If your story lacks realism, readers will be disappointed.
Why? Well, good novels encourage readers to suspend their disbelief; to believe that the story is real, even though it’s obviously fiction. Without realism, readers will find it hard to think your story is, well, real.
Now, coming from a guy whose most recent story was about spaceships, you’re probably a little confused. Does the need for realism impede you from writing about anything you can’t see or experience?
The answer, of course, is no. Stories about aliens, superheros, or medieval vampires can all be 100% realistic, because realism isn’t about stories being true to our world. It’s about stories being true to themselves.
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52-Week Writing Challenge: Week 23
A scene from an ongoing WIP. Much to the horror of her family, Quinn Landon has filed for divorce from her adulterous husband. Her family doesn’t miss an opportunity to bully and berate her for ending a “sacred” union, and the number one bully is her mother.
Feeling rejuvenated after a good night’s sleep, Quinn danced around the kitchen to her favorite playlist while making herself a quick breakfast.
Today was the end of the work-week for Phero’s staff since Friday was a company holiday — the founder’s birthday.
Ronan Gaetan decided if countries could celebrate long-dead presidents, document signings, and wars, why couldn’t the company he started from the ground up celebrate his birthday as a paid holiday? For twenty-four years, Phero’s four sites in the U.S., Italy, and France honored their founder by not working on the date of his birth.
Quinn knew it was a concept American corporations would never embrace.
She planned to spend her day off at the Veteran’s Outreach Center. Quinn found volunteering there for the past five years personally rewarding, and it had given Quinn perspective.
Her current situation was not ideal, but helping others get back into the mainstream of living made Quinn realize how fortunate she was. Work kept her from volunteering for several weeks, and now she was anxious to reconnect with the men and women whose trust she’d earned.
Pouring her first cup of coffee, Quinn headed to her breakfast nook to go over her calendar for the day when her phone rang. Swearing under her breath, she reached for the cell, knowing only one person on the planet would call her before six in the morning.
“Good morning, mother.” She could hear Katherine Clark chuff over the phone.
“You sound awfully pleasant this morning. I’m at a loss at why you’re so chipper when you’re breaking your husband’s heart.”
And there it was… again.
“I’m doing great, mom… thanks for asking. How are you and daddy doing?”
“Don’t be flippant with me, young lady!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, mom. Give me a blindfold and a cigarette at dawn if I’m ever flippant.”
“Where did I go wrong with you? Honestly, I believe you’re being stubborn just to defy me.”
Quinn inhaled slowly… her anger building.
“Yes, mother. This is all about you. I’m divorcing my lying, cheating, low-down snake of a husband just to spite you.”
“Quinn Avery! Do not speak to me in that manner.”
“What do you want, mother? I mean, besides for me to stop the divorce proceedings, which is never going to happen. What do you want?”
“I want you to be reasonable, dear, and think this through. No good can come of a divorce. It will only leave you both bitter and disillusioned.”
“Too late, mom. I got over the bitterness after Oscar’s THIRD affair… you know… FOUR affairs back? But the disillusionment? That’s still hanging around. Mostly because I cannot understand why MY family paints me as the villain when it was Oscar who mocked his wedding vows and disrespected our marriage.”
“You’re still young dear, and learning about the little indiscretions of men.”
Quinn had enough.
“I’ll let you get away with saying one affair is an indiscretion, mom, but seven? That’s just an unfaithful, disrespectful jerk. And I’m three years away from forty, mom — hardly a child. While some women may feel it’s okay for men to stray, I’m not in that club. I hold everyone to the same standards — honesty, fidelity, trust. I no longer have any of those with Oscar. Way past time to end our farce of marriage.”
“Marriage is for a lifetime, dear… and ordained by God.”
Ding, ding, ding! Katherine Clark was hitting all the markers today.
“The union of marriage is ordained by God, mother, but if God didn’t bring two people together, why is He used to keep them together? And, correct me if I’m wrong here, but isn’t adultery the only acceptable reason for divorce in the Bible? And isn’t it listed in the Big Ten?”
Katherine Clark was silent.
“Oscar has been to church only a handful of times since we were married — you don’t get to play the God-card with me, mom.”
“People in our family do not get divorced, Quinn. You know this.”
“Yes, I do know, mom. I’ve seen the photos of long dead relatives who would rather have had their tongues cut out than divorce.”
“I watch my brothers and their wives, barely able to be in the same room with each other, but too afraid of upsetting you, so they languish in marriages that should never have been. I do not intend to spend my life that way. I’m not stopping the divorce.”
“Your brothers are all happily married!”
“No, mother. YOU are happy they’re married. Myron and Aaron both never smile anymore. They bring their families for Sunday dinner to appease you and daddy, but always look like they’d rather be somewhere else.”
“You do not know everything, young lady. Aaron and Cecelia are talking about having another baby. They’re very much in love.”
“Oh mother, please! They’re talking about it because you suggested it. Cecelia is just as unhappy as Aaron and wants to be closer to her family back east.”
“Cecelia has loving family right here.”
“No, she has you and daddy, always butting in trying to run their marriage.”
“Quinn Avery! How dare you? I will not tolerate your disrespectful attitude!”
“Then we should end this call, mom, because I’m just being honest. I refuse to live in your fairy tale. Enjoy your day, mom.” Quinn ended the call, gripping the phone tightly. She took a couple of deeps breaths, then gently placed the cell on the counter.
Quinn emptied her now-cold coffee down the drain, and poured a fresh cup. A faint smile graced her lips. She’d endured one of her mother’s self-serving phone calls and was already mentally moving past it — all in less than twenty minutes.
Quinn remembered times when the same phone call would have thrown her off her game and ruined her entire day.
Not this time.
Things were definitely looking up.
Great food for thought! How do you name your books?
I read books. I read lots and lots of books. Which, even though Stephen King says you can’t be a good writer if you don’t have time to read, is actually unusual for a writer. Most writers, especially those who don’t have much time to write, spend their time writing. That makes sense, right? Right. But I read a lot of books, and sometimes I’ll have an epiphany.
Right now I’m reading Making More Money: Habits, Tactics, and Strategies for Making a Living as a Writerby Honoree Corder and Brian D. Meeks, and I had an epiphany.
How does a writer title their books, short stories, blog posts?
I suck at it.
And that was my epiphany.
No, not that I suck at creating titles for my books and stories. I knew that already.
No, I realized that On the Corner of 1700 Hamilton is the worst book title…
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by Christopher Slater
I never have and never will claim to be an expert on writing. I have found an appreciation for it and perhaps a little bit of talent, but in general it is something that I have improved at only through sheer determination and continuous trial and error. Because of this, there is nothing that bothers me more than when I have someone tell me, without any attempt to the contrary, “I can’t write. I just can’t do it.” At that moment I start to understand how Bruce Banner feels right before he becomes the Hulk.
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52-Week Writing Challenge: Week 22 – Scene from current WIP. Still struggling to overcome her issues of abandonment and salvage her personal life… and sanity, attorney Olivia Chandler attempts to visit the mother she hasn’t seen in five years and who’s been a resident at a private mental facility for almost thirty years.
“Olivia Chandler? I’m Sandra Riley, Sarina’s case manager.”
The tall woman grasped Olivia’s hand into both of her own, shaking briskly. “We’re so glad you’re here today. This is a big step forward for your mother.”
“Nice to meet you, Sandra, and honestly, it’s a big step for me too.”
“Oh, I’m sure, Olivia. Any questions for me before you visit with Sarina?”
Visit with Sarina. She made it sound so cute and homey, Olivia thought.
“Does she know I planned to be here today?”
“Yes, she does. When Sarina asked about you a few weeks ago, she said she also knew you’d have little or no reason to want to see her, but she’d always hoped you come someday.””
Olivia stared at the woman blankly, not knowing how to respond to the comment.
“I’m sure this is confusing, Olivia, and now isn’t the time for me to explain all that Sarina has gone through, but please know she is fully cognizant of her aging, of you, her late husband”, Sandra paused only for a second, “she even remembers the accident. It’s everything between the accident and a few months ago that’s fuzzy for her. It’s as though a switch was flipped off in her brain that was recently turned back on.”
Olivia frowned but didn’t ask the question on the tip of her tongue.
“May I see her now?”
“Of course! Follow me.”
The case manager’s long legs covered the distance across the sitting area in no time at all, with Olivia almost scurrying to keep up with her. Margot and Randie were always teasing Olivia about her brisk walking pace, but she had nothing on Sandra Riley! Olivia would guess Sandra to be at least six feet tall… and light on her feet.
Reaching an unmarked door in the far corner, Sandra held it open for Olivia, who walked through and found herself standing in yet another sitting room, only this one resembled the average family room. Large, overstuffed chairs, throw rugs and even a flat screen television graced the area.
“Welcome to Honey Ridge East, Olivia.”
“Honey Ridge East? I don’t understand.”
Sandra pointed to a bulletin board on the wall near the door they’d just come through.
“The residents here are grouped by floor, the severity of mental disorder, and the amount of care and supervision needed. The healthiest, most independent residents reside here in Honey Ridge.”
“My mother is here…in this section?”
Olivia tried to digest the information. Her mother was healthy? Required little or no supervision? Trying to reconcile this new Sarina with the bedridden, incoherent woman she last saw five years ago was difficult for Olivia.
“How long has she lived here?”
Sandra pursed her lips, thinking. Then she nodded.
“I’m pretty sure Sarina was here for the group’s Valentine’s Day dinner dance, so that makes it eight months.” Sandra tried not to laugh at the horrified expression on Olivia’s face.
“Don’t be shocked. We also have Easter Egg hunts and 4th of July barbecues. Most of the residents have signed up for hayrides next week for Halloween, and…” she leaned in towards Olivia, “I heard Santa will visit on Christmas Eve.”
Shaking her head, Olivia was incredulous.
“What kind of mental hospital is this? I mean, um…I thought…”
The case manager guided Olivia past the sitting area while answering.
“River Ridge Meadows is a private care, private pay, voluntary commitment facility. We’re fully licensed by the state and the federal government. Insurance isn’t accepted here, and no resident is here against their will. We currently have one hundred and sixty-one residents ranging in age from seven to eighty-six. Most are from throughout the state, but there are a few from other parts of the country, and even four from Europe. River Ridge has two permanent, board certified psychiatrists, two permanent, board certified medical doctors, six psychologists, and a nursing staff of 40 that includes licensed physical therapists.
The residents here are used to a certain way of life, and we provide that here, within reason. That’s why we also have an event planner and a social activities director on staff.”
Sandra stopped at the top end of a short hallway. “But we have all the time in the world for me to tell you about River Ridge, and even give you a tour, if you like.” She nodded towards the end of the hall. “Your mother is expecting you.”
Olivia pressed her hand against her stomach, the tiny nervous tremors threatening to morph into a full-fledged earthquake. Heat enveloped her body as the familiar tang of bile crept up the back of her throat. Closing her eyes, the nervous woman tried to will the anxiety away.
You’ve come this far, Chandler, don’t you dare freak out now!
Week 20: 52-Week Writing Challenge
Word prompt – downsized
Ramsey felt God had punished him enough.
An honors graduate of Northwestern with nineteen years professional business experience should not be managing a second-rate grocery store.
He fumed thinking about the brand new sixty-foot boat his brother now owned.
Ramsey Carter’s pulse quickened remembering the sadness of his wife’s eyes viewing the photos from her sister’s European vacation.
The former new accounts director owned a boat once. Ramsey took his wife to Europe for their eleventh wedding anniversary… thirteen years ago.
But that was all in the past. The boat was sold two years ago in Ramsey’s second full year of unemployment. Unless they won the lottery, the Carters may never see Europe again.
Closing his laptop, Ramsey pinched the bridge of his noise. Grateful the new work schedule was complete, Ramsey wasn’t looking forward to the usual employee complaints. His penny-pinching regional manager decreased Ramsey’s allotted monthly staffing hours again. The deli and bakery would have to close five hours early to keep checkout lanes and customer service staffed.
Senior employees would scream. Insisting they’d already paid their dues by working the inconvenient shifts and doing grunt work, being scheduled for swing or short shifts was a slap in the face to long term staff.
Ramsey Carter agreed with them. He believed years of service and loyalty to an employer should mean something… have some value.
Or at least he used to.
He believed it right up to the day Bentek Corp’s security escorted him to the parking garage. Security manager Dick Roddy took Ramsey’s employee identification card, handed him an envelope, and walked away.
So, while understanding employee anger at their situation, Ramsey had a job to do. Take the newly allotted hours and staff the store for eighteen hours a day, seven days a week.
At least he wasn’t firing anyone. Yet.
Easing his tired body from the chair, Ramsey headed for shipping and receiving to double check the evening lock-down.
Passing through Household Goods and hearing his name called, Ramsey turned. The throbbing in his head was immediate along with the bitter taste in his mouth.
Delia Pennock, health and beauty clerk, teetered toward him on heels too high… and unsafe for the workplace.
How many times would Ramsey have to warn this woman?
Before Delia caught up to him, Ramsey’s inter-store walkie buzzed. The display showed the call was coming from Ramsey’s intended destination — shipping and receiving.
“What’s up, Minas?”
“Need you back here, Ramsey. Now.”
“On my way.”
Red-faced and out of breath, Delia reached Ramsey as he returned the walkie to his belt-clip.
“Ramsey, I know you’re working on the next schedule. Do be a dear and not schedule me for the opening shift or on the checkout stands.”
“Sorry, Delia. The schedule’s done. You open on the express checkout week two of the schedule.”
He turned to leave, but Delia caught hold of his arm. Ramsey looked back to find the bottle-blonde attempting a full-fledged pout. Pursing his lips, Ramsey stepped out of Delia’s grip.
“Ramsey! Six in the morning is just too early for someone with a social life as active as mine.”
“It’s your turn, Delia. You know the rotation.”
Delia had gall. He had to give her that. Most employee scheduling concerns were about babysitting issues, evening classes and caring for disabled family members. Only Delia would want special treatment so she could sit in a bar all night.
Though her employee file carried a birth-date making Delia thirty-nine years old, Ramsey Carter would swear in open court sitting on top of Bible-mountain she was older than his forty-seven years. Even from where he stood, Ramsey could see the layers of makeup on Delia’s face intended to hide wrinkles. It didn’t.
“I have to go, Delia. Problem in S and R. And Delia,” he looked at her feet, “the shoes.”
“Oh, okay. We’ll talk… later.”
Ramsey walked away in double-time to keep from laughing in the woman’s face.
If the employee rumor mill were to be believed, Delia Pennock lured three of the last four store managers into sexual trysts outside… and inside the store. The fourth manager was female and not into women, even though it was said Delia tried anyway.
Ramsey Carter had no intention of becoming the over-the-hill party girl’s latest conquest.
Toni Temple-Carter was the sunshine in Ramsey’s life. He’d loved her since the day she’d walked into their seventh-grade English class. But the shy, awkward Ramsey Carter resigned to be just friends with the dark-skinned beauty. For six years Ramsey watched Toni date other guys, his heart breaking piece by piece each time. When he learned Toni would also be attending Northwestern, it cheered him to know he would still get to see Toni from time to time.
Ramsey’s world spun out of control the day Toni Temple plopped down on the bench next to him in the Student Union.
“Do you like me, Ramsey… at all?”
Ramsey, still gawky at nineteen, sputtered for the right words.
“Huh? Like you? Of… of course, Toni. We’re… friends. Have been for a l-long time.”
“Why haven’t you ever asked me out?”
Ramsey’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“Ask… you out? Because… I thought… we’re friends. I didn’t think-”
“Ask me out.”
“Ask me out.”
Understanding registered with Ramsey and the two young people shared a grin.
“Will you go out me, Toni?”
“Yes, Ramsey Carter. I thought you’d never ask.”
They’d been inseparable ever since, marrying five years later.
Committed to each other, the Carters had avoided most of the pitfalls which darken some marriages. When their second son entered college, Toni and Ramsey were excited about the future and making plans. Plans which imploded less than a year later when Ramsey was downsized out of Bentek Corp.
Toni was steadfast, never complaining about their financial situation. At the end of her work day, the nursing manager would often pick up extra hours in patient care to help with their household budget. Toni never blamed Ramsey or even Bentek for their lot and Ramsey was in awe of her. Each time he looked at her, Ramsey saw nothing but love in her eyes.
Other downsized Bentek employees lost everything… homes, savings, and their marriages. But Toni was Ramsey’s fortress, holding him up and shielding him from the depression which threatened to take him.
Yes, the Carters sold their boat, the cabin upstate, and their timeshares. And they no longer splurged on artsy furnishings or ate out. But they had saved their home and kept both their sons in college. Toni often said they were an unbeatable team, but Ramsey knew better. Toni’s love for him was his armor against the world, but her endless faith in him gave him the strength to keep moving forward.
When Ramsey suggested putting their artistic sides to good use by getting into the on-line graphic arts business, Toni not only agreed, but she researched and found the best on-line classes they could afford. Eighteen months later, the couple was close to realizing their dream and beginning a new journey together. Ramsey knew it would be a struggle at first, both of them working full-time while trying to start their own business. But Ramsey looked forward to the day when he was his own boss.
Opening the security door separating shipping and receiving from the rest of the store. Ramsey Carter gawked at the sight before him.
Department manager, Minas Fortuni, stood at the bay doors attempting to unbend metal around a three-foot hole in the door.
“What the hell?” Ramsey inched forward, his stomach churning at the paperwork in his immediate future. “What happened, Minas?”
Shaking his head, Minas gave up his futile attempts to close the hole.
“That last delivery guy… from Buckley Dairy… didn’t swing the back end of his trailer wide end enough. Backed right into the door. He leaned out the window and saw what he’d done. Know what he did then, Ramsey?”
The store manager stared at the hole in the door, still incredulous.
Minas continued. “He said, “Oops, sorry, dude” and drove off. Just like that.”
Ramsey hung his head defeated. He was tired, hungry and he wanted to go home. This day had to end.
Ramsey Carter decided it was time to delegate. “You busy this evening, Minas?”
“No, and I already put in a call to Rolla-Doorz. It’s going to cost extra, but they’re sending a guy over.”
“Good thinking, Minas. If you’re willing to stay and cover for me, I’ll authorize the overtime… as long as it takes.”
“Of course, I’ll stay. It’s Patty’s turn to host girls’ night. You’re saving me from watching a bunch of baby boomer females get drunk and cavort around the house to the soundtrack from “Grease.” It’s a win-win situation for us both. Go home, man… I got you covered.”
“Thanks, Minas. I owe you for this… big-time!”
Returning to his office in record time, Ramsey made quick notes about the incident and put the Buckley Dairy file on his desk for tomorrow. Before Ramsey could lock his file cabinet, Dale Johnson from the meat department leaned into his office.
“Hey, Ramsey… got a slip and fall near aisle twelve. The woman says the floor was wet and Good Buy Foods is going to pay for her pain and suffering.”
Ramsey leaned against his desk, ready to scream.
“Is the woman okay? Anything broken? Bleeding? Do we need to get paramedics here?”
Dale smirked. “Ramsey… she’s fine.”
“Is someone with her?”
“Yeah. Gail from the front desk.”
“Okay, on my way.”
Ramsey pulled an accident report from the file cabinet along with the store’s Polaroid and headed out of his office. He stopped and returned to his desk, grabbing his cell phone.
Ramsey had to let Toni know he’d be late getting home… again.
Lorraine Hansberry was born at Provident Hospital on the South Side of Chicago on May 19, 1930. She was the youngest of Nannie Perry Hansberry and Carl Augustus Hansberry’s four children. Her father founded Lake Street Bank, one of the first banks for blacks in Chicago, and ran a successful real estate business. Her uncle was William Leo Hansberry, a scholar of African studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Many prominent African-American social and political leaders visited the Hansberry household during Lorraine’s childhood including sociology professor W.E.B. DuBois, poet Langston Hughes, actor and political activist Paul Robeson, musician Duke Ellington and Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens.
Despite their middle-class status, the Hansberrys were subject to segregation. When she was 8 years old, Hansberry’s family deliberately attempted to move into a restricted neighborhood. Restrictive covenants, in which white property owners agreed not to sell to blacks, created a ghetto known as the “Black Belt” on Chicago’s South Side. Carl Hansberry, with the help of Harry H. Pace, president of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and several white realtors, secretly bought property at 413 E. 60th Street and 6140 S. Rhodes Avenue. The Hansberrys moved into the house on Rhodes Avenue in May 1937. The family was threatened by a white mob, which threw a brick through a window, narrowly missing Lorraine. The Supreme Court of Illinois upheld the legality of the restrictive covenant and forced the family to leave the house. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision on a legal technicality. The result was the opening of 30 blocks of South Side Chicago to African Americans. Although the case did not argue that racially restrict covenants were unlawful, it marked the beginning of their end.
Lorraine graduated from Englewood High School in Chicago, where she first became interested in theater. She enrolled in the University of Wisconsin but left before completing her degree. After studying painting in Chicago and Mexico, Hansberry moved to New York in 1950 to begin her career as a writer. She wrote for Paul Robeson’s Freedom, a progressive publication, which put her in contact with other literary and political mentors such as W.E.B. DuBois and Freedom editor Louis Burnham. During a protest against racial discrimination at New York University, she met Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish writer who shared her political views. They married on June 20, 1953, at the Hansberrys’ home in Chicago.
In 1956, her husband and Burt D’Lugoff wrote the hit song, “Cindy, Oh Cindy.” Its profits allowed Hansberry to quit working and devote herself to writing. She then began a play she called The Crystal Stair, from Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son.” She later retitled it A Raisin in the Sun from Hughes’ poem, “Harlem: A Dream Deferred.”
In A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African-American to be produced on Broadway, she drew upon the lives of the working-class black people who rented from her father and who went to school with her on Chicago’s South Side. She also used members of her family as inspiration for her characters. Hansberry noted similarities between Nannie Hansberry and Mama Younger and between Carl Hansberry and Big Walter. Walter Lee, Jr. and Ruth are composites of Hansberry’s brothers, their wives, and her sister, Mamie. In an interview, Hansberry laughingly said, “Beneatha is me, eight years ago.”
Her second play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, about a Jewish intellectual, ran on Broadway for 101 performances. It received mixed reviews. Her friends rallied to keep the play running. It closed on January 12, 1965, the day Hansberry died of cancer at age 35.
Although Hansberry and Nemiroff divorced before her death, he remained dedicated to her work. As literary executor, he edited and published her three unfinished plays: Les Blancs, The Drinking Gourd and What Use Are Flowers? He also collected Hansberry’s unpublished writings, speeches, and journal entries and presented them in the autobiographical montage To Be Young, Gifted and Black. The title is taken from a speech given by Hansberry in May 1964 to winners of a United Negro Fund writing competition: “…though it be thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic, to be young, gifted and black!
Week 18: 52-Week Writing Challenge Word prompt: addiction
Laura cringed as his finger found the trigger. Though it was aimed away from her, the blast of the shotgun knocked Laura off her feet.
Scrambling in a half-crawl half-walk, she tried to push past him when another blast rang out. Sinking to the floor, Laura howled in anguish.
“Why? Why did you do that? It wasn’t necessary!”
Without responding, Cory Ganz checked the gun’s chamber, wiped the barrel, and replaced it in its pristine case. He then turned and faced his hysterical wife.
“It had to be done.”
Laura crawled over to the devastation her husband of twenty-one-years had wrought. She reached out an arm but pulled back, glaring at him through her tears.
“You did not have to shoot my laptop!”
“Yes, I did, Laura. And I’m not sorry. I had to get your attention.” Cory left the room and returned a few minutes later with a shovel and a box. He began to scoop up the remains of the still smoldering device.
Laura Ganz stood and paced around him.
“Get my attention? For what? What is so important you had to take out a deadly weapon and shoot an inanimate object? That cost me nine hundred dollars, by the way.”
Cory took a deep breath in an attempt to quell his anger. “Let’s work backward, shall we? When we agreed you needed a new laptop, we also agreed on a price and that we’d pay cash. The very next day, you spent three times the amount decided on and you used our credit card… our emergencies only credit card.” The frustrated husband dragged his hand through his collar-length dark hair. “And you didn’t even tell me, sweets. I had to find out when the bill came in the mail.”
Laura hung her head in shame, then tried to rebound. “But I thought it would be a good investment.” The words rang hollow to her own ears.
“Investment in what, Laura? Neither of us works on-line. We’re not in school or distance learners. Hell, we can’t even get the bill-pay program to work right.” Cory leaned the shovel against the desk and approached his wife.
“But you know what does work for you, honey? Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, iChat, Facetime.” He raised a finger as he named each social network. “You’re LinkedIn, you StumbleUpon, you have Pinterest, and don’t even get me started on your blogs! Enough already!”
Red-faced and defensive, Laura folded her arms across her chest. “I enjoy the Internet. Is that so wrong? Dena Gibbs is out four nights a week spending hundreds to play Bingo. Ann Kemp spends thousands of dollars in Nordstroms and she doesn’t even have a job!” She unfolded her arms reaching out to her husband. “I was wrong to buy the more expensive laptop, and I was wrong for not telling you, but honey, is it really such a bad way for me to spend time? For a few bucks a month, I chat with friends on-line. I’m not like Leslie Van Dyke, hitting the male strip clubs every time Harvey works a double shift.”
He would have laughed if their situation weren’t so serious. “A few bucks? You spent two hundred dollars on Amazon last month! And you upgraded our basic Internet package to premium… that’s an additional forty bucks a month.”
“So this is about the money.”
“No, it’s not about the money! This is about you and us… your family! Donna and I have been on our own for months! She cooks, I do the laundry. She cleans the house, I shop for food. We eat our meals alone… because you’re in front of the laptop, caught up in the personal drama of people you don’t even know!”
“You are upset because you actually have to do some work around the house? Take care of OUR home… take care of yourselves? Excuse me for discontinuing maid service!”
Cory’s jaws were rigid, the timbre of his voice a full octave deeper. “Knock it off, Laura! You know better than that!” He sat on the arm of the sofa, resting his hands on his thighs.
“Your shift begins at six in the morning. You sit on-line until one… sometimes two in the morning. When you fall into bed… if you come to bed at all, you have your cell in your hand. It’s like you can’t miss a second of anything happening on the Internet. When you come home from work, you start all over again. It needs to stop, honey. Your life is here… with your daughter and your husband. Not the world wide web.”
“I think you’re over-exaggerating this-”
“You have a problem, honey… an addiction… to the Internet.”
Backing away, Laura began to laugh. She waved her arms in front of her. Glancing at Cory every few seconds made her laugh harder.
His expression was blank as he watched his wife.
“Oh, Cory… honey! Addicted to the Internet? Really?” She wiped the tears from laughter off her cheeks. “Okay, I may have over-indulged just a tad bit, but, honey… let’s not add to the madness.” Laura motioned toward the box containing her former laptop.
“You called into work twice this month… sick. Only you weren’t. You spent both days typing… chatting… whatever, on-line.”
“Baby, c’mon! You know those days were more of a protest because Rina gave the lead operator position to Willa. I’ve been a 911 operator for ten years. That position was mine. Hell, I trained Willa!”
“And you would have gotten that position and the raise which comes with it… were it not for all the recent reprimands in your personnel file.”
Laura’s laughter was replaced by a smirk. “I only did it twice.”
“That you told me about,” he said. “You know logging on-line at your job is a serious infraction. Hackers are always looking for a way into the 911 database. You opened a port for them and risked your job just to chat with friends.”
Tired and embarrassed by her husband’s lecture, Laura walked toward the kitchen. “Are we done here?”
“You called in today.”
Laura whirled around to face Cory.
“You saw me when I woke up! Eyes puffy and swollen, sinuses draining… and I could barely talk. I need my voice for my job, Cory.”
“Yes, I did, and yes, you do. But I also saw you grab your sinus pills and a bottle of water and park yourself in front of the laptop. I had to call your name twice to get your attention before I left… to remind you of the assembly at Donna’s school this afternoon.”
A mournful groan escaped her lips. Donna was one of four students being honored for maintaining a perfect grade point average for their entire school career. The honor students were to be presented with full four-year scholarships to USC in neighboring California, and checks for twenty-five hundred dollars each. Laura had missed it all.
“I-I… I’m so sorry. So, so sorry. Was she upset?”
“Oh, yes! She said, “Guess I’m not important enough for mom to drag herself away from her precious laptop.””
Laura shook her head as the tears began again. “I was just chatting with friends… updating my blog. Oh, my God. How do I fix this? Can I fix this?” She had missed a very important event for her child and hurt her… all because she was in an on-line book party for an author whose books she had no interest in reading. Because her friends were there. Because she felt empty when she wasn’t logged into a social network.
Cory pulled his wife into his arms. They rocked back and forth while he stroked her long, dark hair. Pulling back, he regarded her. “We can’t do it alone.”
“I don’t see what I’m doing as a problem, Cory. And definitely not as an addiction. But, I don’t see what you see. What our daughter sees.” She rested her head against his chest. “I’m ashamed for what I’ve put you through and my behavior. But most of all,” she looked up into his eyes. “I’m ashamed because even though I know I’ve caused my family pain and possibly jeopardized my job, I’m thinking about how I’ll replace the laptop.”
“I’ll replace the laptop, honey after we get you some help, and they-”
“Some help? What kind of help?”
“Allan says there’s a psychologist who works with the police department and has experience with Internet addiction. He gave me the guy’s number.”
She was horrified. “You told your brother about this?”
“Honey, I just dislodged a firearm… twice! I didn’t want SWAT surrounding our home.”
“And he agreed to this?”
Cory kissed Laura on the forehead and began gathering the shovel and box of laptop remnants. “Yup! My gun is registered and we live outside of the city limits, so I didn’t break any laws or ordinances.” He looked down into the box. “And it had to be done. I didn’t know how else to get your attention and make you see how serious this is.”
He headed toward the garage, stopping to plant a quick kiss on her cheek. “I’ll call this guy in a sec and see if I can get us an appointment for next week.”
Laura frowned. Next week? She was already feeling anxious. She’d never make it.
“What am I going to do until next week, Cory? I’m already anxious and it’s been less than an hour.” She looked around the room feeling trapped. “I can’t do this, Cory, I can’t!”
Re-entering the room, Cory squeezed his wife’s shoulder on his way to the kitchen.
“Yes, you can… we can. We’re in this together. I’m going to call this guy and lock in an appointment time. Donna will be home soon and we’ll go out for a nice dinner… as a family.”
Laura wrung her hands as her husband left the room. She looked over at the desk only to have the char marks remind her of what had just happened.
Evening approached. All her friends would be on-line. They would wonder why she was absent. There would be new followers on Twitter. New posts on Facebook. Charlene would be posting new photos from the author’s convention.
She was missing it all.
Standing in the middle of the room, Laura turned in circles several times.
Tears threatened to reappear when Laura saw her handbag sitting on the vestibule table.
Her cell phone!
She dashed to the handbag, stealing several glimpses over her shoulder to make sure Cory didn’t catch her.
Grabbing the cell phone from the side pocket, Laura swiped the screen several times, confused. Had Cory done something to her phone? She tried again and realized her hands were shaking and the cell screen was wet… because her hands were wet… from perspiration.
This doesn’t make any sense.
Shaking her head, Laura caught her reflection in the mirror over the table. Her eyes were wild and frantic, and her skin flushed. A tiny sheen of sweat was visible on her lips. Dropping the cell as if it burned her, Laura backed away from the hall table until the wall stopped her. She slumped to the floor in a heap, staring at her shaking, sweaty hands.
While this is a fictional story, Internet addiction is real, and is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress. There are no evidence-based treatments for internet addiction. Cognitive behavioral approaches may be helpful. There is no proven role for psychotropic medication. Marital and family therapy may help in selected cases, and online self-help books and tapes are available. Lastly, a self-imposed ban on computer use and Internet access may be necessary in some cases.