The suitcase opened its mouth.

“Are you really going to just ignore me right now? C’mon, Sammie! Of all the times we’ve gone through this, and you’re going to wait until right now to ignore me? We’re going on a trip for gods’ sake!”

“Not ’we,’ Henry. I. I am going on a trip. You are not.”

Sammie then turned from the closet addressed her bed. “Do you hear that Mr. Bed. Do you hear the suitcase in the middle of the floor? Oh, the nerve!”

“Oh yes,” said Henry. “Let’s begin to mock me. Yes yes, we always love when you patronize the fact that I’m a thing now, a heartless, bloodless, jobless thing . It’s not like we haven’t been around the corner with this whole human/suitcase charade in the past. You know what your problem is?” The zipper around its mouth turned and twisted slowly as the words came out of it and formed on its face.

“The problem is that you just don’t believe in yourself. You believe something else. You think there’s actually something to this whole life thing. You think you’re just going to get on the flight and it’s all going to go nice and queenly and I’m not going to make a fuss; is that it?”

It was the only green suitcase that she had ever owned – a Stillwell’s brand. But then again, Stillwell’s went out of business nearly thirty years ago. It was the only portmanteau she head aver considered borrowing (at that time you could borrow), but they owner said it wasn’t really selling off the showroom floor. The store was partly hers anyway and she wasn’t about to go in on any sort of negotiation deals. It was the end of the night, the end of her shift, and she was done. By the time her boss found out in the morning, she would have been long gone. She was quitting that job anyway – the next day, in fact. Said the they had an advanced managerial position ant the Piggly Wiggly down on Madison Ave. – the only Piggly Wiggly that was open in Savannah.

“Helloo!” Said the suitcase, flustered.

“Stop!’ Sammie said. “Okay, okay are you done? I mean I have been sitting here listening to you prattle your old zipper back and forth, and yet, you still look at me and give me that stupid silver, well….smile.”

“And you know what, Sam? It’s gonna pay off. Listen. I have connections, We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about how much my connections are going to help you on this flight. You haven’t even gotten on the plane yet. How can you doubt me here? Look, let’s say. It was just you and me, and we were going to the airport and you were there having this breakdown on your own…And ~”

“It’s not a break down Henry, it’s not. You died on me back there, and now just because you can’t admin that, you …Oh, you just get me so mad!”

“It was an accident!” Henry shifted on the floor and turned to face her as she spun around the room wildly, flipping through various sets of clothing.

“Not working,” he said, intending to prod.

“Don’t care,” she added in the same tone as she crossed back to the chest of drawers on her side of the bed. She looked in the standing mirror which had stood there since their marriage had been good. It looked back at her as she rummaged through her underwear draw to find a few pairs which she placed neatly on the bed next to a stack of t-shirts, several pairs of socks, and even two new pairs of sneakers. – ADIDAS – It was a new brand, but something she had to try; they were 30% off, after all.

Exasperated at his voice, “Zip it!” She cursed at him. “You’re not going to convince me to take you.”

“You don’t know that,” the zipper folded. “Besides, if you know you didn’t want to take me, you wouldn’t be having this conversation with me right now.”

“I’m not,” she said. “Look, can we just not talk about this right now? The cab is going to be here in the next few minutes, and I have to have all my stuff together. Besides, it’s not every day that a girl in my position gets to take a tip to Disney World.” She turned back to the closest and let her fingers run over the dry wooden hangers making a clickety-clack sound.

“You know something, there’s something I’d like to do.”

“Oohhhh,” She turned back to him. She was well into her sixties, and still knew how to wield her smile – the same one that got his attention the first place, the when he was still human and didn’t play with the magic that got him turned into a suitcase in the first place.

“There’s something I heard, Henry. Would you like to know what it is?”

The portmanteau didn’t counter. It was finally her turn. And she let the time drag out. She let the old stained and worn portmanteau just lie there on the beige rug of the master bedroom – the one which had belonged to her uncle’s former college friend from Cornell.

“What?” He asked

“I heard that they’re going to be opening an new Neiman Marcus at Disney world. Did you hear that?”

“No,” he said reluctantly.

She gave hm him that look where she hates her hops one direction andante turned her head the other. “What do you think of that that? It said.

“Never,….” Henry started. “Never heard of it.”

“Why would you? Well… No reason you should, actually.” She turned back around the tone closest. “They sell suitcases. Samsonites. Supposed to be very good.” She allowed her hand to rifle through the hangers again, turning back to the closet.

Then she paused. “Very good.”



Presidential Cup

by L.P. Stribling

    Coffee that morning came early; it was placed in its position (there was practice involved in the placement of its proper position) – just right of the middle of the desk. The lights remained on until Stanley exited the room. He flipped the switch and the room darkened. Stanley left promptly thereafter. The time was 4:30. The president was expected in his office within minutes.

At 6:30, the president nearly threw open his office door and harrumphed in.

“What is it, Derek? You’ve got just a few minutes. I have a conference – morons who think my Twitter account is doing more harm than good. Speak.” He walked toward his desk as the office door behind him snapped up against the wall with the force of being thrown open.

“Well, Mr. President, it’s about your notion of power.” Derek’s quiet suited form followed meekly. His well-groomed manner made him the perfect fit as an intern with the Cabinet. “I think you may need to really reconsider your approach to the Koreas; their history is one which really relies on a certain degree of diplomacy that ~ ”

The president stopped and turned. The wrinkles on his brow under his golden hair cringed at both the tepid cup and his intern’s boldness. He set the coffee back down. It was his favorite cup – one side held the American flag in as majestic a representation any coffee cup could have – with his name emboldened just below that image. On the other side, a solid, but still professional dollar bill symbol. Black and white. He would have much rather preferred the cup in his hand – just a moment with his coffee, but <sigh> his work was never finished.

“What? I’m not diplomatic enough for you?”

The intern’s lips stretched minimally into an attempt of a smile.

“All right, if that’s what you want to do with the few minutes you have with me, that’s what we’ll do.”

He brought a wooden chair from near his desk over and set it down in front of the man, who much younger, seemed a bit timid with the way he pushed his wired no-frame glasses back up on his nose. He spun the wooden chair around on the shiny hardwood floor of the office and straddled the forward-facing chair with his arms crossed the back.

“When I was your age I really wanted to change things. I thought I could do anything, make any kind of change that I wanted in life. All I needed was the drive and the determination. My brother Jake worked delivered papers as a kid. He started on his own, and soon enough, he got his friends into it. There was one kid, though, who was just a lazy fuck. But he was big, so he intimidated. Tommy was his name. And instead of working his part and contributing to the rest of the newspaper. But what he did was different. This kid decided he was going to disappear for a few hours each day, and then when the other kids got back, he was going to trash his own papers and say that he worked the areas he had been assigned.

“And it worked out for a bit. The kid got paid. But my brother found out about it and was about to rat him out. But Tommy found him before he could do it.

“ ‘If you rat on me, I’ll make your life a living hell,’ he said. Jake did not think that he could tell anyone about it – he was afraid. But, since I wasn’t a part of the group, he figured he could tell me. He was older than me, Jake, but only by a few months, so we were basically the same age. I didn’t say anything. I just knew that I had to take care of the situation. Jake had told me that he was too scared to do anything. Tommy was a big kid, and people knew him to be a trouble-starter. He had been nice to Tommy for a few months and they had grown more of a bond that way. That was in the beginning. Tommy heard how much money Jake was making and asked if he could get in on it. Jake agreed, but reluctantly, because he didn’t really know Tommy that well.

Long story short, I found out where this kid lived. Don’t ask me how. I just did. On a week night I snuck out of the house really early in the morning and walked over to Tommy’s house. I have to let you know, and this is of course off the record, but sometimes things happen for very good reasons, you know? I think fear can be a great lesson, and…”

Derek sat there, stilled as the Commander-in-Chief rattled on incessantly and without any rationale as was his usual case. He even pulled back a bit when the man’s politically menacing index finger shot out as he wanted to highlight his next sentence. It was the same index finger that shot out in addresses to the nation, international conferences, and local forums which needed his input on the economy or recent incidents of national interest.

“You can’t reason with bullies, Derek! That’s just the truth of things.” He pulled his finger back and reset his folded arms. “So I killed his dog and left in on his porch. I made sure the last strike brought the blade all the way through the paper from the porch and into the animal’s body. Now look, Derek; are you looking at me? Derek?”

Derek’s expression of shock refocused on the president. “Ah, y-yes. Sir.”

“Good, ‘cause I don’t want to lose you now; this is important. The point is that you just can’t reason with bullies. Sometimes you have to shove all the shit they’re giving out right back in their face so they get a nice good whiff!

“So, what happened the next day? Tommy didn’t show back up to the newspaper business. It was taken care of. Jake got to keep all his earnings, and all was good.” He flashed his yellow smile at Derek then as he stood and straightened his tie and readjusted his national flag pin. “So, don’t you worry your pretty little head about Korea, Derek. You let me take care of that. Where’s a mirror?”

“Mr. President?” The door opened and a skinny man with a clipboard stuck his head into the room.


“You’re expected in the library for the briefing.”

“Be right there, Ryan. Thank you.”

The door closed and the president walked over to Derek and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m glad to have you on my side, Derek. Your job here for the next few months is just to watch at learn.” He walked toward the door as he called back over his shoulder. “Oh, can you have another cup of coffee brought over? The one on the desk is old. And use that same cup, will you?”

The door closed behind the man, and the room, with Derek seated in it, fell quiet again.

Thank you for the “Excuses.”

(*Below is my thank-you letter to the cast of Writing Excuses – a true source of writing inspiration, humor, and kinship of craft. If you want to be a writer, and have trouble with inspiration, please consider this cast.)


Dan, Brandon, Mary, and Howard,

Thank you.

My name is Levi and I have been listening to Writing Excuses since its inception. Right from Season 1 all the way to now, I have loved spending this time with you. This is not to take up a lot of your time, but I wanted to thank you for the inspiration you have given me in my writing life.

I have been writing since 2008 after reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, believing that I could do the same (maybe not as well, of course, but similarly). That I could be a writer. I grew up enmeshed in epic fantasy and science-fiction, and wanted to create and exist in those same worlds in my writing as an adult.

But I didn’t know how or where to start.

So, I picked a direction, something. I would read interviews with several novelists who I had admired growing up, articles and tips online about how to dive in, and I sat in on a writing group in the local area. But it was when a friend recommended Writing Excuses that I found a new series of fires had lit within me. From one episode to the next, I found myself listening to them four, five, six at a time. At that time, you were already into Season 3 or so, which allowed me to download handfuls of previous episodes and binge-listen to my delight. I had them on my phone, twenty-some episodes all locked and loaded at a time. If I needed to pause, I could pause, and I would come back to it and pick up where I left off.

And as I listened, I learned. Character, setting, plot, structure, language, dialogue, and on and on. And the two best parts were that the show is relatable, and maintains its level of interest. Let’s be honest, when you talk about writing, you can either make it appealing or not. In this way, I have to thank you on how very low you keep the level of suck. You have humor, you have varying personalities, you’re all very accomplished and have loads of anecdotes of experience to share with us, and unlike many other authors, who may carry an air of conceit, you treat us in a way that not only shows that you know where we’re coming from and what we’re feeling as beginner/amateur writers, but (and most-importantly) that you believe in us and encourage us to dig, and push, and create.

Brandon, thank you. My brother and I are both writers and huge fans of the Wheel of Time. His background of sci-fi and fantasy is heavier than mine, and when he says that the Way of Kings is the finest fantasy series he’s ever read, that’s saying something. Your prolific output, dedication to the craft, and generous advice and demonstration on writing (Youtube, lectures, interviews) continually inspires me. We met in San Francisco when you were on tour with Harriet. Your advice to me was, “keep going.” Thank you.

Mary, thank you. It is because of your dedication to your craft, your investment of yourself, and your honesty with your encouragement and advice for the rest of us is very inspirational. You hand-write letters to your fans and it was through this way that we met once at Norwescon in Seattle and I was introduced to and read Shades of Milk and Honey. Thank for you continued inspiration.

Howard, thank you. Your humor on the cast is great. It is so very nice to have you process the craft for the rest of us as it relates through the lens of the graphic art. When I check in on your site and see that you still putting up new strips every single day, it is very inspiring for me. You bring an art and style to writing that many may overlook and I would like to thank you for not only the exposure of your style to the craft, but your input as a writer and a cartoonist to the topics of the cast. Thank you. I must say that it has been some time since we’ve heard you give us the exclamation of “luxury” in only the way you can.

Dan, thank you. It’s always inspirational to know of those who know what they want and just walk out and get it. As a horror writer, you bring something to the table that the rest of us need to hear. It’s so nice to hear your method of how you break down your ideas into a structure (and eventual final product) for a story which affects its audience. Your Seven-point plot structure is a beautiful tool for writers and I thank you, as I am considering using it in a current project of mine.

Each of you has inspired me as a writer and I very much appreciate

Which brings me to the reason I wanted to write this letter. The most recent episode on true confessions is the best I’ve ever heard. Maybe you thought it was mediocre or just something fun to do, but it was the most poignant and apropos message I’ve heard to date. I think it’s easy for beginning writers to think ideas such as, ‘no, this can’t be the way to do it,’ ‘no, it’s all wrong,’ or ‘no, I’m just repeating myself, I don’t have any chapters yet, this isn’t even what I wanted to write about…..’ and on and on. “Failure” after “failure” after “failure.” And this episode is one in which you tell us to our faces, “Actually, that’s totally normal…and look at all the times I screwed up.” I love the fact that Mary said that it’s not really failure, it’s just data. It’s said that Thomas Edison screwed up over 1,000 times (and I’m paraphrasing) before finally inventing the lightbulb. And when asked about all those times, he is famously quoted as having said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times, I just found out 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.”

Math is not my forte, but if we’ve been at this for 12 years (you as the hosts, and me as the listener), then we’ve hit somewhere around 625 episodes – ballpark. And this one, above all, was the most perfect of episodes. No guests needed, no special theme, no writing prompt, just sitting back and listing some of the epic screw-ups that you’ve had, and reminding us that (as Howard said, and again, I’m paraphrasing), it’s not that you fail; that’s going to happen. It’s what you do with that discovery. You can either quit, cry about it, moan, and consider a professionally lofty bridge, or get back up and go at it again. You’re either a writer, or your not. What a period to end the season with.

Thank you for the inspiration. I am looking forward to the upcoming season on character, and if I may, and because I’m into language, I’d like to learn about character and presence – basically, the about of presence a protagonist (or side character) can have and how you can keep a character’s presence from overwhelming the rest of the story (i.e. maintaining a balance of character presence).

Okay, enough from me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued dedication to the craft we all love, and for helping us better ourselves in this venture. You do just by who you are.

And with that, although I am not quite out of appreciation, I am out of excuses. I’m off to write.

See you next year,

What Not to Include

Being a writer sometimes means saying shit you just don’t think the masses will agree with and letting them disagree. Going with the flow, with the grain of the wood, is always the safer avenue to take, but isn’t necessarily the one your moral sled dogs will leap at.

Here’s a bit of me on some topics that are bouncing around our current social consciousness. The caveat emptor here is that I don’t know about any of it. I’m not by any means au courant on the scholarly articles addressing these issues, but I also know that no one has to be. I’ll just be the writer, do the work and know that what I end up saying is something that people will judge one way or another for whatever reason. That’s just what people do, right? All you can do is be true to yourself.

Inclusion, equality, and inclusivity – huge topics on the sociopolitical board in recent times, and the reality is the sense of it all is likely heightened because of the recent election of the current American President. I’m not here to talk about him or gripe or anything politically active like that; I’m just not that person. I’m just noting an observation. I’ll start by saying I don’t believe everyone has to be included in works of art. They just don’t. There is no rule out there that mandates we have to be “fair.” That word, ‘fair’, is a human fabrication. There’s no rule book to life that says we have to do anything – one way or another.


At the same time, I’m not saying that it doesn’t feel good to be included; but that’s not the issue. The issue around the nation is that I feel there’s this movement that people HAVE TO include certain other people. It says that everyone should be included. We should all include everybody else because they’re not you. Include them because they’re: black, yellow, green, purple, male, female, short, tall, fat, skinny, uneducated, poor, uneducated, unhealthy, have different viewpoints, come from different cultures, dog/cat owners, multilingual, Lady Gaga lovers, horse-haters, puppy-kickers, and so on ad nauseam. Include them all. All doors are open; everyone’s welcome.

Guess what, I don’t leave my door open at all times of the day for anyone to walk in whenever they want. <shakes head vigorously> It’s my house, not public park. Doesn’t work that way.

Okay, so there seems to me to exist an implicit understanding that we (artists) haven’t been including “the other” on purpose for ages. I would challenge this. I don’t have the proof on me, but I’d be willing to wager that “the other” has guest-starred in art since art’s debut way back to who-knows-when.  This isn’t something we have to look up now, but I guess is that the data’s there when you’re ready. I get the feeling that the lack of inclusion isn’t the issue here, but wanting the masses to “like you.” And that makes sense. Humans enjoy the feeling of being included, of people liking us. Yes. I completely agree with and understand that. But hey, check out that elephant there in the middle of the room – people aren’t always going to like you. It will never happen 100% of the time. Never. I’ll take that bet.

The aforementioned goes especially for artists. You’re an artist, guess what? You’re playing the lute to an audience of skeptics and “beauty analysts.” Yes, general analysts of a subjective concept. You’re just not going to with with everyone.

BUT! … You will always with with SOMEONE! Even if that someone is only you, there is always someone out there who loves your stuff! That fan could fall anywhere in the color schema of humanity and they love it.

Look. There’s no rule out there that says in life we have to play fair. In fact, once we (society, political institutions, Big Brother) start making it a rule that we have to play fair, then we lose our ability to love what we choose. Once we start telling citizens how they have to play fair, (depending on the topic – or always?) we’re placing more restrictions on the citizens within that country.

At the same time, I’m not saying it’s okay to be a dick, either. If you don’t want someone to join your Easter Egg hunt, that’s fine. It’s your party, but there are understandable reasons and not-all-that-understandable reasons for this. In the end though, it’s still your party. You don’t want to include people, you don’t have to. Period. We were taught the rule on sharing (ideally – if we had parents who made an active effort to bring that to our attention and tattoo it on our hearts. As adults, I think it’s ridiculous that we have to be told this.

None of this is the issue. The issue, as I see it, isn’t inclusion; it’s kindness/compassion. If I wanted to, I could totally play the politically correct game and smile and open my door to everyone. “Look,” I’d say, “I’m being the friendly inclusive patriot of the good ol’ U.S. of A! Come on in, y’all! Yee haw!.” Shit, you could mandate me to “include” someone all you want, but let’s remember two things:

Thing 1: The kid who gets his mom to make the other kids include him loses respect when mommy walks away.

Thing 2:  My inclusion of you does not mean we are suddenly best friends.

I could be a total asshole and still include you (to make mom happy, to make people see me in a better light; to boost my sales, etc). But none of my including you says I have any more of an intrinsic desire to form a closer bond with you.

As a writer, I don’t feel obligated to put a check mark in the inclusivity box while creating something. Here’s the deal, I (artists) are going to be criticized. Why? Because whether I identify a certain way or not, it’s not necessarily how I see myself here, but how other people see me (using their own backgrounds, potential prejudices, and stereotypes) which lends itself to how those around me label me.

In my life, I have worked with a Skittles packet of humanity; skin color, gender, religion, etc., were not determining factors. The apparel did not proclaim the man, as it were. What did make a difference was their respective characters. Were they good people? Did they give of themselves instead of asking to receive? The more the kid in the corner whines about not being able to join the fun, the less the kids at the game table want to let him in. Patience and quiet perseverance, on the other hand, kindness, honesty/trueness to oneself are the sweeter sounds to which our kind has a greater proclivity to listen. Whining is regression.  Art is, as a potential definition, the expression of spiritual progression.

The plumage of our art loses its luminescence when it yields to the mandates of a manmade system. It becomes listless, dull, sick. It’s some dead fowl whose once pretty wings now quickly fade as they flip and flop on the side of some construction-laden highway of mediocrity. A dead phoenix attracts the same attention as a dead vagrant. Dead is dead. Yesterday’s beauty can’t bribe enough to step on today’s stage.

Make your art the way your art cries to be made. You don’t have to be white to write white, just as you don’t have to be transgendered and Laotian to write transgendered and Laotian. Art is art and it comes through you as it is. It will be ridiculed, laughed at, derided, scoffed at, discarded, and potentially ire-fueling. In the same moment it can be uplifting, life-changing, motivating, and inducing laughter, beauty, and song.

Critics are like roaches, and in saying that I don’t imply they can live for three days without their heads; though that may be questionable. The point is if you sit around and listen all the time to what the social club-toting Neanderthal threatens you to do.

No, you don’t have to include; you don’t have to do anything.

Be kind; be true to yourself; keep your pearlescent wings flapping over those highways. You be you; let them be them. It’s that easy. There are no rules up here.



Book V – done

Jer and I have rolled through Book V of the Wheel of Time series. Damn. I’m still surprised we are where we are. I’ve tipped my hat in this direction before, but if you’ve never read the Wheel of Time and you’re into fantasy and terrific writing, you’d be in for a treat. The yarn Jordan spins is well worth the time.

Check out our progress Across the Wheel and join in if you’re up for it.



Dawn reached through the sky as though it had ripped its way across a league of fetid grey – a lonesome stagnant pond which had stood for years waiting something, some speck of color.

Carl’s eyes seized the stones as soon as the sun waned upon them, his hands loosed thanks as they grabbed the hardened chunks of earth.

“Here!” he spat. “The stones are here.”

His father turned from a damp inlay of soil, his legs making the small mud puddles which held his feet swish a bit.

“Quick, boy,” he said. “Before any of them wake.” He moved quickly past the icy statues, their frozen positions stuck in the twisted and lifeless clutching motions from the night before. They had just barely survived. He fell to his knees by his son and helped him grab at the stones.

They tossed the rocks from the small hole and discarded them with small thuds into the wet dark earth.

Sweat showered each of them, sweat and languor. Neither had slept. They remained awake through the cold and the fear. His father had told him to stay moving. He didn’t know how, but he did it. He clawed at the rocks. Not another night, he thought.


His father pulled out from down behind the rocks a dust-covered pouch. Carl’s tears were lost upon the mud of his chest. “Open it,” he said.

The sun fell upon a wider patch of ground. The sky was clear. And below smiles as his father pulled open the cloth of the pouch, there was a twitch from somewhere lost amid the tall still bodies.

ss – Draft Six and counting


How many f&$king drafts is this short story going to take(interrobang). Seriously, I’ve been at this story all damn day, and my stomach is running low on tolerance for the chocolate snacks, even if they are the small-morsel types. When I’m done, I’m done. Speaking of done, however, the good news is that I’m almost done. I’m right there and I can almost feel the final edit.

There’s only so much time in a day and I’m reminded of that as it’s running past midnight and I’m here at the keyboard. When your life is over, that’s it. That’s all you get. No refunds, no collecting $200 when you Pass Go; nothing. So, whether writing’s your thing or it’s something else, make it work; make your life worth doing your passion.

The story’s about a little girl who lives in her own world despite the numbing effects those around her feel as they live in theirs. She is challenged when trying to follow the sweetness of her own concept of life while she feels an overwhelming resistance to taste the bitterness of others’ displeasure. Can you blame her? It’s come a long way; and we’re still moving. It’s midnight; onward I press.

How’s your writing coming?