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A Derby Win by Carlton DeVooght

Last spring, I told my husband, Carlton, about a flash fiction writing contest that wanted stories about sports and romance, and he wrote this fun piece about the Kentucky Derby.  Then he endured my brutal edits, and we’re still happily married, but we won’t do that again. This Saturday is Derby Day, so I thought it was the right time to share it. I know you’re going to love it. 

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What a miserable day. As rays from the setting sun, pushed through the clouds, Clint raked his fingers through his wet hair, surveying the damage.

The torrential rain shower had drenched his new seersucker suit, leaving it transparent. His pink shirt shown through the white stripes in his jacket, making it look like someone had sloshed raspberry lemonade on him. Mud from the infield and a variety of spilled drinks had turned his once white Bucks into a Jackson Pollack work. The pathetic lemon bow tie dangled around his neck, warped by the hours of rainfall—Sinatra’s disdain was palpable.

With his shoulders hunched over and arms hanging limp, he began his walk of shame, his damaged sartorial goods were just the start.

Lori Anne had gushed over his invitation to join him at the Derby in his sought-after seats on the final turn. Her lack of depth reared itself when she abandoned him to join some celebrity’s posse in a box on the stretch. All he had left was the stack of plastic mint julep cups, commemorating the 143rd running of the roses—a pitiful trophy.

Under the shadow of the Churchill Downs’ Spires, he attempted to scan the crowd for his group. Instead he experienced a solar eclipse brought on by a gigantic emerald green hat covered in a cacophony of red roses and white feathers. The feathers swatting his nose tore the cap of politeness off, spewing his frustration and spiking his blood pressure.

He batted at the offending plumage. “Do you mind removing that thing, the race is over.”

The head under the hat snapped around. Her fiery eyes scorched everything in their path, searching for the offending party.

He straightened as her eyes bore down on him. His heart beat like the hooves of the racehorses. But he couldn’t pull his eyes away from her. The millinery framed long red curls and alabaster skin—an enchanting fury.

She arched an aristocratic brow. “See-through seersucker suit and an ugly bowtie don’t make you in charge of Derby fashion.”

Ouch. Harsh honesty that he deserved, but it still stung.

Dropping her gaze to his feet, she grimaced. “And what color Bucks are those?” She was leading down the stretch, giving a final glower to push her over the finish line. “Certainly not white.” She smirked, daring him to respond.

But that’d be a mistake driven by impulse. Instead he’d do the gentlemanly thing and admit defeat. He tugged on his labels, rocking back on his heels. “Forgive me ma’am. It’s been a long day, and I’ve lost a lot more than the original color of these shoes.”

She tilted her head to the side, pursing her lips. Through narrowed eyes, she studied him. His mea culpa had either touched a suppressed nerve of empathy or simply confused her.

“Humility is not something I often find in Kentucky men.” Was that a hint of pity in her jade eyes? At this point, he’d take it.

She smiled sweetly. “Your stab at dapper may have failed, but there appears to be something attractive underneath those fancy clothes.”

Sighing, she flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Did your horse lose too?”

“Apparently, my horse didn’t like the mud.” He showed her his losing ticket from the betting window.

She tapped the ticket. “That’s ’cause you bet on the seventeen horse, and no horse has ever won from that slot. If you don’t have a horse running, best odds are on five or ten.” She tilted her head, blocking the sun with her green headgear of sinamay and feathers. “Or you could pick the horse wearing the prettiest silks like I did.” She winked—a font of Derby knowledge.

He shrugged. “Wish I’d talked to you three hours ago.”

She tossed him a smile.

Heat surged over his face. His impulse moves were winless so far, but why not try another. He wiped his hand on his soaked trousers and extended it. “Name’s Clinton Tanner, but please call me Clint.”

Despite his damp hand, she clasped it, firm and steady. “Mary-Brighton.” This was not a normal filly. She was special, and not afraid to race with the colts.

“Don’t suppose you’d like to get out of here and have a drink with me.” He tried his lopsided grin.

She nodded towards his trophy. “As long as it doesn’t include bourbon.” She hooked her hand around his arm.

A winning day after all and his odds were looking better for post time at the Preakness.

 

The St. Simons Island Trilogy by Eugenia Price

We often take for granted the treasures in our own backyard. At least that is true for me, I lived on St. Simons Island all my life and didn’t climb to the top of the lighthouse until I was a volunteer for my daughter’s first-grade field trip. Sometimes I felt my husband, a newcomer but a history fan, knew more about the local lore than I did. While visiting the Island last summer, I took my children on a trolley tour as research for the Flash Fiction piece I was writing. As I write more and more about St. Simons Island for my contemporary fiction novels, I find myself looking at my hometown from an entirely different light. I even acquired a detailed street map from the visitor’s bureau because as a native, I didn’t know some of the street names. We always just knew where we were going.

As part of my self-education of St. Simons Island History, I decided to read Eugenia Price’s St. Simons Island trilogy. Although the books are historical fiction, I think they are more fact than fiction. The stories of the families who founded St. Simons Island from just after the Revolutionary War to Post-Civil War days created a new appreciation for both local history and national history. If you live on the Island and have not read these books, I highly recommend them. You will recognize the names of our neighborhoods, streets, and parks. If you are interested in Southern History, I also think you would enjoy these books.

The first book, The Lighthouse, is the story of James Gould and starts in New England. An extra benefit for me was the mention of a town in Maine that Carlton and I visited last summer. James Gould arrives in the South and is a successful tree farmer before he makes his way to St. Simons Island where he builds the first Lighthouse and becomes a cotton farmer.

The second book, New Moon Rising, is the story of James Gould’s son Horace. After being removed from a Northern school, Horace returns to the South and after a lengthy detour in New Orleans, he finds his way back to St. Simons Island. His story explores many issues surrounding the Civil War.

The third book which was actually the first book Price wrote in the series is The Beloved Invader. This book is the story of Anson Dodge and Anna Gould, Horace’s daughter. Anson Dodge rebuilt Christ Church Frederica after the Union soldiers destroyed it during the Civil War.

Before writing fiction, Eugenia Price wrote many non-fiction Christian works. She was born in Charleston, West Virginia and worked in Chicago, Illinois in radio soap-opera programming. She then went on to write a number of books on Christian Living and devotionals. She wrote fourteen historical novels. Some of the others are set in other parts of the Coastal Georgia and North Florida. Isn’t it funny how an outsider can provide such insight on the ordinary things of our lives?

As much as the history of St. Simons Island interested me, what I adored most was Price’s descriptions of the Island—the plants, trees, beaches, rivers, and marshes. The places of my life. We should all take time to notice and enjoy the world around us, and the magnificence of God’s creation. I hope in this new year, you slow down and experience how beautiful our world is in whatever place you call home.

Never too Late for Love – Flash Fiction by Leslie DeVooght

Is it ever too late for love? Are we ever too old too fall in love? I don’t think so. So often, we leave romance stories for the young, but this month my flash fiction is about a couple finding love later in life. I hope you enjoy Never too Late for Love, and hopefully, you will be able to read the rest of Thomas and Evelyn’s story when my first book is published. Evelyn is one of my favorite characters, so I may share more of her in future posts. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

With her tennis racquet swinging by her side, Evelyn skipped across the parking lot to the Island Club pro shop. More like a school girl than the fifty-five-year-old spinster she was. With all hope of love buried in her past and given up on in her future, she’d met Thomas. God sure did have a sense of humor. Warmth filled her.

Thomas seemed to like her, but did he treat all his tennis students this way? Maybe, but maybe not, and a girl could dream. Her numerical age might not describe her as a girl, but the tingles that ran up her arms when he helped her with her serve, sure left her as giddy as one.

Evelyn inhaled and breathed out slowly, placing her hand on the door handle. Hopefully, the warmth of her cheeks would pass as youthfulness. She opened the door and stepped into the shop, gliding to the counter to sign in for her lesson.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Spencer. Thomas said to let you know that your lesson will be with Judy today.” Lainey bobbed her head to the music emanating from her phone.

Evelyn’s heart dropped like one of her serves that didn’t quite cross the net. She gripped the edge of the counter. “Are you certain? There must be a mistake. He didn’t say anything to me. Please check again.” She pursed her lips.

“Yep.” She shrugged. “Like, don’t shoot the messenger.”

Evelyn dropped her head and turned.

“Wait. I just saw this note on the schedule.”

Evelyn’s heart skittered as she glanced over her shoulder.

Lainey waved a fluorescent-yellow sticky note. How had she missed that—flighty girl. “It says for you to stop by Thomas’s office before your lesson.”

Evelyn chewed her lip as she walked down the hall. Maybe he just had a conflict. Surely, he wouldn’t dump her before they’d even gone out. What had happened at the last lesson that would have caused him to assign her to Judy? They’d sat on the bench and talked for over an hour. Maybe he was bored the whole time, but he’d laughed, and when it was time to leave, he walked her to her car, guiding her with his hand on her back.

She huffed. She was too old for this emotional roller coaster. Maybe working with Judy was for the best. She slid around the door, twisting the racquet in her hand. Thomas hunched over his desk, reading a magazine. It didn’t look like he had a conflict. Click here to read the rest of the story.

The Writing Marathon

Writing a book is like running a half-marathon, or at least it was for me. It takes months of daily work, but once you complete either, you know you can do it again. Confidence comes with crossing the finish line. But you can’t finish if you never start. Since I made my writing career public, people tell me all the time that they want to write. I used to be one of those people, so how did I get to be the kind of person who has completed three books? A lot of work—a lot of prayer—some laughs—a few goosebumps—and more tears than you can imagine.

When I was in high school, college, and law school, I would start writing a book, complete about three pages, and then find something easier to do with my spare time, but I never stopped reading novels. Besides saving me from dreams about res ipsa loquitor, it helped me discover the kind of books I would want to write and learn from successful authors. I think that reading is essential to writing, so even if you don’t think you’re ready to write today, be sure you keep reading—maybe jot down your favorite plots or great lines. (See you’re writing already.)

My first story came to me on a run, it poured out of some place in the back of my brain. I dashed home, and stood, dripping sweat onto the first spiral notebook I could find as I wrote the outline. It took me another year to write my first draft because I was working two part-time jobs as a lawyer and a judge, raising three kids, and serving as PTA president. I only say that because most people say they can’t write because they are too busy.

Friends, you will always be too busy unless you decide to carve out the time. But give yourself grace, you don’t have to write the whole book in one month. I heard one author say, he wrote his first book, only writing on Saturdays for a year. Another author suggests writing one page a day, and by the end of the year, you will have written 365 pages. (By the way, that’s longer than any book I’ve written.) One of my favorite suggestions is from author Allie Pleiter in her book, The Chunky Method Handbook. She says to write one index card a day.

Here are some of my suggestions. Write an outline or a synopsis that you can work from but don’t be surprised when your characters take you on a different journey. Try to write one scene a day. I also like to keep a scene idea file on my computer if I know I’m going to write a story about something specific. Recently, I printed my scene file for a Christmas book and realized, all I needed to do was throw the scenes together into order to write the book. (Sounds easy, right? I’m still on the first chapter.)

Always, always, always have a notebook with you to jot down ideas. You never know when inspiration is going to hit, and if you’re like me, I’ll forget that brilliant line about five minutes later. Sometimes I have my children or husband write down lines, while I’m driving. (Don’t ask what I do when I’m driving alone.) On that note, put a recording app on your phone, so you can “write” and drive safely. Schedule a time to write—it could be fifteen minutes or two hours, but schedule it like you would an important meeting.

Remember you are merely writing a rough draft. You don’t have to show it to anyone, and I don’t really recommend that. (Remember my first book—well it is still on the shelf, waiting for a major edit, and this week I will be doing the fifth or sixth edit on my current novel.) You will need some major editing. It is all part of the process, but more about that next month. I plan to post writing tips once a month, so get your index cards, schedule some time, and come back for more tips. After two years of reading craft books, I am overflowing with knowledge I would love to share with you.

In the meantime, here are five of my favorite writing craft books:

  • The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
  • Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass
  • Goal, Motivation, and Conflict – Debra Dixon
  • Deep Point of View – Marcy Kennedy
  • Write a Novel in a Month – Jeff Gerke

© Leslie DeVooght 2017

Flash Fiction: The Superhero of Short Stories

 As many of you know, my first Flash Fiction piece will be published this month in Spark magazine, an imprint of Splickety Publications. But you may have wondered: What’s Leslie up to? I thought she was writing a novel, and what’s this flash fiction business? I am currently editing my book, but flash fiction is a way to write something short and get published. I think you will enjoy reading these stories.

With my story coming out soon, I wanted to take a minute to explain what flash fiction is and why you should read it. (Later this month, I will be posting a blog by one of my friends about writing flash fiction, so this is for the readers.) Flash fiction is defined as a complete story written in between 700-1000 words, so no more excuses about not having time to read. It is quick and fulfilling—escape for a few minutes. If I know some of you, your favorite part of English class was studying short stories. Well, these are even shorter—saved by Flash Fiction! They can be in any genre from speculative to romance, so you can find something that interests you. Like my full-length books, my story is a romance set in the Golden Isles of Georgia, but it takes place on Jekyll Island and is historic so a slight departure for me.

There are websites and magazines filled with these very short stories. Splickety offers a free online subscription and a blog that posts more stories. Now, who doesn’t love getting something for free. For all you folks who like to hold it in your hands, you can order a hard copy of the magazine. Here’s the link: http://splickety.com/ . This month’s issue will be out soon, so hop on over and sign up. You won’t be disappointed. What do you have to lose? It’s free and easy.

I will be posting a new flash fiction story the first week of each month on this website, so I hope you’ll come back next month and check it out or sign up for my blog. (also, free! Yay!) Of course, this will require story ideas, and I would love some help. They will be romances because that’s what I do. What characters would you like to see tossed together? Interesting setting ideas or scenarios—leave a comment. I can’t wait to hear your ideas.

© 2017 LeslieDevooght