Monday, December 03, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

Ladies and gentleman, the Amberstrong family proudly presents their fifth annual Christmas Joy Display! Over one-point-five million lights and sounds of the Season, guaranteed to give you the Christmas spirit!
Night exploded into artificial day and a shockwave of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” caused the crowd to take an involuntary step back. People shielded their eyes as they watched the Amberstrong house and grounds come alive with over twenty artificial Christmas trees and at least that many real ones. Dozens of plastic Santa Clauses, candy canes, reindeer, penguins, elves, gingerbread houses, and other items twinkled, blinked, and flashed, a plastic jungle synchronized to music that I could actually feel in my chest.
            My eyes could take only about a minute of this assault before I had to turn away. A man next to me appeared to be shouting into his wife’s ear. She stared at him, then shook her head and pointed to her ear. I knew exactly what she meant. A 747 could have landed on that street and we wouldn’t have heard it.
            As I walked a few steps away from the throng, I saw directly across the street a small, rundown apartment building. It was only six apartments, three on each floor, each door marked with a rusted metal number. Each apartment had one small window next to its door, some covered with curtains, some with what appeared to be bath towels. Obviously a low-rent place, I figured it was a source of embarrassment for the Amberstrongs.
            The door in the middle of the first floor especially caught my attention. It appeared to have a large brown smudge across its front. Being curious and reluctant to turn back to the gaudy display going on behind me, I walked across the street and partially up the broken sidewalk. As I drew closer, I saw that the smudge was in fact a simple manger scene, cut from what appeared to be brown paper like that of grocery bags. Definitely not high art, the pieces seem to have been cut out in a hurry, the edges jagged, rough, and not quite within the penciled lines.
            I counted Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, two cows, three goats, two donkeys, a camel, and what seemed to be a dog. The internal light coming through the peephole on the door made a perfect Star of Bethlehem for the scene. I became enraptured by the crude artwork, completely forgetting the Amberstrong’s display. The simplicity called to me, drawing me in both body and spirit closer to the door. I reached out and ran my fingers over one of the cows, feeling the rough smoothness of the paper, the jagged cut edges, and wondered who had created the little door masterpiece.
            I’m not sure how long I stood there, but sudden silence and darkness brought me out of a pretty deep reverie. I was aware of the announcer telling the crowd that the next show would start in half an hour. I started back down the sidewalk, heading for my car. I had missed the Amberstrong’s light show, but I really didn’t care. In fact, I was happy I had missed the ultra-modern, ultra-chic, ultra-gaudy show. I don’t associate any of that stuff with Christmas. I guess I’m just a simple guy at heart.
            As I reached the road, I turned back and took one last look at the door. A smile bubbled up inside me and I felt my heart leap. The Amberstrong’s announcer had been right about one thing: I had found the Christmas spirit in front of their house.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Winners of Our 2012 Writing Contest

Scribes Valley is pleased to announce the winners of our 2012 writing contest:

Karen Dorsey                  The Book
Ronna L. Edelstein         Wednesday Night Girl
David Empey                  Cow and Cat
Alex G. Friedman           The World Beyond the Shell
Kathleen Ratcliffe           Hell Found Me
Carrie Rogers                  At Your Grave I Stand
Mary Smith                     A Haunted House
Rachel Worrall                The Cherry Tree
Michelle Wotowiec         Notes on Taking Up Space

Congratulations to each and every author who entered our contest. All of you should be very proud of your talent and hard work.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Species Watching

I enjoy visiting aquariums and zoos. However, while the displays of many and varied fish and animal species amaze me, I usually find myself much more fascinated by another species. You know the species I mean: bipedal, sporting opposable thumbs, mostly hairless, and pays the admission price at the front door. That’s right, the human species. Below are my zoo and aquarium notes and observations on this species.

Knowitallus Speakupus:
This member of the species is usually leading a pack of its own offspring. As it approaches a display, it loudly announces the species being displayed, adding an I-am-way-too-smart-to-be-among-the-common-populace quality to its voice. Most of the time its announcement is word-for-word what is on the plaque mounted next to the display, but since it thinks no other member of the species can read as well as it does, it continues to enlighten everyone within earshot.

Potcallingus Kettleblackia:
There’s one in every group declaring, “Man, that thing is ugly!” This species member is usually dressed in cut-off shorts, a dirty T-shirt, and broken-down sneakers. It is usually unshaven (both male and female), with more than one dirt smudge somewhere on its exposed skin, reeking of either beer or cigarettes (sometimes both), and around seventy-five pounds overweight.

Ignoreus Ownchildrendia:
This over-producing member of the species enjoys its offspring so much it shares them with everyone else, allowing them free-range in, through, and on the establishment. No distance apart, however, is too far for them to vocally communicate with each other, paying absolutely no attention to others who are forced to witness what they really couldn’t care less about knowing.

Animalus Rampageus:
This member is the one who always wonders aloud: “What would happen if they got out?” (Zoo). Or, “What would happen if all this glass broke?” (Aquarium).

Ima Withstupidous
This member is usually mated to the member listed above, and answers its call: “I’m getting’ my gun from the truck and we’re eatin’ elephant steaks!” (Zoo). Or, “The biggest fish fry in the history of the freakin’ world!” (Aquarium).

Stollerus Weaponus
This member has a stroller and isn’t afraid to use it! It’s the perfect weapon…er…tool to get to the front of the pack and stand at the window. They can be easily spotted by watching for large numbers of other members jumping sideways and rubbing their ankles.

Gettus Cattleprodus
Seemingly disgusted by an animal’s behavior of escaping the day’s heat, this member will shake its head and say something like, “After I paid all this money, you’d think they would shut the animals out of their dens so I can see them.”

Anglerous Excelous
Staring into an aquarium tank full of very large fish, “Dang! I sure wish I had brought my fishin’ pole! Think they sell bait in the gift shop?”

Okay, I think you get the idea. The next time you’re in a zoo or aquarium, watch and pay attention to the people around you. You may just find them more interesting than the animals or fish on display.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Watch What You Say

WRITING TIP: Be careful how you word things. In this case, just one unnecessary word completely ruins the intention of what this person wanted to say.

Found this sentence recently on the Internet. It was posted by a person looking for a house to rent, and he/she sounded desperate:

“In need of a new place to live badly!”
One could (and should) take this as: “The place where I’m living badly now no longer meets my needs, so I’m looking for a new place in which to continue living badly.”
Wow, nothing like trying to improve your way of life! It would be better—and keep the intended meaning—if stated: “In need of a new place to live!” Simple and to the point.
The deadline for our writing contest is quickly approaching. Join those who have already entered our annual contest. Click to see complete details.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

10th Annual Writing Contest

For the tenth annual Scribes Valley Short Story Writing Contest, we are looking for stories that enthrall us, leave us breathless, make us say “Wow!” and stay in our minds even weeks after we read them.

You've worked hard on your story, studied every word, developed characters so real you know them personally, and created a setting which pulls readers out of the real world.

Don’t keep it to yourself! Let others read it. Let US read it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


      The Chiseler's Inn

      Sheriff Moose Perry

      Sam Maple, leader of Cougarville, a small gathering of gypsies

      Regan Candolin, an alcoholic, domineering attorney with everything to lose

      Lolly Candolin, a young girl who wants nothing more than her father's love

Will Lolly keep quiet, let an innocent man die, and win her father's approval; or will she speak up and risk losing her father forever? So much pressure on such a young girl.

LESSONS FROM THE GYPSY CAMP, the fascinating debut novel by Elizabeth Appell, has all the answers. Presented in both hardcover and KINDLE editions, Lessons From the Gypsy Camp enjoys top rankings on Amazon: 4.7 out of 5 stars!

“One reason for not being angry is that you might go to hell where it is hot all the time and flames burn your feet and you breathe terrible gases. Not being angry is one of God’s rules.”  -- Lolly Candolin

Friday, April 27, 2012

Beware: technology

Technology is taking over. “It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere!” screams the black-and-white movie hero as he runs through the darkened town, trying to alert the sleeping residents that their end is near.

As someone who watches scary movies from the 50s and 60s, and can remember the time before cell phones and high-definition TV (and even COLOR TV), I wonder when technology is going to bite us all in the butt. When is our ever-increasing knowledge going to turn on us?

Now, I’m not one of the doomsday forecasters who sit around waiting for the apocalypse. I don’t subscribe to the “end of the world is just around the corner” philosophy. I’m generally happy with the way things are going in the world that affects me. But….

Okay, let’s just say this comes from what happened to me today. I was taking my son to school this morning. Just like every morning. We pulled onto a busy section of road going to the school, when I noticed the silver car next to us had a key hanging from the truck lock. Attached to that key was one of those remote gadgets with buttons to lock/unlock the car doors. I thought, That’s not good. It would be easy for someone to get into that car. So, being the Good Samaritan I like to think I am, I decided to get the driver’s attention at the next traffic light.

Didn’t happen. The driver was a young girl, maybe 17 or 18. She had her left foot pulled up in the seat with her, her left knee almost under her chin. She was yakking away on a cell phone held to her left ear, her left elbow resting on her knee. Sounds weird, I know, but she was managing that position quite well. She was very involved in her conversation, her right hand punching the air as if emphasizing whatever she was saying into the phone.

I didn’t get her attention, and she moved away from the traffic light, still oblivious to the key hanging from the trunk lock. At the next light, I noticed a couple of other drivers trying to get her attention. They fared no better. I wished the girl luck that she still had her car at the end of the day, and didn’t have it stolen because she couldn’t take the time from her cell phone to simply notice what was going on around her.

Then, on the way home, I came to a four-way stop. I pulled up in a safe and courteous manner, making sure I watched the other traffic so I could determine my turn to go through the stop. The car coming toward me also pulled to a safe and courteous stop, as did the car on my right. The car on my left, however, only slowed down, rolled out about ten feet into the intersection, and then stopped. It was a huge black SUV, very noticeable. I looked at the driver, wondering what his/her problem was, when I noticed he was staring at, and punching buttons on, his cell phone! He was so involved in texting he hadn’t noticed he’d stopped in the middle of the intersection, effectively blocking all the safe and courteous drivers from following the law and proceeding as they should.

The woman in the passenger seat of the SUV appeared to be “freaking out,” very animatedly shouting at the driver. He looked up with a “what’s your problem, woman?” expression, appeared very surprised at the situation, and started motioning for me to proceed through the intersection. I gave him my best “do you know you could have killed someone?” expression, and made a gesture (nothing bad) that assured him that I could not proceed until he got his vehicle out of the way.

He casually went on through the intersection, still punching buttons, his girlfriend/mother/sister holding up her hands to me and the other drivers as if to say, “So sorry for his stupidity.”

So, maybe that’s why I’m on my technology-is-going-to-kill-us-all-one-day kick this morning. I realize it’s not technology’s fault. Technology shows that we of the human species are advancing. We’re using at least a part of the brains we were given to make life easier and more efficient. But, in my opinion, it’s also showing that, as technology moves forward, our abilities to use our brains logically is moving backward. In using technology, we’re not keeping our safe and courteous ideals intact.

Somebody needs to create an app that will notify drivers when they’re being jerks. One that pops up a “WARNING – YOUR DEATH (OR SOMEONE ELSE’S) IS IMMINENT, PINHEAD! message. Hmm, an interesting concept: use technology to keep technology in check.


Writing tip: write with the reader’s point-of-view in mind. When bringing in characters, realize that the reader does not know the character. Introduce the character with a little bit of background, but not the character’s entire life story. It’s very frustrating to have, say, George do something earth-shatteringly important, but have his good deed go partially unnoticed because the reader is too busy wondering who the heck George is.

Enter our annual writing contest!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tenth Annual Writing Contest

The thrill of competition!
Man shouting out the contest
The thrill of seeing your name in print!
The thrill of your work being read by someone!
The thrill of recognition by your peers and others!

All this and more can be yours. All you have to do is enter:

The Scribes Valley Publishing Company's

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

WHEN WE ARE - newest anthology

Old picture of a couple
Cover of new antholgy
I love old pictures of people (as opposed to pictures of old people). There’s something about looking at someone from a by-gone era. Maybe it’s the look in their eyes, maybe it’s their smile—or lack of a smile, maybe it’s the way they are posed…. I don’t know. It’s hard to put into words.

Whenever I look at an old picture of people I realize it shows so much more than just people. It is a microcosm of the time the picture was taken, a museum display of their era, a depiction of their when.

My modern eyes stare into their ancient eyes and something seems to pass between us, not only from the picture to me, but from their time to mine. It’s amazing to think that, at the time the picture was taken, they had the modern eyes, they were up-to-date.

In this age of digital pictures, I wonder what our legacy will be. A hundred years from now, will people stare at our pictures on computer screens and wonder how we lived? I think they will. I guess it’s just human nature to wonder about things like that.

The next time you take a picture of yourself or others appreciate what you are doing. Realize that pictures are so much more than just pixels arranged into something coherent. They not only show who we are or the current fashions, they show WHEN WE ARE.

WHEN WE ARE. Our newest contest anthology of stories from our 2011 short story writing contest. Authors: Dan Sullivan, Ronna L. Edelstein, Michelle Wotowiec, Kathleen Ratcliffe, J. E. Moore, Simone Hanson, Joseph L. Rose, Mary Smith, Donald Macnow, Vanessa Orlando.