Bats in the Belfry



David J. Gibbs


It wasn’t something she liked to talk about, certainly not at her advanced age. They would send her to the loony bin for sure. And her brat Andrew would smile, as he wheeled her in. No, she wouldn’t let that happen. But there was no denying something was happening. And it was something she couldn’t readily explain away or even control.

Ida had been born just south of the 20th-century mark and witnessed war swallow the known world twice over. She had witnessed a level of poor she had once thought impossible and had endured hunger leaving her too weak to move. She had witnessed three assassination attempts of presidents, two of which were successful. She remembered being a little girl and the world stopping as the Titanic took a nosedive to the depths. Ida remembered being scared when the astronauts died on the launching pad in a terrible fire and then just a few short years later, being so excited when Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for all mankind.

She could recall all of it, but somehow the more time passed the less real it seemed. It was as if she became more and more removed from it each time she thought about those things. There were even times when she almost questioned whether it had happened or not. And still, other times when she felt the things around her were whispery thin. It was almost as if she could push her hand through the lamp on the end table or her book would fall to the floor, her hands suddenly unable to grasp it. And it was that in part which made her start to begin wondering about how fragile a state of mind could be.

Could there be too much whispering?   

When she had been a young girl, she remembered her Aunt Lottie and how her parents had whispered about the aged woman behind her back. They would constantly talk about how they didn’t think she was safe by herself out on the farm being so far away from neighbors and doctors. It was the same small farm Lottie had been born on, and the same one both of her parents were buried on, but that didn’t matter when there were bats in the belfry.

Thankfully, Ida had been quiet about those certain little things and so no one was the wiser. Well, no one, save herself. And she wasn’t foolish enough to think she would be able to outlast the darkness she knew was coming. But for now, she was in control.

She could still cook and not worry she would burn the house down. Honestly though, if it did burn down, as long she was in it, she didn’t care. It was hers, bought and paid for, well before Lyndon had made his appearance in the White House, and it would remain hers until she was no more. Yes, and then Andrew could gut it or sell it or do whatever he damn well pleased with it.

Ida looked up at the small framed picture of her late husband Edward, or Eddie, as she had fondly called him. In the picture he sat on an old wooden barrel beside a split rail fence, one foot resting on another smaller barrel, both arms crossed on one of his knees. He clutched a worn cowboy, a wry smile crossing his face. She’d always wished he would’ve waited for her to sit down on the barrel beside him before the photographer had taken the picture, but he was in too much of a hurry.

Smiling, she turned on the gas for the stove and then lit it with a diamond tip kitchen match. Andrew always insisted on having her use one of those butane lighting sticks, but she thought they were unsafe. As the blue ring of flame danced around the burner, she shook the match out and then put the kettle of water on it.

The wind always tended to catch the south corner of the house and whisper through almost constantly. The incessant handfuls of sand wrought with the wind’s venom had worn the wooden shingles along that part of the house to an almost impossible smoothness. The whispers were music to her ears and she longed for more of it each day.

She knew Andrew had never liked it on The Point while growing up. He had hated the sand and the wind, but mostly he had hated the isolation. He had hated her and his father for keeping him in such a place. As if they were punishing him for something he had done. It had so little to do with him that he probably wouldn’t understand even if she tried to explain it to him.

It was more than a little frustrating her son couldn’t understand her love for the place. The thrill she felt each time the sun fell to the sea’s edge and spilled color across the sky. The way she felt when she watched the lightning crash to the sea, the flickering light show making the sea spark and the clouds glow. The ebb and flow of the tides every day and the way the sea would take away sand in one storm season only to deposit three times as much sand the following season. It was all something wonderful to her. It was as if each day was a secret slideshow for her and her alone.

Ida breathed with this place.

It was her air.

It was her.

She knew she was but a fraction of the person she had been thirty, forty, fifty years earlier but she was still more than able to take care of herself. God, she hated when one of the snooty visiting nurses would say things like ‘hey you’re really with it’ to her. The comments which might seem like compliments were like quiet daggers in a dark room. ‘No bats in the belfry’. ‘No rust upstairs with this one’. ‘Oh, you seem sharp as a tack darlin’. She’d like to show her a tack a time or two as much poking and prodding the nurses did all over her. Ida never understood how if her hands or elbows ached why they needed to check her feet or listen to her heart.

She had always had nervous hands. A smile burrowed across the weathered landscape of her face as she thought of Eddie again. He had always asked her if she had ants in her pants because of the way she would tug at the hems of her dresses or pick at her fingers. He’d been dead almost thirty years now, but she could feel him with her every step of the way, even more so lately it seemed. It was odd how many voices she heard in the wind each night. His was one of them.

The days no longer held much difference to them. They were becoming more and more, one long strange voyage, through which she walked. She didn’t go anywhere and had very few visitors. She spent long hours just sitting on her porch and watching the tides as they would come in and then softly shuffle out just as easily and was more than content.

She hated when her son came to visit because he was only interested in where she had her money and what she planned to do with it and oh yeah by the way did you forget to sign the power of attorney forms and did you finalize the updated last will and testament?  If she had her way, she’d leave it all to the damned seagulls that cried across her small finger of beach.

She knew Andrew was going to sell it all when he had the chance. Developers had been after her eleven acres of The Point, for as long as she could remember, always raising their price to something they felt she couldn’t possibly refuse. Ida never failed to surprise them. Oh sure, she’d listen to them. Her mother raised her to be polite. But once they were done with their folding easels and big glossy pictures and gave her the bottom line, she always politely thanked them for their interest and then showed them the door.

She heard a car door shut and knew the nurse was about to make an appearance. It was Thursday, so that would mean it was Mary Jane who would be coming through the door.

A large smiling woman dressed in white stepped through the door and said, “Well good morning Ms. Ida. I brought you the paper from your stoop.”

“Morning,” Ida said, resting her elbows on the arms of her chair, her eyes looking out at the ocean. “Thank you.”

“You’re looking well this morning. Did you eat anything yet?”

“I had something earlier. Was just waiting on the kettle to warm up for some tea.”

Mary Jane nodded her head and said, “I’ll just tidy up a little bit and then we can do your blood pressure and other things while you drink your tea. How about that?”

The question came in a voice that sounded like the woman was talking to a toddler. Ida nodded, hoping the conversation would end so Mary Jane could finish up quickly and get out of the house faster.

“My goodness but the wind is sure whipping out there. ‘Bout blew me off the bridge coming across to see you today,” Mary Jane said, as she went into the other room. The sounds of her putting things away could be heard, as Ida continued to stare out the window. The sunlight was making the small ripples sparkle. She loved when that happened. Mary Jane was right the wind was talking plenty outside.

Just then, she heard footsteps coming up to the porch, and for a minute and Ida wondered if Mary Jane had brought some help. But that thought quickly went to the wayside, as she suddenly recognized the footfalls. She heard the spring creaking as the storm door opened to the screened-in porch. Ida heard him dutifully wiping his feet on the small worn welcome mat. She knew it was Eddie coming up the steps. She knew it for certain in her heart. She had heard him follow the same routine hundreds of times before.

It was him.

Mary Jane’s humming came to her as Ida waited for the doorknob to turn and her Eddie to walk through the door. He hadn’t turned that doorknob in three decades and although part of her knew he couldn’t be there, another part of her that had been listening to the whispering wind all this time, knew he was there nonetheless.

Her heart shuddered with that sweet ache, as the doorknob turned and she watched Eddie step into the room. He was so handsome, always had been. She’d oftentimes wondered how she managed to hold onto someone with such dashing good looks. Ida knew she was no looker. She was a Plain Jane if there ever was one. Her sister Marie had always had the boys fawning over her, but not Ida. Not until Eddie walked into her life that is.

“Hey there Peaches,” he said, his voice hinting at laughter just below the surface. He tossed his worn hat onto the table beside her. She loved when he called her Peaches. It was his pet name for her.

She could only smile.

“What do you say we take a walk?  Weather’s nice and the water looks beautiful. It always is this time of year. We shouldn’t waste the day now should we?”

She could only nod, as she reached for his outstretched hand. It was so warm, and rough from labor, just as it always had been. They left together side by side and stepped down from the screened-in porch. The pair headed for the sparkles in the water.

“I’ve missed you,” she said her voice almost a whisper.

“Well, I’m right here. No reason to miss me now when I’m right here with you Peaches.”

They stumbled down over the rise of the dune and she could feel the water kiss her toes. Her one hand pulled her dress up so it wouldn’t get too wet, while her other held on to Eddie’s hand for dear life. The wind still talked to them as they walked through the shallow water near the shore. They walked through the shimmering water that glittered with the sunlight. The sun-warmed water teased her feet as they walked together. Lost upon the pair, the wind continued to lash out across the sandy expanse of beach with even more strength.


“I can’t believe the wind finally died down,” Mary Jane said a little loudly from the other room so that Ida could hear it.

She grouped the magazines neatly and tucked them into the side pocket of the Lay-z-Boy chair by the television before trying again, “Miss Ida that wind finally gave up I think.”

She walked into the small sunroom just inside the screened-in porch. It was Miss Ida’s favorite spot in the house. Mary Jane saw her sitting in the chair, her cane with four rubber feet stood dutifully at her side.

“Miss Ida?” she asked, with no response.

It was eerily quiet with the wind completely gone. Mary Jane had never known The Point to be this quiet. It was always windy, always.

As she moved closer, she heard a few drops of water tap against the floor. She knew that Miss Ida was prone to fall asleep and reached out to gently rouse her when she saw the water dripping from her bare feet. The bottom few inches of her nightgown were wet as well.

At first, she thought Miss Ida may have had an accident, but she knew that wasn’t the case almost immediately, she could smell the saltwater. But that wasn’t what chilled her heart. The first was the worn hat on the table. She knew it wasn’t there when she had come in just a few minutes earlier. The second was the wet sandy footprints that came in from the screened-in porch. There were two sets of them.

She picked up the phone and dialed Andrew’s number. As she waited for him to answer, Mary Jane looked up at the framed picture on the wall. In it, Ida was leaning against Eddie’s shoulder and they were sitting on two old wooden barrels. Her arm was tucked inside of his, and his large hands held a heavy saw. There was something that struck her about the photograph, but she couldn’t say exactly why. Something about it seemed different.

And then, the wind finally mercifully began to pick up again, whispering around the edges of the house.

Why Should I Care About Your Story?

Writing can be a difficult endeavor to navigate. Spending hours at the typewriter or computer or even the trusty note pad throwing words left and right to carve out a story in hopes of making the reader feel something. In doing so, there are so many things to consider. It’s not for the faint of heart and definitely not for the easily distracted. Maybe you’ve been at it awhile and haven’t had the kind of success you envisioned. It isn’t an easy vocation.

Think about it.

We have to come up with a gripping story, one that hasn’t been told before which holds the reader’s interest until the end. It can be as daunting as it is rewarding. We have to do things like incorporate the five senses throughout to make sure we have the reader engaged and come up with an intriguing setting as a wonderful back drop for all the character interactions. What about creating a narrative crackling with possibility? Snappy dialog. We certainly need to all of those things. They are important. They truly are.

But the question remains, why doesn’t anyone like my stuff?

Why am I not getting published?

In some cases it could just be the harsh reality that everything we write doesn’t strike a chord with publishers or friends. In other cases it can be the writing isn’t strong enough yet and we need to hone our craft a bit more. But other times, we might have everything in alignment–the setting, the narrative, the writing, the story–but something is missing. In many cases it can be the characters themselves.

The characters can make or break the piece.

If the characters are one dimensional it makes it hard to relate to them. Think about it. If you have an accountant, named Barry, who is happily married and lives in an affluent neighborhood with manicured lawns and a three bedroom house with a lovely supportive wife, where’s the fun in that? Where is your conflict? Where is the draw to that character? I personally want to punch the guy just to give him something to worry about.

Now, if we use the same Barry, but change a few things, we can make him more interesting. Let’s say he hates working with numbers, but only got his degree in accounting because his father wouldn’t pay for anything else. His father wanted Barry to cook the books for his butcher shop because he’s into drug trafficking or maybe it’s prostitution. And maybe Barry’s a recovering alcoholic because he despises what he does for a living and is miserable. His home life is crap. His troubled second marriage is on the rocks because of his drinking. His wife’s wandering eye has made her distant and more attentive to the men in the neighborhood than to him. He likes to think he doesn’t care, but he does. Barry’s thirty-five pounds over weight and a chain-smoker who is stretched thin with spousal support payments and child support payments to his first wife and is looking for a quick fix. He’s bought a gun he keeps in the locked glove compartment of his car and takes it out and holds it in his lap while driving to and from work. He’s thought about killing himself but is too chicken to pull the trigger. He hasn’t even bought bullets for the gun because he’s too afraid he might use it. One of his high school buddies has come to him with a business proposition which is questionable in the eyes of the law but would take care of his money problems. All he has to do is sign a few papers and file the paperwork anonymously and he’d be on easy street with a cool two hundred grand. He hasn’t made up his mind yet.

That’s a lot of meat to chew on, right?

Think about the conflict and the intrigue and the minefield the character has to navigate each and every day. The second Barry is far more relatable than the first. No one wants to read about perfect characters.

Make them imperfect.

Make them real.

Make them like us.

Give them flaws and hopes and fears and have them make mistakes and deal with the fallout.

If you add flawed characters to the mix, it will make your writing more relatable. Give it a try.

Never give up and always remember to…

Write ON!

Perfect is not Possible

Hate to break it to you but no draft is perfect. Ever.

Yeah, I said it.

Perfect is not possible.

As writers we strive to be, don’t we?

But it’s a myth.

Our narratives build worlds and characters flecked with pieces of ourselves. As we write, our hearts have soared with our character’s triumphs and wilted in their defeats. We live and die in those moments as we should. If we aren’t emotionally invested in what we write, then it’ll never resonate the way we want it to with our readers.

However, there is an important point in the creative process that needs to be addressed. In the course of creating, we cannot allow ourselves to be swallowed by the myth. If we do, if we succumb to the notion that somewhere in the sea of words, there is perfection, then we will never finish the manuscript. We will forever seek the perfect word or turn of phrase or witty banter and we will smother the flickering flame of what made our story truly shine.

In the process of finding the perfect word we can choke the life out of a perfectly good manuscript.

Now, I’m not saying don’t edit. We all need to edit (and love every minute of it, right?) but what I’m suggesting is instead making five hundred editing passes on the same manuscript let it go at five. I’m sure that might’ve send some of you screaming for the exit doors and that’s okay. We all have method to our madness and if yours is to edit it five hundred times then go for it. I think the manuscript will suffer for it though.

Just get the words down and finish the draft. Messy or not. Get it down.

I know some authors who agonize over every word. Some are great writers but they get mired in perfection and lose sight of what made the story great in the first place. In many cases, they can’t even finish the book they started. The one which had so much promise. That’s because they’ve choked the life out of it.

Get the words down. Let the story breathe. Let it be a little messy. Live is messy. Our characters shouldn’t be perfect either. Let the characters live and die on the page as they’re supposed to do. And somewhere in the course of all that, believe it or not, perfection will live and the story will thrive.

Always remember to write ON!

What’s so Important About a Tree Stump?

Writers are some of the most creative people on the planet. Everything around them is fuel for their inspiration. It might be the way the sky looks in the morning or an overheard bit of conversation at the grocery store. It might be something their kids said or a dream they had overnight.

They take the inspiration and create something out of nothing, whether it’s a character, a setting, or an entire story. And no matter where the inspiration comes from, writers have to use words to bring them to life. The movie playing in their head has to appear within the lines of prose in a way that the imagined becomes the real to the reader. They want the reader to be able to picture what they dreamed up inside their head, both in appearance and mood.

Sometimes writers get lost in getting the words down without taking a moment to think about how their words are perceived by the reader. Does the reader see the same movie? Do they feel the heartache of a breakup? Do they experience the joy of winning the heart of another? Do they see the landscape beyond the window the same way the writer does? Do they know what the monster on the bed looks like?

It’s important the author’s imagined world be conveyed in a way the reader sees, hears, and experiences them as they were intended. When they don’t, the reader doesn’t stay engaged in the story and the author loses them.

What if you were reading a passage like this?

‘I stumbled upon a tree stump in the woods.’

You’d probably imagine something like this, right?

images (18).jpg

Just a boring, run-of-the-mill tree stump. Not very exciting, is it? I mean who hasn’t seen a tree stump like that? But, what if I told you that’s not even close to the tree stump I stumbled across.

Let’s try something a little different.


‘Lost, wandering in the thick woods for hours, I stumbled across something of nightmares, a stump with a twisted frenzy of tentacles grabbing at the earth, trying to pull the insatiable, squid-like beast into the light of day, its hellish eye watching closely.’

The passage is a little more engaging isn’t it? And after reading it, your mind isn’t filled with the first image above is it?

Writers need to always keep in mind how their work reads to others, which is why it’s important to have other people give feedback on the work. Whether it’s friends, other writers, or beta-readers, their opinions and feedback can be invaluable to the writers to ensure the intended picture they imagined and painted with words doesn’t read like an ordinary, boring tree stump.

The Magic Bullet

What is the magic bullet? Haven’t you heard? It’s the super-secret way all successful authors have to get published. You learn about the magic bullet the same day the SAC teaches you the secret handshake. What’s the SAC? Well, it’s the Secret Authors Coalition of course. If you don’t know about the secret handshake or the magic bullet, you obviously are not a successful author.

Yes, I’m kidding. Don’t go Googling ‘magic bullet’ and ‘SAC’. I cannot promise the search results that might come back if you do.

It would be nice if there was an SAC and a magic bullet, wouldn’t it? I mean, if everybody could have that knowledge then every author out there would be successful, wracking up the publishing credits and becoming a best-selling author, right?


The only problem is there is no magic bullet, no super-secret handshake, and no SAC.

But hold on. There is still hope. Don’t go running off to cry in the corner.

If you are a new author who is finally ready to begin submitting work and hoping to get that precious first publishing credit, you might feel like you’re navigating a dark warehouse with just your cell phone for a flashlight. It doesn’t illuminate much and your progress is slow. You keep bumping into things you can’t see and getting frustrated. It is a learning experience like no other and no instruction manual to go with it.

The good news is, even without a guidebook, anyone can be successful as a writer. Every writer has a different concept of success. Some, merely want to finish a story or their first book while others want to have their story published online or in print. For some, success is selling their first short story and getting their first royalty check. And still, other writers want to make a living putting words down on paper. The writer needs to define their version of success.

When writers get brave enough to start submitting their work, all the anxiety they’ve kept in check while shaping the story and getting it ready escapes. Is my writing good enough to be published? Will anyone want to read my story?

All of those are valid questions. Writers can spend hours upon hours poring over their work trying to make it perfect before sending it out. Well, I have news for you, it never will be perfect. There are always improvements that can be made. I know some writers who struggle so much with making it perfect, they choke the life out of the piece. Sometimes, it is better to give it legs before it gets killed during editing. There are no perfect drafts, there are merely finished drafts with hope.

So, I have a confession to make. I lied when I said there is no magic bullet.

What is it?

You’re probably not going to like the answer. The magic bullet is simply hard work coupled with never giving up. Keep writing. Keep improving. Keep submitting. You will learn as you go and the lessons you learn will guide you, the cell phone flashlight growing stronger, the darkness of the warehouse slowly dissipating. The publishing doors will open eventually and when they do you can feel the joy of having a first publishing credit.

And then the second.

And the third.

You get the idea.

Don’t get discouraged.

We are all in this together.

Stop reading this stupid blog post and get back to writing.

And always remember to write ON!

Rejection? I’ve Got Your Rejection, Right Here

Rejection at any level sucks, right?

You see someone you’re attracted to and ask them out, and you get the thanks but no thanks response. You interview for your dream job, and they go with someone else. You raise your hand to give a high five and you’re left hanging. All of it sucks. But the kind of rejection I’m talking about has to do with writing.

Your writing.

Your creation.

Your soul.

We, as writers, are an odd flock. I mean, surely you’ve realized that by now. And if you haven’t, you will. There is no denying it. No other vocation requires people to spend hour upon hour in solitary confinement locked away inside their heads, their own worlds, talking with people who don’t exist anywhere else but on paper.

Dutifully, we pound out words and sentences to bring these people, places, and things alive. We agonize with our characters, don’t we? We feel them at the worst and champion them at their best. At times, we will them to make decisions, but once fully evolved, they have minds of their own, becoming unwieldy bits of bothersome fodder to our tale. (It is magic, by the way, when that happens)

For some writers, it is enough to begin writing.

For others, it is enough to finish the first short story.

And others still it is enough to finish their first novel.

But for others, there is a need to be published, to let the world judge their work.

And it’s to the last group, I’m speaking. Writing is incredibly personal. Why? Because it’s flecks of ourselves, our pain, love, hopes, dreams sprinkled across the page for everyone to see. It’s a glimpse into our innermost secrets, the locked inner chambers of our minds and hearts.

And that’s why it hurts in a very personal way when we have our writing criticized and rejected. It matters not if it comes from our fellow contemporaries, our writers in arms, the ones who are supposed to be helping us improve and grow as writers. It hurts, even more, when our writing is rejected by the insurmountable wall of the publishing industry.

It is important to realize how brave we are as writers. It took a lot to bleed on the page for the sake of our art, to agonize over the wording, the tone, and mastering the proper voice. It took even more courage to submit a story to a publication with the hope we would earn the right to appear in print.

Some writers might say, “Oh, that’s such a shame.”

Others might say, “Tough tittie, deal with it.”

I’m kind of in the middle. I’ve been on the receiving end of brutal rejections, which stung for quite a while. I have amassed quite an impressive array of rejection letters from magazines, journals, anthologies, agents, and publishers alike. If you’ve been wading through the trenches of fiction publishing, I’m sure you have too
The important lesson learned–and it’s a hard one to swallow–is rejection is part of the writer’s growth. It truly is.

Think of the rejection as the publication saying right now, at this point in time, with this story, in this shape, the answer is no. It doesn’t mean you can’t write. It doesn’t mean the story sucks. It means, right now, it’s a no. So, leave the story to simmer, go back over it with a fine-toothed comb and submit it again.

The first rejection is always the hardest. For me, it took me about a week to get back to it. The writing I mean. Submitting again took me a little longer. But it became a rallying point. Other writers get rejected. Everyone does. It’s part of the game.

I’m incredibly stubborn. Ask anyone who knows me. I have Scottish, Irish, and German blood running through my veins. The only person more stubborn than me is my mother, the daughter of a U.S. Army Colonel. I didn’t let it deter me. When the rejection came in, I took it to heart and buckled down. It drove me to write better and to come up with better ideas. I began to read books on writing and incorporate things to improve. I read about how to better focus my query letter and how to word it so they would have a hard time saying no.

I began to submit more pieces, and although I received even more rejections, they didn’t sting as much, and I started to wear each one as a rite of passage.

Don’t let rejections get in the way of what you love.

So, join me. Wear your scars proudly and keep writing and keep submitting. The acceptances will start coming.

Never stop.

And always remember to write ON!

Sorry, No Shortcuts Here

A lot of people say they want to be writers.

Typically, these are the people who have taken a creative writing class in high school or a course or two while in college. Maybe they’ve watched movies, or read books, where the writer’s life is romanticized and fluffed into something unwieldy and unrealistic. No, we don’t all live in an oceanside estate, sipping brandy from a sifter, beside the fireplace, writing bestsellers. It just doesn’t happen that way.

If truth be told, most writers cannot make a living from their craft. Many times, they don’t make any money. The people who say they want to be writers have visions of writing the next bestseller at their seaside estate or mountain retreat. The people who say they want to be writers don’t understand what it takes to be one. You see, they envision the muse flitting about their head, whispering the next lines of their book. That’s not how it happens. It’s a wonderful notion, but unrealistic. They don’t see the late nights, the agony of each rejection, or the torture of wondering whether you can do this or not with every word you get down.

For the true writer, the ones who add words to blank pages every day, there is no romance to it. There is nuance but not romance. There is no magic muse whispering sweet nothings in our ears and no seven-figure contract waiting once our manuscript is complete.

It’s just us against the blank page.

We grind out words each day–sometimes painfully, sometimes effortlessly–but it’s a commitment like no other. It’s a commitment to ourselves that we can fill another page, write another story, and make another sale.

So, why do we do it? If there’s not much money in it, why do we write?

For me, it’s a need. It’s undeniable. I have to write. Even when I had a day job, I still had to write every day. I had to get words down. Even now, on those days when I can’t write until late, my fingers get itchy, and I get restless. There is something wonderfully cathartic about creating something out of the blank space of a white page. Characters, dialog, places, and events. All at my fingertips. All mine.

For those of us lucky enough to make a living as writers, there are no shortcuts. There are just words to create and stories to conjure.

For those out there who say they want to be writers? Stop talking about it and start doing it. Put the words down and fill the page.

And then another.

And then another.

You get the point.

Never give up. And always write ON!