Tag Archives: #family

Flash Fiction Friday

Writing Bad prompt

“The ring, please.” Father Monahan turned to Jeffrey, whose gaze sent everyone’s eyes to the back of the room. Whatever he was looking at was not apparent, and all returned their attention to the couple.

“Jeffrey,” the groom stage-whispered angrily at his best man. He couldn’t be bothered right now that his lifelong friend’s unrequited love hadn’t shown. For god’s sake, it was his wedding. If Jeffrey ruined it, their friendship was in question. It had been faltering ever more as this obsession had grown.

Laila slowly opened the heavy church door, hoping for a quiet entrance. She was late, hadn’t been expecting to come at all. Susanna had begged her to come. Her little sister’s wedding was a must, but she understood that HE would be there. They agreed that no one wanted the commotion that would ensue from her presence. Yet she desperately wished to see her baby girl she helped raise marry the man of her dreams. The door squeak echoed around the three-stories’ tall ceiling. Acoustics were fantastic in here—as a singer, she was impressed. Then all eyes turned again to the back of the room.

Halfway up, Laila’s ex-husband Henri sat with two of their children, both of them excited about baby sister as flower girl. Upon seeing Laila in the doorway, with sunlight haloing her auburn hair, he stood up, snapped his fingers for the kids to follow, and headed to the door. As he walked down the aisle, he heard a gasp from the front, but didn’t turn to find out from who. In his peripheral vision, he noted a tall man in black on the left get up and head in the same direction. He did not want to know who this guy was. Henri reached back for his children. The sound of little feet running behind him assured him that all his kids were coming.

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

A time travel criminal shot Kin’s Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, stranding him in 1996. In the two decades it took his colleagues from 2142 to find him, he built a life with a wife and daughter. Regulations force him back to the future, where he’s been missing for only weeks from his work and his fiancee. His inexplicable disappearance, and her mother’s death, sends his daughter spiraling downward. He breaches protocol, reaching out to her digitally, endangering both. Chen brilliantly maintains time travel integrity, with its possibilities and limitations, placing his main character in an organization enforcing law throughout time, with strict safety policies for agents preventing him from aiding his daughter. This is a family drama that just happens to have a time travel element—a well-written, speculative suspense novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Mira Books through NetGalley.

Jessica Strawser—Writer, Editor, and Speaker

Photo by Corrie Shaffeld

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations material and abstract.

I’m an organic writer—I think a lot ahead of time about the characters and what my story’s central questions will be, but don’t outline in detail or swear by any particular tools or strategies, beyond reading voraciously, as much as I’m able. I’m very disciplined, with daily and weekly goals, and believe firmly in the power of forward momentum once I get going on a manuscript.

I wrote my first two novels by night, as my babies/toddlers slept, while working a demanding day job as editorial director for Writer’s Digest magazine. Not long after signing the contract for Forget You Know Me, I scaled back my role at the magazine and shifted to writing by day as my primary focus. A writing career involves a fair amount of evenings and weekends for things like book clubs, conferences and festivals, so this is a much more workable focus for my family, which always comes first.

Describe your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including publishing team and timeline. How did your work in the industry prepare you for the writing world as an author?

It’s been a little different for every book, particularly as staffing changes at my publisher have led to a few editorial team transitions, but I’m working at the pace of about a book a year. I refine a draft until I think (hope) it’s close to working as what I envisioned for the story, then get feedback from a few trusted readers and revise yet again before turning it over to my editor. Then comes another round to incorporate the excellent suggestions from her professional eye.

My work in the industry taught me what a team effort publishing is; I have enormous respect for my editors, having been one, and deep gratitude for the efforts of the hardworking support teams—marketing, publicity, design and beyond.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders online and IRL, and how did you get into the Tall Poppies (beyond being an excellent storyteller)?

My family and friends—who’ve seen firsthand my dedication to this craft since long before I ever got published—are my biggest cheerleaders, and their warm support means the world to me.

Also, at the start, were my colleagues at Writer’s Digest—we were all writers with a genuine love for the work we were doing there, and it was humbling to have them so enthusiastically in my corner—as well as a debut author group called 17 Scribes—it was invaluable to be tapped into a network of other authors publishing their first novels in 2017, and many of us remain connected today.

I’d met some of the Tall Poppy Writers through conferences, WD, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and online, and had admired their collaborative spirit and talented body of work for years; I was elated when they invited me to join.

How does your life influence your writing and vice versa? Please share fun details about being the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

While I don’t write directly from life experiences, of course we all are heavily influenced by the phases of life in which we find ourselves and the beautiful (and not so beautiful) aspects of human nature that turn our heads. I’d find it impossible to separate the two!

It’s a wonderful honor to be serving as the newly minted Writer-in-Residence for the Cincinnati library system this year; it encompasses more than 40 branches, and I’ll doing community engagement with local readers (visiting library branch book clubs and hosting a podcast) as well as aspiring writers (teaching free workshops and holding office hours, for instance).

What do you love most about your creativity?

Through dreaming up a story from pure imagination, somehow, I end up feeling more like me.

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Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman


Daphne Maritch inherits the yearbook that the class of 1969 dedicated to her mother, their teacher. Attending every class reunion of that year’s class, her mom dashed off judgment calls in that yearbook, while alienating her family further. Daphne has no use for it and tosses it in recycling, only to discover her neighbor has rescued it and has documentary plans for it, focusing on her mother’s life. In her attempt to repossess it, Daphne learns exactly how much she didn’t know about her mother, and how much better her father knows her than she realized. Secrets explode, Daphne explodes…romance ensues.

Lipman creates a character whose complexity makes her less endearing than interesting, leading dear reader to enjoy her ups and downs from outside the emotions, yet still root for her as she makes terrible life decisions. Choices made by all family members in the past reverberate in the presence, causing confusion and offering challenging choices. The integrity of the characters remains resolute as they fluffercate over “9/10 of the law” and “right to know.” This is an absolutely FUN story, whipping back and forth in allegiances, and up and down in storyline. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this fabulous book from the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt through a Goodreads giveaway.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

A sleeping sickness befalls the little college town of Santa Lora, CA, starting with Mei’s roommate Kara, prompting a quarantine of their dorm. Quickly overwhelmed, the hospital sets up the children who succumb in the public library. The patients wake up in random order with time span and chronology confusion, or they never wake up—dying or coming to consciousness days, weeks, months after succumbing. Mei becomes part of the relief effort by those immune to the illness. Thompson Walker brilliantly moves in and out of the epidemic containment through cordon sanitaire and the sleepers’ astonishingly realistic dreams. Graphic descriptions of virtual long lives lived for decades and anomalies that persist after awakening draw the reader into the deep wells of grief and confusion of those who wake to a lesser reality. The frustrated anger and desperation of family and friends prevented from contacting loved ones is credibly shown by such irrational actions as climbing the quarantine fence and rushing the police. The author references other such unusual occurrences, and how conspiracy theories can easily form from a frightening epidemic never diagnosed by doctors. It brings to mind the sleepy sickness brought on by the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 20th century, whose victims remained catatonic for decades. I was fortunate to receive a copy of this well-written, wonderfully told novel from the publisher Random House through a Goodreads giveaway.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Anna Roux’s life changed drastically when her husband moved them from Paris to the American Midwest. Her profession as a dancer fades to history, and she disappears inside herself, despair manifesting as anorexia. In a holiday visit home, her family’s shocked reaction to her appearance prompts her husband to commit her to a strict program at 17 Swann Street, where Anna learns the hard way to eat again. There’s so much more going on than Anna feeling fat, so much involved in succumbing to an insidious disease. Zgheib carefully maneuvers through the complexity of her character’s inner turmoil. As a contributing factor as well as an integral part of Anna’s support system, her husband is explored through his emotional roller coaster, denial, and finally, tough love response to her illness.

This story paints a detailed description of a unique life with an unfortunately common disease, where one cannot point to any one action as a causation. Readers with no connection to this illness still will reel from the pain of a young woman who feels out of control of her own life, who cannot reconcile her less than desirable circumstances with the love she feels for her husband, sympathizing with her as she is forced to confront the voice of anorexia telling her that she is not enough. The slow, challenging journey is well told by a talented writer. This is a must-read for the awareness and understanding it brings. If anorexia has touched your life in any way, offer this story to friends and family. Even if it hasn’t, read and share for the compassion invoked.

Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting portrait of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia on an intimate journey to reclaim her life.  

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound. 

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears—imperfection, failure, loneliness—she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live: women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Every bite causes anxiety.  Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

Yara Zgheib is a Fulbright scholar with a Masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and a PhD in International Affairs in Diplomacy from Centre D’études Diplomatiques et Stratégiques in Paris. She is fluent in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish. Yara is a writer for several US and European magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, A Woman’s Paris, The Idea List, and Holiday Magazine. She writes on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog, “Aristotle at Afternoon Tea” (http://www.aristotleatafternoontea.com/).

Buy The Girls at 17 Swann Street:
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Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach

At 17, David witnesses his father’s public assassination for turning state’s witness, his mother collateral damage, his life spared due to spent ammo. He spends decades piecing together evidence to determine the killer’s identity, all while living his life as an NFL quarterback for the Dolphins, a random lover of the famous dancer Sylphide (who lives across the pond from his childhood home) and her protege Emily—introduced by him, and a restaurateur. His sister parcels out relevant information on rare occasions, spending her grief-stricken adulthood playing professional tennis, fighting mental illness, and searching for her parent’s killer against her boyfriend’s pragmatic advice. As Sylphide moves in and out of David’s life, secrets come unmoored and land at his feet every so often. Roorbach has built a fine cast of complex and extraordinary characters, nuanced to the hilt, integrity intact throughout the novel, all maddeningly non-forthcoming for page-turning tension. It can be awkward to follow the timeline back and forth, and David’s discoveries can be out of sync, as when he realizes his sister’s major secret years after his parent’s demise, and then in a following flashback is explicitly told the secret by his sister herself. No opportunity is missed to reference Emily as “the negress”—was that even used as late as the 70s and into the 80s? Her parents could have been a bit more rounded out as individuals instead of representations. These few distractions don’t detract from a unique story with an intriguing storyline and intense meta sex scenes. Roorbach is almost his own genre. He’s the Mainer Carl Hiassen in his dedication to untangling and tying up multiple storylines and presenting humans in all their glory and warts.

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell

Rachel wished her brother would get lost. And he did. So lost that their parents forgot him and explained him away as Rachel’s imagination, and then as her illness. Having repressed her wish-giving ability through to adulthood, Rachel runs away from her life when the wish-granting bursts forth to affect her best friend’s family. She ends up in Nowhere, NC, where she discovers others’ magic and how to control her own. Crispell’s talented in creating complex characters, with their roller coaster emotions and love-hate relationships with their talents. Like Sarah Addison Allan, the magic is a part of everyday life, including emotional trees and sometimes challenging townspeople. Readers who daydream of having magical capabilities can live out their fantasies through Crispell’s stories. Check out her website http://www.susanbishopcrispell.com/ to learn more about her and purchase her books.

What Lies Below by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Gilly has “visions” that she can’t control and often only frustrate her with their lack of useful details. Jake pushes her to help him find his daughter Zoe who’s been kidnapped, because he doesn’t understand how Gilly’s visions work. Both of their pasts come creeping in to haunt them, endangering Gilly as well. Sissell writes compelling characters with complex backgrounds, which are shared with beautiful and timely exposition, exploring how far-reaching the consequences of poor judgment and denial. The ending’s revelation is astonishing, and heartening, in its humanity. Fans of Diane Chamberlain and Kristin Hannah will appreciate Sissel’s work. It’s a definite must-read!

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline—pub date April 10, 2018

Dr. Noah Alderman is on trial for his life, accused of murdering his stepdaughter. Her father fought ruthlessly for custody of baby Anna as a power play after Maggie suffered the relatively unknown, but common, postpartum psychosis. With his recent death, Anna reaches out to the mother she wants to know. She enters the family, which includes Noah’s 10-year-old son Caleb, with a fortune from her father and an attitude of entitlement. Her accusations of molestation against Noah rend Maggie’s heart. Though circumstantial evidence points to Noah as Anna’s killer, Maggie retains a sliver of hope, not quite able to believe he is capable of such an atrocity. A phone call with shocking news sets Maggie on an investigation that may possibly free Noah and return him to her.

Told in alternating timelines, moving back in time through Noah’s trial, while Maggie’s story moves forward from the initial contact with Anna, the stories come together after the trial, with the reader learning information along with the characters. In true Scottoline fashion, the reader is kept guessing who did what until the perspective-shifting bombshell, and the action fast forwards. Un-put-down-able!

I received a digital ARC through NetGalley of this fantastic novel from one of my favorite authors.