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Your Georgia Writers Resource

Painting by Melody Croft

Exit

Winter 2016


Exit Editor-in-Chief Val Mathews Managing Editor Rachel E. Frank Editor Shane Ruppert Contributors Mark Adel Vickie Carroll Iryna K. Combs Rachel E. Frank Evan Guilford-Blake Val Mathews Shane Ruppert Creative Writers A'nji E. Black James Dalton Byrd Jack Fay Sandra Hood Carolyn Lawrence Val Mathews Kaleigh Peake Andrea Rogers Valerie Smith Jackie Stewart-Collins Dee Thompson Cover Art Melody Croft Design Val Mathews XchangeArtists.com

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Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource is both a writer's resource magazine and a literary journal. Four times a year, we bring you a motivational kick to get you writing more, publishing more, and living the writer’s life—Georgia style. Plus, with every issue, we showcase short story authors, poets, and artists who call Georgia home. Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource digital magazine is made possible by the Georgia Writers Association (GWA). GWA is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization supported in part through the Georgia Council for the Arts and Kennesaw State University. GWA encourages and strengthens the proficiencies of Georgia writers in both the creative and business aspects of writing. We do this through meetings, lectures, workshops, conferences, networking, contests, and literary events. Anthologies showcasing the best creative works from Exit 271 will be published every two years, and our Flash Fiction Contest will be held once a year.

Contact the Editors editor@georgiawriters.org

Photo Courtesy Contributors Font Credits Adobe Typekit and Font Squirrel 2 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

440 Bartow Avenue Kennesaw, GA 30144 http://www.georgiawriters.org


From the Editors

T

he winter issue of Exit 271 focuses on that elusive trait we all share: creativity. The word carries with it a great historical weight. Through the ages, people have personified creativity. They have written poems to "her," built sculptures in her honor, dedicated their lives to pursuing her. Others hate the very word, with its historical and pop culture context. Yet, we are human. And to be human is to be creative. It's just how our minds work. "I think people need to be reminded that creativity is a verb, a very time-consuming verb," says Milton Glaser, the co-founder of New York magazine and a famous, iconic artist (over 80 years old now). We agree with Glaser. Being creative is about getting out there and doing the creative work—coming back again and again to write, to play with ideas, to invent worlds, to rock out a wonderful sentence, explanation, poem, or story line. It's what we do. And when we do it well, it all flows.

Although we all experience those magical times of creativity, when we are in the flow, "Creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired," says Hal Gregersen, professor at INSEAD's business school—which is why the 2016 winter issue of Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource kicks off with Vickie Carroll's article, "Magic or Hard Work?" Both magic and hard work are at the root of every article in this issue. Yet, each writer addresses the subject in a unique way and in various fields, from creative writing to technical and academic writing. For your daily dose of creative works by Georgia writers, our winter issue wraps up with six short story authors, six poets, and one artist. Thanks to all our contributors and creative writers. It has been a pleasure speaking and working with you. Keep writing! May your new year be your most productive and most creative year yet. Happy New Year!

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CREATIVITY CONTENT

The Theme for the Winter 2016 Issue

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06 Magic or Hard Work? Vickie Carroll

Artist Talk

42

Writing Spaces

10

Fiction

44

Good Quotes

19

Poetry

62

Events & Workshops

26

Books: Creativity

27

Editor's Pub

28

Writer's Path

36


33

12 Growing Creative Ideas: A Conversation with a Poet

More Cats, Less Caboodle

Val Mathews

Shane Ruppert

A Quick Q&A with Sally Kilpatrick

20 Technically, Creative: Exploring the Creative Side of Technical Writing Rachel E. Frank

38 Finding Creativity in the Archives Rachel E. Frank

From the field 30 Finding the Writer’s Way

Q&A with Dr. Lynée Lewis Gaillet

Evan Guilford-Blake

The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. —Carl Jung

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Magic

Feature

or

Hard Work?

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Most good ideas never really leave us— learn to trust the process.

by Vickie Carroll

T

hough I am well past the age to be forgiven for a belief in magic, I must argue that there is a bit of it in the act of creating. When I log on to my computer and my screensaver comes to life, there he is, Stephen King, the one who insists I believe in mystery and magic. His almost life-size face—chin resting on fist, blue eyes looking at something I can’t see—is there to challenge me to find my own magic. I know it exists, that writer magic, because I have lived that moment in every writer’s life when the characters take over and I rush to take down their words. This is the best and most mysterious time for any writer. This is it, the big IT that all writers hope for: the flow, when the muse whispers in your ear, and you listen. Then, without warning, you “awaken” and look at the clock. Hours have gone by—you emerge from another world, from out of the bliss. However, as with every moment of bliss (like chocolate melting on the back of the tongue), it does not last. At some point, you get the slap in the face, and you’re back in reality. The writer’s high fades; the hard work begins. Part of the hard work for me is taking the gift of a good idea and pushing it to the next level.

Ideas and inspiration can be fleeting, and sometimes that is as it should be because not all ideas are good ideas. Yet, I have learned that if there is a story in it for me, it will come back around and find me. Most good ideas never really leave us. They just drop down into that part of the mind that I call the writer’s cauldron, and they wait. Through experience and a bit of pain, we learn when to let it go and when to hang on. Over time I learned, although not without some kicking and screaming, to trust this process. I admit I started believing in magic just a little after I made Stephen King my screensaver and good things started to happen in my writing life. His non-smiling face is there in front of me when I start writing and is the last thing I see when I log off. I hear him say: Write, because this is serious business and what separates the writer from the wannabe. So, show up and do the work. I remember watching him in an interview a few years ago, and he said (with a sigh) that the question he got asked most was where do you get your ideas? The answer was not helpful in the traditional way maybe (there was no secret revealed), but to me it was hopeful. He said, in summary, that he

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The ideas wait for me to show up

and become my true self—a writer. didn’t know where all the ideas came from. He said that story ideas are all around us, but it is up to the writer to grab one and see where it goes. Easy for him to say, I thought at the time; the man is a genius storyteller. I have a lot of ideas and have learned to write them down; if they come back around again, I know I have something. The ideas wait for me to show up and become my true self—a writer. Once that transformation has occurred, I can hear the ideas and help them become themselves. That is part of the magic for me. King’s muse must be amazing, and I often wonder if she would consider coming South to winter with me. Gift or magic, I admire any writer who can hook the reader in that first line and hold them tight. King’s genius aside, what he tells us is true: ideas are one thing, but each writer must take it from there. Two writers can look at the same person or event and come away with an idea for a story, but their individual experiences, their personal creativity and style, can then work to craft two starkly different tales. If we’re lucky, we sit down with our notes, our characters whispering for attention (we are waiting, they say), and the idea turns into a lovely symphony of words. Other times we sit down with our gem of an idea and after a few pages we no longer hear the voices of our characters, just the drumbeat of doom. What happened? This is an age-old struggle, when a writer must decide if this is an idea that goes into the special writer’s cauldron because it needs to simmer a bit, or one to tackle at the moment. Letting go of that great idea can be painful in that early stage when we are deeply in love with our words. But let go we must—until another day. 8 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

I have spent countless hours wrestling with an idea, only to stop mid-way when forced to see it was not worth saving or it required more work than I was willing to do at the time. Or, maybe it just wasn’t an idea meant for me. I have learned several things about my creative process. First, the muse can whisper in my ear, but she can’t do the hard work for me. In fact, if I fumble around too long, she and my idea may get bored and leave. The second thing, the one that gives me some comfort and hope, is the fact that no writing is ever wasted. We write, and we get better. The idea that goes nowhere today may be just right next week or next month. I try to give myself the benefit of the doubt when I look at those half-finished drafts and outlines. In the end, I know I have to write and keep doing it because … I must. The old saying is true: I write because I have no choice. I have framed the famous Franz Kafka quote, “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity,” and I believe this is true for me. It hangs in my writing space where I must see it every day. Writing will always be part mystery to me, and I am good with that. I am 24% Irish according to the Ancestry.com DNA test, so I like the fairy dust of some magical thinking. When I write, I am me—the rest of the time I am just waiting to become myself. Creativity lives in all of us, but maybe writers, artists, and others who create something from nothing have a gift-curse that drives us to want to peer into another realm. We answer a call no one else can hear. We can envision another world and live in another time and we want to share what we find there with others. We want to capture and hang on to those muse-


filled hours or days. We wonder, If we wear our lucky shirt again today, will we hang on to that magic we found yesterday? Maybe not. Attempting to control the creative process is like trying to tame a wild horse; it can be a frustrating experience that often leaves us battered. The muse is like that wild horse. Don’t hold her too close; let her roam. She may leave us for a while, but she will be back if we watch for her, listen for her, and open ourselves to the process. We are writers. We show up even on the bad days—the days when our characters are silent and our muse is obviously off visiting Stephen King. My current writing process has evolved into a kind of mysterious ritual now. A character will show up in my head. I never know why, but he or she arrives and others soon come to see what is going on. They all proceed to stomp around in my head until I pay attention, and I am forced to write to get them to shut up. This may prove Kafka’s words of wisdom in my case, so be careful to whom you confide about the characters in your head. When you tell non-writers about this, you will get small, nervous smiles and concerned looks. I promise you. What happens next in my writing process is always the same for me: Idea. Panic. Get a knot in my stomach. Eat too much, usually chocolate. Then, get down to it. I push aside all the fear and the thought that there is nothing new to say, have a Tums, and go back to the core of what makes us human. I go back to the guts and the heart of what makes a good story: love, hate, fear, hope, greed, jealousy, triumph, struggle, pain, and joy. I put all these pieces of life in that creative cauldron where my ideas and characters are waiting, and I shuffle them. Is our final result hard work or is there a little of that writer magic at work? I prefer to think they must come together to make a story great. When I sit down and become myself, my ideas then find me and become what they are meant to be. We must bring ourselves to the writer’s chair, but if we get out of our own heads a little, let the magic of the process work, our stories will be the better for it. In the end, I still ask myself: Did I find the words, or did the words find me?

V

ickie Carroll lives in the Atlanta area and has written and published many articles and short stories. She is hard at work on her fiction book, The Ghost of Kathleen Murphy. Connect with her at her new blog—just up and a work in progress: vickiecarroll.wordpress.com.

W

ell, I did mention that Stephen King’s face is my screensaver, right? GeorgiaWriters.org | 9


Childhood Desks to Kitchen Tables

Writing Spaces

“Whatever happens, I hope it inspires you.” —Meraaqi

Iryna K. Combs If you think being an author means you need to have a special room where you can be inspired to write—well, I can prove that it is not always the case. My “special” writing space is a simple kitchen. My kitchen table is where my novel, Black Wings, was born. I love my kitchen and the smell of delicious food I cook for my family. It makes me feel calm, peaceful, and cozy.

10 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

JENNY SADRE-ORAFAI LIKES TO WRITE AT HER CHERISHED CHILDHOOD DESK.

“Write while things are alive in your head. Don’t wait for the be-in-theright-place moment,” says Iryna.


Dee Thompson When I was in kindergarten, my mother bought a table covered in garish green paint. Dad, my brother, and I sanded and stripped it—today it’s my writing desk. Solid wood with ornamental legs, it sits in my bedroom next to a window. It’s big enough to hold my CPU, monitor, and printer, plus speakers, a standup file holder, mail, Post-its, protein bars, pens, pads of paper, and (in the back) a lot of dust I can’t reach. I do a lot of writing in my head, however, when I’m cleaning the kitchen, walking the dog, or cooking. I tend to start sautéing onions, get inspired, then run upstairs to write. Later, I remember the onions.

VAL MATHEWS LIKES TO TAKE HER WRITING SPACE FOR A WALK IN THE PARK.

Dee’s son says he likes burnt onions —definitely an acquired taste!

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Feature

G RO

W

iNG

creative ideas A CONVERSATION WITH POET JENNY SADRE-ORAFAI

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Poet Jenny Sadre-Orafai gets her creative ideas by planting seeds.

by Val Mathews

H

ow do creative ideas show up in your life? For Alan Greenspan, an economist, creative ideas show up in a box. In an interview with Tom Sturges, author of Every Idea is a Good Idea, Greenspan said, “I have a little black box. (He tapped his head at the temple, indicating where the box was kept.) And when I have a problem I need to solve, I put everything I know about the problem inside the little black box. Every scrap, every detail. Then I close the box. I go for a swim or take a walk. Later, when I open the box and look inside, the answer is usually very clear to me.” Creativity happens inside the “little black box” of our mind, not necessarily in the perfect gravity-free chair with superb lumbar support or on that lucky sofa, well worn with a faint hint of old Rover. Lucky for us, the mind is always cultivating creative ideas—inventing solutions to all kinds of problems. How do I change a flat tire without getting my suit dirty before the big interview? How do I get my protagonist out of yet another heart-pounding situation? Our minds are not only busy at work, finding creative solutions to life’s little problems, but also busy at play, finding

fresh and interesting story ideas. Yet, many people, including writers, struggle with getting ideas to show up. We invent all kinds of ways to get ideas onto the page. Some work well, but others make us feel like we will never write again. How can we as writers get our minds to work like Alan Greenspan’s little black box? How can we get our ideas to show up? Well, I sat down with poet Jenny Sadre-Orafai to discover how her ideas show up. Instead of asking the usual interview question, where do you get your ideas?, I dug deeper. What causes the initial spark? When do you get the first inkling? What’s the main catalyst to your creativity? How do you nurture it? What are you doing when an idea shows up? I felt that the answers to these questions would get to the heart of it. Like Greenspan’s box, Sadre-Orafai’s mind goes to work nurturing her creativity while she is busy doing other things. To generate ideas for poems, she says she “plants seeds.” These seeds grow to form the ideas that turn into poems. During our inspiring talk, she revealed four ways she finds these seeds: see instead of look, distract yourself, get outside yourself, and share ideas.

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1. SEE—INSTEAD OF LOOK

I

nteresting and arresting images inspire Sadre-Orafai. She allows an image—a photograph, artwork, or physical object—to take hold and waits to “see if it sticks.” When an image keeps coming back, when she keeps remembering it—a “very surreal” experience for her—then it’s a good seed. She plants it in her head, and given time, it sprouts an idea. “After you plant these seeds and your ideas sprout, do they grow like Kudzu?” I ask. “Or do you have to nurture them, coax them out?” She shakes her head, glancing up. “They just bubble up.” Sadre-Orafai stays open to ideas because she sees interesting and arresting images everywhere. “I’m in seed-planting mode all the time,” she says. However, these seeds do not have to be photographs; they can be anything, even what is outside the car window. To illustrate, she shares a story about driving in a car with a friend and seeing something that struck her: At a stop sign, she gazed out her passenger side window. She watched the world beyond the glass with focused interest. Something caught her attention. She pointed to it and turned to her friend in the driver’s seat. “That’s odd,” she said. Sadre-Orafai notices odd things, things many people do not see because they don’t know how to see. Her friend glanced at the always-curious poet in the passenger seat. He smiled. “You remind me of my daughter.” In other words, she sees everything as if it’s brand-new to the world. She remains hypersensitive, with the fresh eyes of a youngster. To a small child, everything is odd. To view the world like this poet, we have to notice what is around us in the first place. Most of us just stare out the window, looking at nothing. Sadre-Orafai explains to me that to be creative, to get our ideas to show up, we need to not just look—we have to see. So, how do we learn to see like Sadre-Orafai? How does she do it? Well, she opens herself to the world, surrounds herself

She sees everything as if it’s brand-new, with the fresh eyes of a youngster.

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Keep a pad and pen handy—and hope that when an idea shows up, you're not shampooing your hair. with images that turn into ideas. “I absorb constantly,” she says. She pays attention. Stays curious. Focuses her eyes on the odd, the interesting, the surprising. It’s a way of seeing that’s similar to what visual artists learn in art school, what some artists call switching to the right side of your brain. When an artist shifts into this different way of seeing, he suddenly notices negative spaces, multiple layers, and three-dimensional shapes that didn’t seem to be there before. This mind shift happens to writers, too. Just like a new art student, you can learn to see by paying attention to the world around you. Paying attention and seeing with fresh eyes lets us become fully conscious of our surroundings. By being open with the wonderment of a small child, we can begin to see like an artist.

2. DISTRACT YOURSELF

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riters often tout distraction as bad. Being distracted, however, doesn’t always equal procrastination or that dreadful blank‑page-avoidance syndrome. Distraction can be a powerful idea-generation tool or, as Sadre‑Orafai calls it, a way to plant seeds. If we distract our analytical minds, we free the creative parts of our brains to do what they are built to do: create all those amazing ideas. Rod Judkins, author of The Art of Creative Thinking, says, “When our conscious mind is switched off—because we are driving, taking a shower, or whatever—ideas suddenly bubble up

to the surface. When we are not trying to think, the door to the cage opens and our minds fly off in unpredictable directions.” I experience this creative phenomenon myself, often while walking on a narrow trail through a Georgia forest. Both Mozart and Beethoven loved to take long walks as a way to get inspired and spark their creativity. Apparently, Einstein got many of his best ideas while shaving. Greenspan goes for a walk or a swim. Sadre‑Orafai used to get her best ideas while jogging; now they often show up while driving. “They bubble up,” she says again. For Sadre-Orafai, the bubbling up often happens to her at the most inconvenient times— grading papers or driving in Atlanta’s rush-hour traffic. With her mind distracted by a task, ideas sprout, bursting through to air and light. What can we take away from her idea-making process? Well, if we give our minds a creative job—a poem to sculpt or a novel to build—and then go about our business washing the car, taking a swim, or driving in rush-hour traffic on a Friday afternoon, our ideas will show up. Sadre-Orafai suggests we just “allow them to emerge.” Trust in the idea-generation process. “Turn off the radio, turn off the TV,” she says. Get busy doing something. Distract yourself with a task. Let your mind deliver the goods. Just keep a pad and pen handy—and hope that when an idea happens, you’re not shampooing your hair. Ideas emerge and come to Sadre-Orafai during these nontraditional writing times. Then later, she pulls a chair up to her cherished childhood desk

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As a young poet, writing about herself “got boring” until she learned to get outside herself.

and gets down to the business of putting words on paper. She explains that with quiet stillness, “nothing there, just space,” she allows “the poem to come.”

3. GET OUTSIDE YOURSELF

“D

o you have times when your creativity wanes or seems to disappear?” I ask. She shakes her head. Grins. “No,” she says. She explains that when she was younger the seeds of her creativity were pure emotion. “My poems were about me.” As a young poet, she wrote poems from the inside only, based on herself—her childhood, personal life, inner emotions. But, it “got boring.” She had matured as a poet and wanted more from her poems. “I got tired of myself after a while,” she said. For writers to grow and mature, she advises that we get outside our own inner emotions. When we can “get outside ourselves,” we will “make those larger connections to our world.” These larger connections are so important to creativity. In Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer tells us to “find the subtle connections between seemingly unrelated things.” Additionally, Sadre-Orafai stresses that it’s not just about making connections in the world outside our heads but also about bringing things we notice back inside to “determine how we feel” about them. When she matured as a poet and got outside herself, her poems became stronger and more organic. Getting outside herself has been a huge idea-generator for her. "So, how do we get outside ourselves?" I asked. Well, Sadre‑Orafai suggests we travel. When we travel, she explains, we become “hypersensi-

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tive.” In other countries, we are outsiders with an outsider view of our new world. Surrounded by novelty—a pungent aroma of a foreign spice, a fresh rhythm of another country’s top 100 hit, a cobblestone road by an ancient building, a never-before-heard tintamarre of a street parade in a distant land—most of us will see this new world as if we were children again. And like children, we become insatiably curious, often quite surprised, and persistently interested in the littlest details. This way of being is the way we need to be all the time. Switching to an outsider perspective keeps us inspired, engaged, and generating new ideas. In Every Idea is a Good Idea, Tom Sturges illustrates a creative person’s way of interacting with the world and generating ideas: “Novelists could let the steady drumbeat of the rain on their roof influence the pattern of speech in the characters they have created. Composers might let the waves pounding the seashore become the inelegant and irregular backbeat of a concerto or symphony. In whatever you pursue for your own creativity, let rhythm be on the foundations of your creating, especially if it is a rhythm that is new to you.” Getting outside ourselves and experiencing everything as if it's new allows us to recognize the seed of an idea, and then plant it. If it's good, it will keep popping up. Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California-Davis, studies the subtle patterns that influence creative idea-making over time. He argues that young people are often more ingenious than their older counterparts because they benefit from an “outsider perspective.” Travel, even if it’s just to a new part of your hometown, is a powerful way to cultivate this outsider perspective and become more creative. When we travel beyond our limited inner world, we step outside ourselves and the fertile ideas never stop germinating. Our ideas show up in abundance.

4. SHARE IDEAS

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here are times in humanity’s history when some societies have produced large numbers of ingenious works and talented people. Why is that? I talk to Sadre-Orafai about David Banks, a statistician at Duke University, who wrote a short paper called “The Problem of Excess Genius.” In it, he explains that creative geniuses are not scattered randomly across time and space. Instead, creative geniuses often arrive into the world in tight local clusters. Take a look at Florence, Italy, 1450-1490, a tight-clustered time period, which produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, and others. Look at London, England, in the height of its famous playwrights: Shakespeare, Jonson, and Marlowe. What causes such robust creative outpouring? Author Jonah Lehrer points out that Shakespeare seemed to be “intensely aware that his genius depended on the culture around him.” In fact, Shakespeare’s lead character Hamlet urges a troupe of actors to reflect the “very age and body of the time,” to transform their surroundings into their “form and pressure.” Lehrer makes it clear that Shakespeare’s work was “inseparable from the whirligig around him.” He agrees with the theory of economist Paul Romer, who stated, “The thing about ideas is that they naturally inspire new ones. This is why places that facilitate idea sharing tend to become more productive and innovative than those that don’t. Because [and this is the important part] when ideas are shared, the possibilities do not [just] add up—They multiply.” “How can we foster our own tight local clusters of creativity in our own communities, in our modern culture?” I ask. She suggests writers get out there and build creative situations where we can share our work, multiply our ideas, and increase each other’s

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G

etting outside ourselves, experiencing everything as if it’s brand-new, allows us to recognize the seed of an idea—then share, sparking more creative ideas.

inspired output. How? She urges us to orchestrate more readings. Participate fully. Get involved in the Letter Festival. Read literary journals; they need our support. Read interviews with other writers and learn from them. Adding to this sound advice, I would encourage writers to conduct interviews with their fellow writers and share them, apply for cooperative grants to push out originative work, and support the arts financially, physically, and emotionally. Get out there, find your peeps, encourage one another—and share the seeds of creativity. “We can share ideas without devaluing them,” Romer asserts. “There is no inherent scarcity.” Yes, in fact sharing ideas creates more seeds—and more seeds mean more ideas to sprout while we’re out walking the dog or mending the fence. When we share ideas, we will not just generate a few random ideas of our own, but we will also bear witness to the spectacular show of a world of creative ideas in full bloom.

W

ell, at this point it’s worth asking you, how will you grow your ideas? Perhaps you might go for a walk or take a swim while your little black box goes to work on finding an answer.

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Val Mathews

Jenny Sadre-Orafai

Val Mathews works as a freelance editor, writer, and visual artist. She is the editor-in-chief of Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource. Her writing has appeared in Ginger Hill, The Story, Surf Coaches MAG, and other online venues. Recent art showed at ATHICA. She lives in Athens, Georgia. valmathews.com

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper, Cotton, Leather and four chapbooks. Recent poetry has appeared in Tammy, Linebreak, Redivider, Eleven Eleven, Thrush Poetry Journal, PANK, and Rhino. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.


Good Quotes "I think of myself as a bad writer with big ideas, but I’d rather be that than a big writer with bad ideas."

"Ideas come from everything." —Alfred Hitchcock

—Michael Moorcock (a.k.a. James Colvin)

Creativity

Quotes

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."

"That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: you make them follow you."

—John Steinbeck

—Ray Bradbury

"Paradoxically, bad ideas, even the ‘world’s worst,’ can lead you to good ones. Start by listing the absolute worst ideas you can think of. Then try to identify potentially good features of these terrible concepts." —Keith Sawyer, Zig Zag GeorgiaWriters.org | 19


Feature

TCreative echnically,

Exploring the Creative Side of Technical Writing

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Creative expression and technical writing—How do they coexist in the same noggin?

by Rachel E. Frank

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himsy. Imagination. Self-expressive excess. These things thrill me. Coming up with vivid new ways to describe things—eggplant-colored fabric, clinky-clanky bracelets—and crafting stories in weird, messy ways is like plunging headlong off a cliff with a bungee cord, hurtling downwards at breakneck speed towards an exhilarating and unknown fate. I am drawn to the freedom, the flow, the lack of rules and lax boundaries. I am a creative writer. Give me a laptop, a hit of caffeine, and watch me go! But then there’s the other part of my brain, equally strong. The editor, the stickler for grammar rules sometimes dubbed “Grammar Nazi” for being annoyingly pedantic. The information designer, who loves organizing large amounts of raw, chaotic data into neat little bundles of useful information. Give me a laptop (with editing software), a hit of caffeine, and watch me go! I often wonder, how do they coexist in the same noggin? Full disclosure: they don’t always! Because of this strange duality in my head, I tend to feel drawn to writing that combines these two

interests. Creative nonfiction, of course. And also, technical writing. Technical writing? How is that creative? I used to think that. To me, technical writing was dry as moldering old bones, dull as dirt, and completely non-creative. But then, in 2006, I started working at HowStuffWorks.com, owned by Discovery Communications at the time. I did all kinds of writing for them. Thousands of metadata titles, descriptions, and keywords for videos and podcasts. Scripts on a wide range of topics like “Chillin’ at the Sapporo Snow Festival,” “Kevlar: Where did it come from?,” and “Skin Care Tips from Dr. Oz: Wash Gently.” How-to articles like “How to Play 4 Guitar Licks” and “How to Play Basic Guitar Chords in 6 Easy Steps.” I also edited scores of science and technology articles, like “How 3-D Printing Works,” for the Tech Channel, and some miscellaneous ones, like “How to Shoot Photos at Night.” There was a strong technical communication element to this work. What was unique, however, was the addition of a creative, personal “voice.” HowStuffWorks.com is an unusual company in

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this regard. Its goal: create content that both entertains and informs, equally. The company wants its technical writers to combine a juicy, creative narrative with whip-smart accuracy (it's specified in the style guide, in fact). Now, some might call this blend of creative writing and factual information creative nonfiction, but the technical communication component—breaking down complex topics and turning them into informative, useful content—is so strong that I consider it more like “creative technical writing.” Whatever you call it, I was intrigued by this blurring of the lines between the creative and the technical realms. Then this past semester, as a graduate student in Kennesaw State University’s Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW) program, I took a technical writing course, and it really got me thinking about the creative aspects of technical writing. Consider, for example, the range of technical writing subjects that the other grad students and I explored for our final projects: a cookbook with accompanying video recipes, a manual on using comedy to relieve stress in the workplace, a campus safety manual with accompanying self-defense videos. Maybe the most creative example of technical writing I’ve ever seen comes from Val Mathews, editor-in-chief of this publication. A visual artist and poet, she’s working on a project called “Female Medieval Scientific and Medical Writers: Revamping a Dusty Definition Through Creative Expression” that combines poetry, illuminated drawings, technical writing, and medieval midwifery practices. According to her research, there’s a strong historical connection between technical communication and creative writing. As she notes, “Delivering a technical communication in the form of a poem was not unheard of during the Middle Ages. In fact, it was quite popular and intended for instruction.” Poetry was a perfect vehicle for delivering technical information because people in medieval Europe were largely illiterate, so they needed to be able to memorize the information easily. Mathews' poems, which are inspired by this medieval

… combine a juicy, creative narrative with whip-smart accuracy.

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W

hile a technical writing document may never include metaphors or literary references, a creative process is a must.—Writing Assistance, Inc™

practice, describe a fictional exchange between a midwife and Lady Josephine, a wild, liberal noblewoman who enjoys the company of men. The poems cleverly combine bawdy language, intriguing characters, and real technical “recipes” for reproduction-related ailments. Talk about creative technical writing! Now, some technical writers would insist that technical writing is not creative because you have to follow strict rules and guidelines when putting together a technical document, leaving no room for a personal “voice” or self-expression. Writing Assistance, Inc (a technical and professional writer staffing firm) echoes this point on a blog post, “Can technical writing be creative?,” explaining that for a majority of technical documents, “you need to present a certain set of facts—and only the facts. In short, you need to present only the words and phrases that support your document’s main goal—nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t leave much room for creativity.” This is certainly true in some respects. The goal of technical writing, first and foremost, is to inform. It’s definitely a writing genre that likes its templates, and companies can be very strict about what they want out of their deliverables. On the other hand, if you look carefully, you’ll notice examples of creativity and technical writing overlapping in interesting ways. Take, for example, the Google Chrome Comic. In 2008, cartoonist Scott McCloud wrote and illustrated a how-to manual for Google’s open-source web browser Google Chrome. He took technical information from interviews he conducted with Google engineers and turned it into a comic book. And while he’s created nonfiction

works that combine a comic format with factual information, Google Chrome Comic is clearly a different animal. I’d call it “creative technical documentation.” If you want another example, take a gander at the lively conversation going on among practicing technical writers on the World Wide Web. Based on the number of recent articles titled “Can technical writing be creative?,” I’d say people are thinking about it. Pondering the other side of the question, the “case for creativity,” the Writing Assistance, Inc blog observes, “It takes a certain amount of creativity to assemble a document that can work for many reading levels and experience levels. While a technical writing document may never include metaphors or literary references, a creative process is a must.” This touches on an important point that’s echoed by many folks in the tech comm world: technical writers must keep the needs of their audience first since their goal is to create usable documents. And because they want their documents to be user-friendly, technical writers have to think creatively about what the audience needs. As Sarah Maddox, a seasoned technical writer for Google, humorously notes on her blog, FFeathers, “After all, our readers are human, not machines. If machines did everything, there'd be no need for documentation. Or chocolate. Or anything.” In her 2012 guest post, “Is technical writing creative?,” on technical writing blog IdRatherBeWriting.com, Lupa Mishra writes that her love of breaking down complex topics into understandable ones helped her reconcile her passion for creative writing with her vocation as a technical writer. Mishra adds that being creative involves GeorgiaWriters.org | 23


thinking about her users’ needs. “Right from the design and look of the document to the illustrations, videos, and screencasts, you need to take care of every little detail that helps make the user’s life easy. You have to think of new ways to convey information if the traditional approaches do not work for the user … Other times, when the document’s aim is to draw the reader’s attention, you need to design and draft engaging content for the user.” The reader comments on her post are equally fascinating, revealing the complexities of the conversation. Kevin Matz says, “It’s rare to have a project that isn’t constrained in some way—inevitably you must follow style guidelines, use a specific document template, satisfy target word or page limits, and of course meet a deadline. Such constraints aren’t necessarily a bad thing. They force you to use your creative energies to find solutions that meet the constraints. Sometimes these challenges can lead to real innovations; inventing something new is the ultimate creative act.” Jonathan says, “I agree that it takes creativity to write in technical fields, especially to imagine new ways to display complex information. And that’s what the 21st Century is all about. Data translation.” Larry Kunz (a well-known technical writing professional with more than 30 years’ experience) says: “Is technical writing creative? It sure is! In fiction writing, creativity comes in knowing your characters and then watching them go through various experiences. In technical writing, creativity comes in knowing your audience and then guiding them through experiences. Creativity also comes in the form of problem solving: how can I communicate effectively given the audience’s requirements and limitations, the content I have to work with, and the media available to me?” In a blog post comment on “Technical Writing World,” Mark Baker, another heavy hitter in the field of technical communication, makes a strong case for the importance of creativity in technical writing. He says, “I would suggest that a

Is technical writing creative? It sure is! —Larry Kunz

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technical writer who is checking their creativity at the door is shortchanging their readers. Not only that, they are shortchanging themselves—if they check their creativity at the door, they are making their own workday dull and joyless.” Genise Caruso, a freelance technical writer with years of experience, doesn’t tiptoe around the issue, either. In “Technical Writing is Boring, and 5 Other Misconceptions About This $100K Career,” she skewers the stereotype that technical writing jobs are “dull” and “as exciting as the proverbial bean counter in the field of accounting” and says that her work can be just as creative as that of other fields. She notes, “Creativity is relative, but when I write reports with charts, graphs, and illustrations, my work isn’t all that different from what you might find on popular data journalism sites like The Upshot and Vox.” She makes a really important point. In our digital, multimedia world, we expect information to be presented in more dynamic ways. In Solving Problems in Technical Communication, Anne Frances Wysocki talks about how new media technologies—“blogs, online newspapers, digital help systems, computer games, podcasts, text messaging, Facebook, GPS systems, MP3s, interactive Flash poetry, wikis, content management systems, Twitter, digital television recorders"— have changed the game for technical communicators. As we become more accustomed to content that incorporates video, audio, illustrations, animation, and other design elements, she says, our expectations of technical docs will evolve, too. To me, all of this discussion suggests two things. One, despite more constraints in terms of formatting and self-expression, technical writing definitely involves creativity. Two, the line between creative writing and technical writing is not as rigid as people think. Both genres have creative aspects. Both types of writers have to figure out how to tell a “story” in a way that will resonate

with an audience, either to entertain them, to help them get something done, or both. And both genres have technical aspects. Poetry, for example, has some very specific rules about form, while great short stories require a killer combination of masterfully arranged plot elements and brevity. I suspect, like IT staffing specialist Scott Poliziani, that a lot of writing “lies on a spectrum between technical and creative, rather than entirely within one section.” Maybe as writers, whether creative or technical, we would benefit from loosening our rigid definitions and exploring these ripe areas of intersection. Maybe our writing would be better as a result?

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he October 16, 2015 session of the University of Pittsburgh’s “Writers’ Cafe” writing club offers an intriguing exploration of the connections between the technical and the creative:

Google “technical,” “creative,” and “writing” at the same time and you will find site after site explaining the difference between technical writing and creative writing. In this Writers Café session, we will explore the dynamic and productive possibilities at the points of connection between creative and technical writing. What kinds of “creativity” can be used and found in technical writing?” What is “technical” about “creative” writing? How can we, as writers, take inspiration from technical fields, terminologies, and methods and how can we, as writers, bring narrative, poetics, and other “creative” languages and methods to do splendid technical writing?

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S

o, if you’re a creative writer like me who likes to jump headfirst into creativity chasms but also has a flair for explaining how stuff works and organizing content into useful little bundles, then maybe technical writing could be for you. Given how lucrative the field can be—in Atlanta, the median income for an entry-level technical writer is $53,842—it might not be a bad plan. And even if your long-term goal is still a traditional creative writing career, maybe technical writing could teach you some valuable skills. As our old pals at Writing Assistance, Inc note, “Maybe getting technical is just the thing your novel needs.”

Each month, the Georgia Writers Association hosts 2-hour writer workshops where established authors focus on some aspect of the writer’s life: craft, marketing, publishing, finding an agent. Other annual events include the Georgia Author of the Year Awards (GAYA) and the Red Clay Writers Conference. Most workshops are held at the Kennesaw State University Center. For more information and times see www.georgiawriters.org A Midwestern gal by birth, Rachel E. Frank has been enjoying Georgia's mild winters since 2006. A former editor, writer, and podcaster for Howstuffworks.com, she's now the managing editor for Exit 271 and a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University. She loves meddling with words, reading "all the books," traveling, and trying out new restaurants with her husband, Ravishing.

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Georgia Writers Association 01/09 Lori Beard-Daily 02/13 C. Hope Clark 03/19 To Be Announced 04/09 Ray Atkins Red Clay Writers 05/07 Conference


Books

Books: Creativity Zig Zag The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity by Keith Sawyer 2013 Cover Design by John Hamilton Cover Image by Alicat/iStockphoto Published by Jossey-Bass

Z

ig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity by Keith Sawyer is another fun toy for the creative mind. It takes us on a romp through creativity and idea generation. It can help us go deeper and be creative more often. There’s no muse or alchemist’s gold in this book. What Sawyer does for us is offer a book packed full of classic creativity games and exercises and many new hands‑on exercises as well—all based on his twenty years as a research psychologist studying how creativity works. The research is facinating, but the games and exercises are really what make this book a fun and productive read. Zig Zag will have you zig zagging through eight steps, not necessarily in order (after all, this is a book on creativity, not accounting). The steps— Ask, Learn, Look, Play, Think, Fuse, Choose,

and Make—are more like a game of hopscotch. To solve a creative problem, such as how to get a protagonist out of a mental ditch, we can work through the steps in order and play the games in a linear fashion, or we can skip around and zig zag. This zig zagging is the way the creative process works. Sawyer says, “Exceptional creators often zig and zag … every day. That’s part of the secret, because the steps work together” to get you building a stronger creative practice. Sawyer has games with names like Toppling and Scamper. It sounds like play. Yet, this is not a kid’s book. Play is a big part of our creative process. “The creative mind plays with the objects it loves,” said Carl Jung. Editors often tell writers to “just play with it, and see what you come up with.” So play hard. Do something creative every day. GeorgiaWriters.org | 27


Column

The Editor’s Pub "Buy the ticket, take the ride."—Hunter S. Thompson

Don’t Tell Us, Show Us. From the Editor-in-Chief

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an you picture it? A round table. A stack of new submissions. Cups of coffee. Editors shaking their heads. What are they saying? “He didn’t make me care about the characters … It’s not believable … She expects us to take her word for it … He robs us of the fun of reading … There’s no reason to read the rest, he tells us what’s going to happen before it happens … I know, it’s like that annoying friend who spoils a movie by telling you what happens next … The thrill is gone … There’s nothing to discover … If I have to write show don’t tell one more time … ." What does that even mean? Good writers allow the charac-

28 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

ters to reveal themselves—showing us so that we believe. The characters walk and talk, reacting to their world. We care about what happens to them. Good writers make us feel like we are there, in the thick of it. We go into the scene and lose touch with our own world. Good writers let us experience things ourselves. The more intense a scene, the more they show. But how do they do it? These writers show us by being generous with evidence. They prove a character’s motives and emotions. They immerse us in the story by weaving scenes with reaction, action, and dialogue. You see, telling keeps readers at arm’s length, but showing takes them there. Again, what does it even mean?

Well, most of us have probably listened to a friend’s story that ends with our friend saying, “You had to be there.” When writers merely tell their story, they don’t take us there. Let’s experiment. Act out the following scene but only do what the words tell you to do (don’t add your own action, facial expressions, body language, or dialogue): Suzie had trouble breathing and struggled for air. Remember, you can only act out what is on the page. But, how can we act out trouble or struggled? The writer didn’t show us what it looked like, what it felt like, what it sounded like, what it smelled like.


For goodness’ sake, Suzie can’t breathe. I guess we just had to be there, right? Let’s try another one. Act out Suzie’s part:

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lutching her chest, Suzie gasped in half-breaths. John looked around for the waitress and patted Suzie on the back. She waved her hands back and forth, pulling away from him and shaking her head. A tiny squeak escaped her throat as she pointed across the table, flicking her finger. “Your purse? You want your purse?” Two squeaks. Three quick gasps. Yanking her purse out of John’s hands, she gave him a look that was becoming all too familiar: chin high, nostrils flaring, eyes teary. She dumped her purse— iPhone and lipstick clinking on the floor; blush, mirror, toothbrush; condom sailing into John’s steamy gumbo; cough drops, pill bottle, inhaler. John held up the condom between two fingers, gumbo dripping onto the white tablecloth. He tilted his head to the side, raised his eyebrows. “What’s this?” Suzie took a another drag from her inhaler and rolled her eyes.

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ow that is a scene we can see. Can we make it better? Yes. But the point is we can act it out, become part of it. And that is the thrill of reading.

Give us a story full of things that can be verified by our five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Our senses are “the common denominators of human experience; these are the evidence that [make us] believe,” says author Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer. “Describe them precisely, put them forth in terms of action and of movement, and you’re in business.” Senses are the proof. When shown on the page, our five senses throw us into an immersive experience, a whirlwind of emotion. Bring your story to life so we can live it along with your characters. And do it by showing reaction, action, and dialogue. Of course, a writer can’t show everything. For one thing, the story would go on far too long. So, when is telling good? 1.) Telling is good for transitions—changes in time, place, and scene. 2.) Telling is good when the intensity of the scene doesn’t call for showing. We certainly don’t want a whole scene of showing when your brave protagonist is just going to the restroom … unless, of course, there is a snake in the toilet. However, if you take time to show your character’s reactions to a snake in the toilet, it better be important to the story. If you master the art of weaving show with tell, you will give your readers (and your editors) a more powerful, emotional ride. Give us an experience—don’t rob us of the thrill of discovery. GeorgiaWriters.org | 29


In the Field

finding the writer’s way by Evan Guilford-Blake

I spent a lot of years being a writer who didn’t admit he was a writer because writing seemed, well—not too hard a task, but too difficult a career to follow. Let’s face it: You don’t become a writer really expecting to make a living as one, and all of us, sigh, need to make a living. Besides, writing takes up a lot of time. There are lots of other things you could be doing, like falling in love and building an enduring relationship, raising a family and admiring the growing balance in your retirement plan. Perhaps like me, you chose to write. Bravo! 30 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

Or, in the eyes of much of the “real” world: Hiss. As those people are wont to say: When are you gonna get a real job? As a young man, I did none of the things I could have been doing. Instead, I dabbled. (The profession line on my business card of that era read “dabbler in life, literature, and other interesting things.” Witty, perhaps, but also painfully true.) Sometimes I dabbled with intent (I wrote a really terrible novel when I was in my mid-twenties, and a less terrible one in my early thirties), sometimes without.

Writing, though, was never a pastime or a hobby. Even as a child, well before it became a passion, a compulsion, and a necessity, it was something I took seriously, even if I didn’t pursue it seriously. I wrote. Mostly I wrote poems and the occasional short story, which I’m sure were pretty awful. My mother, bless her heart, hailed them as creative masterworks. I squirreled them away and went on to something else until the late 1980s, when I decided it was time to put up or shut up. Write, I told myself, or stop talking about it. It’s a maxim: Writers write!


So, with a dubious heart and many a misgiving, I wrote. I sat at my typewriter, then at my word processor, then at my computer, and I poured words onto paper. Every single day (or, more accurately, every single night, since I worked nine to five). They weren’t all good words, but enough of them were good that I felt I was beginning to get the hang of what being a writer really meant. I was creating—something that, I hoped and believed, some stranger would someday read and be moved by! I loved that. And the discipline of writing daily—even if, sometimes, it was just for fifteen or twenty minutes—was, at long last, helping me find my home in the world. It’s a discipline I still try to maintain because it’s still very helpful. The creative process is plenty hard. All help is welcome. In those days, I wrote almost exclusively plays, since I’d grown up in the theatre and it was a medium I was comfortable in. (Besides, there were those two awful novels yellowing in my drawer.) The first play I wrote was okay—not great, but okay. So I wrote another. It was better. I wrote a third and sent it to a contest. It was selected as runner-up, and the theatre staged it. So, I wrote more plays and, in 1992, not one but two theatres mounted world premieres during a single week. One got lukewarm reviews, but the other one got raves and won a bunch of awards. I was off and running. I’ve been running ever since. And what have I discovered? Well … running is exercise, and exercises are intended to teach. In the process of flexing my literary muscles, I’ve learned a bunch of useful “tricks” of the writing trade, both as a playwright and as a fiction writer. Perhaps the most important one is how to rewrite. Rewriting is what makes a good play or story a really good one. I spend a lot of time with some-

thing before I send it out into the world; everything can always be just a little bit better. In fact, one of my plays underwent twenty-nine drafts. Most of my stories go through ten or fifteen. Between drafts, there are times when I leave the piece alone, for a week or a month or even longer, so I can come back to it with fresh eyes. I’ve come to realize nothing I write is ready until I can go through it from the first to last line and want to change nothing but punctuation.

Crossing the finish line

is much more rewarding when you're the turtle.

That means it may be months before something’s “done” or ready for an editor to review it. Of course, all that rewriting requires a good deal of patience. That’s something else I’ve discovered—I need to be patient with the story and with myself. Trust me: Crossing the finish line is much more rewarding when you’re the turtle. A particularly valuable lesson I’ve learned, also patience-related, is that getting rejected is just another part of the writer’s life. Scott Fitzgerald received 120 rejections before he ever sold a story. I read somewhere that Kon-Tiki was declined by twenty-seven publishers before it became an international bestseller. My first novel, Noir(ish), was rejected by more than sixty publishers and agents before an agent accepted it, and he sent it to more than twenty houses before Penguin bought it. (Ironically, the same day, another house, a small press, also made an offer.)

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Grit your teeth and have faith.

Thus, the lesson: Grit your teeth and have faith. A really good playwright, and good friend, once told me: Every good play will find a home. He’s right. So will every good story, article, poem, and novel. The home it finds may not be the one you’d hoped for, but a home is a home is a home, at least when you’re building your résumé; and living in it can be comfortable. (Honestly? If I had it to do over, I’d have accepted the small press offer to publish Noir(ish). Being able to say “I’ve been published by Penguin” impresses people, but, in the three years since Noir(ish) came out, Penguin hasn’t done squat to help the book, while Robert, the owner of Holland House, the small press that published my short story collection American Blues, and Bob, Jan, and Mark, whose Deeds Publishing recently issued my novel Animation, have worked their butts off. Another lesson: All that is publishing gold does not glitter. What it comes down to, I suppose, is that to be a writer you have to do it for love, and re-do it for love, and then wait and wait for that love to be returned. It will happen. I’ve been taking and pursuing writing seriously now for more than twenty-five years. I’m not rich and probably never will be—unless I win the lottery (I play it faithfully). But, I still love what I do. I love that other people validate it by publishing my work and, especially, by reading it. So I keep creating. I keep plodding along relentlessly in my determined, turtlesque way.

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In an essay I wrote several years ago, I said:

For many years, I said I wrote because I could. Later, my rationale was that, like breathing, it was easier for me to write than it was not to write. Those are both true, but they’re not the truth. That, I’ve come to realize, is—I write because it’s my way to be remembered. I’m striving for immortality.

That is the truth, and every word I write is infused by that realization. It took a while to learn, but now that I have, it makes getting up in the morning and sitting down at the terrifying (and sometimes terrorizing) blank screen much easier. After all, most of us want to be remembered. What we—you and I—create is The Writer’s Way. And all those lessons are its path.

Evan Guilford-Blake is the author of thirty plays that have won forty-three awards among them, five full-length works of fiction, and sixty short stories. American Blues, a short story collection, and Animation, a novel, are available on Amazon and at Atlanta Vintage Books. He and his wife (his inspiration), Roxanna, a healthcare writer and jewelry designer, live near Pine Lake.


Q&A

by Shane Ruppert

MORE CATS, LESS CABOODLE A Quick Q&A with Sally Kilpatrick

I

always envisioned that famous writers such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Kurt Vonnegut—or any serious writer, for that matter—harvest their creative spark in a silent moment of deep, pensive self-reflection. However, as I get a bit older and start to reevaluate this somewhat romantic narrative, I begin to wonder who has time for that. Between the need to try and keep up with the frenetic hustle at school, the squirrel outside my win-

dow that my dog won’t stop barking at, and that grinding noise my Jeep now makes whenever I turn right, I find it difficult to concentrate— never mind “harvest” a creative spark. My moments of silence seem to be incessantly bombarded with hundreds of these unrelated and, mostly, trivial worries. So it goes. Now imagine if you're a writer with two kids, two cats, and too little time between now and your next book deadline. Wait, that

actually sounds quite a bit more challenging than my day-to-day. So, I felt that I needed to learn more about how writers manage to stay creative and productive in the hustle and bustle of our twentyfirst-century lives. Well, with that in mind, I sat down with budding Georgia author, Sally Kilpatrick— the recipient of a three-book deal with Kensington Publishing—to find out how she actually retains her creative spark.

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Q: Now that you’re a full-time writer, do you find yourself staying at home too much, or somewhat removed from the world, to the point of losing creative focus?

A: Yesss. Actually that’s proba-

bly the thing I’m working on right now, is trying to make better use of my time because it’s too easy to get distracted—put in a load of laundry, schedule the eye appointment, or whatever. I’ve started two things recently; we’ll see how they go, they’re brand-new.

At least two or three times a week, I go somewhere else to write. Which is how I wrote my first book, The Happy Hour Choir. I wrote that book at Gabriel’s [Gabriel’s Desserts on Whitlock Ave] while my daughter was in preschool down the road. So, it was very much like the 'Flannery O'Connor-three-hours' that you don’t mess with. They had no Internet—I sat there, I wrote. The other thing I do is I started taking yoga, because that's at least

an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes. I have to sit there and focus on breathing, and that has helped a lot. Actually, third thing, ‘cause I never can tell you two things and actually give you two things. Third thing that I’m going to try, starting on Monday, is I’m going to go on Twitter sabbatical until I finish … well, it’s going to be social media sabbatical, really … I’m going on social media sabbatical until I finish revisions on book three.

Q: Do you write novels geared toward a specific audience, or do

you write stories strictly for yourself and based on what you believe readers will enjoy?

A: Okay, so here’s my story. I left college, well I had written some in high school, but I left college and I thought I might want to write something "literary," but I didn’t really feel like I had a lot to say at twenty-one or twenty-two years old. So then I decided, I know, I wanna do something really easy … I wanna write a romance novel! No … just no. I challenge anyone who says that’s easy to go give it a shot. It’s very much like writing a sonnet; you've got all of these parameters, but to make it really 34 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

good you’ve got to still find a way to show your voice, do something new, although, not too new—there are a lot of challenges. So, anyway, when you say thinking about audience, obviously, the first thing I wrote out of college was a Western Historical. It shall live under my bed, we’re not breakin’ it out. Then I tried my hand at Southern Fiction. The problem was that as a writer I wasn’t well developed enough to have—well, a plot, shall we say … that one’s under the bed. Then I went back to this Romance idea. I like to read them; I thought I’d write them. I did a better job, but still. It is the book that ended up being book two. And

then I tried my hand at Paranormal because that’s hot. Well, never chase a trend, you’re not going to win, you’re not going to catch it. My Paranormal was awful. Finally, I got mad. I said, forget the rules, forget what’s selling, forget the whole kit and caboodle—I want to write what I want to write. That’s when I wrote The Happy Hour Choir. I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t consider your audience. The only way you’re going to get anything written is to pretend no one is actually going to read it [that’s how Erica Jong and Roxanne Gay said it at the Decatur Book Festival]. At least, that’s how you are going to dig deep.”


I’m going on a social media sabbatical until I finish revisions. Q: Since you’re on a dead-

line with a publisher, does it affect your normal writing process, and do you feel more pressure while writing than you did before?

A: Everything adds pressure. There’s

a lot of merit to what I was told a lot, which is enjoy not being published because there are advantages and disadvantages to every stage. Most people look at being published as the crowning achievement and everything will be perfect, then we’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. No … no. You find yourself in new and novel and interesting experiences. The learning curve is steep—all of the sudden, you’ve got all this new stuff you gotta figure out. Enjoy the freedom of sitting down and writing for your three hours and not worrying about if anybody is ever going to read it. Because, of course, once you start getting reviews and once you start having editors adding notes, then it starts messing with your head.”

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he greatest takeaway from my short time talking with Sally Kilpatrick is that we shouldn’t overthink our writing too much. If we begin a project with certain expectations, especially if a publisher is breathing down our necks, then it’s possible to lose that same creative spark which brought that initial success. It’s important not to let outside influences dictate our inner voice. The playwright and novelist W. Somerset Maugham once said, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Shane is a budding fiction writer and an Exit 271 guest student-editor from Kennesaw State University. When not pursuing a career in writing, he spends most of his time overanalyzing things, watching Seinfeld reruns, and eating cereal.

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Column

The Writer’s Path “Keep scribbling! Something will happen.” — Frank McCourt

It’s Never too Late to be a Writer. by Mark Adel

T

he day begins, not yet sullied by reality, and I trudge upstairs in the predawn darkness where I sit and write—and wonder why. Every year, thousands of books are added to the world’s library and many traditional readers disappear. As tweets and likes multiply, I might as well be making bookmarkers … Actually, by the time bookmarkers are obsolete, I’ll be long gone. For me, the problem is this: My dream of becoming a writer won’t die. Once upon a time, I had an out-of-time experience. In early adolescence, looking up a flight of stairs, I saw myself as an old man looking down from a landing at the top. Now, the old man is me,

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approaching retirement—or what people have started calling an “encore career.” I call it "one last chance to write." Even at the height of youthful optimism, I abandoned most of my delusional dreams. Yet here I am, still writing. When I was a hungry little boy and I wanted to eat everything in sight, my parents said, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” When I was a hungry young man and I wanted to write everything in sight, I wasn’t disciplined. The results have been blush-worthy. Although no one has ever paid for a poem, essay, story, or novel of mine, a couple of publishing professionals have said “almost, but not quite.” I keep hoping

to hear the big “Yes!” before I hear the big “No! Your time is up!” On occasion, I hear a small “yes” and see a poem, story, or essay in print with payment in author’s copies. More than thirty years ago, I wrote a personal essay about my thoughts as I commuted back and forth to work. “Thoughts from a Commuter” appeared in a college literary magazine. Fifty-five days before my fifty-fifth birthday, I decided to craft one sentence each morning. This exercise became another personal essay, “55 Carefully Considered Sentences,” which appeared in another college literary magazine. Recently, I started pre-writing a novel. If I write a little over a hundred words each


morning, I’ll have 80,000 words in a couple of years. And if I sleep well, eat sensibly, exercise, and look both ways before crossing the street, I might complete another nine or ten books before I hear the big “No!” So, who will publish them? A few months back I finished The Magic U, a 32,000-word alternate universe adventure about the magic of books and the reality of growing up, a multi-layered romp that grown-ups can read to children and children can read to themselves. I’m looking for a publisher. The feedback I’ve received so far, other than none-at-all, is a courteous “no thanks.” I used to yearn to quit my job and dedicate myself to writing. Instead, I worked to support my family while writing mornings and

weekends when I wasn’t too tired or discouraged. I’ve been wandering— lost in the writing wilderness for forty years—and the promised land is nowhere in sight. A few times, I searched the Internet for authors who published late in life. I wondered if an aging, unknown author can simply wander out of the wilderness and into print. Henry David Thoreau said, “Instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.” As a nonconformist handyman, Thoreau spent as little time as possible earning a living so he could write and explore nature. His pastime was earning a living; his livelihood was doing what he loved. Me, well, I’m not very handy,

and I’m at best a timid nonconformist. Yet, here I am with one last chance to write—even if it’s just for the heaven or hell of it. Who knows, maybe I’ll become a writer—it’s never too late.

Mark Adel, a resident of North Georgia for 24 years, was born and raised in southern New Jersey. He lives in Woodstock with his wife, Anne. Mark is the grandfather of Dale and Eli, and the father of three grown children—Heather, David, and Lauren—for whom, once upon a time and many years later, he wrote a fantasy adventure novel with the following message: “You gotta keep trying and never give up.”

Below are famous authors who wandered out of the wilderness and into print when they were over fifty. These authors had never published in their youth nor did they have peeps in high places. Frank McCourt, the future Pulitzer Prize winner, was kicked out of school when he was thirteen and became a thief to support his mom in the slums of Ireland. He came to the States and eventually had a teaching career. He did not start writing until after his retirement. His first book, Angela’s Ashes, was published in 1996 when he was 66 years old. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until her mid-40s, and then only as a newspaper columnist. It would be another two decades before her acclaimed novel, Little House in the Big Woods (what many of us know from the television show, Little House on the Prairie), was published in 1931 when she was 64 years old. Donald Ray Pollock dropped out of high school and worked in a paper mill for over three decades. At 55 years old he graduated from Ohio University’s MFA program and published his first short fiction collection. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship after publishing his first novel, The Devil All The Time, in 2011 when he was 58 years old. Raymond Chandler lost his job as an oil company executive during the Great Depression, and it’s a good thing because he published his first short story a year later in his mid-40s, followed by his famous first novel, The Big Sleep, in 1939 when he was the young age of 51.

GeorgiaWriters.org | 37


Q&A

FINDING CREATIVITY IN THE ARCHIVES

by Rachel E. Frank

Q&A with Dr. Lynée Lewis Gaillet Lynée Lewis Gaillet is a Professor and Chair of the English department at Georgia State University. She is author of numerous articles and book chapters addressing Scottish rhetoric, writing program administration, composition/ rhetoric history and pedagogy, publishing matters, and archival research methods. Her most recent book projects include: co-editor of Contingent Faculty Publishing in Community: Case Studies for Successful Collaborations (2015) and Landmark Essays on Archival Research (2016); and co-author of Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape: Models for Success (2014) and Primary Research and Writing: People, Places, and Spaces (2015).

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Rachel Frank: For this month’s issue, we’re focusing on the connection between creativity and writing. How does creativity factor into the various kinds of writing that you do? Do you consider yourself a creative writer? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: That’s a good question—one I’ve been asked before, and my first response is always a resounding NO. I don’t write poetry or fiction; however, I engage in creative nonfiction, both in my academic work and in other composition venues. If creative nonfiction is “true stories well told,” then my archival work qualifies. In 2012, I published an article addressing current issues associated with archival research in College Composition and Communication. In that


piece, I asked leading primary-source researchers, “What role does storytelling play in archival research?” Kate Adams from Loyola University answered this way: Archival research is all about storytelling because through all the documents that you study, you are figuring out the nature of a life, whether it be public or private, for a summer or for fifty years. Documents must grow into storytelling or they are not really worth writing about. But the path of document to story, of course, is a treacherous one, with inferences made by the writer, often based on her own prejudices, and thus her own story. I like Professor Adams’ response, and in that vein, I suppose I am a bit of a creative nonfiction writer (or at least a storyteller). My historical work always involves telling tales, ones based on investigating archival documents and artifacts and then weaving those findings into an interpretive story of the material at hand. Rachel Frank: You do a lot of primary/archival research for your work. What does that process look like, and does it involve creativity? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: Thinking imaginatively is certainly a part of archival research and storytelling. In the early 1990s, Bob Connors described archival research as an “August mushroom hunt,” stressing the serendipitous nature of finding primary sources. But I’ve found that while luck certainly does play a role in archival investigation, even more importantly, the work of being prepared, doing one’s homework, stalking the special collections librarians, and thinking creatively increases the likelihood of the fortuitous find.

Rachel Frank: What is an archive? Is it just a library with a collection of old documents? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: Most people think of archives as boxes of old documents housed in dusty places. Some definitions of archives focus on the collector or the rare value of collected materials. I think of primary collections in much broader terms: as collections of materials (or even single artifacts) that serve as inspiration for research and, in my case, writing. Importantly, primary materials often serve as the basis of creating narratives that document a past or current act, place, movement, culture, or community. Primary materials may include dusty, old artifacts but can also refer to government documents, textiles, collectibles, statues, quilts, oral histories, interviews, ethnographies, surveys, letters, photographs, diaries, journals, wills, birth and death certificates, maps, committee meeting minutes, speeches, posters, cookbooks, product manuals, contracts, newspapers, speeches, musical scores and lyrics, and, of course, digitized materials. Perhaps the most interesting writings I have read lately are co-written by archivists and archival investigators. I welcome this interdisciplinary trend—final products (regardless of the subject matter) are richer and truer when collaboratively researched and written by both the collector and the archive researcher. Rachel Frank: Tell us about a time when your archival research yielded surprising/unexpected/ fascinating results. Dr. Lewis Gaillet: Serendipity, according to the eighteenth-century writer Horace Walpole who coined the term, is a combination of “accidents and sagacity” that leads to great discoveries one never anticipated. Working in the Archives includes seven short tales of fortuitous discoveries GeorgiaWriters.org | 39


made in archival research, and currently, Peter and Maureen Goggin are in the process of compiling a full-length volume of such tales. I have had a couple of epiphanies and unexpected finds in my research of George Jardine, a Scottish professor at the University of Glasgow (1774-1824). I shared the following “find” in Working in the Archives:

I happenstanced upon a reference to Jardine’s letters. After some digging, I found a University of Glasgow library notation of 136 letters that Jardine had written. In these letters, written throughout his lifetime to a college friend, Jardine discussed personal events but also worked out some of his early teaching ideas. The librarians took forever to find the letters, and when they brought them to me (in a crushedin, flimsy cardboard box), it was with a sense of reverence. For you see, I don’t think anyone had taken a look at these letters since they were initially archived. The stack was tied with a red (faded to pink) satin ribbon, and I carefully opened the folded pages with a due sense of awe and respect. Five years later when I returned to the library, I requested the letters out of a sense of nostalgia more than a need for research. They were brought to me bound in a large notebook, each one catalogued and secured in a plastic slip cover—not exactly a repeat of my earlier experience. (149-50)

Rachel Frank: Primary research obviously plays a huge role in your work as a scholar, but do you think it’s important for writers in other fields? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: In many ways, I think primary research is the only thing that sets a project apart. I recently co-authored a composition textbook based on archival research, Primary Research: People, Places, and Spaces (Routledge 2015). Years ago, I realized that traditional writing instruction didn’t address students’ real needs as writers, offer much transference to other occasions for writing, or help students take ownership of their writing. In the course of adjusting my teaching to better address student needs, I found that a focus on primary research really answers many of the most pressing concerns for writers (finding a topic or personal voice, having something interesting or original to say, making research interesting to readers, etc.). In the process of compiling this book and thinking about ways writers work on-the-job, my co-editor, Michelle Eble, and I interviewed a wide range of folks from a variety of occupations: a historical novelist, a folklorist, a Chamber of Commerce Membership Manager, a newspaper journalist, an architectural historian, collaborative ethnographers, an academic journal editor, a public relations specialist, and a wildlife biologist. In each instance, we asked the interviewee if primary research played a role in their workplace writing. Collectively, they gave us a resounding “Yes!” and then offered a myriad of details and examples illustrating the value of primary research in gathering data and writing up findings to address real-world problems and writing scenarios. Rachel Frank: Are there logistics involved in using archives for research? Do you need a plan? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: Working in the Archives (Southern Illinois UP, 2010) is a fabulous book for preparing to research special collections housed in libraries, museums, or even online.

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The contributors to this volume explore issues of accessibility, research, and organizing findings when conducting most any sort of primary investigation. My contribution to this volume includes lists of things to keep in mind when visiting an archive. Rachel Frank: Can you give us examples? Are there rules you have to follow? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: Here are some general (practical) rules you may be expected to follow in order to best preserve the documents and avoid disturbing other researchers:

● Know what items are forbidden: No permanent markers (pens, ballpoints, Sharpies, or highlighters), only pencils allowed; no food and drink in the reading rooms; no backpacks, computer bags, or coats (to prevent theft and control what is brought into the space); no bulky notebooks or binders, only loose paper or laptops for taking notes; phones on silent and used mostly for the camera function. Lockers are usually available for your personal possessions.

Rachel Frank: Outside of your scholarly work, do you write for fun/personal reasons? Dr. Lewis Gaillet: I am a letter writer—long, rambling letters written on lovely stationery: thick monogrammed pages, the thinnest of translucent onion skin, cutesy foldovers, artsy cards of famous art prints, and hand-painted watercolors of everyday items I find around my house. Mostly I write to aging aunts and long-time friends; this act grounds me, helps me connect to my past, and mostly serves as a kind of journaling. I also like an audience for my everyday stories, the telling made easier when seen through the recipient's eyes. Rachel Frank: Do you have a preferred writing space? What does it look like?

● Don’t hold materials while reading. Instead, place materials squarely in the middle of the reading desk so edges don’t get crumpled or stained.

Dr. Lewis Gaillet: My writing space has shifted over the years. Having children made me much more flexible, and while I like having all my pens/ pencils/laptop/research materials, etc. organized, I learned to write wherever I found myself in those days of little ones. As I get older, I find that I need more space and like to spread out (my kitchen table affords a good view of the backyard). Also, I now have the leisure to build in more breaks. And I have always kept a writing journal or daybook to record on-the-go ideas and make lists. My (now adult) daughter recently gave me a great tip to handle the growing to-do lists I create as I currently merge writing and research with increased administrative duties. Instead of making a traditional “to-do” list and checking off items as they are completed, Helen suggested I make a “ta-da!” list—which simply notes all the things I accomplished at the end of each day. I really like that idea and its feeling of accomplishment.

● Use provided foam wedges to support documents (and to help you best position the materials for reading) and paperweights (if provided and necessary) to position unwieldy documents.

A former editor, writer, and podcaster for Howstuffworks.com, Rachel E. Frank is now the managing editor for Exit 271 and a graduate student in Kennesaw State University's Master of Arts in Professional Writing program.

● Wash your hands before handling documents. Touch archival materials as little as possible; some libraries require you to wear cotton gloves.

GeorgiaWriters.org | 41


Cover Art

Melody Croft

Madame Gautreau Takes a Break in the 21st Century, 2012. Oil on canvas with paper, 30"x30"

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ARTIST TALK Creativity & Finding Ideas

M

y creative process begins outside of my studio. I’m driving in my car or walking about, and I see someone or something intriguing. I’m not out in search of ideas but rather happen upon these moments while I’m living my life. Creativity seems to appear when I’m not looking for it; at which time, I happily invite it into my studio. In front of the canvas, the creative process envelops me like the threads of a cocoon and allows me a safe place to develop emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually much like a cocoon provides a safe place for a caterpillar to transform. I’m learning that creativity is all about the journey and not the destination.

Artist Statement

M

elody Croft’s portrait, conceptual, and genre paintings examine the status quo and social norms of modern life. She paints untraditional realistic narratives that invite viewers to observe and consider the psychological, sociological, or emotional complexities of race, gender, age, and culture. Her art work can be viewed on Instagram at croftmelody and at www.melodycroft.com.

Creativity seems to appear when I’m not looking for it. GeorgiaWriters.org | 43


Short Fiction BY GEORGIA WRITERS

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Content

46

DIRTY WEEDS Sandra Hood

49

SAY SOMETHING Kaleigh Peake

51

MY NAME IS BAKO Jack Fay

53

OLD WILEY James Dalton Byrd

56

THE COOKOUT Jackie Stewart-Collins

GeorgiaWriters.org | 45


DIRTY WEEDS Sandra Hood

T

he air in Lacy’s classroom feels thick today, like the A/C has gone belly-up, yet she can hear the familiar thrum of its worn engine struggling against another humid day. She adjusts the alphabet rugs so they lie parallel to the wall, tucks tiny chairs into formation beneath the stunted tables, and makes sure the wooden blocks are squared up inside their plastic bins. Temporary efforts. All prone to chaos at any moment. She examines her hands, certain she can feel germs crawling across her raw fingers—minute, invisible parasites that crave pieces of her and survey her skin with whatever cellular structures function as eyes. Last Monday, someone pointed the big eye of the security camera toward the glass wall of her classroom. Its red light taunts her with perfectly timed winks, as if she might forget she’s always on display. Three panicked breaths, three long deliberate breaths, then one that catches in her throat. She shoves her hand under the soap dispenser, counts one two three four five pumps, and smears the glop into her palms, works it between her fingers, then spreads the film up to her wrists. The soap, sticky and heady with fragrance, helps. “That’s too many soaps.” Lacy flinches. It’s Matilda, one of her sweeter kids. Nice wholesome name, Matilda. Lacy can’t

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imagine anyone with the name Matilda becoming remotely sexual, although it’s entirely possible some Matilda of days gone past contributed to the ancestry of the maple-haired girl gawking at her slimy hands, or even to her own lineage. Lacy wants to ignore Matilda so she can massage the detergent deep into her pores but forces herself to rinse under hot water, careful not to wash away all the suds. “Normally yes, but my hands were really dirty,” she lies in a voice at least one octave above normal. Her kid-friendly voice makes her vocal chords ache but her naturally sultry tone grates her nerves like steel mesh. And she’s pretty sure her real voice lures bacteria. “If I use that much, Mommy says I’m wasefuls.” Matilda’s forehead knots—Lacy knows her to be a child who weighs ideas carefully. If allowed to follow her own course, those forehead knots, in time, will fold against each other to form beautiful facial lines earned through reflection and consideration. Without thinking it through, Lacy allows Matilda to settle miniature hands onto her fresh, clean palms. “Well, you have tiny hands. You could bathe your whole body in that much soap.” She tries to laugh. Instead she croaks. Why is Matilda still here? All the other children have long since left in the Friday evening convoy. “Take your dirty hands off my child!”


Ah, there’s the answer. Matilda’s rail-thin power-mom looms in the doorway as if she were a giant—all scowl and accusation with impending vengeance. Vera, Dawning Hope Daycare’s director, flanks Mrs. Wilson, looking somehow anxious and regretful. Above Vera’s right shoulder, the newly positioned security camera pierces Lacy’s veneer. She knows the camera changes directions occasionally, but ever since it settled on her classroom, it feels like she has a stalker. She’s never felt so transparent. “Come here, Mattie,” Mrs. Wilson demands. Matilda separates from Lacy and rushes to her mother’s side, frowning. Lacy’s palms tingle where Matilda’s hands touched hers. Mattie. Lacy hates the nickname. It’s both cutesy and asexual. Add a ridiculous four-letter accompaniment and you create a passable Internet “star” name. Mattie Sage? Mattie Blue? Nausea pounces, and Lacy glances at the sink. She conjures a picture of Matilda at twenty-two, brown hair stringy with tangles after studying all night for a mid-term in engineering or philosophy. That’s better. “Mommy, she’s cleaned up,” Matilda insists, and Lacy savors the words. “Miss Lacy washed her hands, and she used a lots of soaps.” Matilda sounds impressed: Miss Lacy, Soaper Hero, bringing newfound cleanliness to a dirty, dirty world.

“I want this woman out of here,” Mrs. Wilson sneers. “She should not be allowed around these children.” Vera shoulders her way into the room. Lacy has never seen her boss flustered, but Vera’s cheeks have flared to bright pink and she’s breathing hard. This, Lacy believes, might be what protectiveness looks like. Vera has always been kind to her. “Mrs. Wilson,” Vera finally stammers, then gains professional momentum. “This is entirely inappropriate.” Her eyes dart to Matilda, to Lacy, back to Mrs. Wilson, and her back straightens. “I will deal with my staff privately, and we will determine if any action needs to be taken. We thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention, but I’m afraid the daycare is closed. I’ll have to ask you to leave now.” When Mrs. Wilson opens her mouth to protest, Vera silences her with the sharp snap of fingers usually reserved for playground skirmishes— Matilda’s eyes well with tears. Her mother yanks her from the room before Lacy can conjure the comforting smile she knows the child deserves. Heels clack an angry rhythm across the lobby’s linoleum. The front door slams. Lacy wonders how Mrs. Wilson uncovered her secret. Perhaps she’d spent the afternoon snooping through her husband’s Google history, found one GeorgiaWriters.org | 47


of Lacy’s videos and watched it, her heart pounding inside her chest as the realization came to her: She looks just like Matilda’s teacher. Vera’s eyes wander to Lacy’s hands, still tacky from her latest scrubbing. Her fingers hang splayed and stiff at her sides. “I’m so sorry,” Lacy whispers. “Is it behind you?” Vera asks. “Yes,” Lacy says. “Drugs?” “For a while. Not anymore.” “Are you healthy?” Lacy nods. Her fingers twitch. Mostly, she thinks. “Were children involved?” “Never.” “If you stay, Mrs. Wilson will withdraw Matilda from school.”

Lacy’s legs quiver. Anxiety slaps her with painful memories of a treacherous path that grew thorny and twisted then blurred into a near-fog the farther she traveled. Clawing her way back never meant she’d be free. She knew that. Once weeds take hold, they seldom relent. “If?” She can barely hear herself over the blood rushing against her eardrums. “Yes, if. If she spreads the news, other families will follow, and I could lose my business.” Vera pauses. “The thing is, I don’t believe Mrs. Wilson wants everyone to know what’s happening in her marriage. I’m willing to take that bet if you are. Everyone has secrets.” Lacy rubs her palms against her skirt. Vera cups Lacy’s hands, still sticky from soap. “We don’t have to decide anything this minute,” she says. “For now, let’s rinse those hands.”

Sandra Hood is the 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Finalist in Science Fiction/Paranormal for her debut novel, Blood Exchange. Learn more about Sandra at www.sshoodfiction.com, where she blogs and shares short stories, or follow her on Facebook at Sandra Hood, author. Her short stories have appeared in O, Georgia! A Collection of Georgia’s Newest and Most Promising Writers and Literary Brushstrokes.

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SAY SOMETHING Kaleigh Peake

“D

arcy!” Robert slammed the front door. The tiny, two-story row house shuddered. Darcy cleared her throat. “I’m in the kitchen, Robert.” “Her ass better be here,” she heard him mutter, followed by the clomp-clomp-clomp of his work boots on the stairs. She knew without looking those boots made a mess, a mess she would have to clean immediately before it irritated him. She breathed deeply. The familiar tingling started in her fingers, followed by the shaking of her hands. She gripped the spoon tighter as she stirred the broth. Leaning back, she stole a glance at the wooden staircase. No sign of him yet. Her brow furrowed. It was odd that she didn’t hear any noise from upstairs—no hollering, no swearing, no banging doors. A moment later, the clomping of the boots came back down, though the pace was slower. Not wanting to be caught looking for him, she quickly leaned forward. As the boiling liquid rolled, her hands trembled, and she stirred faster. Darcy didn’t look up as he walked in, ignoring her, and pulled out a chair at the small table situated in the middle of the even smaller kitchen. The metal legs of the cheap chair scraped across the floor, surely leaving a gash along the ivory linoleum that she would have to fix later.

Glancing at her arms, her lips curved in a slight smile. It had been a long time since they gleamed so smooth and porcelain white. The yellowing of the last bruises had finally faded. “You’re home early,” she said. As soon as the words left her mouth, she wanted to take them back. But, Robert didn’t respond. She swallowed hard when she heard the hiss of the cap as he unscrewed it from the whiskey bottle. The familiar tink of glass on glass and the flow of liquid soon followed. When his cigarette lighter clicked, she laid down the wooden spoon on the spoon rest quietly. Wringing her hands, she came around the table and pulled out the chair on the opposite side, looking down at the worn confetti pattern of the tabletop. When the silence stretched on, she hazarded a glance at him. What she saw brought her head up with a snap and left her slack-jawed. Her husband—the once handsome man who’d swept her off her feet five years before—sat across from her on the edge of his seat, staring into the highball glass. His blue eyes shone unusually bright, rimmed with red. His face, pasty and pale under the fluorescent lights. Tufts of hair stood straight up from his head, as though his fingers had waged war against the strands. The white t-shirt sticking to his heaving chest was damp with sweat and what looked like blood. GeorgiaWriters.org | 49


“Robert?” No response. “Robert, are you okay?” In his left hand, a lit cigarette smoldered, filling the dingy room with the acrid stench of tobacco. She despised that smell. Something she told him years ago. He laughed and told her she’d learn to get used to it. She never had. The silence continued as he lifted the glass to his lips and downed the last of the whiskey. He pulled a deep drag off the cigarette before putting it out in the ashtray. Leaning back in the chair, he rubbed his eyes with his fists. She wasn’t sure, but she swore she heard him whimper. His complete disregard of her presence incited something in her gut that she hadn’t felt in years. Anger. “Say something!” She banged a small fist on the square Formica table. The glass and bottle of whiskey barely noticed. He ignored her. Don’t just sit there, Darcy. Demand to be heard. She clenched a handful of dirty housecoat over her heart and pushed the disheveled blond strands from her face. “I don’t understand. Why aren’t you speaking to me?” Tears filled her green eyes. He dropped his hands to his lap and looked beyond her out the window. Darcy leaned across the table to touch his arm, but he pulled away and stood up. As he left the kitchen, she jumped up to follow him. “Robert, stop.” Each time she attempted to grab his arm, she missed. At the bottom of the stairs, he paused and swallowed hard. With his wide-eyed gaze fixed on the second floor, he shivered, even while sweat beaded along his hairline. The smell of fear, mixed with blood and whiskey, filled the eerie stillness. He lifted a shaky hand to the banister, then vaulted up the creaking stairs, two at a time. She scrambled after him. 50 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

“Robert, stop. Don’t walk away from me.” When she made it to the top, he was nowhere around. She stood there, listening—her fists clenched. “Robert, where are you? Say something!” She stomped her small foot, the sound hollow against the hardwood flooring. Damn you, I won’t be ignored anymore. “Why?” A loud, gut-wrenching cry came from the bathroom. Following the cries, she found him sitting on the cold bathroom floor next to the claw-foot tub. A long, thin arm dangled over the side. Deep red blood dripped on the bright, white tiles. He held the delicate, colorless hand and pressed it with gentle kisses. Shocked, she walked toward the tub slowly. He rocked back and forth, his loud sobs reduced to incoherent murmuring. She looked down at him. No. There in the tub she lay, wearing a dirty housecoat with long, gaping slashes across her arms. Her eyes wide and sightless, her skin a bluish hue. Dimly, she heard her husband, his voice thick with tears. “Please don’t leave me. I promise I’ll be better. I love you.” He leaned forward and pulled her cold, wet body into his arms and stroked her hair with a tenderness she didn’t know existed.

Kaleigh Peake lives in North Georgia and writes primarily contemporary and paranormal romance. Her debut novel, One More Try, is slated to be released in 2016. To learn more about her, please visit her website: https://thekipachronicles.wordpress.com.


MY NAME IS BAKO Jack Fay

“I

am Doctor Natalia Kinsky, head of the clinic. Your name, please.” “My name is Bako, and I must protest being held here.” “You are not being held, Mister Bako. You are free to leave whenever you like.” “I am not Mister Bako. I am Bako. The villagers, kind people I am sure, say I must not leave until you have examined me. Why is this so? I ask you. Cannot people observe I have two legs, two arms, one head? I see, I hear, I am aware of circumstances.” “Circumstances, you say? They have been reported to me. But in my judgment the circumstances are hard to believe, and frankly, absurd. Anything to say to that?” “I say the reported circumstances are accurate. At least in the main particulars.” “Hold still, Mister Bako. I need your arm … Good. Now, I will be pleased to hear the particulars as you think they are.” “I do not think, I know. The circumstances began a kilometer or two east of the border in Novy Danilo, a lovely village, I must say. I was napping under a fig tree next to the river when three farmers passed by on their way home from the potato fields, for which Novy Danilo is quite famous. Dear Doctor, do you know of Novy Danilo?” “Hmm. Your blood pressure is quite normal.

Novy Danilo, did you say? Yes, of course, it is a village in Russia.” “Quite so. The farmers thought I was dead, which is quite understandable because I sleep deeply. The farmers were convinced of my demise and placed me in a coffin with my hands folded on my chest. I must say the coffin was quite comfortable. These kind farmers were readying to nail it closed when I sat up and smiled at them in a most friendly way. The youngest of them ran off. The other two blessed themselves three times, which is reputed quite falsely to be a protection from Satan’s evil doings. Sleep called to me, so I lay back down to resume a most agreeable nap. The two remaining farmers, in a panic I presume, lifted the coffin, with me in it, and threw it and I into the river.” “Mister Bako, please sit still. Look at this light. Good. Now look up at the ceiling.” “There is nothing to see on the ceiling.” “Mister Bako. I cannot make a proper examination without your cooperation.” “I insist you call me Bako. Are you sure you are a doctor? You seem too young to be a doctor.” “I am sure I am a doctor. Hold still while I finish. This story of yours, which I cannot believe, happened in Russia?” “It began in Russia but ended here, in Hungary. The river was swift. The coffin tipped over GeorgiaWriters.org | 51


and the belt of my trousers caught on a nail. The coffin pulled me along, past the border for quite some distance. A hunter resting on the shore of the river saw the coffin floating toward him. He waded into the river and grabbed the front end. He dragged it to the shore, and that is when he saw my trousers hooked on the nail. It was quite reasonable for him to believe I was dead, but of course I was sleeping. “The hunter, with his hands under my arms and my face pointing to the heavens, pulled me onto the river’s bank and deposited me on a mattress of warm grass, a delightfully commodious spot. I felt no need to rouse myself, so I continued to nap. He pushed on my chest over and over but there was no point to it. He gave up and left me, which I greatly appreciated because it is not pleasant to be pushed on the chest while napping. What do you see behind my eyes, Doctor? Is my brain broken apart? I think not. You will find few men my age in such good condition.” “Lift your shirt.” “As you require, Doctor Natalia Kinsky, but I impress upon you the futility of your examination.” “I will make that judgment, sir. I ask that you lift your shirt, and then you may continue telling your story.” “As you wish. The hunter left quickly and returned with the village policeman at his side. The policeman exclaimed that I was a spy, clearly sent from Moscow. ‘It is just as well the man is dead,’ he said of me. Of course, I am not a spy, not even a Russian, and certainly not dead. I sat up and protested most vigorously. The policeman became agitated and shot me in the back of the head. This upset me also.” “Sir, have you been in an institution? Escaped perhaps?” “I am not crazy. Please continue with your examination.” “You will feel a bit of coldness on your chest. 52 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

A deep breath, please. Hmm. Once more. Hmm. Healthy. Healthy as a young bull.” “Are you not going to look at the back of my head? I told you the policeman shot me in the back of the head. A good doctor would surely look at the back of my head.” “If you had been shot in the head you assuredly would not be here to tell me of it.” “Doctor Natalia Kinsky. I command you to look at the back of my head.” “Do not command me, sir. I am in charge here. Turn your head into the light. Bend your head forward.” “How does one bend his head? I ask you. A head is not a pretzel.” “Lean your head forward then. Chin on your chest. You really must get a haircut, sir. Soap and water would not hurt as well. I do not see a hole back here.” “Feel around. At least do me that service.” “Strange, very strange. I do feel something. A transplant of some type?” “I will let you decide what it is.” “Oh, my God. There’s a bullet stuck in your skull!” “Did I not tell you that the policeman shot me in the back of the head? You must learn to listen. Let this be a lesson to you.” “Who are you, Mister Bako? Who are you really?” “My name is Bako.”

Jack Fay is a former special agent for the Criminal Investigation Division (US Army) and is author of over ten nonfiction books on law enforcement, private investigation, and corporate security. He currently owns and operates an online school (www.learningshopusa.com) for licensed private investigators and security practitioners.


OLD WILEY James Dalton Byrd

W

hen I was a little kid, there was an old man who was our crossing guard at a busy street. His name was Old Wiley. He was a retired cop and had a uniform and everything except a gun, so Jody, Kenny, and I figured he was a man of some substance … and he could see the future. It was his eye. One eye would pin you to a telephone pole. The other one, the one that saw “that which was yet to be,” was always looking up and away, at some other time. We decided that the knowledge of Old Wiley’s strange talent—his secret—must remain with us and us alone. We became the Keepers of the Secret. Many times, as he held up his hand and stopped the cars dead in their tracks (another demonstration of his powers), he told us what was about to happen in the future. “It’s gonna rain soon,” he often said, and sure enough, the rains came along in a day or so. “That’s what Old Wiley said,” we whispered to each other and nodded, forgetting that in Beaumont, Texas, rain was always a day or so away. “Old Miz Gillette is gonna go to the hospital,” he said on another occasion. “Yep,” Jody said the very next day. “I seen ‘em come in an ambulance and take her away!” “Old Wiley said so,” Kenny and I replied, solemnly. We didn’t know that Miz Gillette was his cousin by marriage, three times removed,

on his mother’s side of the family. That kind of information just slides by when you’re sitting with Jody and Kenny waiting for your mothers to stop talking long enough to tell you to go outside and play while they talk about whatever it is that they can talk about for so long. Then, one day it happened. I was walking home alone because Kenny and Jody had to stay to rehearse for the Christmas play. I had done well with my lines, and Miss Wolford told me I could go home. Old Wiley was almost at the end of his shift at the crossing as I approached. I was by myself; there would be no witnesses when Old Wiley exposed to me the most terrible secret of all. “World’s gonna end Thursday,” he whispered, and he waved his hand to stop a delivery truck carrying groceries to Bunker’s Store. Oh, doo doo, I thought with my most expressive expletive yet acquired. And today’s Monday! This was the greatest of secrets, and I determined that I must keep this one to myself. There was too much at stake if anyone else knew of Earth’s impending doom. Jody still owed me a quarter, and he probably wouldn’t pay it back if it was all going to end on Thursday. Kenny’s birthday party was set for Wednesday, and they certainly wouldn’t be serving much cake and punch if the final trumpet were to sound on Thursday. The preacher had told me that this guy named GeorgiaWriters.org | 53


Gabriel was going to play a tune on his horn when everything went kapowie. As I walked home, the weight of this knowledge on my little-kid shoulders grew heavy, and it did not sit well. I realized it would be my duty to save the world, and I must do this all alone. Alone, with no help from the other Keepers of the Secret, Jody and Kenny. I had heard stories of other great heroes … Beowulf … El Cid … Popeye… and I began to understand the isolation that comes with the responsibility of being in that illustrious company. Well, obviously, I didn’t sleep well that night. I was going over some of the bad things I had done in my short life and was trying to set it right with God before Gabriel got out his mouthpiece and started warming up. “Oh, God,” I wept, “I didn’t mean it when I called Jody a doo doo head.” The clock answered for God, “Tick … tock … tick … tock … tick ….” “I’m sorry I pulled Annie’s hair and blamed it on Jeffery! He did deserve it, though, because he tried to get me in trouble.” “Tick … tock … tick … tock ….” “Oh please, Thou know-est I have been-est a sinner even though Thou hast not allowed-est me time to learn all the sins I need-est to be guilty ofest yet.” I had heard the preacher talking to God 54 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

like that, and I certainly wanted to be heard. So, I decided to speak in holy-talk. “Thy servant, Oldest Wiley, hast warn-ed me and I am-est sorry for being the bad boy I am-est.” “Tick … tock … tick ….” “Come on, God, I’m sorry!” “Tick … tock ….” “Do over!” “Tick ….” “DO-EST OVER-EST!!!!” Tuesday morning dawned, and I had not slept much. I certainly did not feel like going to school and spending one of the last days of Earth’s existence trying to stay awake or listening to Daryl Silverman belch the alphabet at lunch. “Rise and shine,” my mother called to me as she opened the door. “I don’t feel so good,” I said. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “I didn’t sleep much last night, Momma.” I didn’t want to get her all upset with the end of the world coming at us like a runaway freight train, but the tears started welling up in my eyes and betrayed me. “What on God’s green Earth is the matter?” Well, that did it. “God’s green Earth.” I had tried all night to figure out how Daniel Webster would have argued the case for Earth and had failed, and now all was to be destroyed because of


my lack of eloquence—and for calling Jody a doo doo head. I burst into tears and told her. “Old Wiley said the world was gonna end Thursday!!” “Well, I guess I’d better get the wash done tomorrow then.” She smiled. “Don’t you care?” “Honey,” she said with great tenderness, “That Old Wiley doesn’t know when the world is going to end.” "What?” “The Bible says that no one knows when the end of the world will come … and that certainly includes Old Wiley.” Soon after that, someone had a talk with Old Wiley, and he stopped predicting the future and started wearing a patch over his eye. He told

me he was very sorry for scaring the living hell out of me because he really loved all us kids and wouldn’t want to hurt us for anything.

A few years later, I heard a couple of little kids talking about Old Wiley after they had crossed the street under his protection. “He’s a pirate!” one said. “Shhh, he’ll hear you!” the other whispered. “He has a patch! That makes him a pirate.” They continued walking and whispering and looking over their shoulders at Old Wiley, who stopped the cars with a wave of his hand and a sneer, which proved his pirateness. I said nothing to them. After all, who was I to spoil their fun?

James Dalton Byrd is a retired science teacher. Before teaching, he was a professional musician and entertainer for eighteen years. He also served in the infantry in Vietnam.

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THE COOKOUT Jackie Stewart-Collins

D

espite the fatality, everyone agreed that Mindy’s first cookout was a roaring success. It all started when Mindy threw her new husband a surprise birthday party. She opened the antique china cabinet and sifted through her myriad of cookbooks. Her fingers lovingly stroked the books’ spines; memories of helping Grandma cook Sunday dinners played in her mind. Mm, Grandma, nobody on this side of heaven can make chicken and dumplings like you did. Mindy pushed the other books aside and pulled out her favorite: Southern Hospitality and Good Taste by Abby Rose Carpenter. Kelly, her best friend since grade school, had managed to get it autographed and gave it to her as a wedding gift. Abby Rose was a local celebrity and Mindy’s idol. She reread the book's inscription for the umpteenth time:

Mindy, may your charming southern hospitality and parties of good taste be the talk of the town for now and future generations!

Abby Rose Carpenter

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Grabbing her glass of ice tea and the party book, Mindy headed outside. She curled up on the vintage wicker porch swing that hung from the rafters of the veranda and thumbed through the book. She giggled at the pictures of cucumberand-cream-cheese finger sandwiches and petit fours. I don’t think that would go over too well at a guy party. She ran her finger down the index until she found what she was looking for. Here we go: Southern Barbecue Cookout. Mindy turned to the page, making mental notes as she read. I need to send out barbecue-themed invitations.We’ll definitely need citronella candles to ward off bugs. She flipped the page. Now, what about snacks? Chips, salsa, guacamole, vegetables with ranch dip, pretzels. Ooh! Yum! Firehouse Potato Salad, coleslaw, baked beans, grilled corn on the cob. Have to have dessert. Watermelon slices, apple pie, cookies, ice cream, a twelve-layer chocolate birthday cake. And for the main event … Beer Can Chicken. The guys will love that. Back in the house, she made a written list of everything she would need to buy. She found a cute idea for the invitations and a recipe for Cajun Margaritas for the girls. She searched through her


craft supplies, found what she needed, and carried them to the dining room table. On Mason jar cutouts with a small twine bow hot-glued to the top, she wrote:

Beer & Barbecue Celebrate Derrick’s 30th Birthday! Saturday, September 18th at 6 pm The Davis’ Backyard 2221 Oak Lane RSVP 336 555-7232

She addressed the envelopes, added stamps, and dropped them off at the post office on the way to the store. Mindy spent the next week preparing for the party. She enjoyed coming up with ideas to keep Derrick busy so he wouldn’t catch on. The day before the party, she halved the jalapeno and serrano peppers for the Cajun Margaritas, added them to the tequila, and hid the mixture in the pantry to marinate. Kelly’s husband, Kevin, scored two tickets to

a Braves game. The day of the party, he picked Derrick up, giving Mindy and Kelly time to get everything ready. Mindy flipped off the TV. “I checked The Weather Channel. Jim Cantore confirms it will be a sunny September day in Atlanta, perfect for a barbecue.” “I see you used Abby Rose’s recipes.” Kelly giggled. “What’s so funny?” Mindy took the cookbook from Kelly and laid it on the table. “I told you the only thing missing from this party would be Abby Rose herself.” “I don’t get it. What’s so special about her, anyway?” Mindy walked to the door. “Come outside and let’s get started, and I’ll tell you why I love Abby Rose Carpenter.” They set up the rented tables in the backyard, covering each with a red-and-white-checked tablecloth. Mindy placed a vintage wooden Coca-Cola crate in the center of each table, using the squares to hold silverware, napkins, salt, pepper, and various John Boy & Billy barbecue sauces. “Remember that I spent summers at grandma’s house?” Kelly nodded. Mindy twisted wire around the tops of Mason

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jars. “Grandma taught me to cook, and one year she entered me in the bake-off at the county fair. I baked a twelve-layer chocolate cake all by myself, with no help from anyone. Well, the next day we went to the fair, and I placed my cake on the table with the others. I was the only kid in the contest with nine women. I was eleven years old and scared to death.” She placed a glass votive holder with a citronella candle in the center of each Mason jar and sprinkled acorns around the bottom. She took a step back, admiring her handiwork. “Perfect.” While Mindy hung the jars from the trees, Kelly wrote the menu for the night on a metal tray she had painted with black chalk paint. She nestled it on the table beside the foot tub filled with beer, bottles of water, and Cokes, then filled the tub with ice. “What happened? Did you win?” Mindy shook her head. “I didn’t win—I didn’t even place. The ladies peeked at me and whispered behind their hands. One of the older women patted me on the head and said, ‘Better luck next time, sugar.’” Mindy smiled. “I picked up my cake and turned to leave when someone touched me and said, ‘Honey, don’t let those women bother you; let them be an example of what not to do. In life, sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we must always be gracious and kind.' Then she told me to keep baking my chocolate cakes, 58 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

and one day I’ll take home that first-place ribbon. She guaranteed it. And that lady was Abby Rose.” Mindy pulled her hair back in a ponytail. “Now, I think we need a Cajun Margarita before we cook. I worked up a sweat out here. You want one?” “Oh, hell yeah,” Kelly said in her honey-dipped drawl. Mindy pulled the blender out of the cabinet. She strained enough of the pepper and tequila mixture for two glasses and added it to the orange liqueur, margarita mix, hot sauce, and ice. Zwummmmmme. The blender whined and ground the orange mixture into a frozen concoction. Mindy rimmed the glasses with salt, filled them with the blended margarita, and garnished them with lime slices. They carried their glasses outside and sat by the pool. Mindy sipped her drink; the heat from the infused pepper chased the cold as it spread down her throat and warmed her stomach. “Mmm … they weren’t kidding when they said this was the perfect blend of fire and ice.” After they had consumed the last drops of margaritas, they continued to get things ready for the party. While Mindy finished preparing the food, Kelly rubbed the chickens with oil and Bilardo Brothers Spicy Chicken Rub. She covered the chickens


and set them aside for later. Mindy glanced at the microwave. “Oh my word, it’s 4 o’clock! I still have to wash my hair and put on makeup.” She stripped off her clothes as she flew up the stairs, and Kelly rushed home to get ready. The guests arrived around 5:30. They had been to Mindy's and Derrick’s house enough times to know to follow the fence to the backyard. The guys grabbed beers from the foot tub. Mindy put Josh in charge of getting the grill ready while she whipped up a full blender of Cajun Margaritas for the girls. Mindy and Kelly lit the Mason jar candles hanging from the trees, giving the backyard a warm and cozy feeling as the fall sun dipped beneath the horizon. Kelly was nursing her second drink for the night and acting more animated than usual. Mindy noticed she kept looking toward the gate. At first she thought it was because she was waiting for Derrick and Kevin to arrive, but there had to be more to it than that. Kelly’s eyes were sparkling when Mindy approached her. “What is up with you, girl?” The corners of Kelly’s lips turned up and her nose crinkled. “Whatever are you talking about? I’m just standing here waiting for the guys.” Mindy’s head tilted. “I know you better than

that, Kelly English. Spill it. What’s going on?” “Dang it, Mindy, it’s a surprise. Tell you what, fix me another drink, and I’ll tell you what it is.” She handed Mindy her glass. “You’re gonna die when I tell you, Mindy. You’re just gonna die!” The blast of a car horn sounded the arrival of the guys. Everyone gathered by the gate, shushing each other and trying not to laugh. “Surprise!” they yelled in union. Derrick took a step back. “What the … ?” His eyes widening in mock surprise, he asked, “What’s going on?” Mindy laughed at his expression. He was a terrible actor. “Dang that Kevin, I knew he couldn’t keep a secret.” Conversations grew louder as they talked over each other. The back yard reverberated with laughter. Mindy asked Kelly to position the chickens over the beer cans while she whipped up another batch of margaritas. Kelly grabbed a chicken leg in each hand and plunked the bird cavity over the beer can. “I think that is the most obscene thing I’ve ever seen.” Mindy snorted, margarita spewing from her mouth. She waved her hand back and forth like an imaginary fan. Seeing Mindy cracking up sent Kelly into a tizzy. “Stop. I can’t breathe.” She doubled over GeorgiaWriters.org | 59


with her hands on her knees. Taking deep breaths, they finally calmed down. Mindy wiped the tears from her eyes. When she had calmed herself back to normal, she looked at Kelly and the laughter started all over again. Before they took the chickens outside, Mindy handed Kelly another drink. “Now tell me what the big secret is.” Before she could answer, Kelly’s cell phone buzzed. “Come on, you’re fixin’ to find out.” Kelly left Mindy with the others out back. She stumbled as she walked through the gate, returning moments later with her arm laced through the arm of an older woman. Deep wrinkles, which could not be hidden by ample amounts of makeup, graced the woman’s face. Her eyes held a sense of strength and wisdom. A man with a camera around his neck followed close behind. “Mindy, this is Abby Rose Carpenter.” “Abby Rose, this is Mindy.” Kelly beamed, “I contacted Abby Rose and told her about your party and that you were using her recipes and ideas from her book.” She paused to catch her breath. “I suggested she should attend and use your party as a photo-op for marketing her new book.” “Oh my word,” Mindy held out her hand. “I don’t know what to say. Abby Rose, I’m honored to have you here. Thank you for coming.” A hint of a smile showed in Abby Rose’s jutting jawline, “The honor is mine, my dear.” She fingered the strand of pearls around her neck. “I know you don’t remember me, but we met many years ago at the county fair.” “I’m sorry; my memory’s not what it used to be.” She smiled. “I hope you don’t mind if Charles wanders around and takes pictures.” Mindy and Derrick posed with Abby Rose in various places as Charles snapped photos. “May I get you something to drink, Mrs. Carpenter?” Mindy asked. 60 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016

“That would be lovely, my dear. Water will be okay. I’m feeling a little flushed.” Abby Rose pulled at the collar of her blouse. Mindy didn’t think a bottle of water would be proper. She grabbed a crystal glass out of the china cabinet in the dining room. When she walked into the kitchen, she noticed the chickens perched on their beer cans. “Oh Lord, I forgot to put the chickens on the grill.” She stuck her head outside and motioned for Kelly to come in the house. “Please take Abby Rose this glass of water and entertain her while I put the chicken on the grill.” Kelly looked at the blender of margaritas. “I think I can one drink more.” She giggled. “I mean drink one more.” She refilled her margarita glass and carried the water to Abby Rose. Mindy took the beer can chickens outside and arranged them on the grill. Derrick walked up and hugged her. “Thank you for the surprise party. I’ll never forget it.” He kissed her forehead then joined the guys, laughing about something, by the pool. She spotted Kelly and Abby Rose sitting in the Adirondack chairs next to the oak tree. Kelly’s head leaned back on the chair, mouth wide open, snoring. Abby Rose’s hands lay folded in her lap, her chin resting on her chest. Mindy suppressed a laugh. She started toward them when she heard, BOOM, followed by two more, BOOM, BOOM. Bits of raw chicken rained through the air like confetti. Kelly jumped out of her chair. “What the hell?” Total silence filled the air, as though the world paused for a moment, then the backyard erupted with laughter. Mindy strode over to Kelly. “Kelly … did you pop the tops on the beer cans … before you put the chicken on them?” “You didn’t tell me to pop the tops.” They looked at the chicken plastered in each


other’s hair and burst out laughing. A quick glance around the yard showed everyone now sported chicken. Mindy laughed until she spotted Abby Rose, who remained motionless. Her chin, speckled with bits of chicken, still lay on her chest. Unable to move, Mindy’s mouth and eyes widened in horror. She twisted her hands in her hair. “Oh my God, I’ve killed her! I killed Abby Rose Carpenter with a chicken.” Kelly looked from Mindy to Abby Rose and back. “Can you go to jail for that? I mean, you didn’t tell me to pop the tops on the beers.” “Abby Rose?” Mindy took a step forward. “Are you okay?” “Mindy,” Kelly whispered. “We need to go inside and fix our hair. Charles is still taking pictures, and momma will kill me if they post my picture in the paper looking like this.” “Are you kidding me?” Mindy turned to Kelly. “Yes, I’m kidding. You look like you’re about to pass out, and I’m trying to help!” Derrick placed two fingers on the side of Abby Rose’s neck. He shook his head. That’s when everything went black. When Mindy opened her eyes, she was lying on the couch. Derrick sat beside her, holding her hand, and Kelly stood over her. Why are they looking at me like that? She stud-

ied Derrick. What’s that in his hair? “Mindy, honey, everything’s going to be okay.” Derrick patted her hand. “Yeah, Mindy,” Kelly giggled. “I bribed Charles not to post your picture in the newspaper.” Mindy covered her mouth, her voice just above a whisper, “I killed Abby Rose.” Derrick chuckled. “You didn’t kill her. The EMS said she passed away from a heart attack before the chickens exploded.” “I … didn’t … kill her?” “No, baby, Abby Rose is up entertaining the angels now.” Mindy remembered what Abby Rose had

Mindy, may your charming southern hospitality and parties of good taste be the talk of the town for now and future generations!

Abby Rose Carpenter

written in her book: Mindy laughed. This party will definitely be the talk of the town for a long, long time.

Jackie Stewart-Collins is a short story author and aspiring novelist. She lives in a small town in South Georgia with her husband, Tommy, and her Chihuahua, Pinkie-Lee. When she’s not writing, Jackie hosts estate sales and pursues her love of antiques and travel. She dreams of one day living and writing in a beach house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

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Poetry BY GEORGIA WRITERS

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Content

64

Dee Thompson Caroline Foretold

66

Andrea Rogers Dust of Cambridge

67

A'nji E. Black Today is Love

68

Valerie Smith Moon Rising Ocean

69

Val Mathews Appaloosa Girls

70

Carolyn Lawrence The Hands of our Mothers

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CAROLINE She sees the world slantwise; Taking cautious steps forward, then sideways, then not. Her face as plain as a potato, but more. Hands restless, wanting rubber bands or cigarettes or a piano. I see the world head-on, marching forward, slap up against it all, straight ahead, sterile, most often alone and wondering why. I cannot write poetry about her face, Lovely though it is, in its suffering and nakedness. In my mind I want to jump into a river, Her white limbs afloat beside me. Unexpected, unwanted, terrifying —Love washes over me. I wish I could love her like a lover but I cannot even utter words like that. I can only hope that we can drape ourselves in necklaces of words and punctuation, and long white pages, festooned with images of seahorses and mountain oceans. We bow down before the spirits of Sylvia and Emily— Truth, time, redemption—the weighty subjects. I cannot hold them with my flimsy clothespin words, yet Caroline juggles them as easily as balls of air. In another lifetime maybe we can be real friends or real lovers. Or maybe we can just avoid such depths of dark suffering. I will pray for us both to return stupid, my friend. Yes, that will solve everything.

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Dee Thompson

FORETOLD This moment. This is sacred. The old duct-taped box fan rattling to my left. The window on my right, awash in green treetops, Monet-blurry, because I hate wearing my glasses. I don’t care that the back of my garage-sale desk attracts haunted house dust. I don’t care that my dog sleeps on the old, pink quilt on my bed. My garden soothes me better than any store. The towering magnolia, pink azaleas, red cardinals. Glimpses of the fat moon above the white patio. Thank you Lord for the volunteer impatiens, blue hydrangeas, tomatoes, herbs. In ten years, I won’t be wrapping Mom’s swollen legs every morning, unwrapping them every night, helping her on with her old, blue nightgown. Picking up her medication, playing ragtime for her on the yellowed piano keys. Cooking her soft scrambled eggs and crispy toast. Ordering her cozy mystery books. Enlarging the font on her computer. In ten years I will most likely be alone. In five years, possibly. My boy most likely gone, off on his own adventures. My mom in heaven, with all our folks, a young matron again. I will miss Michael’s mama kisses before he heads to school. I will miss singing harmony with Mom, in the car. I will miss the stories of my long-dead dad. I dread the quiet, neat house I will have without those who make me crazy, holler for me, and love me. Today, though, Mom is here, and my boy, and my old house. Today I will find many small pleasures to savor. I will rub the velvety head of my hound dog. I will eat black beans and avocado. I will feel like singing with joy, seeing the cheerful red geraniums. Today is my gift to myself.

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Andrea Rogers

DUST OF CAMBRIDGE The decision to climb the tower is yours and yours alone. —Informational pamphlet, Great St. Mary’s Church The ringing chamber, at that hour, silent as the organ; that dark climb toward heights one scales when one has nothing left to weigh. How many years of dust are trapped inside that rotting staircase, remnants of skin and snow long since merging with the earth? How far does each donation go toward honoring the dead, tallow burning hands that met to pray, met, forsaking their own worth? Coming down those steps, I knew the feel of that eventual drop, a penny in the hat, the final tug of rope, tightening.

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A’nji E. Black

TODAY IS LOVE The Hearts-a-Bustin red pod’s open, seeds dangling waiting to find their way to rich soil by the base of the giant Oak or further away where ever the wind blows carefree and certain to find their place in the world Arrowwood points its way up up up towards the sky bound crown of the Red Maple. Squirrels dance and play on crunchy fall leaves under a sherbet and blue sky. And I, I lean against the trunk of a great White Oak, taking it all in. Ivy creeping close. Lovers lingering under yellowed Umbrella Magnolias. Pressing my body against layers of bark, its massive roots, wishing I could be as wild as Wild Ginger, explode into vibrant color like cold shocked leaves left naked to winter. Perfect.

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Valerie Smith

[THE OCEAN] MOON RISING It spends the day waiting under water: beneath the edge, the other side. It measures out the deep, perhaps. Fathoms to climb, breaks the surface. Then shadows night like a ghost ship. Its entrance veiled and catching fire. The black silk sky burns open. Slow to invade, the moon swells in. Stars bow and fade. Light casts a path on the midnight sea.

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shouldn’t embrace the night. Planting, growing shadows in a blue house mirage. Joining, plotting elements to gather and throw. Thirsting, tempting, death by excursion. shouldn’t play Marco Polo. Pitching baby lights across a pale playground. Charming, luring like line pulling tight into it. Lifting, shifting directions as if lost. shouldn’t be buoyant. No, it shouldn’t be true, balanced or endless. Soaking, beaming flecks skin deep. Casting back into the black, broken, a trail of edges. It shouldn’t be touching the sky like that.


Val Mathews

APPALOOSA GIRLS In early spring, Blue Mountain doesn't rush— Skates scrape and slice and scrape. Ice flies, freezing hats and mittens. Two Appaloosa girls jump to a halt where the pond converts to slush where the campfire roasted marshmallows just the night before. The cold burns galloping lungs and tears sting flying white faces while Mom's dinner bell clangs and clacks across the early blue night. The two Appaloosa girls race to cross winter's pond—old and lonely —just once more. Barbed wired fences rip and scar. Young blood soaks into blue jeans. Two Appaloosa girls jump to a halt where tufts of frozen grass crunch, where purple violets wait for another Pennsylvania summer. Noses snort and rub snot on coat sleeves under the Milky Way while chimney smoke swirls and collides deep in the Appalachians. The two Appaloosa girls pause to sniff winter's stars—cold and minty —just once more. Wood fire cracks and pops and cracks. Graces wolfed down, bread buttered, two Appaloosa girls jump to whisper. Coyote spotted in the apple orchard. Black bear in the old root cellar. Stories race in galloping forests, wolves howl again in the Appalachians while Mom rubs holy crosses onto foreheads and combs long manes. The two Appaloosa girls release little bedtime prayers—warm and light —just once more. Midnight falls on flowered nightgowns. One sister slumbers while the younger puffs on a stolen cigarette, flicks ash out the window, and cashes a wish for her last innocent summer —Just one more. In early spring, Blue Mountain doesn't rush to thaw. GeorgiaWriters.org | 69


instead they point out the failures of generations past, determined to cast blame where blame is not due. We forget their teachings, but do not forgive their ways. There is nothing which holds the water they cried for us, for you, for their own mothers who dug deep, but found the same

Carolyn Lawrence

THE HANDS OF OUR MOTHERS

The hands of our mothers dig deep into the earth, but we do not we do not, because we cannot. Our fingers do not bend as such

pointing, determining, ignorance in new growth. We can grow where we like, but refuse to put down roots, because we might get dirty. We can expand our green to the sky, soak up the goodness above but we complain about the heat, the giant ball of cancer in the sky which mutates the cells into malignant attitudes. This realm of our mothers, this world they claimed as theirs, does nothing for us, so we turn away. Each head of hair has turned away, hidden from the ancient goddess which resides in us all, because it does not accommodate the carpool lane. We struggle against the unknown force, to prove ourselves, to validate ourselves, away from the maternity which defined our foremothers. We don’t know who we are anymore, as we fight with ourselves in this united front, but we only agree that we don’t agree with how we live. Acceptance seems a far-gone ideal. Once, we roamed in bands together, bred together, fed together, were the center of the wilderness surrounding us, now we are the wilderness, the creatures on the prowl, defined by what we are not, instead of who we are. Labeled by our own right, instead of standing as one. Because labels allow us the freedom that we did not have. Labels allow the stratification of our worth, because I am only the label applied to me. You do not know what this label is like, so do not act as if you can sympathize with me. You are female genderless black white asexual queer native immigrant motherly childless not me. The hands of our daughters dig deep into the emptiness of the earth, beneath their feet, the cracking soil we once clung to for life, now bitch at for dirtying our new shoes, caking our eyes with particles of yesteryear. I did not ask for this memory, this arid desert on my dress, get it off, get it off … What once was lush, now decays faster than the spoilt milk fermenting in our breasts. We have forgotten what made us great, in order to find what makes us great.

70 | Exit 271 | Winter 2016


Dee Thompson holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. She is a published author of two books, and her essays have appeared in a number of anthologies. Dee has written play reviews for The Edge in Atlanta and has written various articles for the Internet and print. For more than ten years, she has blogged at The Crab Chronicles. She also writes for The Word Ocean, a blog for Southern poets. Andrea Rogers is a musician and Ph.D. Poetry student at Georgia State University, where she is an Advanced Teaching Fellow. She is the recent recipient of the poetry prize in the Agnes Scott's 44th Annual Writers' Festival contest, judged by Tracy K. Smith, and two Academy of American Poets awards. Previous poems appeared in Negative Capability Press' Georgia Poetry Anthology, Stone, River, Sky; Red Paint Hill's Mother is a Verb Anthology; Treehouse; and Odradek. Her band, Night Driving in Small Towns, has been featured in Rolling Stone and on NPR. A’nji E. Black is a published African-American author of “Life’s Epiphanies,” a collection of poetry set in the Atlanta area. She is an award-winning poet who hosts the “Cool Vibes~Smooth Scribes” community poetry open mic and hosts monthly “Artist Conversations” at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta. She is listed on Poets & Writers. Her website is A’nji Black. Valerie Smith is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Master of Arts in Professional Writing program at Kennesaw State University. She enjoys writing both poetry and creative nonfiction. Recent poetry has appeared in BlazeVOX15. Valerie is a member of the Georgia Writers Association and lives in Georgia. Val Mathews is an ex-commercial pilot, used to have a crush on a guy name Purple, and once ate an entire bag of Fig Newtons on a spontaneous road trip from New Orleans to Philadelphia. (She puked.) However, now she is a freelance editor, writer, and working artist. Recent artwork showed at ATHICA in Georgia. Her writing has appeared in The Story, Ginger Hill, and various online venues. You can find her online at valmathews.com “Writing is always like a road trip but without the figs and puke.” Carolyn Lawrence is an instructor of Humanities at Chattahoochee Technical College and a freelance writer and editor with Lawrence Creative Services. She holds a Masters in Humanities and a Doctorate in Education. She is also a guest geek blogger at the zany and fun TheBigBangLife.com, where you will usually find her expounding on literature and comic books. GeorgiaWriters.org | 71


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Exit 271 | Winter 2016

Winter 2016  

Twice a year, we bring you a motivational kick to get you writing more, publishing more, and living the writer’s life—Georgia style. Plus, w...

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