Long Prompt No. 10

Long Prompt (10)

After buying a farm you hear a knock on the door. Opening it, you find a dog.

As always I’d love to see any responses you come up with! Feel free to share with anyone you know.


Posted in Stories

Short Story: Rural

Fields. Fields as far as anyone could see and no sign of them stopping.

That was what Casey always thought of when she thought of a rural community. As the truck pulled up into the old farmhouse her parents had cooed over and insisted she would ‘adore’ she couldn’t say she’d been wrong. Looking out passed the house and back towards the dirt road, all she could see were empty, open fields, too full of tall grass to make out any discernible landmarks.

It would be too easy to get lost out here and never find a way back. Too easy to wander in to the grass and weeds and simply vanish.

The thought stuck with her as she hauled her suitcase out of the car with her and stared up at the old building she was supposed to turn into her home. The windows were dusty, and she could see prints from where someone must have peered inside at one point.

“I don’t like it,” she said and her mother turned her head.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t like it,” Casey repeated. “It’s old and it’s wooden.” She tried to think of something intelligent, logical perhaps, to explain why she didn’t like it, but nothing came to mind but splinters.

And how easy it was to get lost in a sea of tall grasses and crops.

Her mother smiled though. “It’s going to take a little getting used to,” she agreed. “Your dad and I have already checked everything out. The water, the electrical, the heating, everything you’re used to works. Just like it did in the city.”

Only, the city had given her things to do. There had been places to walk and people to talk to. Out here, the only thing Casey could see was grass, broken up occasionally by a lone tree. If she looked too long at them, even the trees looked like copies. A badly photoshopped picture of something that didn’t belong.

“Come on Sweetie,” her dad said and held a hand out to her. “You get to pick out your own room.”

That wasn’t a comfort, she decided, and looked behind her once more at the endlessness of rustling stalks and whispering shoots before she started up the stairs, without her father’s hand.

The grass belonged out here, and it knew she did not, she decided.

All of the rooms were bright, airy even. Things she’d dreamed about once upon a time, instead of cramped apartment bedrooms where the only sight was the building next door or the neighbor’s curtained windows. Despite the space, an unwelcomeness had settled here as Casey moved from room to room, trying to find one that didn’t feel so disproportionately owned already.

“What about this one?” her dad suggested. “It’s got a nice big window,” he said. “You always said you wanted a window seat. I can probably build you one now that we’ve got space for it.”

She studied it, and the view it offered. Even now, in the upstairs, she could see nothing but fields as they stretched out. The dirt parking area where they’d left their sensible little sedan and the dusty track connecting it to the drive seemed almost scared, as if they might be swallowed by the breeze-rippled grass too.

“All there is to look at is grass,” she said.

The comment seemed to surprise her father, and he looked at. “For now, yeah,” he said. “It’s going to take some work, but we’ll get a garden going and maybe plant a few more trees. It’ll look really nice, you just have to give it time.”

She moved on from that room, to one further up, and to the stairs. “There’s nothing up there but the attic,” he called.

“I still want to see it,” Casey replied, and headed up.

There were two doors. One to the attic itself, and the other to another door. “That other one’s locked,” her father called. “The realtor doesn’t have a key so we’ll have to get a locksmith out.”

Out of habit, and perhaps some odd sense of knowing, Casey still tried it. The handle jiggled a little, and then the door creaked back. Her father came up, steps steady and sure on the stairs.

“The handle needs replacing,” she said as she stepped in.

This room was smaller than the others, but still bigger than the others she’d had over the years of living in overpriced apartments. A wardrobe stood in one corner. Thick dust coated the floorboards, leaving a trail behind her as she set her suitcase down finally and moved to the small window, just under the eaves.

She rubbed at the dirt and age coating the window, clearing a tiny spot to look out to. “I don’t know about this one, Casey,” her dad said. “It looks dusty and cramped. I thought you wanted a nice big room?”

The window framed a tree perfectly, and passed the tree the road. There was still plenty of grass to be seen, but from here she could see something else too. What might have been another house, maybe.

“I like this one,” she said finally and turned.

He lifted a brow. “Casey? Jack?” Her mother’s voice echoed through the house, almost fearful.

“Up in the attic,” her father called. “Why this one, Sweetie?”

She shrugged. No answer came to her though, even as her mother’s steps came up at last, and joined her father’s on the stairs. “Why not?” she said finally.

“Oh, did you get this door open?” her mother asked. “I thought it was locked.”

“The handle’s broken, apparently, so the lock didn’t actually hold,” her father answered. “Are you absolutely certain this is the room you want?”

She almost agreed with him. It did seem silly, when she had other rooms to choose from, other rooms with big bright windows and plenty of space, to want the one so reminiscent of apartments and their minimal spaces.

A step towards the door leading back to the stairs reminded her of the sense of unbelonging. The idea of nothing but miles and miles of grass, no other views to be seen.

“Yes,” Casey said. “I’m sure.”

He still didn’t look sure. “Alright,” he said. “Well, we’ll still need to get that handle replaced and probably some other work done up here, I’m sure, but let’s start with getting everything else moved in. The movers should be here the day after tomorrow with the rest of our things.”

That night, after they’d unpacked plates and cups and cleaned the kitchen, Casey stood at the front window, looking out at the sight of nothing but fields as it darkened. She knew her mother had come in.

“You’ve been quiet,” her mother said.

“We’ve been busy,” she said.

“Sweetie, I know this is a big adjustment for you, but it’s a good one,” her mother said.

Casey turned her head away from the window at last, to look at her mother. “Why did you decide to move out here?”

“You know we’ve always wanted a house. It’s just too expensive in the suburbs.”

“There’s nothing but grass,” she said.

Her mother opened her mouth to say something, but her eyes flicked passed Casey to something at the window. Casey tilted her head.


There was no response, and Casey turned at last. She saw nothing, but she noticed how the grass had shifted slightly in one area, as if something had been peeking out of it.

“You know, you’re right,” her mom said. “There is a lot of grass. It’s getting late though, let’s…let’s get ready for bed.”

Whatever else might be said or unsaid, Casey decided as she followed her mom towards the back bedroom where they would all be sleeping on the air mattresses tonight, she knew the truth. The grass was out here. It was long and easy to get lost in.

Or perhaps, it was easy to hide in.

By A.J. Helms
Cover image via pixabay.com

Posted in Exercises, writing

NaNo ’18: A Writing Space

One of the things I’ve noticed is absolutely vital to my success during NaNo is having a particular space set aside for actually writing. Part of this likely has to do with the mindset of knowing that space is set aside for writing and that it’s not sharing space with half a dozen other things. Much like when you need a child to sleep, having a particular routine or space for them to do so can make it easier for your mind to transition from the day-job into the writing career.

For me, part of NaNo Prep is always prepping my space. This means cleaning out my desk space, tossing old papers and generally cleaning up the area. Since this is the last full week of October before NaNoWriMo starts, that was this week’s big goal.

This year however, I’d been forced to get a new desk as my old one had developed a very serious tilt to it, among other problems (chief among them being lack of space). Although I’ve had my new desk for close to three months now, it had none the less gotten cluttered with other things, so as per usual NaNo Prep, it was time to clean out and get ready.

Cleaning off the top so I had space to make notes was a big priority, as was putting all of the spare notebooks back in their appropriate folders. We’re guessing the desk I have is somewhere around the 1970’s era, so my monitor doesn’t actually fit in the space where it should go (hence why it sits to one side). Thankfully the cubbies on the side provide plenty of storage for the smaller idea notebooks, my graphics tablet, headphone case and yes, the keys for locking my desk up and protecting the computer from the cats. I also have a giant notepad which functions as my mousepad for those moments when I need to take a quick note.

With the top of the desk cleared, it was time to oil and polish the wood. With the age of the desk, I want to preserve it, so I spent a little extra time caring for the wood. (As a side project, since one of the drawers has had its knobs replaced by previous owners and no longer matches the rest of the fixtures, I eventually want to replace all of them and make them all match again).

Once the rest of the desk had been cared for, it was time to move on to the floor surrounding the desk. It’s on carpeting and I have a long hair cat who loves to sit under the desk when I’m working, so that meant some heavy-duty vacuuming. I also tucked a towel underneath since I know if there’s a towel on the floor, my kitty will inevitably decide to lay on it.

To make it feel like a proper writing space, a few small items do live on the top of my desk, such as my library books, a notebook for tracking wordcounts and my planner. Normally I also have a pen and a pad of sticky notes.

With the last big things out of the way for me, I’m more excited than ever to start NaNo. What about you? What does your writing space look like?

Posted in writing

Beta Readers and the Like

Regardless of who you are, how long you’ve been writing or how many times you’ve been published or any of the other dozens of variables that go into a writing career it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes go over your work. You are naturally biased towards your own work, which is both a good and a bad thing. You want it to be good, so you’ll work harder to fix things that aren’t right on it. On the other hand, you want it to be good, so you can’t necessarily see what’s wrong with it.

Having someone who hasn’t agonized for hours over those same words read through them is absolutely invaluable. Sometimes referred to as beta readers (and sometimes as alpha readers), these are the people who read your manuscript before anyone else to help you find problem areas.

This is not to be confused with a sensitivity reader, who checks your work for harmful tropes, messages or ideas towards minorities groups.

Beta readers however, can do a huge amount for your work, be that spotting a wonky paragraph that needs reworking, to helping you find a scene that’s dragging. In some cases they may also pick up minor mistakes you missed such as the wrong homophone or a missed punctuation mark. (Note here that this is not something you should rely on a beta for, but should probably find a willing critique partner to help with).

Most importantly however, beta readers can give you insight into what a reader is thinking when they’re reading your stories. One of the most valuable things I’ve found from my own betas is how they react to the characters I craft. In these cases they’ve shown me where I’ve missed the mark when motivations aren’t clear, and also when they’ve unexpectedly fallen in love with a side character.

Finding a beta reader doesn’t have to be hard. Try asking anyone you know who falls into your target audience if they’re willing to read and give you feedback on your manuscript.

Keep in mind however, that there are a couple of things that go with being a beta reader.

  • Honesty is key. While it might feel nice to have someone say they like your work and that they don’t think there’s anything to change, that won’t help you improve your writing in the long run. On the flip side of that, it also helps if they can point out things they enjoyed.
  • Articulation is another useful trait. Rather than a vague ‘this bit was nice’ it helps if your beta can explain ‘I enjoyed this because it was tense’ or ‘this scene felt a little slow’. They don’t need to have a full, detailed report on every little thing, but telling you why this or that isn’t working for them does help.

As the writer however, you have a couple of things to uphold as well. Remember that betas are often doing this in their free time on a voluntary basis, so have some patience. If you’re uncertain about what they mean by some of their comments, try asking questions, and especially ask for suggestions! You’re not honor-bound to follow any suggestions they do give, but they might just have the solutions you need.