Free Time, a short story

I was talking to a reader about my novel Pocket Money yesterday and in a slip of the tongue, it was called Pocket Change. That reminded me I had written a short story titled Pocket Change. Pocket Money is a psychological thriller about four friends who reunite for a day of memories…and murder.  (And it’s available on Amazon!) It’s told from a male perspective. The short story is the tale of a young woman escaping an abusive relationship–she realizes she’s as disposable to him as pocket change.

I thought I’d post that story today. It’s been a while since I shared my writing with you. (The next novel is coming, I promise!)

Of course, I couldn’t find Pocket Change, but I did come across this Prompt Club submission I originally wrote in March of 2012. I hope you enjoy it.

Free Time

I don’t think there was a single person on earth who recognized the initial stages of the invasion. It happened gradually and seemed like a blessing at first.

I was happy to be so productive! I’d set my ten-minute project timer and actually make headway before it dinged encouraging me to move onto another task. I have found that I’m more productive if I break my day into little bites. Ten minutes up – cleaning or walking on the treadmill, then ten minutes on my butt at the computer doing work. Well, ten minutes of work and then a timer reset for goofing around, playing online games or checking email. But then ten minutes up again. No, really!

I remember bragging to my husband about finishing several hours of work in half the time. I was completing projects, lots of them, despite the usual distractions and life interruptions. He matched me brag for brag, proud of the efficiency of his entire office.

Soon, it seemed, I could get through a full day’s to-do list in barely one hour, checking the clocks regularly with disbelief. My time-wasting skills were obviously improving, too, as I could play my games, read my books, check my social networks repeatedly and still have time to spare. There was no need for the timer anymore. With all this free time I was able to get everything, plus some, done. For the first time in my adult life, I was bored.

I began taking breaks throughout the day. More than a luxury, a catnap became a necessity. I also found myself snacking more frequently but I didn’t seem to gain weight. Must be all the running around getting things done, right? Who was I to complain?!

My two dogs, Alvin and Nomi, were showing signs of incessant unrest, their behavior erratic and unbalanced. They slept fitfully, ate and drank constantly, and barked often for no apparent reason. The cat, Poobah, on the other hand, registered no visible changes.

Our evenings were off, too. I’d have dinner ready when the hubby got home, as always, although the planning got tricky because preparation went faster. We’d eat and settle in for a night of relaxation and television. I’m a big fan of the DVR and the ability to fast-forward through commercial breaks, but I had to wonder how long the shows were since we could zip through four “half hour” programs and the digital clock on the cable box would only have jumped by a dozen minutes. Then we’d need a nap. Barely a quarter past eight and we couldn’t keep our eyes open! We joked about getting old, but then we began to adapt. We’d watch a couple of shows, nap, wake up, eat, watch some more, maybe read… Repeat as necessary. It grew ever more necessary.

Plants were growing so fast, you could watch them develop. Crops were abundant. Until they withered and died on the vine before they could be harvested. And the weeds! It was impossible to keep up with mowing, spraying, and weeding. Even the most dedicated of lawn-tenders became overwhelmed by the junglelike growth.

The rest of society was equally advancing, and regressing. The headlines screamed efficiency, blared productivity, and blasted down-sizing and the increase of unemployment. Unexpectedly, fifteen employees could get the work of fifty accomplished in roughly one day’s shift. Sudden “advancements” allowed trans-continental flights and cross-country truckers to deliver in record time. It was amazing and unreliable since it messed with predetermined schedules. Unable to adapt as proficiently as individuals, the industrial world began tumbling like a row of dominoes.

The morning I awoke to Alvin’s stiff and aged body, I cried and cried for what seemed like hours, but of course, it wasn’t. Poor pup was only three years old! Barely legal in dog years. By that afternoon, Nomi was staggering on geriatric joints, her breath labored and her fur almost completely white. I held her as she huffed her last exhale. She would have been two next month, still a puppy. Poobah had gone out for her evening prowl a couple of nights ago and not returned.

The days expanded, filling to their brim. First with swollen seconds, then with bloated minutes, followed by engorged hours. Our clocks read familiar, keeping the same time as always with no inkling of exaggeration. They were ticking off seconds, the same sixty it had always taken to complete a rotation, but they were ticks of lies.

Time became international news. Scientists and science-fictionists joined forces to theorize. The conclusion was Hyper-deceleration. They believed the time that humanity had always known was losing velocity. Slowing down.

The death toll rose exponentially with the expanse of each moment. Children grew as if on time-lapse, their tiny bodies ill-prepared for the kind of forced maturity the overstuffed hours generated. Fatigue, starvation, heart conditions, hastening of cancers and even treatable disorders; life as we knew it was no longer the rule. Globally, people were dropping like fruit flies on day three. Our corporeal bodies could not keep up with the extended hours.

Sunrise to sunset became an unbearably long day.

When we were exhausted and overwhelmed, completely confused on all levels, and thinning out with mad swiftness, they made themselves known.

By then, what had it been? A month? Six weeks our time? With very little technology still functioning, they managed to hijack a signal and relay a message. “We awake in peace,” a mechanized voice uttered unhurriedly, followed by what sounded strangely like a chuckle.

It was difficult for the remaining survivors to understand the concept of time as a physical thing. Aliens, sentient beings with their own agenda. Lying dormant for thousands, maybe millions, of years while man evolved on man’s time.

They had awakened and their activity wreaked havoc on humanity.

I outlasted my husband by, oh, who’s to say how long? Maybe two years in human time, maybe milliseconds now. It’s irrelevant. Life, I mean. And time.

(Author’s note: This is a version of the original story. Yes, seven years later, there are things I would like to change, lol, but that’s one additional affect of time, right?)



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Thank You Social Media for making Me a Better Person

Yes, you read that right.
The subject for this post came to me the other morning as I was looking up a “fact” I read on Facebook. I usually hit delete on incendiary posts, things that shock, mock, attack, or outright lie. But this one intrigued me. Instead of scrolling through the heated outrage listed in the comments, I took the time to actually look up the information being promoted.

You know what I knew about this particular post?
Um, not much. (Happens often.)
So, I Googled it.

I wondered why all the hubbub and persecution regarding this topic.
I have the power to look it up!
Now I know.
I am sympathetic, perhaps empathetic, most definitely knowledgeable, of the facts.
I am confident I could participate in a conversation regarding said topic without name-calling, swearing, or otherwise throwing shade.

Let’s admit it–
We spend a LOT of time on social media.
Reading, tweeting, liking, sharing, commenting, etc.
We are being influenced. We are influencing.
Time to take responsibility.

If you’re reading posts on social media, you’re probably online.
The next time you come across something that seems too good (or too bad) to be true, look it up. It probably is.

I wish people would stop sharing memes that propagate misinformation and hate.
Just because you want to believe it’s true, doesn’t make it true.
And to that I ask, why do you want it to be true?

I’ve noticed an uptick in positive posts in my feed lately.
Some days I laugh, I cry, I feel encouraged.
Is the social media world changing?
Becoming sympathetic, empathetic, more knowledgeable?
I’d like to believe we have that kind of power.




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The Devil Made Me Do It

It’s been a very long winter…and much television has been consumed. I’ve referenced binge-watching a couple of times in my posts. I’ve always mentioned how it’s not really my thang. With the DVR and Netflix, we already watch enough TV in the evening hours, I don’t need to be filling my days with idiot-box viewing also.

Or do I?

Like I mentioned, long winter.

I eagerly watched the entire series of Sex Education. 16 episodes, each less than an hour. The relationships and interactions are wonderful. I adore BFF Eric.

Be warned, it’s pretty graphic. Not overly gross or anything, but if they don’t open with nudity, are you even watching Sex Education?

I zoomed through Russian Doll. At only 8 half-hour episodes, there is NO reason NOT to watch this show. You have the time. Right now. Go.














Also kind of graphic. But everyone is a grown-up, so it feels less obvious.

I’m also enjoying The Magicians. 4 seasons, 13 episodes each. I am into the third season. The magic and mythology informs my Pandora series.

But, my current FAVORITE is Lucifer, a character inspired by Neil Gaiman. Seasons 1-3 air on FOX, but it has been picked up by Netflix for season 4. I’m making ridiculous progress through the series…I blame the set-up and mere seconds between episodes for my addiction. One episode ends with a cliff-hanger but it’s okay because the next starts NOW! It’s silly, predictable, crime-solving fun but with a twist of religion tossed in. Also good research for my contemporary mythology novels.

I have to tell you, I was getting a little nervous…season three episode twelve begat episode thirteen begat fourteen, etc and I thought, OH NO! I’m almost at the end…but THEN! Then I realized it’s a network program with network seasons and I get 26 episodes! That made me very happy.

Honestly, it’s the little things.

What are you watching? Enjoying? Binging?
If you haven’t watched what I’ve watched, there’s still time.
Winter in the Midwest will last a couple more weeks, don’t let those “nice” days fool you.

Go ahead and binge.
Then, let’s discuss.




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Does Word Count Matter?

Word count for novels comes up frequently at my meetings and conferences. Yes, there are guidelines. There are averages and expectations. Agents, editors, and publishers might actually give you a number goal, but I hold to the idea that the story takes as many words as it takes, and not a word more. Or less.

A friend and fellow writer is working on an historical novel that runs 220,000 words. My six publications probably do not total that word count. That does not make her wrong, it just makes her reaaaaaaally dedicated to her story. That’s how many words she needs to tell her tale.

At a recent writer’s meeting, we were each discussing our progress. I said I guessed I was about 30,000 words shy of completion. A newbie asked me how I knew that? Where’d I get that number? First of all, it’s not a hard and fast number. It’s not like if/when I hit 80,000 words I will stop typing. Mid-sentence. But that would be funny. If I fall short, I also will not fill to hit a set target. I told him I’m about 50k in and I’m more than halfway through telling my tale. Plus, experience shows, my stories run about 80 thousand words.

With the expansion of indie publishing and the continued growth of e-books, word count matters less now than it used to. An industry big five may not be interested in the major investment of printing a 220k sweeping historical romance by a debut author, but that author could self-pub. It may cost more for print books and they’d have to raise their price point to make a buck, but it’s absolutely their option. And hybrid publishers, vanity, and indie presses are always eager to take your money and print your book.

That same sprawling novel on Kindle probably costs the same as Pocket Money, my 50,000 word count e-book.  (That’s $2.99, in case you were wondering.) Without paper, ink, and print costs, digitalizing levels the reading field.

As you are writing, you may certainly use word count as your guide. Most YA stories run between 55,000 and 80,000 words. Historical fiction is between 80k and 100k. Sci-fi/Fantasy novels are usually about 90k to 120k. Those’re mighty broad windows, don’t you think? Plenty of wiggle room to write your best words. Guidelines, not hard-and-fast lines. If your story is perfect at forty-seven thousand words, congratulations, perfect stories are hard to come by! 

When you talk about how long your novel is, always use word count as reference. It’s a language other writers speak. When asked “How long is your book?”, one should never respond with page count. That factors in margins, page breaks, font, size, formatting, etc. and can imply wildly different results.

The most important thing is, and always has been, to tell a good story.
And use as many, and few, words as it takes to do just that.

Word count? Make your words count!

“Three carefully stringed words are worth more than a book of gibberish. It’s not the word count but the impact of those words that counts.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich

“It’s not about how many words you write, but how good those words are.”
― Oliver Markus Malloy, Inside The Mind of an Introvert

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5 Tips for (New) Writers

After a decade of serious writing, classes, conferences, workshops, critiques, and six novel publications, I don’t consider myself a “new” writer anymore. But, that takes effort. I mean, I have done this stuff before, am still doing it, yet every time I start a new project, it’s like it’s my first project.

Whether you are brand-spankin’-still-thinking-about-it new or, like me, starting over each time, these tips are for you.

First Tip:
You can write. If you want to write a book…or a poem…or a short story…or a memoir…or whatever—then do it. Go ahead and get started. You don’t need anybody’s permission, and although encouragement is nice, that’s a bonus to believing in yourself.

Tip Two:
The only tools you truly need to get started are motivation and a means of recording. Paper and pen, laptop, audio app on your phone. There is no one right way to write. Try ‘em all till you find the one that works for you.

Tip Three:
Share your work. Share it because you’re excited about it. Share it because you need input. Share it because that’s how your work gets better. Talk about it, show it off. A writing group that includes shared critique is one of the best resources in your arsenal.

Tip Four:
Check the sensitivity at the door. Writing is hard. Writing is personal. Critiquing is hard. Critiquing is personal. Learn to separate the writer from the work. If the people you share with only give you props and accolades, you will never grow and get better. That’s not to say anyone has the right to ruin you. Readers need to be respectful and if you run across one that isn’t, do not share with them again. As for constructive critique, a simple rule of thumb is this, if several people point out the same thing, you might want to take that thing seriously.

Tip Five:
Keep going. Even when it gets hard. And it gets hard. Ideas are invigorating! Blank pages fill with ideas and plots and characters…and then…what are words? This is another time your crit group, see Tip 3, will be beneficial. Share your block, talk through your conundrum, read and critique others’ pages to help you work through your own.

There are a million sites on the internet to help you become a writer. I provide five tips here, but really, all you need is number one.



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As you may recall, my parting pet peeve last week referenced not being notified that my submissions had been received. It’s hard enough to commit to entering a contest or submitting to a journal without wondering if your entry has been lost in the depths of unknown daemon haze, you know?

Nipping at the heels of that peeve is not hearing back from agents, editors, contests, etc, regarding the status of said submission. It’s a sorry state of professionalism when an author sends requested materials and receives only silence in return.

I am both sad and happy that I received a rejection letter to one of my recent submissions. Sad because, well, duh, the piece didn’t make the cut, but happy because, thank you for letting me know in a timely fashion! Now I can rework the piece for resub somewhere else without concern.

I’m also happy because it was a personal response, kind and supportive. They said what they liked, referenced what didn’t work for them, wished me luck with my writing, and invited me to submit again.

I truly appreciate that.

Rejection is something writers have to expect. It’s good to prepare for it…expect it, and hopefully learn from it. Like the quote says, “A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success”.

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Writer Pet Peeve #12

Writers write. We rewrite. And edit. And rewrite again.
It’s hard to know when a piece is done.
Walk away, come back later with fresh eyes.

Then rewrite, edit, rewrite again.

Sharing with readers, submitting to journals, entering contests, uploading files for publication…
Pressing that “enter” key can be quite intimidating.

Are you sure? Surely sure? Really truly sure it’s the best it can be?
Maybe one more read through.

Once “enter” has been hit, we want to be done.
Need to be done.
Have to be done.


You missed a word here.

No. I fastidiously edited this piece and the word in question was there and removed because a) it’s implied, b) it’s clear by the next sentence what is meant (hey, here’s an idea, read the whole thing before commenting!) and c) that word has very few synonyms and is necessary in more important parts of the story.

I didn’t ask for a critique on this piece I’VE ALREADY SUBMITTED; I wondered if you wanted to read it. Because I like it, I think it’s good, and maybe we can discuss. Keeping in mind, of course, that it’s ALREADY BEEN SUBMITTED.

Writers have enough thoughts, ideas, deadlines, and doubts swirling our brains. We don’t need more things clogging the drain.

So, yeah, premature unsolicited crit after the fact is definitely a top twelve pet peeve.

Next week’s pet peeve:
Submitting to contests, journals, or other collections and receiving NO RESPONSE.
Is an auto-reply of “Thank you for your submission” too much to expect?

Just kidding. About posting more pet peeves, not about the non-response. Grrr.

That could be a thing, though, you know? I just made up #12, but I bet with YOUR help we could easily compile a list of Writer Pet Peeves!

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