Making a Schedule

The next blog challenge I’m participating in asks us to come up with a schedule for our projects. Just a week’s worth of time, accounted for and set aside for writing.

It’s a good thing the challenge said I can be vague about my scheduling because 1) I have two children of different ages (almost 3 and almost 11) so their schedules are pretty whack, and 2) I have multiple sclerosis so some days I can concentrate, others I can’t. Some days I can get out of bed, other days I can’t.

Another problem with trying to schedule is that I have to spend time with my family. We have movie marathons which take up three hours of my day at least, and putting my toddler to bed is a two hour affair on its own. I simply do not have the time to schedule. I write when I can, squeezing in at least an hour a day, yes, but precisely when that hour occurs is a mystery only to be solved once the day is done.

What I can do, however, is promise to write every day. If I do not feel up to the significant challenge of wrapping up my first draft of my novel, I can promise to write at least one 100-word story. The collection of short stories that I’ve been working on for three years is nowhere near completed, so it would be good for me to work on it, even just one or two stories a week.

The reward for writing every day will be the fact that I wrote every day. Eventually, it will be that I reached a milestone: finished the first draft, finished the second draft, finished revisions, submitted to agents, etc. I think the sense of accomplishment will be reward in itself. For me to finally be able to say, yes, I’ve written a book.

Thank you for reading. Here is a 100-word story to make it worth your time.

***

Furiously tapping out words on her keyboard, she knew she’d probably have to edit out most of them later. Writing is a process, she tells herself. It’s okay if it isn’t perfect at first.

Then another part of her scolds herself for thinking her writing would ever be perfect at all. You’re not Hemingway or Austen, she berates the part of herself that dared to dream.

No, she silently replies. But the stories in my head are worth telling. If no one else is grateful for them, I will be grateful to myself for having written them.

It’s good enough.

©2018 Heather Stephens

 

 

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Short Story – A Mother’s Love

For this blog challenge post (thanks Amanda McCormick!) we were asked to pick a few elements from a dream we had and then incorporate them into a short story. All writing prompts I’ve received lately, I’ve turned into short stories that take place in the same universe as my upcoming fantasy romance novel.

My dream was about my mother. I won’t go into it, but I have a painful relationship with my mother.

It was the perfect inspiration for this story.

Please enjoy.pexels-photo-458766

 

“Ardia takes after you because she has no gift for music,” Olivia sil Varstra complains to her husband, Prego. He peers up at her from the book he’s reading, a grimace on his face.

“What does she need music for? She’s my heir. She will inherit the preeminent estate in the kingdom. She doesn’t need to focus on music. If she wants frivolity, she can hire someone. There’s a reason we support artists in this kingdom.” He’s said his piece, engrossing himself back into his letter. After a moment he puts it aside and picks up a different document.

“She needs to be well-rounded, or she will not interest Tahm sil Aldrich.” Olivia sits down on a chaise in the center of the room. “We have a chance to merge the economic empires of the two most important estates in the kingdom. Together we’d cover two-hundred square miles of the kingdom.” She shakes her head. “No. I must insist that you write to the University and enroll her in music classes.”

Prego tosses the document he’s trying to read on the desk. “That’s enough. Her lessons in economics, statecraft, and history are well enough. The contract has been signed less than a week, and you’re already getting skittish.”

Olivia’s face sours. “You supported marrying her to sil Aldrich as much as I did. Do. I still think it is for the best. Tahm is a strapping young man. He can protect her from whatever comes.” She looks at her hands; she is not yet old enough for them to show her age, although she knows the day is coming. Still, at not yet forty, she is young enough to still appear pleasing. She decides to try a different tactic. “He won’t want to protect her if she’s boring,” she says, pouting her lips and batting her eyelashes.

Prego sighs deeply and looks at the ceiling, pleading with the Lord and Lady for the strength to persevere. “Olivia, don’t do that. As much as I value your input, I said no. She has only a year left at University, and if she wants to receive the marks that will earn the respect of her peers, she must focus.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose. “And do not tell me that I supported it. My decision to join with sil Aldrich was born of two desires: to keep her safe and to keep Tavaria safe from whatever darkness rises across the border in Amerilis. If there had been any other way, any at all, I would have preferred it. She is too young.”

Olivia scoffs, abandoning with frustration her pretense of coy persuasion. “I was fifteen when you married me. You did not think I was too young.” Her voice quivers, as if she is hurt by his double standard, but is too proud to address it outright.

Prego groans, tossing his hands in the air, reaching for some sort of divine aid that will not come. “You were not, are not an heir. Heirs typically marry at age twenty-three, as I was when I married you. You know this. You know this. And yet you harry me with your incessant nagging!”

He rises to his feet and leaves his office, ignoring Olivia’s demand that he stay and discuss their daughter’s future. She stands too but does not leave. Instead, she paces for a time, stopping every once in a while to stare out the window into the front garden, watching the grand reflecting pool ripple with the falling rain. The roses will bloom beautifully this year, she thinks to herself.

Decision made, she makes her way to the desk from which her husband departed. She finds a blank parchment and dips a quill into a bottle of ink.

Lord sil Aldrich,

What’s done is done, and I do not regret my decision to join our two great estates for the benefit of both us and all of Tavaria. With your armies and my husband’s resources, we will defend this great land from the threat in the east.

However, I must ask once again for you to alter the contract. While your brother is a fine young man, I worry that he is not the right fit for my daughter. He is a rumored playboy and a sportsman, and I worry that his attention will wander in the time after she is busy running sil Varstra and before he inherits sil Aldrich. If you will not take her hand in marriage, as I would prefer you to do, will you not at least abdicate your position so that Tahm is already made Duke before he weds Ardia? By doing so, you ensure their matrimonial bliss as they will both be far too busy to pay any attention to their significant differences.

You are a man made wise by loss and experience. I am confident you will see the wisdom in my request.

Warmest regards,

Her Grace Duchess Olivia sil Varstra

 

She sends the letter that day, sending her least favorite servant into the storm to find a courier in the nearest village, Losenta.

After that, Olivia is perfectly placid. She smiles at the servants, initiates lovemaking with her husband, and mostly keeps to herself. She possesses the utmost confidence that Perael sil Aldrich will acquiesce. She has never been more confident. Of course, he will agree to my terms, she thinks. I approached him with logic. Men cannot abide illogical arguments, but mine made perfect sense. He really has no choice.

The rest of the spring season passes with no response, but Olivia does not give up hope. But the smile on her face is tighter. Her lovemaking overtures become desperate. The manner in which she communicates with her servants is strained. She loses patience.

The first day of summer, three days before her daughter is to return home from University, she finally receives a response.

Olivia,

While I appreciate your concern for the happiness of my brother and your daughter, I must again tell you that I have no intention of marrying again. I made my decision long ago, and as long as Tahm is alive, I have no reason to reconsider it.

As for your other suggestion, I must firmly remind you, with all due respect, that sil Aldrich is my estate. It is not yours to command at will. I assumed the mantle of Duke sil Aldrich seventeen years ago, and I am most capable of deciding what is best for my estate, and what is not. Your suggestion that I abdicate in favor of my brother is, at this time, not what is best for my estate.

Again, I thank you for your concern, but it is misplaced. The marriage will take place, as planned. The moment your daughter leaves for Cantrop, I will dispatch my men to assist you in the defense of Tavaria, as agreed.

Respectfully,

His Grace Duke Perael sil Aldrich

Without a word, Olivia tears the letter into shreds, letting them fall to the ground of her bedroom. Tears well up in her eyes as white-hot rage courses through her very bones. Blinking back the tears, she bites through the tip of her tongue as she fights the urge to scream. She grits her teeth, feeling as if her bone marrow has been replaced with acid.

When the heat of her anger passes, reduced to a persistent simmer, she sits on her bed.

Olivia is forced to consider that she is not in control. Not of sil Aldrich, whom she thought she had successfully manipulated. Not even of her husband, who more and more refuses her requests.

But she will not cry. She will never cry.

Roof

The prompt for this one was “roof.” If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I try to avoid expressing things explicitly, choosing instead to allude to sensations and emotions. I hope they come afross clearly.

I get overwhelmed when I attend places with too many stimuli, like Disneyland or a carnival. Busy places with large crowds always exhaust me. People with sensory issues are vulnerable in places like that because the stimuli overwhelm them, and they lose cognitive clarity and sometimes are unable to function safely. Look out for one another in this hectic world.

 

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The bright lights overwhelmed her vision, and her eyes were beginning to hurt. She tried to regain control of her breathing—in, then out. Count to three. In, then out.

It wasn’t working.

She tried to smile warmly at the children shrieking with joy at the attractions, but deep down, she resented them. It was one o’clock on a weekday. Why weren’t these kids at school?

She wanted to go on one more ride, or play one more carnival game, but that wouldn’t happen. She hated that she had to leave, that she wasn’t strong enough to stay. Sensory overload.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Ardia and Sophie

A new blog prompt from Amanda McCormick. This is NSFW, so be warned.

This is a story that takes place the evening before the events in the first chapter of my upcoming book. I have no way of knowing when the book will be released, but hopefully I’ll release it within a year or two.  But enjoy this story, as it can stand alone.

ArdiandSophie

 

“I don’t like it when you look at me,” Ardia said, combing her long black hair. “It makes me feel like I did something wrong.”

Ardia’s handmaiden, Sophie, pouted and leaned back on the bed, watching Ardia in the mirror. “Is that because you feel guilty about something?”

Ardia rolled her eyes and tossed the fine hairbrush onto the vanity, the inlaid pearls on the back clattering against the wood. “I have nothing to feel guilty about,” she said, staring into the mirror at her handmaiden’s reflection. She watched as Sophie stood and prowled to her side like a ginger tomcat.

Her handmaiden bent down wrapping her arms around Ardia’s shoulders, whispering into her ear, “You’re abandoning me.” A playful accusation that Ardia knew belied Sophie’s true feelings. A glance at Sophie’s aura told her she was correct. Blue sorrow bloomed within the cloud above her head.

“You’ll be there with me,” the heiress tried to reply, but her servant stepped away. Ardia rose to follow her, grabbing her wrist. Sophie struggled against her, but could not get away. Ardia knew she wasn’t really trying because her servant had at least four inches of height on her as well as the muscle tone from a lifetime of service. If she’d wanted to get away, she would have.

Ardia murmured, “Please don’t hate me,” before pressing her lips against her servant’s. Sophie whimpered into the kiss, taking a step to the side, making them both fall onto the bed. She fumbled with the strings on Ardia’s nightgown, desperate to pull it apart and reveal the heiress’s curves.

Sophie was but a servant, but she knew Ardia better than anyone, and she doubted the heiress’s future husband would be as intimate with her. Men do not understand the concept of intimacy, only rutting like beasts.

In a way, Ardia would always belong to Sophie. She was her first kiss, her first exploration into the magic that was a woman’s sexuality. No matter how high Ardia’s star rose in the sky, she’d always remember Sophie.

No highborn husband with no doubt bland tastes like hunting would replace her.

Tahm sil Aldrich. Lottie remembered when he and his brother Perael came to sil Varstra while Ardia was still away at University. She’d listened in on their discussion as best she could, but all she gathered was that Olivia sil Aldrich was eager to marry Ardia off. First she’d requested Perael take Ardia’s hand, but he’d refused. Olivia had taken it as an outrage—it would be decades before Tahm inherited sil Aldrich, so why should a direct heiress of the most advantageous estate marry him?—but Perael had murmured something so quietly, Sophie hadn’t heard. But Olivia had given in.

Sophie knew this marriage was coming long before Ardia did.

So why did it hurt so much?

She wondered that as she tugged at the threads of Ardia’s nightgown, as she placed her lips on Ardia’s skin, as she used her nails to tug at Ardia’s hair. She needed Ardia to know, telling her with her urgency, that she only did not want to be forgotten.

Ardia was not in love with her, Sophie knew that. Ardia was too pragmatic to open herself up to love with someone so far below her station. Still, Sophie cherished every little secret they shared, and the time they spent together intertwined in the candlelight.

She moved down between Ardia’s legs, tasting her. Before rewarding the heiress’s bad behavior in refusing to acknowledge Sophie’s pain, she bit down on the inside of her lover’s thigh. Ardia gasped, clenching the blanket her hands. The bite turned an angry shade of red. Satisfied, Sophie gave in and gave Ardia a climax she’d remember all the way until she reached Cantrop.

She climbed up on the bed, pulling Ardia’s languid body with her until they were both nestled on the pillows. Ardia’s forehead was beaded with the sweat of intimacy. Sleepily, the future Duchess muttered, “I’m only doing as I’m told,” begging again for absolution.

Sophie did not grant it. Instead, she whispered, “I know. One day you won’t be beholden to anyone.”

“As long as you’re with me,” Ardia whispered back.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Pytir and Trelen

Please enjoy this brief 600-word story, inspired by a prompt from my writing Discord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pytir knew it was a dream. Only in a dream would he face down his brother, his heir, the only light in the darkness that was his life. Only in a dream would he strike him down in a gilded morgue, as though it was a suitable place to die.

Waking from his nightmare offered no relief.

He’d tried for so many years not to see what was happening before his eyes. He turned his face away every time, turned his back on the helpless women who’d fallen under his brother’s spell.

Trelen wasn’t violent, never that. His was a silent wrath, deft hands making quick work of a mewling girl, manipulating her until she was as malleable as soft clay in his grasp. Then he’d throw the girls away, smiling as their tears glistened on their faces, dismissing them from service and sending them to another village out of his sight.

Pytir thought Trelen was addicted to the game of it. His brother was more than capable of spending his life in service to his estate, helping Pytir complete the tasks that were his to finish. But instead, Trelen spent his days either with his girls or out hunting. Everything was a game for him.

“I’m not old yet,” Pytir would try to tell himself. “I have time to change his ways. I’ll request his aid next month. Let him be young a while longer,” he’d say.

But next month never came. Instead it would pass, the months turning into years and while Pytir did not age as normal men aged, the waste of it all got to him. Seventeen years of games and women and hundreds of dead animals brought for opulent feasts for no discernible occasion, and Pytir had nothing to show for any of it.

Nothing, save the corpses of animals and barrels of tears.

Tonight he’d try again. Trelen had dismissed another girl last night, a raven-haired seamstress apprenticed to his tailor, who wasn’t pleased with the whole thing. Trelen had crossed a line, an invisible boundary. But was it really his fault? Pytir had never expressly forbidden his dalliances, nor had he specified with whom they could occur. He couldn’t punish his brother, but perhaps it was time to abdicate a little responsibility into Trelen’s hands.

Pytir’s brown eyes glanced up at his fair-haired brother over the roasted carcass of a wild hog. He’d lost his taste for game long ago, but he thought he’d try to savor it tonight in an effort to butter up his wild brother.

“The stewards of the north and west vineyards say it’s time to take account of the barrels before we bottle the wine,” Pytir said.

“Sounds like you’ll have a full day tomorrow,” Trelen replied.

Pytir pursed his lips and took another bite. It tasted like ash. “I think you should do it. You’re younger than I am, and I’m sure it would take you no time at all.”

The heir to the estate pouted. “Counting barrels is so boring. Renaldo and Brewa have been with us for decades. We can trust their numbers.”

“That isn’t the way we do things—” Pytir began, but Trelen was already wiping his mouth with a napkin and rising to his feet.

“I’ll do it next year, brother,” he said dismissively, sweeping out of the room like a fleeing dove.

Pytir sat for a moment in silence before throwing his fork against the far wall. The clatter echoed but was unheard by either of the two brothers as he left through the other door.

Another year of this. Another year, wasted like so much tasteless pork.

Freedom

A new story. Bittersweet this time. The prompt was “freedom.

I’ve been swamped with schoolwork, but it didn’t feel right to me to write about being free from school. As inspiring as a story about a graduation after years of struggle would be, it just didn’t fit in my mind. And, of course, look around you. I wasn’t going to write about patriotic freedom either.

So I found some other inspiration.

pexels-photo-935985

 

She never thought she’d be okay again.

She’d grown accustomed to his warmth, his lingering presence. Sleeping alone was foreign to her, and she got no rest the first and second nights.

But on the third, she found she was already starting to spread out as she slept instead of sticking to the left side, her side.

The whole bed was her side now.

It wasn’t what she expected. It certainly wasn’t what she wanted. But she had always prided herself on her tenacity and drive to work with what she had. She made her own destiny.

Slowly happy again.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Villein

The prompt for this week from Thin Spiral Notebook was villein, which means “a feudal servant entirely subject to a lord.”

This story is open for your interpretation. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the subtext, who these characters are, what they want.

 

 

dude

 

She blinked up at him demurely, batted her eyelashes.

The blond man smiled at her. What a pretty thing, he thought. What a pretty, little, stupid thing.

He pulled her closer, sliding his hand from the small of her back to rest on her behind. She tittered sweetly.

“My lord, we mustn’t. I heard your brother, he said you’re not allowed—”

He captured her mouth with his, silencing her.

She melted into his arms, like he knew she would.

He could always tell when a woman needed his help. A night with the heir grants commoners a little status.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Body Image

For school, I’m reading a lot of literature about body image in both men and women, boys and girls. It got me thinking, so I wrote this.

 

active-adult-asian-1033374

 

She prepares her breakfast at ten in the morning. A little late, but she’d foregone the alarm today on purpose.

Self-care is allowing yourself the freedom to exist as is.

Months ago, she skipped breakfast most days. And lunch. She’d have lean protein and vegetables for dinner.

But today she is having a breakfast burrito. She had the same thing yesterday. She will likely have the same thing tomorrow.

She loves the way her hair now gleams in the sunlight. She loves the way her thighs now touch. She loves herself. Genuinely.

Self-care is living life on your own terms.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Mule

The prompt was mule. One of the definitions of the word mule is:

a hybrid plant or animal, especially a sterile one.

 

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My mother was a sex worker. My father was a married man, well-respected in his industry. I’m not sure where that leaves me. My mom did the best she could to support me, but when she died, she didn’t leave me with any knowledge of how to take care of myself.

So I turned to him.

My father didn’t want anything to do with me, but he was wealthy enough to give me a stipend every month, so at least I could eat.

Then he died too, and I was left to go hungry.

I don’t know who I am.

©2018 Heather Stephens

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