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 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?

Posted in blogging

Checking In on Goals

With all the insanity that comes up when moving, I feel like my entire routine has been thrown out of the window. I haven’t managed to get much sorted out for June and realized when I made Monday’s post that I’d completely forgotten to prep any prompts for this month as well.

Since I need to get back into my routine I wanted to also take a moment to reassess my organization and where I am with my goals for the year. Admittedly, it’s not looking great, which is somewhat disappointing.

I started out the year with a self-set reading challenge of twenty-four new books. Unfortunately, I haven’t been doing so great on that score. Although I’ve read around ten or eleven books, all but three have been rereads. While I could still try and rush through and finish all twenty-four by the end of the year, I don’t think that would be wise, so I’m instead opting to cut back down to a mere twelve new books.

I also wanted to publish at least two stories published this year. Crimson and Gold came out in January, and I have another project I’m looking to possibly start discussing and showing in July. For my publication goals, I’m pretty pleased with where things stand.

Also! Crimson and Gold is available through Kindle Unlimited and will also be free on July 4th and 5th.

Although I’m not meeting all of the goals I set for myself, I’m still really pleased with where things stand for right now. There’s plenty of time to wrap things up. Although I’m missing the prompts for June it’s given me a good chance to reorganize and sort out some of my older posts and plan ahead.

How are you feeling about your goals?

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Bloom

Jeremy sat with his knees drawn up to his chest, staring at his grandmother’s garden. He heard the screen door creak open and then a sigh from her. “What’s wrong, muffin?”

He shrugged. He didn’t want to say it, but he knew he couldn’t lie. Something always kept him from uttering even the tiniest lie.

His grandmother settled next to him. Her hair only had a few grays in it, the only sign that she was fifty-five. Otherwise, she looked almost young enough to have just been his mother.

For a moment, they were quiet before she inhaled. “You know, I never could get those daffodils to survive long enough to bloom.”

“They need dryer soil and more sunlight,” he said. He knew that from talking to them.

“Do you want to help me move them then?”

Maybe. It would give him something to do, something to keep his hands busy so he wasn’t brooding.

But he wasn’t sure he wanted to either and shrugged.

“Is this about your parents?”

Annoyance and anger sparked up. “They don’t want me,” he said.

“Jeremy, they—”

“They gave you papers saying that you could make any choice you wanted or needed to. They don’t even know what school I go to. They didn’t know I’d joined the debate club. Most of the time they just send me to go get dinner on my own when they have a date night or some stupid trip and I have more of my things here than I do at home. I didn’t even pack anything this time. They’ve been home less than a week and they already decided they had to go somewhere else. They don’t want me.”

His grandmother paused a moment and inhaled as she looked at the garden before she looked back at him.

“It’s a little harder to explain,” she said.

“I don’t need it explained,” he answered and poked at a knot in the wooden railing next to him. “I figured it out. Why do they even bother taking me home if they’re just going to turn around and drop me off again anyways?”

“Because they do love you,” his grandmother replied and Jeremy snorted. “That’s something you do need to understand. They do love you. They’re just…”

“They like the idea of having a kid but not the work.”

His grandmother sighed and looked down at her hands, where they were callused and scarred from years of work.

“You know, I had your mom when I was barely eighteen,” she said. “And I tried so hard to make sure she had every opportunity.”

“I know,” Jeremy said.

“But, for whatever reason, she had you when she was barely eighteen herself. Some kids aren’t ready to have children, and as much as I don’t want to admit it, your mom is one of those kids.”

“She’s not even here.” Jeremy put his head down. “And she hates the weird stuff I do.”

“That weird stuff is magic,” his grandmother said. “You and I both know that.”

“Yeah, but try telling either of them that. I get told I can’t have magic because that would make me a Caster and I’m not supposed to be a Caster.”

“People are supposed to be a lot of things.”

“Like supportive parents,” he muttered it to himself mostly, but his grandmother chuckled.

“Yes,” she agreed. “But they aren’t always what they’re supposed to be. And that means that even when they’re not expected to be something, sometimes they are.”

Logically, it checked out and Jeremy knew it.

And yet, it still burned him. He knew what the plants were in need of, could feel the power in streams and the occasional windstorm.

Rather than answer, he grunted and put his head down.

His grandmother chuckled. “I’ve got to get those daffodils moved,” she said. “Do you want to help?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“That’s fine. I have cookies cooling inside if you decide you don’t want to help, and I’ll be down in the garden if you do want to.”

He had to smile as she stood, going down the steps. “Thanks,” he said.

“Only for you,” she said and kissed his head. “Don’t eat too many cookies. I’m making chicken casserole tonight.”

 “Spicy chicken casserole?”

“I could be talked into it, but it does take a little bit of work and I really do want daffodils this year.”

He laughed and jogged down the steps. “They just need a little more sunlight,” he said. “I know the perfect spot for them.”


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this short, you can find more on my short stories page, or by checking out my published books. Thanks for reading!