In the Flap of a Wing
Ever heard of the butterfly effect? Where something as simple as the flap of a delicate wing can change the course of something much bigger, say, the weather?
I have a true-to-life tale of a butterfly effect. Where a few tiny decisions cumulated in a much different outcome of an event than would have otherwise happened.
Or maybe I was simply playing a cosmic game of dominos in which the last one fell my tiny town’s library parking lot on a dreary winter day just this month…
Or perhaps it’s a case of apophenia—forcing meaningful connections between unrelated events.
I’ll let you decide:
Picture It: Illinois, 1958.
A company called Enesco was born, destined to bring high-quality giftware to the United States and beyond. Precious Moments was their head-of-the-pack line, but they branded other figurines for all seasons and all tastes. For clarity, giftware refers to knick-knacks, what-nots and other dust-collecting items that would sit on shelves in the ‘70s, rest in curio cabinets in the ‘80s, hide in attics in the ‘90s, and eventually end up as Goodwill treasures or estate sale finds.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, author Dean Koontz writes and writes. And has his first bestseller in 1973. And keeps writing them, and writing them, and writing…
In the late ‘70s, Beth is born in a tiny hospital in Indiana. No one would call her B.A. Paul for many decades, but there you have it.
On some unknown day in some unknown year, someone, likely a lady (we shall call her Mrs. Collector), purchased a set of four Enesco figurines. The knickknacks, ahem. Excuse me. Giftware. The giftware featured tiny children in various playful scenes such as on a seesaw and playing with puppies. You get the idea. No idea when or where or who Mrs. Enesco might have been. But she/he/they keep these tiny bisque pieces in great shape. Likely stored in bubble wrap in an attic somewhere east of the Mississippi River.
Lincoln City, Oregon, unknown year: Dean Wesley Smith records a writing class which tells aspiring authors to read best-selling books.
Indiana, 2017: Beth gets hit hard with the writing bug. Dreaming and goals take shape. Beth takes a writing class from Dean Wesley Smith. Who tells her that if she’s to be a decent writer, she must read the bestsellers.
Beth starts reading the bestsellers.
(Hang with me now, I really am going somewhere with this… you’re about to see the butterfly flap its wings and all the tiny dominos fall into place…)
Indiana, 2018: Beth and the hubs attend an auction. We bid on and win a box of “giftware” with the sole purpose of putting the pieces on eBay to make a few bucks. Mrs. Collector’s group of four playing children figurines were tucked inside this auction box. Sometime that next week, Beth lists these little people for sale on eBay.
Indiana, Summer 2019: We adopt a street kitten named Malachi Maxwell. He can’t use his toes properly.
California 2020: Dean Koontz now has hundreds of pieces of work and remains on the bestseller list.
Indiana, December 26, 2020: Lockdowns have driven Beth nuts, coupled with the holiday chaos, and, at the first available opportunity, Beth goes to the library. Dean Koontz has a book in the “New” section, a bestseller, which means she needs to read it and remember to turn it back in less than two weeks. (She read it in two days).
The lockdowns also mean that the Paul family has spent lots of time at home with Malachi Maxwell—who still cannot use his toes properly. He’s destroyed the left leg on most of Beth’s pants with little snags here, pulls of thread there. But alas, he can’t help it…
Colorado, January 4, 2021: Mrs. Collector’s figurines on Beth’s eBay account tickle the interest of someone west of the Mississippi. The auction sells to a Denver buyer after all this time.
Indiana, January 5, 2021: Beth packs up the figurines and remembers she’s finished the Dean Koontz book, which needs to be returned. Since the post office and the library in her tiny town are nestled right next to each other, the combined trip makes sense. Otherwise, she’d return the book on the 6th.
And since she’ll be out anyway, she may as well see about a new pair of pants. But the clothing store doesn’t open until 10.
So she waits. And writes. And writes some more (but not as much as Dean Koontz) until the clock strikes ten and it’s time to leave. She loads up her book, her package and her wallet and drives downtown.
She approaches the turn to the library parking lot, intent on crossing the lot to return the hardback book in the outdoor dropbox. Other than the staff vehicles, no one is at the library yet.
Except one lone guy.
Another patron, an elderly gentleman from what Beth can tell under his jacket and mask, parks a tiny pickup truck and exits the vehicle as she pulls into the lot. He has a little stack of books tucked under his arm.
Then she sees it.
His pickup truck is moving. Very slowly. Barely inching.
She looks closer, applying a full stop to her own vehicle. Heart beating faster, peering through the glass of his pickup from the glass of her own vehicle to see if someone perhaps slid into the driver’s seat after he exited.
She sees no one. Her heart beats faster. The truck picks up speed—if only by a few inches at a time.
The man is halfway to the library door, and his pickup truck is gaining on him.
Beth honks. Honks again and again. Her palms begin to sweat.
The man turns, clearly perturbed, and still does not see the truck.
Beth points frantically, about to exit her own vehicle to scream at him, because there’s no way she can run that fast that far and stop the truck. Or even push the old guy out of the way.
Then he sees it.
His books fall from his arm to the ground. And, thank goodness he’s spry for his age, he quickly covers the mere four steps needed to reach the driver’s side door, jumps in and slams the brakes, stopping the truck at the very spot where he’d have been run over by it.
He waves his thanks after he re-parks the truck and gathers his books. Beth waves back, glad to not have witnessed a catastrophe of contusions and broken bones. Glad to not have needed to call 911.
Glad that she likes auctions and eBay and that someone founded Enesco. Glad that Mr. Koontz wrote and wrote and wrote. And that there are wonderful Mrs. Collectors out there. Glad she started taking writing courses from Mr. Smith and not someone else who may not have pounded home that she needed to read bestsellers. Glad that the week before that very Dean Koontz bestseller was available for borrowing and had to be returned sooner than is standard. Glad someone in Colorado prompted her to leave the house in the first place to mail a package—right next to the library. Glad, at least for this moment, that Malachi Maxwell’s toes don’t work quite right and that the clothing store doesn’t open until ten.
If any one of those factors were missing or different??
You can use your imagination on how the dominos may have otherwise fallen…
Have you ever dealt with Christmas tree lights that “someone” threw haphazardly into storage the year before? Even if those lights weren’t ripped from the branches of your tree in the throws of cleanup, and even if those lights had been carefully wound back up, even being next to one another can cause the bulbs and wires and make, well, connections.
I’ve done that. And sometimes I needed a trash bin and a trip to the dollar store for new strands. I don’t have the patience.
Have you ever dealt with a drawer full of old necklaces? The delicate chains intertwining and doubling back on themselves in a hopeless knot?
I’ve done this, sometimes requiring toothpicks or tweezers to tease apart the tight knots.
How about a fishing line? When the reel spits out great gobs and chunks of line for no good reason other than to turn what should be a peaceful outing into a frustrating untangling or restringing fiasco. Or when your fishing buddy casts their line over the top of yours and the lines tangle mid-pond?
I’ve experienced this. Many times. Out came the pocket knife for a well-placed slice just above the knotted mess. Restart.
Likewise when a child decides to “curl” their own hair with a rounded brush. Or with the tires on a Hot Wheel car (why???). Lord help me, I’ve dealt with the screaming demons these events produce. Bring out the scissors and peanut butter, and place a phone call to the salon.
(In case you aren’t aware, peanut butter supposedly smooths out knots and help the strands of hair slide easily out of the tangle. Supposedly. I have two children who may disagree with this at-home remedy and whose noggins smelled of nuts for days.)
Knitting yarn? Sewing machine gobbles? I can’t say that I’ve dealt with the sewing world so much, but I’ve heard stories. And I also heard that cats like to help.
Well, Little Miss Muse handed me a complicated, tangled mess of a short story. Never before have I had one come to me in such chunks intermingled with fishing line-like knots. Here a chunk, there a knot, another chunk.
Then she’d bounce back into the room and declare “I’ve got the perfect ending!” And I’d type it out for her. Never you mind that she’d not supplied me with an appropriate beginning, let alone the makings of a middle.
The next thing I’d hear is a paragraph—not an entire scene, mind you, just a paragraph—of the middle of the middle.
Then, she’d startle cats and throw purple glitter, yelling, “Hey! Whaddya think of this?” Then out would spill the end of the beginning. Or some tiny sentence fragment.
And, then, out of the clear blue sky (well, at the time I was writing the story in question the skies had remained dull winter gray for days, but you get the idea), Little Miss Muse would stroll into the office, her chubby little finger scratching her chin and say, “Do you think we should cut that bit about…” and she’d proceed to tell me which bits to clip, poke toothpicks at, or smear peanut butter on.
I want to like this story. But I don’t yet.
I want to connect with the character in the scene, but Little Miss just exploded the set and wants to do a re-cast.
Sitting down to the computer for this tale feels like being handed a jigsaw puzzle by an excited three-year-old and you know good and well that particular puzzle’s missing a third of the pieces and, likely, there’s peanut butter smeared on the rest.
I must admit this has shown me just how addicted I am to that “flow state” where somehow the story goes from my brain, out the fingers, and onto the screen without so much as a thought about the black-and-white marks required to communicate the adventure. That glorious dance between muse and mind. Effortless.
But this is not that day. This wee fib of a tale is not effortless.
This tale, I fear, will require a visit to my thinking couch with my fuzzy unicorn blanket, a yarn-free cat, and a giant jar of peanut butter for good measure.
And as soon as my delete and backspace keys stop smoldering, I’ll summon Little Miss. She and I will have a stern staff meeting, and then I’ll get back at it.
I will finish this dastardly short if it’s the only thing I get done this week!
UPDATE: The above was written mid-writing of “Just Enough.” Now, I’m a few days removed from the trauma of it all, and here’s the outcome:
I had just about enough of writing “Just Enough.”
I like the beginning paragraph. I like the ending four lines. Exactly four—no more. A total of about 300 words. I’m not a fan of the 4303 words in the middle.
I like one out of the five characters. One. The snarky one. The one that could cause mayhem and spill blood. But it wasn’t that type of a story.
Should the story be rejected out of its current market, that one paragraph, four lines and one character may get their own show. We’ll have grand fun.
But the rest of it may be stuck in a drawer to be seen no more, no more, no more, no more. A hit-the-road-jack sort of thing.
And dontcha come back no more.
In the end, some doors were slammed. Some “do not disturb” signs were hung. But it’s done. Submitted on time. Finished.
Overall, though, Little Miss seems no worse for the ware. She’s still prancing and dancing. And I’m simply proud that I managed to refrain from smearing Jiffy on my laptop monitor.
Many of you know over the last few months I’ve been working on getting a handle on my short stories. They were everywhere. Deep in cyberspace. Waiting on submissions. Waiting on acceptance or rejection answers from publishers. In drawers and files galore.
The result of my grand short-story wrangling is a handful of books organized by genre and now available on Amazon in ebook and paperback form.
The good news?
I’ve placed six of the different ebook collections on a countdown sale that will end one week from today. After that?
I’m seriously leaning toward “going wide” with these collections. They’ll go back to the $4.99 price point and be available not just on Amazon, but also on other marketplaces like Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.
Or maybe not.
I’ve not decided.
Time will tell, as 2021 has started me on another kind of countdown—one that has more to do with life events than writing, but all life events affect the writing. If I have time to send them wide, I will. If the next three months look shady (and, let’s be real, 2020 is still casting a long, deep shadow on the start of this year, so lots and lots of shade to be found), then I’ll keep these ebooks exclusive on Amazon for another three months and there would be another promotion in the future.
But for right now, here’s the deal: These six will be on sale for an incremental sale, starting with 99 cents today (1/11/21), then gradually increasing in price over the next seven days until they reach their 4.99 price point once again.
Here are the ones in the sale:
Out There: Sci-Fi
Just a Tick of Whimsy Volume 2: Fantasy
Mystery Minutes: Mysteries.
All the Feels Volumes 1 and 2: Feel-good general fiction
Spunk and Spice: A bit of feel-good, a bit of mystery, all showcasing some spunky senior citizenry
And, until at least mid-February, if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you can read them for free! But hurry. If 2021 loosens the noose around my neck and I can shake free the minutes, these titles will be sent to other ebook distributors and will no longer be KU options.
I hope the start of your New Year was gloriously peaceful. I hope the rest of the year will be, too.
If not, find a good book—or six—hunker down, and wait out the shadiness!