Sunday, January 31, 2010

Go Ahead, Expose Yourself

I’ll admit, I still get anxious when I hit the post, or send, or whatever button shares my words with others. Not so much because I’m afraid of being critiqued -- I love when my stories are shredded in the critique groups I’m in -- but because in everything I write I share a little bit of myself. I expose myself -- my dreams, my fears, my imagination.

The first story I submitted to a contest (and won an honorable mention - woohoo) is still one of my favorites. Many friends asked me how I could write something with such emotion that I’d never experienced. Most of my stories are pure fantasy, 100% imagination (I won’t say where reality slips in, but you can assume my rotting flesh zombie stories … well, I’ll let you figure that one out) but I do draw on my greatest fears at times to bring my stories to life.

Here’s the story I submitted to the WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest ( It was also published in Boston Literary Magazine ( in the Summer 2008 edition.

by Catherine Trizzino

She looks like Madeline—cinnamon curls, corkscrew tight, bounce in every direction as she plays, cheeks pink like spring tulips from chasing butterflies, button nose smattered with amber colored freckles. She must be three or four - Madeline's age when she left.

I watch the girl in the vivid pink romper covered with daisies and my heart aches, a feeling I have grown accustomed to, a part of me forever. I think about Maddy with a smile so bright it could warm the coldest winter day and her quirky habit of sucking on the knuckle of her forefinger.

Yesterday was her tenth birthday. I can envision her party, decorations in her favorite colors—pink and lavender, colors of youth and innocence. The lanky bodies of the girls bounce in the music filled room. Oh how Maddy loved music. Even as an infant, her tiny body would wiggle the moment she heard the first note—the sunny sing-song of Barney or the serene melody of Beethoven.

I imagine myself bringing out the Hannah Montana cake, two levels piped with iced ribbons, eleven candles on top—the 'one to grow on' in the center larger than the rest. Leaning to blow out the candles, Maddy holds back her long unruly hair and I think about how she would refuse to ever keep it tied back. My heart fills with joy as the girls giggle, giddy from sugar and togetherness. Their happiness, like bubbles floating through the air, bursts abruptly when I hear a panicked scream—a mother's scream. Instead of looking toward the cry behind me, my eyes instinctively seek out the little girl. In horror I see her on the edge of a small pond, bent over to touch a lone mallard. I reach the water's edge as she is swallowed by the murky brown water—only tiny helpless arms can be seen flailing above the surface. The water hits me at chest level when I run to her—right at the line of my heart. Pulling her out of the merciless water, I immediately try to hush her. "Shush sweetie, Mommy's here—I won't let anything happen to you Maddy."

Hands reach to take Maddy and the emptiness in my arms forces me to realize it wasn't my daughter I held, but the girl covered in pink daisies. Words of thanks choked out between tears tell me I have saved her from the very anguish I have lived with all these years. Can the sin of a mother unable to save her child ever be atoned? By saving this girl so like my precious daughter, can I finally forgive myself for not being there when she drowned in the care of another? I look at the young mother cradling her daughter, the wet curls matted to a face now red from crying and I silently ask for my daughter's forgiveness.

So, if you’re staring at a blank page, think about what scares you most and pour your fears on the page. Whether its reality based or something Twilight Zone-esq., feel free to expose yourself a little -- the results might surprise you.

Have a wonderful day all!


Monday, January 25, 2010

Grade School All Over Again

“I have no friends.”

How many times did I whine to my parents as we moved around the globe? Globe may be a slight exaggeration. Two continents, three countries, but pretty nomadic for a kid. In hindsight of course I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but making new friends was always tough.

I’m having flashbacks now that I’ve entered Blogworld, Tweeterland and the Republic of Facebook. It’s scary and humbling. I look at my friend list and wonder, will I ever be one of the popular kids? Do I really care?

I love flash fiction. (I digress, but you’ll see why soon.) I stumbled upon it a few years ago and I’m addicted. Love to read it, love to write it. I’ve even published some of my flash fiction online and have a few stories in print, so I guess I’m pretty good at it.

There are many writers of flash that I really admire but one talented lady stands out – Linda Courtland. I’ve never read a story of hers I didn’t like. She can pack so much into a few words she’s like the literary equivalent of a contortionist. One story from a book of flash fiction she recently published starts like this:

The Most Friends Ever
By Linda Courtland

“We’ve identified you as the person with the fewest friends on Facebook,” the email said. “But don’t worry, help is on the way.”

It was high school all over again, and I was being cyber-bullied by a social networking site for not being one of the cool kids.

I typed in my user name and password, fully intending to delete my dreaded profile. An instant message box blocked my progress.

“You don’t have to do that,” the words said.

I clicked on the “X” in the corner, but the application wouldn’t close.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“I’m your fairy friend-finder.”

I clung to my pride. “I have enough friends.”

“The median number of friends on this site is 198.” The screen zoomed into the Friends section on my profile. “You have two.”

“I used to have three,” I typed.

“Until your Mom unsubscribed.”

“Some of us value quality over quantity.” I stormed into the other room and the phone rang.

“I can make you popular,” the voice purred.

---End of Excerpt---

While I don’t want this particular fairy friend-finder to help me out (you have to read the rest of the story and you’ll see why) I do enjoy the possibilities of these networking sites. How else would I be able to ‘meet’ people from around the world without changing out of my fuzzy bunny slippers?

I may not have the most friends ever, but I’ve met some talented writers and really nice people.

So .. get Linda’s book. I promise you’ll be entertained. You can find out more about her on her website.

Later friends.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

If Sloths Could Speak

If you know me, you probably know I LOVE animals. From the grand woolly mammoth to the ‘so ugly it’s cute’ naked mole rat, I’m enamored with creatures great and small. So, it may not be surprising to know I volunteer at the zoo.

One of the things I find most fascinating about animals is how they communicate without the benefit of speech. They ‘talk’ with their eyes, their actions and song ala the humpback whale. I know my dog is telling me something when he sits at my feet and stares up at me. “I’m hungry.” “Scratch my chin.” “Are you ever going to finish that novel?” It could be anything, but he is definitely communicating with me. Just by sitting near me he’s telling me he loves me.

Recently, another zoo volunteer and I marveled at what we suspected was animal communication in action. A pair of two-toed sloths share an enclosure with golden lion tamarin monkeys (GLTs), and assorted others in a mixed species exhibit. As we watched the GLT’s characteristically zip around the enclosure like toddlers on chocolate-covered espresso beans, we noticed one of them jump into the sloth box and start harassing her, poking and prodding her as she tried to snooze.

Eventually, the sloth decided she’d had enough and got out of the box - a treat during the day as sloths are nocturnal and spend a majority of their day sleeping. We didn’t take our eyes off her as she made her way across the enclosure toward the other box, the pesky GLT with her the entire time. When she was almost there, the other sloth, who had apparently been resting peacefully, got out of the box so she could get in.

They somehow wordlessly communicated that they were going to trade places. We suspect the female, who is older ‘told’ the younger male to scram, she wanted the box where the GLT wasn’t.

As a writer I spend a lot of my time on word choice. And, I’m guessing if they could speak, the sloths might have some choice words for the GLT.

All for now.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Words Have Meaning

“Words have meaning,” he said.

Well, of course they do, I thought. Nice, good looking and wonderfully tall, but my new husband apparently wasn’t very bright. Like, duh, could he think of something a little more profound to say as we gazed into one another’s eyes over a shared plate of bruschetta, glasses of Amarone at the ready. (Okay, it was more likely glaring at one another over cold pizza as we debated something one of the kids said or did, but that’s a different story.)

So, what he meant to say was, be careful of the words you choose. Words can cause extreme emotions – ecstasy to pain. Words can invoke memories of past experiences and imagined futures.

Word choice is important.

Recently, I had a conversation with my father. He has cancer. (A horrendous word.) He’s doing all the treatments, taking care of himself (well, my mom is, but that’s a different story) and by all accounts doing well given his diagnosis. We’re all trying to be positive, not thinking too far ahead and taking one day at a time. So, during this conversation where he was updating me on a recent meeting with the doctor he said, “The doctor said I have one to two years.”

I was driving, tears filled my eyes and I told him I’d talk to him later. I pulled into a parking lot, cried for an hour and then did some shopping therapy. As I pulled my credit card out to buy another thing I didn’t need, I thought about my conversation with him. What does one to two years mean? I know what the words mean of course, individually and grouped together in the sentence as they were, but what does it really mean? Shouldn’t I ask for more details? Clarification?

How many times have you said or heard someone say “What I meant was … “

Words have meaning.

Choosing the right/perfect/appropriate one isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort. (See I cheated there, gave myself options, but I can do that because this is my blog and there’s no word count!)

Back to my story. I called Dad back, asked him to clarify and he told me the doctor liked to give the absolute worst case scenario. Nice! Later, I spoke with my mom who told me the doctor said in one to two years they’d look at reassessing his treatment options. Good that I asked for clarification, huh?

Words have meaning and if you don’t understand something just ask.

What makes the word game even more fun is the variety of meaning words take on across continents and cultures. We lived in Germany and Holland when I was young. What a fabulous culturally enriching experience -- I went to school with children from around the world. (You guessed it, another story.)I recall the first time a classmate asked me if I had a rubber. I was shocked! What kind of place was this? Another classmate handed her an eraser. Aha a rubber is an eraser if you’re from the U.K. My first of many lessons about words.

Words have meaning and they often have different meanings to different people.

My husband was right, words have meaning. Yes they do and I love them for that.

Bye for now kiddies.