The Importance of the Right Beta-Reader

little boy holding book with surprised expression
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Getting the feedback you need

I knew what beta testing was, but I never knew there was such a thing as “beta readers” until I really dove into the writing world online. Editors I got, proof-readers made sense. But I didn’t know there was this whole other animal that would read your book and provide that esoteric feedback that included the intangibles you really needed.

And I didn’t realize that it mattered so much who those animals were.

My experience

My first round of beta-readers seemed diverse. I assumed that was a good thing. One was my friend who was also a no-nonsense English teacher. Who better to beta read than a literature-lover? I also gave my manuscript to an avid reader whose book favorites included my genre. She isn’t a writer, but she is detail-oriented and honest. I asked a poet friend to read. I love her poetry, and I knew she’d be willing to read my writing. Finally, I asked a friend who spent lots of time editing other’s writing, helping students with college essays. And, since the psychology of the characters is a big part of the story, I thought her psychological and therapy experience would be beneficial.

Now let me say that each of these people is wonderful, and I greatly appreciated their willingness to spend time reading my stuff. And while I knew them all, I also trusted their honesty.

They all read, and they all made comments. Many of the comments had to do with typos or wording issues, things I expected to see due to my own inability to see my own errors at times. You know, when you write it, you know what it is supposed to say, so that is how you read it. At least I do.

One of them peppered the manuscript with encouraging remarks and occasional questions, mostly questions like “is this what you meant when you said x?” Another dissected the meanings behind the words, and we had phone conversations about what a character might be thinking, how a past that wasn’t on the page might impact them, etc.

I got some good feedback, to be sure. I felt pretty confident about things when I decided to submit my pages for beta readers on a fairly intense Facebook writer’s page.

Wowza.

Two of the beta readers left a copious amount of comments. I mean, I was both amazed and chagrined by the feedback. There were highlights everywhere and feedback that sometimes ran to two paragraphs with suggested edits. And as one of them made the same couple of comments over and over, I realized something…

Finding the right beta readers is crucial if you want to get the feedback your novel needs. The feedback that fits your story.

Two of the people who were beta readers in the second round were published fiction authors, and one of them wrote crime/suspense like I do. And their feedback was gold.

I learned an important lesson, several actually. And I’ll share those below.

What I learned

I first used:

  • A friend who loves to read
  • An English teacher
  • A psychologist who also used to edit and proof papers, college essays, etc.
  • A friend who writes primarily poetry

I think it is fine to use people like the above for that first glance. The glance where you need to know, “Is there anything even here? Does it have potential?”

However, without appearing ungrateful or judgmental, here are some problems that came to light when I had the second round of betas.

  • Lots of people love to read. I love to read, and I read a variety of genres. It’s like my music. I listen to and sing a variety of genres as well. Part of the reason I do that is to avoid sounding like another singer. As a writer, while it’s okay to emulate some things, I need my own voice as well. If all I read is Nora Roberts, I’m going to sound like Nora Roberts. She sounds great, but there is already one of her. The best feedback I can get from an avid reader friend is whether or not he/she would read my story. It’s valuable, but it isn’t beta reading.
  • I am reading Janice Hardy’s Understanding Show, Don’t Tell. I’m reading it because I have a told prose problem. And Janice Hardy helped me to understand a bit of why with this paragraph:

Writing styles evolve and change, and reader taste changes with them. One of the more obvious ways is how we handle show, don’t tell. A hundred years ago, books were filled with told prose and heavy passages of description. Books written as recently as a few decades ago can feel dated and stale to today’s readers. The more visual we’ve become as a society, the more shown we expect our books to be.

My English teacher friend is brilliant, but she spends her days teaching Austen, Shakespeare, Lee, and other classics. She is steeped in told prose and poetry, and that is how she thinks. It is also how I think, as a lover of the classics and English minor myself. So again, she can tell me whether the story has good bones and is interesting, but my nemesis — show don’t tell — will slip by her as well.

  • My psychologist friend thinks deeply about every thought, word, and interaction. I love our friendship. However, I often need to choose my own words carefully because she is hyper-aware of the exact meaning of one word over another. She is highly introspective and analytical about behavior and motives. Since I tend to have my characters navel-gaze too much, this is a rabbit hole that can bury me. No, I do not think writing should clobber the reader with a hammer. However, it also can’t be so subtle that no one gets it.
  • I am a poet at heart. Poetry has always been how I express and sometimes camouflaged those really deep feelings. I love imagery and beautifully crafted words and phrases. Symbolism gets my motor running. Sadly, in commercial and modern fiction, this violates everything from “show, don’t tell,” to Stephen King’s assertion that adverbs are evil. Writing fiction like a poet is not going to impress a reader who watches Criminal Minds reruns.

The summary: I chose beta readers who loved words but were immune to my biggest writing weaknesses.

Here’s what I needed:

  • Someone in or near my genre
  • Both genders
  • Strangers
  • A writing “opposite” — i.e. I’m a navel-gazing introspective world-lover. I need an action-oriented, visual, starker beta.

I unashamedly admit I write this novel to see it published. not self-published, picked up by an agent and published by a publisher. I’ve done the self-publishing thing. I’m ready for the traditionally “real” thing. True, I have had 3 books published by a publisher. But those were during a naughty phase under a pen name, so they really don’t count anymore (smile).

So here’s what I learned from the second round of beta-readers…

  • Show, don’t tell. You may have deduced by now that I have a problem with this. Part of it is my job. I “tell” for a living, even though I write training. It’s the interactivity I create that “shows.” The text and/or narration “tells.” When you spend 40 hours a week telling, you must learn to compartmentalize your writing styles. The other part is my overly romantic love of pretty words. I’m not Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and this isn’t 1890. Gotta change with the times.
  • Action, action, action. We all know actions speak louder than words. I have to learn that actions speak louder than feelings in writing. One of the reasons marriage counselors don’t advise resolving conflict over text messaging is because the text doesn’t account for inflection, body language, tone, and expression. neither does prose. If I want someone to hang up the phone angrily, I need to have them “slam down the phone” or “swipe the call off and throw the phone across the room.”
  • Stop with the long paragraphs. I do this sometimes here too. I love William Faulkner, and I inherited a bit of his disease. I love long, complex sentences, and my paragraphs are giant blocks. Boo. Short paragraphs, each focusing on a single character, are the rule of the day, especially in my genre.
  • Dialog tags. I admit I read conflicting advice on this. However, I’m really good at establishing who is saying what at the beginning of a conversation. I don’t have to do it with every phrase. And yes, I hear you, Mr. King. No adverbs unless I might die without them. And even then…
  • Toss out the stuff everyone already knows. One great comment I received was about the flight attendant instructions we all hear before the plane begins it’s journey. “Ladies and gentlemen, blah blah blah.” We all know what they say, at least the gist. Just say “Celia dozed as the attendant droned on about safety…”
  • You don’t have to list every step of a process. For example, picking up a briefcase, pulling out an envelope, closing the briefcase, putting it under the seat. Yeesh. Just say “Celia pulled out a brown envelope before sliding her briefcase under the seat.” We all know what the steps are. No, I didn’t actually list all those steps, but I listed more than were necessary.
  • The best feedback I got was from a man who writes crime novels. Whether we want to believe it or not, the typical man writes differently from the typical woman. I’m not going to cite multiple studies. All one has to do is read a few mainstream novels by each gender. If I could afford it, I’d hire him to stand behind me and yell, “Show, don’t tell!” and “New paragraph!”

I learned so much from the second round of feedback, I felt as if I had taken a writing class. Right now I have the feedback from two beta readers open on one monitor and my manuscript open on the other. I’m going comment by comment and re-writing. I can already see how much better the story is.

A bit of advice

If you are writing or have written a novel, you’re probably going to need beta-readers. You may already understand the process better than I did, but if not, I’ll close with a little advice.

  1. Join a group of quality writers. This second round of beta readers all came from a group I am a part of that is part of a class I am taking. It costs money, but so far it has been worth every penny, and I’m a cheapskate. The members of this group regularly assist each other.
  2. Give to get. This round of beta reading involved volunteering to read. For every person who volunteered to read your stuff, you had to volunteer to read someone else’s. If you only had time to read three, then you only get three readers. Beta-reading is a skill, so it gave me a chance to build mine.
  3. Strangers are better. I know I know, you’re college roommate is a teacher. Or maybe your college roommate has written three books. If she was a bridesmaid at your wedding, that means you were friends (or still are), and she won’t be completely objective. You need complete objectivity.
  4. Try to identify your weaknesses. I got lucky. My two best beta readers excel where I am weak. That has been so valuable. If you struggle with dialog, find a reader who does it well. If you are addicted to adverbs, find someone who hates them. My best voice teacher in college was the one who told me to stop singing the way I sang in church. I auditioned with a song everyone else loved. She sighed and said, “We have a lot of work to do.” She was right.
  5. If you’re a he, find a she. And vice-versa. The crime writing male who beta read my pages uses short paragraphs and action-packed, fast-paced sentences. It was almost jarring for this pretty poet to read at first. But it works. And I need that to rub off on me a bit. Let’s face it, if our novel appeals to both genders, we have basically doubled our potential market.
  6. Save every comment. I saved a PDF of each document with comments. I plan to consolidate them at some point as a list of checkpoints to use with all my stories until the lessons have sunk into my brain sufficiently. Just like I did exercises to raise my soft palate in order to hit the high notes with more resonance. Just like I practiced conducting with a podium so my “ichthus” would be at the same level with every beat. Practice makes perfect.

I hope my experience and the comments and ramblings help you as you write. We’re all in this storytelling together.

Enjoying the Madness

Figuring out what to do and how to do it after THE MANUSCRIPT is finished feels a little like rolling dice. But not just any dice. I mean multiply-sided dice reminiscent of the dice my kids use to play dungeons and dragons. One of those suckers has twenty sides! I mean, I think my crime suspense story of two sociopaths is great, but how do I convince someone who will say, “I must have it! Give it to me now, and I will trumpet it from the publishing rooftops!”

The Fiddler on the Roof-esque image I just had in my head

Luckily for me, Facebook stalks and analyzes my business, and I clicked on a link that took me to a five day course for Pitch Madness, an event on Twitter where you can tweet three pitches, pray, do a rain dance, and click your heels together…and maybe an agent will give you a heart. A heart means you can send them a query because they were interested in what they read in the pitch.

I dove in, absorbed everything I could, forced my husband to read endless pitches, and decided to approach this the way I approached auditioning for The Voice.

Yes, I auditioned for The Voice. Twice. Here’s what happens: You sign up to audition and pick afternoon or morning. You and several thousand other people arrive at the venue, ticket in hand, and wait. And wait. And then you…wait. Finally, you and 9 new friends walk into a room with ten chairs and a judge (not Adam Levine, sorry!). Each of you steps up to a piece of tape, sings for exactly 45 seconds, and sits back down. Then you go home or get a red ticket.

No one got a red ticket either of the times I auditioned. Someone did the math, and your chance of getting a red ticket is around 0.05%. So while not getting a ticket was a bummer, it isn’t unexpected.

I decided that it was highly UNlikely I would get a heart, and I posted my first tweet. I forced myself to do actual work at my office and not stalk Twitter. An hour or so later I took a deep breath, swigged a double shot of Coke Zero, and peeked.

Oh. My. Gosh. I had a heart from an agent. I made a strange whooping and laughing sound that had my neighbor checking on me. He’s a little used to me singing occasionally or scolding the technology when it misbehaves, but this was different. I tweeted my other pitches. No more hits. Then, probably thanks to some wonderful re-tweeter, I got another heart from an agent. BAZINGA!

So what do I do now? Well, I wrote a query letter, which I have not truly done since 2012. I thought I hadn’t done it since 2008, but then I remembered the books my alter-ego wrote. Those books were published, but the stakes are higher now. This isn’t a dabble – this is my baby, albeit a murdering, sociopathic baby.

I also am to include the first X number of manuscript pages. This means that even though I have read it and tweaked things and had others read it and such, I wanted to do it again, just to be sure. I’m receiving notifications as we speak from Google docs with comments from a very nice but extremely HONEST editor.

So this Thursday, I’ll have to stock up on more courage and Coke Zero again so that I can press “send” a second time. I’m crossing fingers and toes. I tried eyes, but that makes it hard to type.

We’ll see! Either way, the journey has begun, and I will keep driving no matter what. Thanks ever so much to Kathy Ver Eecke for the education and motivation!

My Latest Book Is Available Now!

I am excited to announce that my latest book, a book of poetry, lyrics, and photography, is now available on Amazon! The theme of this book is renewal and restoration, moving on from the past to a bright future. Spring is a month away, and just as nature renews itself each year, we can be renewed as well.

The book is available as an Ebook, in black and white paperback, and in color. Links for ordering can be found below:

Color Photography Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084Z4FZ21/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=scarred+like+new&qid=1582228357&s=books&sr=1-2

Black and White Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Scarred-Like-New-Poetry-Lyrics/dp/B084QLCYRP/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=scarred+like+new&qid=1582228357&s=books&sr=1-1

EBook: https://www.amazon.com/Scarred-Like-New-Poetry-Lyrics-ebook/dp/B084QG5G8C/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1582228357&sr=1-1

I’m excited about these verses and the hope I believe they can bring to your heart. In addition, I believe you’ll love the gorgeous photos nature allowed me to include. There is beauty in being made new.

Episode 11: A MuddyUm Associated Press Special Report

Image from Unsplash

This week, we have a special episode of the Words from the River podcast, featuring an array of writers for the MuddyUm publication on medium.com. You can find the publication HERE.

Each of the writers who have contributed to this podcast write a variety of great work across Medium, from humor, to fiction, to poetry and more. Please click the names of each writer below to check out their work. And remember, when you Medium before December 31st and send me your username, you’ll be entered into the drawing for a 50.00 prize!

All voice-over is performed by Laurie Nave

Featured MuddyUm Writers

Susan Brearley
Shelly McIntosh
Lee Serpa Azevado
Gwenna Laithland
Lisa Tomey
Christina Ward
Lisa Bolin
JimmyWayne Ford

Click the play button to listen on this page. Uploading of audio file may take a few minutes.

Episode 11

Episode 10: Christina Ward

Click to listen on Spotify, Google Podcasts, PocketCasts, Anchor and RadioPublic

Christina Ward, Author

Her writing, rich with imagery, nature themes, and raw analysis of human nature, has been published in the Cameo, the Arrowhead, Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine, Vita Brevis Press, on her WordPress blog: Fiddleheads & Floss, as well as in various publications on Medium.

Awards include the 2004 Arrowhead Prose Award at Catawba College. She has just released her latest book, Organic, which is available on Amazon.



I am very excited this week to present Christina Ward, author and poet.

Christina is a poet and nature writer from the beautiful state of North Carolina. She studied Environmental Science and creative writing at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina.

You can find her work on her Amazon author page here: https://www.amazon.com/Christina-M-Ward/e/B081S8RRTC/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

You can find Christina on Medium here: https://writingcooperative.com/@fnfwriter

Click here to read “A World Without Butterflies”: https://medium.com/fiddleheads-floss/a-world-without-butterflies-199ca87352ef

Full Episode, may take a few minutes to upload



Music from podcast by Jack Binkerd. You can find him here on Spotify. Check him out!

Top Ten Bannable Christmas Carols

Keeping Christmas Safe for All

The Top Ten Bannable Christmas Carols

Keeping Christmas safe for all: satire

Image from Pixabay

We all love holiday music. Some people love it so much they start playing it in October, which of course makes them sociopaths. However, there are some Christmas songs that just should not be part of a woke society. I get it, our ancestors were insensitive and clueless. And you know, okay boomers, including Bing Crosby. Oh wait, he was the silent generation or something. Point is, I have assembled a list of songs that should be banned this year. If you are a person of any value and conscience, you’ll agree.

10. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:

Don’t tell me how to feel. Seriously. If I want to have a Merry Christmas, I will. If I don’t it’s none of your stinking business, mkay? You are not the boss of me or my feelings. How dare you be so invalidating and glib. My feelings are mine. Ever heard of empathy, bub??

9. Jolly Old St. Nicholas:

We don’t really know how North Pole Magic works, but the assumption that Santa is old is ageism at its finest. Why does age matter? Why he hafta be old?? And what’s with the whole “lean your ear this way” line? Just because someone may be in the latter half-century of life doesn’t mean he’s deaf. What? Was that an apology — speak up, I can’t hear you!

8. Santa Clause Is Coming to Town:

Children are autonomous beings. They can decide for themselves how they want to behave and when they want to go to bed and whether or not to brush their teeth. To hold Santa’s impending arrival over their heads to manipulate decent human behavior is just plain extortion. You have no right to make their choices for them, you know, about whether or not to wear a seatbelt, eat that sweet-smelling liquid under the sink, or cross a busy street. Oh wait, maybe there are things children aren’t old enough to decide…BUT ANYWAY, don’t use Santa to extort them!

7. Little Drummer Boy:

This song triggers me. I am about to share an individual anecdote meant to either sway you or imply you have no feelings. I wanted to play the drums when I decided to join the school band. I played the flute instead. My mom didn’t think playing the drums was ladylike. Who says it has to be a drummer boy? Why are the only people mentioned visiting Jesus men? Couldn’t there be a drummer girl? PATRIARCHY!

6. Winter Wonderland:

This one is insidious in the way it draws you in with promises of sleigh bells ringing and children playing. But listen carefully, and you’ll hear it. The glorification of the oppressive institution of marriage. They build a snowman, and he comes to life as a parson. Never mind the fact that him being a religious figure is offensive. He asks the couple if they are married, then insists on performing a ceremony. As if marriage is a foregone conclusion. This should insult everyone, from those who hate the word submit to the MGTOW crowd who have found the comfort of blaming women for their dysfunction. There’s enough triggering in this one to reduce the entire population to jello. Seriously, just stop the madness.

5. White Christmas:

Well, DUH…not touching this one with a ten-foot Festivus pole!

4. Happy Holidays

This one is just dripping with PC snowflake ideology. I mean, everyone knows that the only holiday ever celebrated in December is the springtime birth of the baby Jesus, right? And if you, a friendly WalMart cashier trying to feed her family say “Happy Holidays” to me as I pay for my Operation Christmas Child items, I’ll tear you a new one in the name of the Lord. Get thee behind me, lefty! And don’t forget Jesus loves you, you jerk!

3. Joy to the World:

The Constitution guarantees the right to separation of church and, well, everything. Oh wait, you mean that isn’t in the Constitution? Know it all! My point still stands. I don’t want to hear about the birth of some lord I don’t even believe in, much less feel joy about it. Do I have to say it again: stop freaking telling me how to feel! And keep your magic sky fairy and his kid where the sun don’t shine. Peace, bro.

2. We Three Kings:

Let me unpack this one. First of all, why were only the elite allowed to travel to see Jesus? Way to elevate the 1% yet again. And who made these guys kings anyway? Some watery tart lobbing a scimitar? It certainly wasn’t democracy! And spare me the bit about the shepherds. We all know they were only there because they happened to be nearby. PR tokens, that’s what they were. Oh, and can somebody resurrect the guy who wrote these lyrics and tell him “orient” is not the appropriate word here? I literally can’t even.

1. Christmas Shoes:

This one seems sweet, and that’s the problem. It draws you in with its simple story, and then it subjects you to all manner of emotional trauma and deadly blood sugar spikes. I’m supposed to be enjoying my eggnog and secret company party makeout session over here, and you’re gonna toss in some kind of complete psychological wreckage about a little girl trying to buy shoes for her dying mother? And that drawl. Oh lordy, help us all. Please put this song out of its universal misery.

Please distribute this list as widely as possible so we can stamp out these passe tunes of a lesser time. By the way, this call to action is obviously as satirical as the article, for those in the back 😉

If you enjoy sarcasm and humor, and you don’t want to punch the author in the face right now, you might enjoy these other pieces by Laurie Nave, the writer, musician, instructional designer, wife, and mom whose inner turmoil causes bursts of laughter and ranting.

Five Holiday Sweaters You Need This Year
A MuddyUm listiclemedium.com

Alumni Association Initiates Fundraiser for Infant Photo Rights
from the Magnolia News Network, an affiliate of MAPmedium.com

Kevin’s Perfect Gift

Image from Pixabay

They agreed on a $200 spending limit. It was one of the most generous limits Julie and Kevin had imposed in their 15 year marriage. Julie was determined to spend it well. And it was time to begin shopping – today. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be done by Christmas.

“Good to see you again, Mrs. Dillard,” Joey, the Publix cashier interrupted her thoughts.

“You too Joey. Are you done with exams?”

“Yes ma’am. I got all A’s.”

“That’s great! See, I told you chemistry wouldn’t ruin your GPA.”

Joey smiled as he scanned groceries. “Thanks, Mrs. D. That’s $47.08. Do you need help getting it to your car?”

“No thanks, I got it. You have a Merry Christmas, Joey.”

As Julie walked to her car, she noticed a man sitting on a bench at the bus stop. She’d seen him there before with his rusty grocery cart. He wasn’t actually waiting for a bus. It was more likely he was seeking shelter from the cold drizzle. Julie placed her groceries in the trunk of her car, and then she walked toward him.

“Hello, sir,” Julie said shyly.

“Hi there, Miss.” He smiled a toothless smile. “You waiting on a bus? I can get out of your way…”

“Oh no, I’m fine. I just…” Julie wasn’t sure what to say. “Well, do you like burgers?”

“Yes, Miss, I sure do.”

“Well, you see, someone gave me this Milo’s hamburgers gift card. And I don’t really eat hamburgers. I thought maybe, would you be interested? I’d hate for it to go to waste.”

The man smiled more widely. “Why bless you, miss. I sure would.”

“Good,” Julie handed him the card. “I’m glad.” She watched him pull his ratty blanket tighter against a gust of wind. “Are you sure you’ll be warm enough here?”

“Oh, I’ll be fine. And now I can go get me some coffee and a hamburger.” He offered a calloused hand. “My name’s Jefferson, Miss. Jefferson Hamilton. My mama liked president names,” he smiled.

“Nice to meet you, Jefferson. I’m Julie. You have a nice day.”

The house was quiet as Julie put up her groceries. It was the first Saturday of the month, and that meant hunting. Kevin always looked forward to hunting weekends, and cold drizzle, even the promise of snow, never deterred him from holing up in a deer stand with his life long friend Stuart. Julie never understood how freezing one’s toes off looking for Bambi could be fun. Especially when she could hibernate inside with her coffee and Hallmark movies.

As Julie lounged in Kevin’s recliner under a quilt, the predictable story unfolded on the screen. He was a country boy, and she was back home taking care of family business. They’d dated and broken up in high school, but the spark was still there. They were about to kiss when a commercial interrupted to build the suspense that no one felt.

“Tonight at 6:00, the New Leash dog shelter is asking for your help. They are out of room, and they need you to adopt a dog before Christmas. Who could resist these adorable faces?”

Julie look at the array of dogs on the screen and shook her head. Kevin was dying to get a dog. Whenever one of those commercials aired, he was the one with puppy dog eyes, trying to sway Julie. Dogs were messy, though. And they shed and barked and pooped. They didn’t have time for a dog.

The phone rang, and Julie muted the television. It was Pam. Sighing, Julie also paused the movie. There was no such thing as a short conversation with Pam.

“Oh Julie, I hope I’m not interrupting anything. I was just wondering if you had heard about the Lewis family.”

“No, I haven’t. What’s going on?”

“Well, you know Suzanne has been worried about Ashley their oldest. She’s had that awful flu thing. Turns out she has leukemia. They found out yesterday.”

“Oh no,” Julie sat in a kitchen chair. “They must be devastated.”

“Oh I know they are. And you know, since David is self employed, their insurance is it the greatest. I’m going to call Pastor Tom and see if we can get a collection started.”

“That’s a great idea,” Julie smiled. Pam might be a chatterbox but she had a big heart after about 20 minutes of conversation, Julie hung up the phone and resumed the movie. Halfway through the second special, Julie fell asleep

On Monday after work, Julie decided to stop by Macy’s. She still had people to shop for, and Macy’s was convenient. She started with her little sister Karen, who was getting married in March. Karen had always bragged on Julie’s Christmas dishes, and Julie had been collecting a piece here and there ever since her sister’s engagement. Macy’s happened to have the platter on sale, so Julie bought it. As the cashier wrapped it, Julie marked through her sister’s name.

After crossing a few more names off her list, Julie meandered into the men’s department.  She had been eyeing an overcoat since the early fall. It was long, heavy, and navy blue. It would look great on Kevn, and with the holiday sales, it was under their agreed limit. She fingered the sleeve, trying to make up her mind.  Was it the right gift? She couldn’t quite decide.

Stopping by Publix’s on the way home, Julie saw Jefferson sitting on the sidewalk. He waved to her and lifted a cup of coffee bearing the Milo’s logo. She waved back. He was still wrapped in the dirty blanket. Though today was warmer, she knew he wouldn’t be very comfortable. Thank goodness he could buy coffee and warm food for a little while

Julie noticed her neighbor’s kids playing outside as she pulled into her driveway. They were tossing a ball back-and-forth, though not very well. Their Labrador retriever, Lady, intercepted the ball and streaked away from them and into Julie’s yard. When Lady saw Julie, she dropped the ball and loped over, jumping on Julie and nearly knocking her off her feet.

“No Lady! Stop!” The children ran over. Nia pulled lady back by her collar. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Dillard! She’s just glad to see you.”

“That’s OK. She certainly is loving,” Julie remarked as the lab licked her fingers.

“She likes to kiss everybody. Come on, lady! Get the ball!” Lady looked at Julie for several seconds, wagging her tail, before running back to her own yard. Julie carried her bags inside and washed her hands. 

The clock showed 1:15 a.m. when Julie woke up and tiptoed out of the bedroom. She’d been waking up at about the same time for weeks, unable to go back to sleep. Instead of tossing and turning, she made a cup of tea and picked up a book to read. The neighborhood was quiet and dark. Julie plugged in the small Christmas tree and read in silence.

After about an hour, a siren sounded in the distance, and Lady began barking. Julie knew Lady would bark until one of the Taylor’s came outside and let Lady into the house. That dog had the family trained, Julie thought, chuckling. She stifled a yawn. Maybe she could go back to sleep.

Once she was under the covers, Julie lay there listening to Lady’s barking. Sure enough, Mr. Taylor opened a door and called for lady. The barking stopped, and the door slammed closed. It was quiet again. And in the silence, an idea came to Julie. The longer she thought about it, the more excited she became. By the time she fell asleep, it was after 3:00. But she slept soundly.

The two and a half weeks leading up to Christmas were busy, as they always are. Julie worked, spent more time shopping, and opened too many Christmas cards to count. She taped each one to the door frames, as they always did. When she marked through the last item on her shopping list, Julie rewarded herself with a red velvet cupcake from Dixie’s Small Sweets. They were her favorite.

 On Saturday, December 21st, Julie loaded a few things into her car and drove toward the south side of town. She passed Publix’s, the movie theater, and their small Presbyterian Church. As she turned onto a side road and drove through a set of gates, she smiled a little.

It wasn’t particularly cold that Saturday. Julie carried a large point setter and walked across the grass to a simple marker. She dusted it off and placed the plant in the basin attached to the top. The marker was grey stone, and it read, “Kevin Andrew Taylor, loving son and husband, January 20th, 1979 to October 6th, 2019.” Wiping away a few tears, Julie spread a blanket and sat on the ground

“I know it’s a few days before Christmas, but I couldn’t wait. You know I like to open things early. I wanted you to know about this year’s gifts. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but that sweet little girl, Ashley, has leukemia. Her parents don’t have the greatest insurance, so the church took up a collection. I used the $200 for my gift to help. I thought you would like that.

“I met the nicest old man named Jefferson Hamilton. I know, what a name! He said his mother liked presidential names. He spends his days outside. That coat I’d been eyeing was on sale, so I bought it for him. It looks great. He has blue eyes like you.

“And,” Julie pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I got this. Or rather her. She’s some kind of retriever and shepherd mix, I think. I named her Holly. She’s 5 years old. She’s only chewed a few things, but she does sleep on your side of the bed now. I didn’t figure you would mind.”

Julie sat there for a while, talking to her husband about how much she missed him and about what she was learning. Finally she stood and folded the blanket. She walked back to the car, feeling a little lighter. Kevin would have been pleased. She had gotten him the perfect gifts.

This story was submitted to Reedsy.com ‘s story prompt contest, found here:

https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/

Episode 9: Helen Cassidy Page

Listen on Spotify, Overcast, Breaker, PocketCast, Google Podcasts, and RadioPublic

Happy Friday, and welcome to Episode 9 of the words from the river podcast.  We’re back in Muscle Shoals this week, and I’m talking with author Helen Cassidy Page. Ms. Page lived in San Francisco and publishes fiction and nonfiction.  As a fiction writer, she has published mysteries, romance, paranormal mysteries, suspense, and historical fiction.

In addition to being an author, Helen Cassidy Page is also an editor, writing coach, and life coach.  When not creating or reaching, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and photography. Be sure to visit Ms. Cassidy’s site at www.helencassidypagebooks.com and take a look at some of the diverse works she has to offer.  I’m reading one of her mysteries right now, and I plan to dive into the historical fiction next.  You can also read writing by Ms. Page on Medium.com. Remember, if you sign up at Medium.com for just 5.00 a month, follow me at laurielivingstonnave, and send me a message with your username, you’ll be entered into the January 1st drawing for a 50.00 prize.  Just email me at wordsfromtheriver@gmail.com.  Next week I’ll be talking with Christina Ward about her love of poetry and her latest book.  Have a great weekend!

Episode 9 Audio, may take a few minutes to upload

This week’s music for the podcast is provided by Jack Binkerd. You can find him on Spotify and Apple Music.

Episode 8: Final Friday Fiction

This week, we’ll be reading flash fiction from two authors as well as an excerpt from a work in progress. Our first piece of fiction was written by Lisa Tomey. Lisa writes, fiction, poetry, and essays, and she has published a book of poetry, Heart Sounds, which is available on Amazon here: Heart Sounds. Lisa Tomey has been writing ever since she took to the pencil, really getting a true taste at the age of 11 when she was inspired by her 6th grade teacher to keep participating in Creative Writing. Her class participated in an anthology of poetry and shared poetry in the various forms they had been studying.

While poetry is Lisa’s favorite writing style, she has also written short stories, prose, memoirs, fiction and non-fiction. As a professional, she wrote plays for use in grade schools. She has also written many presentations and speeches for her work. Many years ago, Lisa was bitten by the puppetry bug and created puppets and wrote plays to present with her family at church and for herself to use in the local library. She is currently working on a book about creating puppet plays and including many of the plays she has written. As a college student, specializing in journalism, Lisa wrote for her college paper and illustrated her own and other’s work. As you can see, writing has infiltrated about every facet of Lisa’s life, early on. 

Our second flash fiction piece was written by Susan Brearley. Susan writes fiction poetry, essays and articles, and satire. Susan Brearley is a brilliant strategist, a published book author, writer, seasoned editor, essayist, occasional comedy writer, and an accidental poet. She is currently working on her second book, a murder mystery about an OCD detective, who’s been called a “young version of Monk.” She’s a retired systems engineer and salesperson from IBM, a serial entrepreneur, and a survivor of a stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer since 1995. She’s also working on her US Coast Guard Captain’s license, has her US Sailing keelboat certification, and is the creator and elder teacher of a new program, “VisionQuest” that mentors and teaches adults of all ages how to create the life they were born to live. She is currently based in the mid-Hudson Valley, New York. You can find her on Medium, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Our third piece is an excerpt from a crime novel work-in-progress entitled Path. It’s a manuscript I’ve been working on to put a new twist on the idea of sociopathy.

As always, you can find the work of all these authors on Medium.com. And remember, from now until the end of 2019, if you join Medium for just 5.00 a month and email your username to wordsfromtheriver@gmail.com, along with giving my page, Laurie Nave Author, a follow, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a 50.00 gift card on January 1, 2020.

Enjoy the episode!

Lisa Tomey:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7857390.Lisa_Tomey

Susan Brearley:

https://medium.com/@susanbrearley

Episode 7: Jonica Bradley

Welcome to Episode 7 of Words from the River! This weeks I’m talking with Jonica Bradley, a writer, artist, rancher, and bee farmer. She writes for Medium and Grit, and boy does she have some amazing stories to tell. A native of Los Angeles, she currently resides in Texas with her husband, children, and an assortment of goats ,sheep and other animals.

Listen to Episode 7 using the links below:

Be sure to follow us on Spotify, Radio Public, Overcast, Pocketcasts, and Anchor!

Words from the River: Episode 7

Processing…
Success! You’re on the list.