one another and to stay together despite their losses.

ARC- Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Ellen Plumb's is lucky to receive advanced reader copies (ARC) of books yet to be put on the shelf. This allows us to get feedback on the books from readers in our community. 

Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, Flatiron Books, 1st edition, 2017 Price: $25.99
ISBN: 97- 1250111173
Available to the public in January of 2017

Review by Hazel Hart, Emporia, Kansas

Throughout my reading of Behind Her Eyes, a psychological, supernatural, suspense novel, I kept turning back to the epigraph, a quotation from Benjamin Franklin: “Three can keep a secret if two are dead”, and wondering which combination of characters, dead and alive, make up the three.
On the surface, the story is a common one of a cheating husband, a wife who loves him and refuses to let go, and the other woman. David, the cheating husband, and Adele, his loyal but somewhat deranged wife, have just moved to London, starting over after some mysterious event in their past. David must keep a short leash on Adele, an heiress with mental problems.
Enter Louise, 34, a divorced mother who goes out for an evening and meets a man with whom she shares a brief flirtation and kiss, only to find out the next workday when he tours her workplace with his wife that he is her new boss. Not wanting to meet them together, she hides in the bathroom until they leave.
Louise confronts David, her psychiatrist boss, on his first day of work. The two agree that beyond the kiss nothing physical happened between them, and they’ll keep it that way. Their pact might have worked if Adele had not intervened, setting up a “chance” meeting with Louise and becoming her friend, swearing Louise to secrecy, saying her husband would not approve of their friendship. Louise tells Adele she works for Adele’s husband and saw them together at the office, but she does not admit to meeting him previously and sharing a kiss.
Adele wants to be friends with Louise and does not want David to know.
David wants an affair with Louise and does not want Adele to know.
Louise knows she should avoid the affair and tell Adele the truth. She does neither. As she grows closer to Adele, she begins to doubt David’s good character, to think he may be abusing Adele. And Adele has her own secrets. It is soon obvious to the reader that Adele knows about the meeting and the developing affair, knowledge she does not share with Louise or David as she works toward building a friendship with Louise. How she knows about the relationship is one of the mysteries that kept me turning the pages. Another mystery is her obsession with improving Louise’s looks, helping Louise lose weight and improve her wardrobe. While not typical wronged-wife behavior, it is all a part of Adele’s plan.
Once again, who are the two who are dead and who is the survivor? Sarah Pinborough skillfully hides the answer until the last chapter. Before Behind Her Eyes, I had not read anything by Sarah Pinborough. After finishing the novel, I want to read all of her books.

ARC- On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Ellen Plumb's is lucky to receive advanced reader copies (ARC) of books yet to be put on the shelf. This allows us to get feedback on the books from readers in our community. 

Review of Kristan Higgins’ On Second Thought

Frances Mihulec

This review references an advanced uncorrected proof. The book will be available for purchase on January 31, 2017.

Recommended for: Fans of modern romance and women’s contemporary fiction

In On Second Thought, Higgins introduces readers to two half-sisters, Ainsley O’Leary and Kat O’Leary Coburn. Kat is a recent widow, reeling from a painfully short marriage. Ainsley was publicly and humiliatingly dumped on her boyfriend Eric’s cancer survival blog that went viral. Through both sisters’ eyes, they begin to see through their own familial issues, insecurities, and learn to see the world more as it is, rather than how they wish it would be.

I found the characters and their situations to be fully engaging; the realism is grounding more than it is unreasonably depressing. You feel for the characters, but there is enough happiness to be found especially as the story progresses that it is not a literary wallow into the depths of sorrow. I adored that this was a story about women and sisters first. The romantic aspects were part of their lives, but not their whole lives. Even as both sisters find ways to fall in love again, they aren’t obsessed over their new loves and there’s not an unrealistic rush for happy ever after in another person. These strong women find their joy in themselves, what they do, and who they are before the men in their lives - an important aspect of being a woman that deserves to be explored in fiction.

Overall, I found this to be an easy read with modern references that made the setting relatable and immersive. The descriptions of various parts of New York City from Brooklyn to Cambray-on-Hudson, as well as the characters who live in both locales, gave even an outsider a chance to understand what societal or cultural pressures affected motives, both good and bad, throughout the story. The humor as well as the heartbreak that shines through Ainsley’s and Kate’s distinctive voices is beautiful. Higgins does a fantastic job of fully fleshing out her characters and if you’ve not read her before, I think On Second Thought would be a wonderful place to start.

ARC- Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Ellen Plumb's is lucky to receive advanced reader copies (ARC) of books yet to be put on the shelf. This allows us to get feedback on the books from readers in our community. 

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
A review by Lindsey Bartlett

This is a beautifully written book for young adult readers, but is sure to entrance adult readers as well. At a little over two hundred pages this could have been a breezy read, but I read it slowly. Taking in small sections, letting the words, images, and people wash over me. The book demanded that.
Anna is just seven years old in 1939 living Krakow. Her father, a linguistics professor is taken by the Germans during their purge of intellectuals. Anna is left alone, and frightened. Throughout the course of the novel, Anna’s startling insights are heartrending, and profound especially for a girl so young. Then Anna meets the Swallow Man, he is tall, thin, and extremely mysterious. Both intrigued and a little afraid of him, ANna follows him into the woods. As Anna and the Swallow Man trek through the woods crossing various borders, and meeting new people friend and foe alike they both try desperately not to be found.
Awash in the elements of magical realism, but still firmly grounded in the atrocious events of World War II, this is a book full of situations that have no good solutions. Through all of it Anna and her Swallow Man keep their bond, and somehow manage to prevail.

ARC- Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded By Hannah Hart

Ellen Plumb's is lucky to receive advanced reader copies (ARC) of books yet to be put on the shelf. This allows us to get feedback on the books from readers in our community. 

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded By Hannah Hart
A review by Lindsey Bartlett

Hannah Hart’s Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded is the kind of book almost anybody can relate to in some way. Most people will know Hart as the YouTube sensation, and author of the bestseller My Drunk Kitchen. In her new book, she is cooking up memories and stories from her past.
The short essays in this book deliver a picture of her life experiences dealing with things like family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, and friendship. The important things, if you ask me. All of these essays are filled with a certain wit and wisdom, despite the sometimes hard to stomach subject matter.
Hart was raised by a mother whose mental illness, Schizophrenia, would surface to more extremes as Hannah grew older. Because of her illness, her mother could not work and much of the time Hart and her siblings lived in squalor. They didn’t bathe, their house was filthy, and they couldn’t afford the kinds of things that “normal” kids take for granted growing up.
Throw into this mix Hart’s Jehovah Witness father combined with the question and uncertainty about her sexuality, and readers cannot help but shake their heads while laughing and crying. However, Hart doesn’t let what has happened to her in the past get her down; instead her latest book is a rallying cry for those who face these same trials and tribulations: mental illness, sexuality vs. one’s faith battles, and so much more. Hart’s optimism is contagious.
The ending of Hart’s book is a reminder to us all, that despite her life’s hardships she has many advantages: among those being she is white and well- educated to say nothing of her fame and wealth. All of the topics in this book are important, and Hart’s poignancy and wit shed a much needed light for readers everywhere.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

First Drafts: A Literary Social- 18 October 2016

Ellen Plumb's prides itself in showcasing local writers and spreading literacy throughout our wonderful community. Each week we create prompts to engage the community in different forms of writing, allowing writers to practice their skills in a fun, encouraging environment. Here are our submissions for this week's acrostic poem prompt.

Write an acrostic poem for Halloween. 
An acrostic poem is a type of poetry where the first, last, or other letters in a line spell out a particular word or phrase.

Here Be Halloween
Lindsey Bartlett

Here be witches and goblins, ghosts and superheroes.
Arriving on doorsteps expecting
Loads of candy, armfuls of it in fact.
Lollipops, Snickers, and Reese's
Oh my!
Wee little spooks out for adventure
Everyone handing out lots of sugar
Even apples become candied, caramel coated.
No one need be afraid on Halloween night.

Harry Potter’s First Halloween
By Becca Resner

Harry Potter sat at his first Hogwarts feast:
All the meat pies and tasty treats
Lured the students’ hungry stares
Leaving a delicious tension in the air.
Over everyone’s heads hung grinning Jack-O-Lanterns
While sounds of laughter and clinking dishes erupted.
Even the house ghosts joined in, in their fashion.
Everyone, full, fell into murmurs, but
Never did anyone expect a troll!