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!

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.

Short Story Free to Read!

2015 Story of the Year Award from



David J. Gibbs

@Copyright 2015

Garret watched her shift in the chair, apparently not liking the way the arms embraced her. Gladys took off her glasses and let them dangle from the chain around her neck. The elderly woman didn’t want to be here.

“Can you tell me what you remember from the other night?”

“Oh. You mean my spell?”

He nodded, hoping she would just naturally start talking. He didn’t want to coax her too much. It would make the interview look unnatural and forced.

“Well, I awoke on the nightstand.”

She paused for apparent effect. He motioned for her to continue. After clearing her throat, she spoke.

“I honestly don’t know how it happened. I’ve been paralyzed from the waist down for over a decade. I’m not a young woman anymore. The only thing still spry in this body of mine is my bladder and my mind. And I’m here to tell you neither could move this bag of bones up on top of the nightstand.”

“Interesting,” he said, tugging his earlobe. “Were you prone?”

“Was I what?” Gladys asked, the gray halo of hair picking up the camera’s light making it appear almost golden.

“Were you lying stretched out across it?” Garret asked, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees as he looked at her. It was just the two of them in the small room. In his experience, the fewer people present during the interview the more comfortable and therefore confiding the subjects were.

“No, I wasn’t. I was standing on the small table.”

“But, you just said-,” he began.

“I know what I said and I certainly didn’t stutter young man,” her words were an icy whip cutting through the quick of his resolve.

“I wasn’t suggesting you had, Gladys.”


“How did you manage to get down?”

“I didn’t. I stood on wobbly legs and had to wait for rounds to find me. I was so terrified I’d break something again so I just waited. Besides I was too shocked to try and do anything.”

“Of course,” he agreed.

“It’s when I noticed the boy in the reflection.”

“What can you tell me about him?” Garret asked with arched brows.

“He looks like someone I knew a long, long time ago. Far too long ago.”

That was the opening he was looking for and he took it.

“Who might that be Gladys?”

“You already know this. We’ve been over it already.”

“No, we haven’t.”

“Well, you got the reports from the staff,” she spat sharply, a bit of spittle glistening on her upper lip.

He continued, “Yes. Yes, I did, but I want you to tell me again so we can record it with the cameras.”

“And what good would that do young squire?” Gladys asked, her voice holding an underlying bit of laughter.

“I’m not sure. But, would could it hurt?”

She fixed her eyes on him and never once looked away, not even while she picked up the glass of water beside her and took a long drink. It was a little unsettling the way he looked at her.

“Can you tell me who he was?”

“You know I can, but you’ll call me mad and have me committed.”

“That’s not why I’m recording this and you know that.”

“He was my brother,” she said quickly as if the words were burning her tongue and wanted to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

“You never had a brother Gladys. There are no records of any siblings.”

“Of course not,” she said, her gaze fixed on some unseen point on the wall.

“How do you explain that?”

“Which part?” Gladys asked, this time in a coy tone of voice. He imagined her suddenly as a schoolgirl on the playground talking with the boys.

“How can he be your brother if you never had a brother?”

“When I was young things were different you see. If children were born and were unwanted, they simply were carted off to children’s homes or orphanages or reformatories. Left there with no explanation and cut off from the world to fend for themselves.”

“I see,” Garret said, not sure exactly why.

“Don’t placate me, Garret. It doesn’t fit very well on you.”

Garret couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a ball breaker she would’ve been back in the day. There were men all over the county that probably bore the scars of those days. He didn’t envy them at all.

“I wasn’t trying to. I was just trying to say that I understood where you were coming from.”

“How could you? Did your parents send your brother away before you were two years old? Mine never told me a thing about him until I stumbled upon the shoebox in the back of my mother’s closet when I was ten. I never even saw a picture of him until then. I had no idea.

“It’s when I found that box that he started showing up in places. He’d show up at the end of the aisle in the supermarket or on the opposite of a busy street. I’d see him but could never get to him. That bothered me at first.”

Her face faltered for a moment before tumbling down into a sea of wrinkles. It only lasted for a few seconds before the controlled façade was back in place again. He felt cold, not reaching out to her to comfort the poor woman, but he didn’t want to interfere. It seemed like she was right on track with the material he wanted her to talk about.

“It wasn’t until my twentieth birthday that he started to get closer. Instead of being across the street, he would be on the same side as me. Even so, he kept his distance, staying on the other side of a crowd of people at a crosswalk or in an elevator car. His pale face looked at me, his skin beginning to turn.

“I didn’t start getting scared until somewhere in my thirties. I found him outside my bedroom window standing in the bushes. Waking up to that face pressed against the glass, those fingers gently raking against the frosted glass. Still gives me shivers thinking about it.”

She took another sip of her water and Garret sat upright, using his hands to smooth out his worn jeans. It was hard not to let the excitement of the moment take over and start making his leg pump up and down. He couldn’t believe he was catching this all on video.

“Then by the time I was fifty he would be next to me and I could feel his cold breath against my face. It only took once opening my eyes to catch him staring intently at me that my heart would clench inside my chest. I had to turn away from him keeping my eyes closed before getting out of bed so I wouldn’t see him.

“The accidents started happening in my sixties and everyone thought I’d started to go soft upstairs, but it was him. He started to grab the steering wheel while I was driving or pull the cord to lower the garage door while I was standing there in its path. He lit one of the burners on the stove and even left the gas on all day once. Thankfully, I noticed the smell when I came home and aired out the house before starting dinner.”

Her eyes had that faraway look in them. It seemed as if she were in that time reliving what she was recounting from memory. Garret thought she looked decades younger in those few moments.

“I wasn’t quite seventy when the first serious accident happened.”

Garret folded his arms and started to nibble on his thumbnail, the excitement overtaking his resolve.

“He pushed me down the stairs. I could feel his quick breath just behind my ear and almost make out the words he was trying to whisper to me. I broke my hip and eventually needed surgery to repair it. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning I think. It was the beginning of my understanding as to what he wanted. I suppose it was then I realized that he would eventually have his day.”

“What do you mean Gladys?” Garret asked, almost before he realized he spoke aloud. He didn’t want his voice to break the spell. Thankfully, it didn’t.

“It was getting worse, but I knew then what he wanted. He wanted a playmate. All that time. Those seventy-odd years he had no one to play with. He was waiting for his baby sister to come and play with him on the other side. He was lonely. It broke my heart that realization.”

For the second time, he wanted to comfort her and held back his hand. He didn’t want to dare break the spell she was under while telling her tale.

“That sympathy, or empathy I suppose, changed the night Charles died. He didn’t believe me any more than any of you do that something was happening. My sweet Charles shared my bed and my heart for the better part of five decades and even he didn’t believe that I saw my brother. He didn’t believe in any of it, not even when the ladder shifted beneath him while working on the eaves of the second story. I doubt he even believed it when his neck snapped against the driveway, but I’m sure he saw him. I know I did. He stood over my Charles as I sobbed, his hideous likeness a beacon to the other side.”

The stern mask held this time, Gladys’s face a steady bit of stone this time. Only her eyes hinted at the turmoil raging inside her.

“Well, it wasn’t more than a week later that my next accident happened and I tumbled to the bottom of the basement stairs. Along with the pain of a broken pelvis and three broken ribs, I spent a day and a half crumpled, unable to move from where I lay, having to smell the fetid breath and feel the chill of my dead brother. I made myself the promise if madness didn’t take me that night, it would never have me. He came so very close to having his playmate then.

“I was in the hospital for almost three months and though the doctors did their best to repair the damage, I was in my eighth decade on this earth and I was forever hobbled. The canes and the walkers seemed to sense this and began showing up beside my chairs and couch at the ready. I didn’t like them much at first but eventually realized that without them, I wouldn’t be mobile at all. Chilling thought it was, I knew I had to keep moving or my brother would finally take me.”

She grew quiet and Garret stopped gnawing on his thumbnail now a wet red mess. He moved in his seat as quietly as possible.

“It wasn’t until the bus depot that I realized the inevitable. I had just come back from visiting my sister Ida Mae in Copper Toffey, Indiana. I hadn’t been paying that much attention to things, but I know I didn’t walk out in front of that taxi. He pushed me. His little hands at the small of my back. He pushed me and the taxi clipped me. Broke two vertebrae in my back and paralyzed me from the waist down.”
Her breath was coming faster and her eyes were a little wider than before. One hand clutched near her throat. He wondered what she was seeing or reliving.

“He stood there and tried to hold my hand. I honestly think that he thought he had done it this time. He was almost giddy the little bastard.”

Garret realized her breathing was even more labored, but he didn’t want to stop recording because this was the best interview he had ever done. He could see himself giving interviews about Gladys and what she said to him. This was going to be his big break. He could taste it.

“Well, he was wrong. I lived. I lived and he was still alone. And, that brings us to tonight. It’s taken him almost three months to build up his strength, but I know it won’t be long now. If he can move this tired old body and position it the way he did on the nightstand, there won’t be any stopping him. He’ll have what he came for and what he’s waited so long for.”

Gladys seemed dazed for a moment and blinked a few times slowly. Her ragged breathing continued to sound even more labored. Jaw lax momentarily, her hand balled itself up into a fist over and over again.

“I figured out how to beat him at his own game though. He won’t have a playmate after all. He can’t have me. No, he won’t have me. Not this night. Not any night.”

That snapped Garret out of his daydreams about television interviews and his imminent fame. He realized something was wrong.

“Gladys, what do you mean?”

“I took the liberty of taking some meds before you came Mr. Garret.”

“You took some meds.”

“Let me correct that. I took all of the meds. Every last pill. As you notice there are only empty pill bottles on the table,” she said, her words coming with more and more effort, a noticeable slur beginning to creep into the tone.

“What did you do?” Garret shouted.

“I know my Bible Garret. Do you know yours?” she asked, an odd smile crossing her lips. “He does too. He won’t get to play with me since I’ve committed suicide.”

“You haven’t committed anything. Gladys!” shouted Garret standing up and coming to her side as she slumped over the arm of the chair.

“I’ll be in purgatory forever. Not even his reach is that strong. No sir.”

Garret stumbled over the edge of the rug as he shouted for someone to help. The nurses and doctors rushed in but it was too late. She had ended the game.

A few minutes later a gurney was brought in and she was taken away. He reached for the button on the recorder to rewind the tape when something in the viewfinder stopped him. He blinked a few times and looked more closely at it. The blood ran like chilled molasses through him as the image of a small boy sobbing appeared in the corner. His face was covered with his hands, apparently sad that his game had ended, sad that he didn’t have his sister back as a playmate.

Garret felt a pang of guilt work its way through his chest until the boy dropped his hands and looked right into the viewfinder at him offering a chilling smile.

The Sting of Criticism

As writers, we all have a strong connection with what we write. Anything we create comes with bits and pieces of us. Every word, every sentence taking the reader on a journey we conceived by crafting a story is humbling and rewarding. It’s impossible to separate the author from the work and vice versa. That’s not a bad thing. It’s quite the opposite.

Think about it.

As an author, if you aren’t emotionally invested in the story as you’re writing it, how can you expect the reader to be? It’s as simple as that. And, because so much of ourselves is in our work, criticism can sting. A lot.

After all, we’ve taken this idea and built it into a story by pruning, editing, and polishing it until we’ve felt brave enough to unleash it upon the world. The reason for setting it free upon the readers of the world doesn’t matter. Maybe we enjoy writing for our self-satisfaction. Perhaps we’re hoping for a publishing credit. It doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s all the same.

When we let someone else into our world, the one we’ve created from thin air, the one we breathed life into, it can be a little scary. Their opinion can shake our confidence and wake up the self-doubt lurking in every author’s mind.

And that’s where a lot of writers struggle.

About five years ago, I started to focus on my writing. I had soured on the publishing industry and, why not? I had a best-selling novel through Northwest Publishing twenty years prior. I was on the bestseller lists with Stephen King’s Green Mile and Danielle Steele’s Lightning. I’d thought I’d made it. The owners of Northwest had embezzled millions and stolen from hundreds of authors. Inmeshed in a class-action lawsuit, I’d had enough.

I didn’t write for close to fifteen years. It was too painful. But, the itch came back. The idea factory wouldn’t let me sleep. And while I was recovering from the first of multiple neck surgeries, I cracked the laptop open and started again.

I began putting myself out there. I started submitting short stories to magazines and novels to publishers and literary agents alike. The treadmill of submissions, as any author can tell you, can be a daunting one. A proven track record doesn’t always mean a lot in this business.

I received a particularly harsh rejection letter for a short story entitled ‘Slippage’. It suggested I pick up a book on style and take a class on form and substance and that I should take the story out of my rotation of pieces to submit.

I took it hard. I loved the story, a first-person tale set in the late 19th century about an obscure artist and the things he could create with his hands. There wasn’t anything constructive in the rejection at all, nothing I could build on. What was I supposed to take from that? Self-doubt started to snowball as more rejections for other stories began to roll in.

It would’ve been easy to drown in self-doubt. I went over the rejections and realized these were just opinions. Everybody has one. And while I took the criticism they contained personally, I didn’t let it stop me. Some were positive and others negative. It’s important to realize who is giving the criticism. If it’s someone who doesn’t tend to like the genre you’re writing in, they might not be able to relate well to your story as well as someone who loves it. If it’s a family member, they might tell you everything you’ve ever written is genius. Most likely, you’re not a genius. They are just trying to be supportive.

I learned to take every opinion with a grain of salt. As a writer, you have to realize it’s impossible to write something everyone will love. You can create something some people will love, but that’s not the most important thing to keep in mind. You have to write something you love because when you do, it shines through the work.

In the end, the most important critic is in you. You have to have faith in what you write and confidence in your ability to tell a good story. Don’t let the negative reviews or criticism detract you from putting words on paper. Stay the course and keep writing. You’ll improve with every story, every paragraph, and every word you write.

Never give up.

Always remember, write ON!

Do I Need to Read in Order to Write

Well, the obvious answer is no. You can certainly write without reading a single word, but I don’t recommend it. There is something to be said about ‘research’ when you write. And no, I’m not talking about research into a topic you’re writing about. I’m talking about ‘research’ as in reading other authors and recognizing their differences in style, delivery, and voice.

If you’ve been writing for a while, then you probably have found your voice and your style. You’ve learned what works and what doesn’t in your writing. Is dialog a weakness or a strength? Are your characters well-rounded or flat? Does your setting add anything to what is happening? Our writing always gravitates toward our strengths.

Well, believe it or not, so does our reading.

Most writers read what they write. That might sound stupid but think about it. Romance novelists tend to read more romance than anything else. Horror writers read more horror than anything else. Why is that? It’s a level of comfort. We want to see how other people are doing it. How do they write their dialog and how do they describe certain aspects of the story. How do they paint the landscape in a way to draw us in from the first sentence?

It’s research people.

We are doing ‘research’ every time we pick up a book and read it. The beauty of it, at least for me, is I get to enjoy a new book at the same time I’m researching. I’m enjoying a new world and escaping with the author. The other bonus? When I read, it always inspires me to write. I get the itchy fingers, and the need to get some words down on paper is overpowering. So, while you might not need to read to write, it is strongly recommended. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but you are subconsciously taking notes on the author’s work. And when your fingers are flying across the keys, or madly scratching a pen across paper, or even banging it out on a dusty manual typewriter, those notes, those thoughts, those memories of what you’ve read will come to life. You can incorporate the things you liked about what you’ve read and avoid what you didn’t.

So, in short, while it’s not a requirement to read to write, it is highly recommended.

I think it’s time to do a little research, don’t you?

Happy reading, and always remember to Write ON!

Mad Maggie Dupree Revisited

With books five and six due out in the next year, I thought it might be about time to see where Mad Maggie came from and where she might be going. She is definitely one my favorite characters to write. Headstrong and brimming with confidence on the outside, she’s just like the rest of us on the inside, nervous and unsure. She’s in constant turmoil over doing what’s right when the incredibly vivid world of the Stillwater Psychiatric Hospital comes to life around her. With friends and little brother in tow, Maggie stumbles upon one mystery after another.

Book five which is entitled ‘Mad Maggie Dupree and the Stillwater Rapids’ follows Maggie into the first days of middle school. Coming face to face with Darla Bigsby, she has to combat not only the bullies living next door but the mean queen of the cafeteria.

Let’s see what kind of trouble she’s been getting herself into up to this point.

Book 1 – Mad Maggie Dupree

Book 1 – Angry at having to leave her friends, baseball team, and everything she’d grown to love in her old neighborhood, Mad Maggie Dupree is anything but happy moving to the Stillwater Psychiatric Hospital grounds. Her family’s new home sits in the shadow of the patient dorms and the idea of crazy people living so close is disconcerting no matter what her father says.

Settling into her new home isn’t easy for the headstrong, slingshot-toting twelve year old girl. Her temper and stubbornness not only get her into trouble with the mean brothers living on one side of her but also with the nerdy boy desperate to be her friend living on the other.

She stumbles across something incredible left behind by the patients discharged from the hospital years ago things begin to spiral out of control. Uncovering a decades old secret proves terrifying, taking Maggie and her new friends on an incredible journey.

With the first book in his new series, award winning author, David J. Gibbs, takes the reader into the exciting world of Mad Maggie Dupree. The temperamental young girl leaves an indelible mark with every mistake, success, and struggle to find her place in the strange and wonderful world around her.


Book 2 – Mad Maggie Dupree and the Wood Witch

Book 2 – While exploring the skeletal remains of the ruined greenhouse, Mad Maggie catches a momentary glimpse of one of the enduring legends of Stillwater Psychiatric Hospital. Pale, dressed all in white, the wispy figure of a woman wanders the cemetery.

Delving into the heartbreaking story, Maggie discovers the lost journals of three women detailing terrible secrets and incredible loss. She has no choice but to seek out the truth, coming face to face with another horrifying legend lurking in the surrounding woods just beyond the hospital grounds.

A fast paced story for all ages and compulsively readable, Mad Maggie Dupree and The Wood Witch, the second book in the Mad Maggie Dupree series, is an emotional rollercoaster following the headstrong, slingshot toting, red head and her friends on another harrowing adventure.


Mad Maggie Dupree and the Lost Gifts
Book 3 – Mad Maggie Dupree and the Lost Gifts

Book 3 – Finding a decades-old newspaper article detailing a tragic bus fire, which killed four tuberculosis patients, Maggie is fascinated by the reported sounds of disembodied spirits lurking around the accident site.

Discovering the burned-out shell of the bus, in a forgotten corner of the woods, Maggie discovers something inside which dispels the notion that those killed were patients. They were actually students participating in a gifted-child program sponsored by the hospital. It also suggests, the fire was purposely set. Why were they killed?

Buried on the grounds, their graves are exhumed only to find the fourth coffin empty. Where was the fourth student? What happened to them?

On a dare, Maggie and Jackson race down the infamous body chute. In the darkness, they both witness the wispy remnants of disembodied spirits lingering in the tunnel, fingers pointing to a section of the tunnel wall. Maggie has no choice but to push onward, coming face to face with the dark and twisted past of the hospital and truth behind the fire.

A compelling mystery for all ages, Mad Maggie Dupree and the Lost Gifts, the third book in the Mad Maggie Dupree series, is another engaging adventure.


Book 4 – Mad Maggie Dupree and the Darke County Fair

Book 4 – While setting coins on the train tracks, letting passing trains flatten them, Maggie and her friends are startled when a man, dressed in rags, races from a deserted box car into the woods. Wondering if he was homeless, they decide to follow him and see if he needs help, noticing a fifty-dollar bill on the ground. Why would a homeless man have a fifty-dollar bill?

Moving through the woods, trying to track him, they come to a boarded-up train tunnel wedged into the hillside. Pulling some of the loose boards free, they explore inside, the tunnel damp and dark. While exploring, they stumble upon three empty, half-buried Stillwater Bank bags.

But that’s not all.

They notice a spray-painted mark glowing on the wall and find a silver necklace along the tracks. Maggie remembers one of the Darke County Fair workers wearing the exact same necklace. Was he involved? Where was the homeless man? What did the mark on the wall mean? And more importantly, where was the money?

Compulsively readable, Mad Maggie Dupree and The Darke County Fair is the fourth book in the Mad Maggie Dupree series. Looking into yet another harrowing mystery, the head-strong, slingshot toting redhead leaves an indelible mark with each mistake and every triumph as she and her friends look out for each other while always seeking the truth.



When Are You Finally A Writer?

It’s a weird question, isn’t it? If you ask ten writers, you’ll probably get ten different answers. And who’s to say who’s right? Maybe they all are. If you’re a writer you probably have your own opinion about it.

Thinking about it, there are definite qualifiers. Is it the first time you finish a short story? What about the first time you finish a novel? What about the first publishing credit? Is it the first PAID publishing credit? (There is a difference as we all know, lol) Is it the first time someone other than a family member reads a manuscript and likes it? Is it the first time anyone via social media comments on a story you’ve written? Is it the first time someone comes to a book signing and loses there mind watching you sign your name in the dedication?

All of those are great milestones and are important for writers to grow and to gain confidence but I don’t think any of those qualify you as a writer.

Now calm down. I’m not saying those DISqualify you from calling yourself a writer. All I’m saying is those things don’t make you a writer.

No, my friend, you’re a writer far before that.

Calm me stupid, and many people do so join the club, but you became a writer the moment you put pen to paper and began to write. Creating wonderful characters and well crafted narratives out of the infinite white of the blank page is when it happens. Sure, the other stuff is great to experience but the writer, the one who chews on stories late at night, banging out words on a crappy manual typewriter or the truly hardcore, old-school enthusiasts who use actual paper and pens (yes, I’m talking to you freaks who do it the hard way lol)

All of you are writers.

TypewriterLampWriting and calling yourself a writer begins from word one, day one. And don’t worry about the publishing credits, they’ll come soon enough. Worry about writing.

So, stop reading this post and start writing, you idiots.

Write ON!


Being a writer isn’t about trying to win

Being a writer isn’t about trying to win.

So why do so many writers act like it is, guarding their experiences, both good and bad, like they are state secrets? Or worse yet, piling on unwarranted criticism on fledgling writers trying to find their ‘writer legs’.

Whether I’m editing a piece for a client or a friend, I’m always encouraging. Writing is a very solitary volition, hours invested in discovering the proper voice for the piece, getting the dialog to crackle, and bringing the setting alive with engaging characters. All of us, no matter how vast our publishing history is, need some kind of validation, whether from a friend’s comments after giving it a read or a family member. But nothing compares to those comments from contemporaries, the other solitary souls wringing out their fears and dreams within the pages of their manuscript just like we are.

Think about it.

When you were growing up and your mom and dad said you’d done well on a test or in a game, it didn’t mean the same as hearing those things from a teacher, a student or a fellow teammate or coach. Those people toiling with you day in and day out knew what it took to produce on the field and in the classroom. They were there with you in the trenches.

It’s the same for writers.

Hearing your mom say what you’ve written is the greatest thing ever, is not the same as a fellow writer saying those same words, particularly if they have some publishing credits to their name.

All of us, who take up the pen to pour ourselves on the page, should help each other. There is nothing more rewarding then helping a fellow author by leaving a review, editing a piece, or providing encouragement.

Doesn’t take much.

A few words.

A few minutes.

It can mean the world to a struggling author.




Help Please!

I’m writing the fourth book in my middle-grade mystery series ‘Mad Maggie Dupree’ and need help with a title.

Maggie Dupree lives on the grounds of the Sillwater Psychiatric Hospital. Her dad is the new hospital administrator. She and her family had to move and live on the grounds as part of her dad’s new job.

While placing coins on the railroad tracks, waiting for the train to run over them, pushing them flat, Maggie and her friends stumble across a homeless man living in a nearby abandoned box car.  When they try to follow him, they find a $50.00 bill scattered by the railroad tracks. Following him into a dilapidated supply tunnel, they find a necklace that looks like the same kind a mean spirited carny at the Darke County Fair had worn a few nights before along with empty money bags from the Stillwater Bank.

As they begin to investigate, an odd looking young boy starts to appear at random times. Always wearing the same brown striped shirt, his face pale but marred by dark smudges, he never speaks, only watching them.

Ideas on a title?