October 2016 Inside ▪ What good are writing prompts?▪ Q&A: Howard Schneider on prompts▪ Writing prompt: Happy Halloween▪ Meet Oregon’s poet laure

Kickstart Your Writing Green

October 2016



What good are writing prompts?
Q&A: Howard Schneider on prompts
Writing prompt: Happy Halloween
Meet Oregon’s poet laureate
Library bound
Work with your editor like a pro
Market tip: Anthology on childhood
Nerdy Words: Sentence length
Showcase: Prompt contest winners

What good are writing prompts?

by Ann Sihler

Every issue of Kickstart includes a writing prompt. Do you ever write from those prompts, or from others? If not, you may want to consider making prompts a regular part of your writing practice, to build both your creativity and your technique.

Writing from prompts may seem random and artificial, or as if it is takes too much time away from your “real” project. But the benefits are many. Prompts can take you to subject matter you haven’t explored before, spark new ideas, or suggest ways to invigorate a project you’re already working on. And prompts are low-risk. How high can our expectations be if we spend just 10, 20, or 30 minutes writing off the cuff on a brand-new topic? Prompts give us permission to play and experiment, so they are a great way to dabble in a new technique or start a writing session when we’re feeling resistance.

What’s more, regular practice with prompts trains us to be creative on the spot. Over time we learn how to come up with ideas when we want or need to, instead of having to wait for inspiration to strike. It doesn’t matter whether the ideas are good or bad. You can determine that later. As one of my clients says, if you can come up with a lot of ideas, chances are at least a couple of them will turn out to be good ones. But if you can only come up with one or two? Well, maybe not.

If you are ready to try writing from prompts, here are some tips:

The first idea you come up with may be the most obvious. To find a more unusual angle, try thinking about the topic for 10 or 15 minutes before you start writing. Jot down ideas, images, or words as you think.
The first 15 or so minutes of writing probably will be the most exciting, but that may not be enough time to carry your idea through to completion. Be aware of this natural “curve” of energy in the writing process and plan to keep writing through the middle portion, after your initial enthusiasm wanes.
Use prompts to improve your writing technique. For example, you can write from the same prompt several times but in different ways, such as by changing the voice, point of view, setting, or characters. Or try focusing on a particular aspect of writing you want to improve, such as dialogue, description, exposition, sentence length, or structure. Over time, practicing and playing with prompts will strengthen your writing “muscles,” so that you’ll have more writing techniques to draw on when working on other projects.


Howard Schneider

Q&A: Howard Schneider on prompts

For several years, Kickstart student and Spearpoint Publications co-owner Howard Schneider has been writing flash fiction from prompts as part of a writing group at the Hollywood Senior Center in Portland, Oregon. We asked him about his experience.

You’ve done a lot of writing from prompts. What do you like about it?

Lots of things. It’s fun to see what I can come up with on the spur of the moment, then share it with others attempting to do the same. We laugh a lot. I like to push myself to produce something, especially under the constraint of time. Another benefit is to practice writing; it’s true that we get better by doing. Finally, the spontaneity of flash-writing from prompts gets the adrenalin flowing, the heart rate up, and the mind focused. All in all, it’s a great way to spend 90 minutes.

In your view, how is writing from prompts different from writing in other ways?

For me, flash-writing from prompts is like a mind-dump: fast and spontaneous. The more you do it, the better you get, but it’s still quite different from sitting calmly at my computer and methodically, carefully working out a series of sentences and scenes to tell the story I have in mind, and to do that in the best writerly way I can. Although the two approaches share the commonality of creative word-spinning, to me they are opposites with regard to objective and method.

What do you do with the writings you generate from prompts? Do they turn into finished pieces?

I do my prompt-writing in spiral notebooks that I keep for future story ideas. The story could be of any length, depending on where it takes me, and where I take it. As in all my writing, editing and re-editing turn out to be a major effort.

How has your experience working with prompts affected your writing?

With time and effort, the process of prompt-writing got easier and my confidence grew. My ignorance of grammar and punctuation, in the beginning, forced me to study those topics, leading eventually to better writing, and better editing. With my increased confidence and somewhat enhanced skills, I undertook longer short stories, eventually leading to more complex stories approaching novella length. Prompt-writing was the starting line, and it got me into the race. I have no idea what or where the finish line is, but just being in this exciting and fun-filled race is enough for me.

What tips do you have for a writer wanting to try out prompts?

Just write the first sentence. That sentence will tell you what the next one can be. Then do it again and again and again until an ending materializes.

Writing Prompt

Writing prompt: Happy Halloween

What is your worst fear? Take a few minutes to imagine it happening. Then describe what you see.


Elizabeth Woody

Meet Oregon’s poet laureate

Looking for some writing inspiration? If so, don’t miss Elizabeth Woody’s upcoming reading and discussion, at noon on Wednesday, October 19, at Concordia University’s George R. White Library & Learning Center (GRW 108, 2900 NE Liberty St., Portland, Oregon).

Woody is a writer and visual artist who has published three books of poetry, as well as short fiction and essays. In 1990 she received the American Book award from the Before Columbus Foundation for her poetry collection Hand into Stone (reprinted as Seven Hands, Seven Hearts). She also received the William Stafford Memorial Award for Poetry in 1995. In April of 2016 Governor Kate Brown appointed her to a two-year term as Oregon’s poet laureate.

Woody is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and is of Yakama Nation descent.


Library bound

Writer Nancy Woods spent much of her childhood in a library, but she never dreamed that one day a book she had written would sit on a library shelf. Now her memoir, Under the Influence of Tall Trees: Humorous Tales from a Pacific Northwest Writer is available at the Multnomah County Library. Check it out!

Work with your editor like a pro

In her recent blog post, author and writing coach Nancy Woods gives tips on how to make your editor smile. Read her post to learn how to handle deadlines, communication, copy, and captions so that your editor will be eager to hire you again.

Market tip: Anthology on childhood

Childhood is fertile ground for writers. If you have poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction or micro essays that “distill the enigmas and transformations of childhood,” consider submitting to Milk Teeth, a forthcoming anthology. The publisher—Hermeneutic Chaos Press—is an independent, queer-friendly, feminist press based in Australia. The deadline for submissions is November 15.

Nerdy Words

Nerdy Words: Sentence length

by Ann Sihler

Usually in the Nerdy Words column I write about specific words and how to use them correctly. But the magic of writing lies not in the correctness of our words, but in how we put words together.

I was reminded of this recently when I read two contrasting paragraphs by Gary Provost (1944-1995), the author of Make Every Word Count (Writers Digest Books, 1980). Provost’s examples points to the importance of rhythm and pace, in writing, just as in music.

I can’t say it any better than he did, so read and enjoy. What do you notice? What does this suggest about your own writing?

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Student Showcase

Showcase: Prompt contest winners

Instead of a student showcase, this month we are running the results of a writing contest based on a prompt from the May 2016 issue of Kickstart. Members of the Writers’ Mill, a writing group that meets monthly at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland, challenged each other to write a short story based on the prompt “The last time I saw my brother was twenty years ago. He didn’t look so good.” Below are the winning entries, from Sheila Deeth and Karin Krafft (tied for first place), Lauri Leonetti (second place), and Robin Layne (third place). Happy reading!

“Flowers,” by Sheila Deeth

The last time I saw flowers was twenty years ago. They didn’t look so good. Kind of scraggly, muted colors, dry as dust and sunburn. I remember how they clung to the lee of the cliff, just edging out of shadow for a couple hours a day. I used to stand here looking up at them like they was jewels, little baby sunsets growing out of the rocks. Then one day they were gone—not died, I didn’t think. I’m guessing something ate them. Or someone.

So we’ve lived off tins since then—it’s all you’ve ever known. Turning the plastic handle; don’t cut your hands on the metal; watch out; and Mommy, where do beans come from, and why are carrots red?

Come, walk with me now. You remember that wet stuff fell out of the sky yesterday? You asked me why the sea was flying but didn’t taste right? Well, that was rain. And this is what happens after rain. Come and see. Up there, by that dark bit of rock, on the shadow’s edge? Can you look where I’m pointing? Like a tiny baby sunset without the sun? It’s called a flower, my love, and we’ve survived.

“The Architect,” by Karin Krafft

The last time I saw my brother was twenty years ago. He didn’t look so good. In fact, he was face down outside our town’s Irish pub, disheveled and oozing of alcohol. Apparently he had handed someone a crumpled up piece of paper and sniveled, “Call my sister.”

I got the call all right. Actually, I was more than surprised to get the call, as he was supposed to be in a rehabilitation center outside of town. I had planned to visit him the next day and he wasn’t supposed to be out for at least two weeks.

“Hey Sis,” he uttered as he saw me standing over him. That’s what he always said when he wanted something from me. I was livid. I had cancelled my two-week holiday to Cancun with my boyfriend to pay for my brother’s rehab. My wonderful boyfriend ended up going to Cancun by himself and that was the end of our relationship. I blamed it all on my brother, of course. Later I realized that the boyfriend was not such a nice guy after all.

My brother was seven years younger than I was and I had always protected him. Ever since he was born. He was my own living doll. I had lost count of how many times I had bailed him out of various precarious situations. I had covered for him and I had lied for him to our parents. I had paid for stolen alcohol, broken car windows, new clothes when he’d been in fights. Emptied my bank account. Now I’d had enough.

“You’re dead to me,” I said. “You’re on your own. I never want to see you again. I mean it this time.”

“Someone call the police,” I said as I turned my back and walked away, trying to ignore his loud wailing. Covering up for him had taken over my life, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

I never told our parents what had happened, but we never saw him again. l assumed he had run away and most probably died in a drunken stupor. I did think about him once in a while, but not often.

This particular morning, I had a splitting headache and had got an emergency appointment with my chiropractor to straighten out my back.

Absentmindedly looking through a glossy magazine on the table, I gasped.

“American architect wins the prestigious Architect of the Year award for the third year in a row,” in Melbourne, Australia. As I continued reading, I was flabbergasted. The man smiling into the camera was a ruggedly handsome middle-aged man, with clear blue eyes and a healthy tan. His clothes looked expensive. A far cry from the long stringy hair and filthy clothes he was wearing that evening twenty years ago.

As I continued reading I forgot my splitting headache for a minute. How was this possible? My high school drop out of a brother, who never amounted to anything except getting in trouble and stealing from our parents, was an architect? And an award-winning architect? The article said he had immigrated to Australia fifteen years ago after meeting the love of his life, an Australian woman visiting the United States. He was now an Australian citizen and enjoying life in Australia. Apparently he had no reason to return to the United States as he had no family left there. They were all dead. That hurt.

Why would he say that he had no family? He could easily have found me, if he had wanted to. I still lived in the same town we grew up in. Of course I could have found him too, but I never looked for him. I assumed he was dead. I burned with shame. What kind of sister was I? I should have looked for him!

My parents were no longer alive. They passed away believing that their son was a failure, and they never stopped blaming themselves. Had they been too old when they had him? What had they done wrong?

After my chiropractor’s appointment, I called in sick for the rest of the day. There was no way I’d be able to get any work done. I went straight home and spent the next hours googling my brother. My gosh, was this person really my brother? He had won many prestigious awards over the years. I couldn’t believe the photographs of his own home, one that he had designed of course. It was beautiful.

My mind was racing. Now that I had found him, what was I going to do about it? Obviously he had no interest in seeing me, or he would have tried. But then on the other side, I had told him that he was dead to me. And I had meant it, there was no doubt about that. I composed several messages on Facebook, but deleted them all. I didn’t know what to say.

As soon as my seventeen-year-old daughter returned from school I had to explain to her that her long-lost uncle who was presumed dead, was not dead after all, but living the life in Australia. She had two cousins, a boy and a girl. I have to admit that I was afraid of her reaction, afraid that she would hate me for being a horrible person.

Instead, she surprised me. “I have cousins? In Australia? That’s so cool. Let’s go and visit them. School’s out in two weeks, so let’s start planning. Like now!”

I was torn whether I should write him or not, but we decided against it. If he didn’t want to see me, I didn’t want to know right away. Once we were physically in Australia, we’d contact him, and if he didn’t want any contact, we’d have a nice vacation in Australia.

Two weeks later, my daughter and I landed in Melbourne, Australia, after a grueling long flight. Now that we were here, I was wondering if I was insane. What were we doing on the other side of the world?

“Mom, you think too much,” my daughter said as she interrupted my thoughts. “Let’s go and get the rental car.”

After checking into the hotel, we took a long nap, had dinner, and then went straight to bed. We had a big day ahead of us tomorrow.

The next morning the nice man at the reception explained in detail how to get to my brother’s house. The closer we got, the more nervous I became.

“Oh my gosh Mom, there it is,” my daughter exclaimed as the beautiful house appeared on the left side of the road. “It really is gorgeous, isn’t it?”

I kept driving. What on earth had I been thinking? We couldn’t just drop in like this. Could we?

“Mom, what are you doing? You passed it. You need to turn around. Look, right there, you can turn around here.”

I was on autopilot now, and kept driving. My hands were shaking and my stomach was threatening upheaval.

“Mom, stop!”

My daughter’s command, woke me up and I stopped momentarily to catch my breath. “I’m ok now, really.”

As I came to a stop in front of my brother’s house, I saw a man coming out of the door with a black lab following close behind. Slowly, I got out of the car, grabbing my handbag for life support. As I approached him slowly, the lab was already there sniffing my shoes.

“Can I help you?” he started and looked straight at me.

Feeling paralyzed I couldn’t get a word out, I just stared.

Suddenly, the familiar smirk appeared on his face and he said, “Hey Sis, I thought you never wanted to see me again.”

Still frozen in my tracks, I must have looked like a complete moron, but I still wasn’t able to get a word out.

“It’s not like you to be lost for words,” he continued, “Come on in and meet the family. I assume this is my niece?”

“Come on, Mom, move!” my daughter said as she marched behind her uncle into the house. “Let’s meet my cousins.”

“Yeah Sis, get a move on.”

And just like that, twenty years evaporated and I had a brother again.

“Teddy,” by Lauri Leonetti

“The last time I saw that teddy bear was twenty years ago. It didn’t look so good.” I frowned into the phone as I spoke, stopping myself from continuing out loud, Yeah, ever since... Then I quit thinking it, too. Pauline had surprised me during her account of her newest discoveries, and my response despaired more than I wanted to admit.

“It still doesn’t,” she answered, “but it’s better than I would’ve expected.”

“What do you mean?” I said caustically. “Do you think Mom fixed and cleaned it before stuffing it in that old attic trunk?”

I regretted my snarkiness, once the words spewed out of my mouth, but I was too affected to show contrition or take them back. I had too much ambivalence about her sorting through everything.

“Sorry, Andi,” she said. “I just meant, after all these years, I expected it to fall apart more than it did. I shouldn’t have said anything, but at least she stashed, instead of destroying it, like so many of our other treasures.”

Now I felt horrible; she’d apologized and tried to be positive, when I’d been mean. But did she think I’d be excited about the resurrection of my souvenir of grief?

I tried speaking in a gentler tone, but couldn’t dredge up any benevolent words yet. “It’s not a treasure to me. It would’ve been better if she’d burned it.”

“Come on, Andi,” she pleaded, “from as early as I remember, you carried it everywhere, usually adorably tucked in your sweatshirt hood, so I don’t know what you’re saying. But I don’t want to fight with you; I’m sorry I made you feel bad.”

“I need your forgiveness, Pauline. You called with something you thought I’d enjoy, right? I ruined your excitement. Let’s not discuss your explorations at the house anymore. Anything new with the girls or Jeremy?”

“No. Nothing since last week’s talk. What about you? When do you get vacation time with your latest job?”

“I’m still not eligible for three weeks. If Mom actually died, rather than going into an Alzheimer-care facility, I could take bereavement leave.” I briefly paused, but knew I’d dug up another bone I’d better kick a bit of dirt back over, so I hurried on, “I’ll start looking at flights tonight, and email you when I’ve made reservations.”

“Thanks. I promise to box up all the bad-memory stuff, so you can stay in the house. There’re still too many things needing to be done: repairs, interviewing realtors, bank and legal mumbo-jumbo, before we can put it on the market anyway.”

Tempted to respond with wishing the house itself could be hidden in a box, I didn’t want to upset her more. I’d known I couldn’t sleep there alone in the dark, so I said, “Jenna’s offered a room at their place. That’ll make it easier to spend some time with her while I’m home.”

“Oh, okay,” Pauline replied, with an obviously-fake understanding tone, masking hurt. I knew to cut this call quickly, as nothing could improve it. I didn’t expect her to lift the lid off the subject I’d just peeked into, and she especially surprised me with the genuineness of her attitude change.

“I actually understand, Andi. Jenna’s your biological sister, so you connect in a significant way. She’s safe to be around. You haven’t known her long enough to build up years of resentment. Also, I know how hard it is for me to be in Mom’s proximity right now; I can only guess your issues after what happened between you and her. When you left, I figured out why you moved so far away. I’m fine if you want to sleep there. Honestly.”

Then, before I responded, she hastily added, “Besides, you’re saving me from the extra clean-up I was gonna do to ready the house.”

As my plane touched down in Portland, I pondered why I wasn’t landing on some tropical island, instead of using my few annual paid-time-off days to visit my hometown of distressing memories and family, from whom I’d purposely distanced myself. Pauline, Angel and Missy flashed in my visual cortex, followed by Jenna, and I realized my stress teetered on only one family member. I’d been unfair to lump them all with her. I sincerely looked forward to seeing my sisters and the kids, and even my sisters’ partners, but would have preferred altered circumstances. If only I made enough money to fly them all to vacation with me in Maryland.

On autopilot driving the rental car to Pauline’s from the airport, I relived the wretched scene right before my senior prom. A few days before, Mom had perfunctorily consented to my wearing her gorgeous diamond and topaz necklace, which Pauline had worn to her prom a couple of years earlier. I’d selected a dress I knew it would complement beautifully. Nervous at her offhandedness, I’d hinted several times to assure she’d be home to open the safe when I needed it, but merely got brusque dismissals.

Deep in my cells, I sensed she didn’t want me to borrow it, but more than simply annoying me—and it did, extremely—it confounded me. I imagined all kinds of scenarios to explain it, finally settling on one to appease my unrequited curiosity.

Since Pauline shared Mom’s round face, fair hair, and slender build, but dark curls framed my longish features over my pear-shape, I assumed that I must remind Mom of my father, whom I never knew. She never talked about him. Even though I asked, I never saw any photos, and Pauline didn’t seem to know much more than me, only that he’d died before she’d turned three. When I was old enough to compute the math, I figured I’d been a few months old.

I envisioned a tragically sad event that took him from us, like an accident or a disease diagnosed too late, something that Mom didn’t want to deal with, which would also give reason to her never having remarried, and scarcely dating. Perhaps the necklace came from him and her grief prevented her from handling seeing it on me.

No matter what my imagination created, it didn’t keep me from wanting the jewels to complete my outfit. As I’d suspected, she went “out” that afternoon, and still hadn’t returned half an hour before my date was to arrive. I panicked. I snuck into her room, angrily checked between her mattress and box spring, pulled everything from under her bed, rummaged through every drawer, every pocket in her clothes closet, every container on her wardrobe shelves, even every shoe, and every other place I could think that she might keep the key to the safe. I finally found it enclosed in a fake book on the shelf of her headboard.

I moved her hamper to get to the vault tucked behind it, between her dresser and the bed. As I pulled out the jewelry case, a packet of papers slipped out and scattered across the carpet. I picked up her will first, but was quickly distracted from my nosiness about its contents when I spotted the word “Adoption” on a folder that had slid partly under the bed.

My vibes of guilt and then alarm must have drawn her home. I heard the garage door open, and instead of stopping to hang her coat and use the bathroom, as she usually did when coming in, she came straight down the hall to fling her door wide, hitting me in the arm. I’d already seen enough, so I didn’t feel the need to re-collect the documents once again strewn around me, as I huddled on the floor in my evening gown. My anguish and fury matched hers, and we were both too stubborn and wounded to listen to explanations, to forgive, or to answer the ringing of the doorbell which I had so anticipated earlier.

Pauline relayed the truth to me just before my graduation, at my friend Patsy’s house, where I’d moved until I could finish school and leave it all behind. Mom admitted to her that I was right about being a disturbing reminder of my father. I looked like him, because I shared his genes, but the other half of me had come from an affair he’d had with a married woman. They had reconciled after his confessing and ending the dalliance, before I was born, but my biological mother’s husband wasn’t able to pardon her. After I arrived, his rage took hold, and he not only took her life, he hunted down my father as well.

Another folder from the safe, one I’d briefly perused, but hadn’t understood, contained articles chronicling those events, the reasons my now-known-to-be-adoptive mother had never wanted to tell me about not sharing her blood. She’d acquiesced to the fact that no one else would take me. Since five-year-old Jenna went to her paternal grandparents, and my actual mother had no family available to claim me, she had begrudgingly adopted me.

The necklace, Pauline said, hadn’t been our father’s gift, but had belonged to our mom’s grandmother, and she hadn’t wanted me to get any ideas of claiming it. Of all this fresh knowledge, I couldn’t exonerate the last fact, and it kept me from resolving things with her. I’d been an innocent, and I can’t say I’d never felt loved—she must have softened after a while—so how could she treat me like that? I never would’ve expected her to give me that string of valuable gems, especially when I had an older sister, so why couldn’t I have at least enjoyed them for one special night? Her crazed mix of jealousy, rejection and denial not only cost me the experience of my senior prom, but the stability of the one family I’d ever known.

Turning onto my sister’s street brought me back to the reality that I hadn’t spoken with the woman who’d always been my mom, in twenty years. Now, she had disappeared into the fogginess of her disease. I finally wanted to face her, but wondered if it could make any difference. Maybe I wanted to face her, because I knew it wouldn’t make a difference. Maybe cowardice and fear controlled me, rather than the righteousness I’d clung to.

I fortuitously remembered a friend’s recent words, while meeting for coffee to deliberate details of her reunion with her ex, that forgiveness has nothing to do with the person who offended you, but is actually a kindness you do for yourself, to reduce your attachment to the suffering the offense caused. I decided to be ready to forgive. No, I recognized I’d already forgiven her, and needed to see her.

After immediately indicating my intention to Pauline, I texted Jenna that I’d be later than planned, and we left for the care facility. Ten-year-old Angel joined us, and I appreciated the calming distraction and kindness.

“Aunt Andi,” she said, “you forgot your jacket. My mom’s old sweatshirt’s back here. Wanna borrow it?”

Walking into the activity room, where Mom sat staring out the window, I suddenly felt six years old, wanting to pull the hood up over my head to hide.

“Don’t expect much,” Pauline whispered. “She hasn’t recognized any of us in over three months.”

I held my breath as the much smaller, non-intimidating version of the only parent I’d known looked up at me. No recognition.

I perceived Angel beside me, and momentarily caught sight of something brown and furry, as I felt her add weight to the hood hanging at my neck. While I touched the object and exclaimed, “Is that Teddy?” I heard Pauline admonish, “I told you to stay out of those boxes.” Then, with a hopeful smile, Mom gasped, “Andrea? Is that you?”

“As in Identical,” by Robin Layne

“The last time I saw my brother was twenty years ago. He didn’t look so good.”

Randy was amazed to hear the words flow from his own mouth. He closed his eyes, trying to block out both the mental intrusion from the female roadie before him and the images that bombarded his mind. It was too much to handle at once. The girl had asked him if he had a brother who looked anything like him.

“Why was it so long ago?” she pried. “Did something happen to him?”

The singer covered his face, barely aware that he was sitting on a speaker on the stage and roadies were helping his backup band pack up the equipment. “Please,” he pleaded. “Leave me alone.”
But she didn’t. “There is another man as handsome and charming as you, who isn’t chained to a wedding ring?”

“My twin is—”

“Twin?” she bubbled. “You have a twin? As in—identical?”

Randy inhaled briskly. Why her, of all people? This rude young fan had broken open his secret vault of memories, and now the memories occupied him so much he couldn’t block her path into his mind. Generally, telepathy had to work both ways. Had he somehow opened himself to her?

“Mandolin Randolin!” she squealed, oblivious to his foul mood. “What’s his name? Is he a musician, too? Where have you been hiding him?”

All Randy managed aloud was a groan. Where indeed? In a grave in his home country, in another dimension that he had been happy to escape. The naturally pale complexion both twins shared had looked hideous on Lord Randamir in the coffin—so white, so unlike the man he had been. Fortunately, Randolin, as he was called in his original home in Hoteree, had at least had the presence of mind to close his brother’s eyes after the dual. But he couldn’t erase those dead light-green eyes from his vivid inner sight. It was as if it were himself he had killed, and as if he could never truly be alive again.

“Randy?” He barely heard the girl say the casual American name he had adopted eleven years ago when by an amazing feat of magic he and his friend Brent had traded dimensions and countries.

“Randal!” she tried when he didn’t answer.

“Randolin” had become “Randal N.,” and since he had played mandolin for almost as long as he could remember, the nickname “Mandolin Randolin” had developed here in the New World and helped catapult him to fame. None of that mattered to him at the moment. “What’s the matter?” The roadie waved her hands in front of his face, but it had no meaning for him.

His brother lay before him, bleeding from an infinite number of wounds. Randamir (“Amir” for short) had proved himself as hardy as he was cruel. Randolin won the fight only because Amir relied heavily on the raven demon who had helped him take over Hoteree. In an unexpected moment, the captured queen of the land had invited the demon to go attack her where she was imprisoned—an attack certainly fatal to the queen. But the bard couldn’t pause to find out. He had to complete his horrible task while he had time. Tears streaking his face and blurring his vision, he ran Amir through with the sword he had practically sold his soul to get. A sharp empathetic pain pierced his own heart; both brothers convulsed. Blood poured from Amir’s chest and mouth. Both men screamed as one. Something talon-like pulled at him, trying to wrench his spirit from his body. For a moment he forgot who he was.

Then, suddenly, the strong telepathic link he had had with his twin all his life ended. Randolin collapsed and fell unconscious.

Someone was shaking him. He kicked and flailed his arms, certain Lord Randamir’s soldiers had come to slay him.

“Randy,” a voice buzzed in his ears. “It’s okay. You’re safe. Did you hurt yourself when you fell?”
“Make certain no one desecrates his grave,” Randy murmured.

“What is he talking about?” said the roadie girl.

“It’s an attack of PTSD,” his backup flutist said.
“War trauma. Don’t try to make him talk about it. It’s a torment he relives sometimes. This isn’t the place or time to let that cat out of the bag.”

Randy was grateful for the musician’s support. He hoped the roadie hadn’t realized she had tapped a place in his mind he normally kept buried… especially when he was on tour, which was most of the time lately. He refocused his eyes on her face. She appeared to be trying to show sympathy now, though it might be beyond her capability. With latent telepathic abilities, a person without sympathy could be dangerous indeed. That fact Randy knew too well. How had the one person identical to himself turned out to be a mass murderer?

Amir hadn’t started out that way. He was once a wonderful childhood companion.

Randy swallowed the bile in his throat. He worried over what he was becoming himself. Amir had killed all their relatives in his grab for power. All Randy had now he had gained in the New World: Patricia, his gentle, beautiful wife; and three five-year-old sons… identical triplets with strong pathing abilities like their father. He didn’t like to admit it, but the main reason he stayed away from home so much of the time was to protect them—from himself. When he was near them, they picked up on his nightmares and flashbacks. It was far too much for a five-year-old to endure or understand—much less three of them feeding on one another’s thoughts and emotions. Patricia tried to understand, but he knew she cried often out of loneliness and frustration. The nanny was no substitute for the man she loved. He was driving her into depression. He wouldn’t blame her if she found solace in someone else’s arms. As for him… too often the same audiences he led into his telepathic visions swept him into oblivion until, to his shame, he found himself doing things he had not intended—with people he should barely know, but who swiftly became intimate with him.

Was he any better than his brother? He wasn’t sure… If he fought off their advances, he might hurt them, even kill again. Perhaps he really had lost his soul when he killed Amir by the queen’s orders. Or no—the loss was certain but gradual. He had to gain more love than his twin had ever known before he destroyed that love through neglect and abuse.

“We’ll be waiting in the van!” the flutist called.

Randy barely heard. He looked up to see the auditorium empty and a single light left on to aid his departure.

A Nancy Woods production

Thanks for reading Kickstart, which is a publication of Nancy Woods—author and writing coach. If you have any comments about the newsletter, feel free to email them to Nancy or her newsletter sidekick (aka editor), Ann Sihler.

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