Posted in General

June of 2020

When I started writing this post, I wanted to focus on June and what’s happened this month. It was supposed to be the same as any of my other recap posts.  As I wrote however, it felt false and in many ways, forced.

June has been a painful and frustrating month. For me, the first week and a half was filled with moving to the new house as well as transferring to a new job location. The fire season in my state is above average; we won’t see an end to that until monsoons begin. Here in America, clashes have started because of systematic racial discrimination and blatantly willful ignorance. On a widest scale, there is a global pandemic which we cannot combat, and is forcing us to adapt as a global society.

These are not new issues. There are many of them and they are all frustrating and painful. They are large issues and when you’re faced with how to handle them all together, it can feel as impossible as trying to turn the tide. You feel small and helpless as one person. One person cannot turn the tide.

One person can, however, clean up a beach.

One person can tell a story.

One person can spare a dollar or a dime.

One person can adopt a dog.

One person can read a book.

One person can lend a hand.

You do not have to do all of these things. You are one person, but you are not the only one. While you write the story, someone else will read it. While you lend a hand for an hour, someone else will give spare change where it’s needed. While you rescue an animal, someone else is cleaning up the beach.

We are all just one person, but there are billions of people on the planet. Imagine the impact we could make if we all collectively made one choice to help someone or something else in need. That might be helping an elderly neighbor collect their groceries. That might be volunteering or donating to an animal shelter. That might be deliberately finding a new creator to support. That tiny action impacts someone else. A single action of kindness, of empathy, of simple positivity.

Every month, I like to put an aim in my agenda. Usually it’s something for me to work on personally, but I think the one I put down for May of 2019 fits here. Small positives create large impacts.

There are plenty of awful things in the world, but there is a reason why there’s always a story somewhere about the good things. Maybe it’s about a child who cuts off her hair to donate. Maybe it’s about the police officers who help a child’s lemonade stand. Maybe it’s that story about a kitten who finds a forever home.

These are the small positives. They might only stay with you for a moment. They might be the story you remember vaguely years later, but they are the positives. They are the reminders that yes, things are awful. The world is a terrible place with tragedies and travesties galore.

But it’s also full of people. Singular people that, together, have an enormous power. Your share of that power is not as minute as it seems. Those small positives collect and inspire more positives. They create a force of positive change.

Pick one thing. Be that writing a letter to a friend. Be that supporting a diverse creator. Be that offering time or donation to an organization. Be that offering to do an extra chore for a family member. Be whatever it is, pick one thing.

June has not been an easy month. 2020 has already been an trying year and we still have another six months to get through. But we’re not done yet.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: The Spinning Wheel Trade

The worst chore for Crystal was undoubtedly spinning yarn. It always made her fingers hurt and more than once, she’d found a spontaneous knot in already carded wool which proved to be a seed or stone or some other item which shouldn’t have been there.

She wasn’t sure which was worse, the way her hands itched and burned, or the fact that there was always something that shouldn’t have been in the wool. Her brothers could card it, comb it and sort it three and four times and Crystal would still have small items to pull out of it.

They’d tried cotton one year. It had been worse. She still had a scar on her palm from the broken knife blade that had somehow been hidden in it.

For the what felt like the hundredth time since starting, Crystal had to pause and reach for the comb to help pluck out whatever she’d discovered. A leaf, she realized. At the least, it looked like a leaf.

Yes, it was a leaf. A little crushed, but a leaf. Hoping no one was around to see, she sniffed it. Mint.

She dropped the leaf in the small basket next to her where it joined the other odds and ends she’d found. By the time she finished her spinning and had enough wool to take down to the old woman, she’d have half-filled the basket.

“Excuse me?”

Timid and soft, the voice drew Crystal’s attention from her yarn. The timidity in the voice matched its owner well. Juniper. The old woman’s apprentice.

She stood there, eyes wide and fearful as she studied Crystal, a basket over her arm. “Yes?” Crystal asked. As always, it seemed her ribbon was falling out.

“I…I brought you some tarts. As a thank you for the blackberries.” A faint smile curled on Juniper’s lips as she spoke and Crystal paused.

Few people thanked her for the things she gave them. All too often she found them whether she wanted to or not. People were used to her handing them odd little things, only for them to be missing items or things they needed for supper, for work, for other endeavors.

“A thank you?” It almost felt foreign to Crystal. People didn’t thank her for the items she gave them.

“It only seemed right,” Juniper said and bent her head. Crystal hated how small she sounded. “You didn’t have to give me the blackberries, so I thought I’d bring you something.”

Slowly, Crystal stood, leaving her spinning as it was and came down the porch steps. She was a little taller than Juniper, she realized and smiled a little as Juniper hesitantly uncovered the basket to reveal the tarts.

Blackberry tarts.

“Thank you,” Crystal said, and Juniper smiled as she lifted the plate out to hand them over.

“I…well, you’re welcome.”

“Do you want to come in?” The words came out of Crystal’s mouth before she could fully think them through. She knew what the house looked like—there were dozens of things on shelves wherever she’d left them, probably dust in the corner because there always seemed to be something. Laundry on the line. There would be at least one rabbit escaped from the hutch.

“Oh, I…I don’t want to impose.”

It was too late to rescind the invitation and Crystal had been taught sharing gifts was polite.

Even if she didn’t usually get a thank-you for the gifts she gave others.

“It’s not. I’m inviting you in. At least have a tart with me.”

Juniper hesitated and then nodded. “All—Alright.”

It was such a tiny smile, but on Juniper’s face, it made almost everything brighter. Crystal held the door for her, but as they walked in, she almost wanted to exclaim some emergency and run away. Shelves full of the odds and ends Crystal had found covered the one wall, trinkets, broken pieces of pottery and other random items.

It wasn’t the pieces themselves that mattered, most of the time they were only little things. Rather, Crystal knew they were still holding into something else. A little magic, which she herself couldn’t do anything with.

She could hold magic, but not use it.

Juniper’s gaze however, traveled up and down the shelf and Crystal found her tongue once again moving.

“They’re just interesting finds. Things from the field.” Or from the yarn she spun, from the bushes she helped trim, from the basket she brought home from market, from who knew where.

“They’re very interesting,” Juniper agreed and reached up to fix her hair, sighing when the ribbon slipped out again. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for.”

“I did interrupt your spinning,” Juniper said and Crystal smiled.

“That’s always interrupted,” she said. “It takes a while to get anything spun for me.”

“Oh. I—mhmm.” She dropped her head a little and Crystal set the plate down.

“You were going to say something.”

“Oh, it’s just, I’ve always enjoyed spinning. I’d be happy to help or show you some things if you’d like.”

“It’s not that, it’s just the wool and…” she trailed off, not wanting to have to explain she was fairy-blessed, gifted to always find something she could use.

“It’s your blessing, isn’t it?”

The outright question startled Crystal and Juniper dropped her head again. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“It just surprised me. Not that many people know about it.”

Juniper smiled. “The old woman, she told me.”

Crystal knew exactly who Juniper meant. And if she’d told Juniper, there had to be a reason behind it.

“Then, would you mind helping with the spinning? I can bring more blackberries, or something else if you need it.”

Juniper’s gaze moved to the shelf. “Actually,” she said and reached out gently to pick up a tiny brass ring. “I need a ring for something I’m working on. I’ll trade you for this.”

Impossibly, Crystal’s heart skipped a beat. “Absolutely,” she said.

“Then let’s have that tart, and then I’ll get the spinning done,” Juniper said and slid the ring into her basket.

The tarts were sweet, and Crystal made tea. The conversation grew easier and she learned more about Juniper. She’d been an apprentice for three years. She had a younger sister, now off to university.

Their tart finished and Juniper began the spinning. Several times as Crystal moved near the door while she worked around the rest of the house, she thought she heard Juniper humming as she worked.

It was evening fall by the time her brothers came in from the fields and both she and Juniper belatedly realized the time.

“Thank you, again,” Juniper said as she tried and failed to tie the ribbon back into her hair. “If you want help with the spinning again just let me know. I’ll—oh, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go!”

“Of course. And thank you for the tarts.”

Juniper waved as she scurried away and Crystal leaned against the doorframe, lips pulled into a smile.

A hand landed on her shoulder and she looked up to see Jasper, grinning at her like a fool. “Help with the spinning?”

Her cheeks tingled a little and she scrunched her nose as she tried to shrug his hand off. “She asked if I wanted any, and it made it easier to get some other things done.”

Jasper barked out a laugh. “Somehow I have a feeling you’re going to need a lot of help with all that spinning.”

Cheeks burning, Crystal turned into the house. Supper needed to be seen to. Although, she had to wonder if this was what Godmother Dawn had been intending when she’d told Juniper about Crystal’s blessing. It almost felt rude to steal a Godmother’s apprentice for a little help with spinning yarn.  


By A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short piece, consider checking out my short stories or my books! This piece also connects directly with my short Season of Preparing and is in the same universe as Crimson and Gold.

Posted in writing

A Few Myths Debunked

Asking any writer what their favorite writing myth is and you’ll probably get a few laughs and a couple of swearwords. Like any other profession, misconception and popularized (and sometimes false) media portrayals have lead to some common myths about writing.

Writing is easy. Let’s put this in perspective. Writers keep track of a small theatre troupe of characters; a world full of details; the current events of a single given story and all of the drama and internal thoughts and motivations of their personal theatre troupe. It’s a lot to keep track of. That’s just the writing aspect. That doesn’t count the editing, revision and rewriting that often needs to be done to go from rough draft to publishable piece.

Romance/kid lit/mystery/etc. are easy to write! Please see the paragraph above. That applies across all genres. And if you’re not reading that genre, you are in for a world of hurt.

Writing makes you rich. I’ve heard this in person before and I’ve laughed. I will probably do so again the next time I hear it. Yes, there are wild success stories about people that have earned tens of thousands from their writing. They are the exception. Most of us are pretty pleased when we can afford to buy a fancy new pen with our earnings. Those outliers who become household names are just that: outliers and exceptions. This is especially true when you’re first starting out. If you’re in this for the money, get out while you still can.

Writers are solitary people. No, no we’re not, especially not in this day and age. We have writing groups, beta readers, critique partners to help us out. We have families, pets and friends. Some of us are lucky enough to have agents, editors and cover designers to help us through. Writing by itself may mean spending some time with just your keyboard or a pen and paper, but we don’t live in a vacuum and we’re not hermits. We have lots of people around us.

Writers are alcoholics. I can blame that quote ‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’ as well as Hollywood portrayals for this. If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, get help. Check Alcoholics Anonymous for resources, but you can also talk to your doctor or speak to a therapist. You’re not a writer just because you’re an alcoholic. You are however, in serious danger of liver damage, heart disease, stroke, cancer and memory problems.

Writers always have perfect grammar. Take your whole salt shaker and upend it when you hear any variation of this. Everyone makes mistakes. Typos slip through, comma splices and run-ons happen. Even if a writer has an amazing editor and a proof reader, we’re only human. As for spell check, it’s only able to do what it’s already been told. Following those suggestions isn’t always the best option.

Great writers are born with a writing talent. No. Full stop. Talent means absolutely nothing if you rely on it and never try to develop it into actual skill. Talent will not magically open doors for you. Putting talented on a resume in other jobs doesn’t fly and it doesn’t work for writing either.

There are a lot of myths about writers and writing. These are only a few of them. What are some of the other myths and fictions you’ve heard about writing?

Posted in blogging, writing

Personal Writing Process

I’m a firm believer that the writing process is different for every writer. While some of us dive headlong into the story with minimal planning, others take days, weeks and even months to plot, research and develop the story and characters before we ever put a word on the page. And many, many of us fall somewhere in the weird spectrum between plotting and discovering.

Thinking on that made me curious: what does the process look like for each writer? What are some of the ways we all differ from one another and what are the techniques that work best for each of us?

To answer that, I wanted to look at my personal process, from rough draft all the way up to a finished piece.

Normally any story for me ‘starts’ when I get an idea. If I’m in the middle of writing another piece, I tend to jot down a couple of notes on it—maybe a line or a word including with any known Characters, Antagonists, Reasonings, Obstacles, Themes or Titles and possibly the Setting. I’ve been using it for years and it works for me to hold onto a possible idea until I can come back to it.

Starting on the story itself is pretty easy. Recently I’ve moved away from rough drafts and into zero drafts—or, rather, what I typically end up titling as a Story Run. Rather than writing full chapters, I limit myself to ten or fifteen minutes to write a scene. Often because I’m racing to get the words down before the timer rings, I don’t have the option to stop and think, which prevents me from getting stuck. And if I do get stuck on a particular scene, I can simply move ahead to the next scene I know about and come back to it on editing later.

Once I have a complete run I typically move off to another story for a while, letting it sit and stew. Usually I like to give at least a month between each phase of any given story. That lets me work on something else and helps give me a better perspective on what the story needs when I come back to it.

From the zero draft I start expanding, working each chunk of writing up into individual chapters. Sometimes I’ve outlined the expansion, especially when I’m missing scenes. Other times I just add more to each scene, bridging it from one to the next to get a complete rough draft.

When I start on the editing itself, I always start with an outline, as well as a list of characters and their goals. This way I can tighten up any loose scenes or expand on flimsy ones as necessary. Usually my outlines include just a sentence or two about what happens in each chapter. Once I’ve finished the second draft it tends to look a little more like an actual story, but still needs a lot of polish. At this point I can send it to an alpha reader, or if I know there are still some problems I want to fix, I can head into the third draft.

I don’t always need another outline between the second and third draft, but occasionally do. At this point I’m usually working in a side-by-side view with both drafts. Because I tend to draft short, it also means I can keep an eye on my wordcount between the two versions and expand places that need a little more detail.

At this point it’s definitely time to get a beta reader if I don’t already have one lined up. Following beta feedback, I can address any remaining structural issues and start focusing on word choice and sentence flow. Once the next draft is finished, it’s time to rinse and repeat—get more feedback, make more updates. Draft six is usually the earliest I’ll start shopping a piece around, but dependent on what my early readers tell me, there may be more drafts. And if I get critiques while trying to find a home for a piece, I may also put it on hold to do another draft and address any valid feedback.

Writing is an ongoing and oftentimes lengthy process, but that’s only my take on it. I’m curious for my fellow writers: What does your process look like?