Cassandra on the Island: Her Gardening

To begin with:
Cassandra had four separate plots of land
where she wanted to plant flowers.
She called them “A, B, C, and D.”
In each plot, she placed two different flowers.

Plot A

She had a talent, her mother would say, for shining brilliant in situations. It was not like walking into a room and capturing the eye of everyone there; It was not like smiling and making everyone smile right along (even though they had no idea what they were smiling about). It went far beyond the dictionary definition of “Charisma.” Cassandra’s mother called it a gift of “radiance” and, when on, it could remind people what a wonder it is to be alive.

Her mother first noticed the talent when taking her daughter to swim at Lake Michigan. It was at the lake that she hated her disability the most. She never knew fear until the first moment she watched her eight-year old run across the beach as she could only sit back in her wheelchair and watch.

But while her mother hated the separation on those moments, Cassandra sought it. It became a reward for her. The kind given after keeping her room clean for five days straight or for helping her mother back in her chair after a fall. Her mother cursed how those incidences seemed to humble her (at least in her mind). The moments when she had to rely on her daughter, her little, tiny daughter, to save her.

If the car accident that crippled the mother taught the two anything, it was the ability to adapt; and adapt is exactly what both of them did. They adapted to losing Cassandra’s father. (Her mother never had the courage to tell her daughter her husband used to beat her. She decided to let her have the delusion of gold around his memory.) They adapted to Cassandra’s mother’s handicap. And Cassandra’s mother adapted to trying to hold her daughter as close as she possibly could, as Cassandra adapted to enjoying the escape from her mother’s suffocating love.

So going to the beach became that for Cassandra, an escape from her mother and the life back home and what she faced every day. (Even though, young Cassandra would have never admitted it, she was quietly embarrassed by her mother’s handicap and would rarely invite her friends over.) The lake was a ritual as rich as entering a church. Like placing holy water on her head, every step for this child was important.

Step 1- Getting mama out of the car.

This step took the longest.

Well, it felt that way for Cassandra. The beach was right there staring at her! How could she not feel the pressure to move faster, faster?

            Step 2- Leaving mama prepared.

Her mother had a full collection of supplies that had to be double-checked. Batteries in her megaphone? Check. First Aid Kit? Check. Binoculars? Check.

Step 3- Make sure mama’s chair is in a good position.

This was very crucial; if her mother couldn’t see her, Cassandra’s time in the water was done. So it was very important to her that she had the best view of every aspect of the beach.

Step 4- The slow walk.

Cassandra’s mother always yelled at Cassandra when she ran. Looking back at her youth, Cassandra believed this was all related to her mother’s inability to run herself. But running on the beach could spell disaster for the day. A simple sprint could call for an end to her cleansing in the waves.

…And yet, Cassandra didn’t mind torturing her mother when she met the water.

Step 5- Going under.

Cassandra always went completely under water first. And she would hold herself under… and under… and under…

She loved the silence. She loved the isolation… She loved the quiet and she hated coming up for that first breath. Her mother hated this game of Cassandra’s. There was many a day that she called her daughter back to the car because of that disappearance. To Cassandra, this was as close to the feeling of immortality she had ever felt. Continue reading

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I Want to Tell You a Story … Cassandra on the Island

I want to tell you a story.

Let’s begin like this- I wrote a novel for my thesis when I was working for my Master’s at the University of Southern California and I made the head of the department cry.

I had few interactions with this professor. I like to think he liked me, he personally asked me to take a few advanced courses and met with me now and then to discuss agents and my writing, but we were of different worlds. How else do you explain the meeting of a poet and a novelist? We use the same words, but for a novelist it is about the meaning, where for the poet it is about the music beneath it.

To graduate, I needed people to sign off on my thesis. I had one from a fiction professor (I can’t remember his name now) and the head of the department promised to be the second… and he delayed… and he delayed.

I was working on campus, which was fine for me since I didn’t have to drive anywhere and there was a Carl’s Jr on campus and I was a little addicted to their crispy chicken sandwich (I don’t need to say more about that here). But on this day, instead of waiting in the outrageously long line of students and eating that awesome sandwich, I decided to bother the delaying professor. He was in his office and knew why I was there when I walked in. He didn’t make eye contact with me and promised to start the book that afternoon, shrugging me off.

I had to accept that answer and leave.

That night I received a call after 9 PM. It was him and he was crying. He kept saying the word “beautiful.” He talked to me about the book for over an excited hour, asking about why I did certain things, what they meant. He was figuring out different tricks I did in the writing in between his emotional outbursts.

It is not often a writer gets to speak to a moved reader the second after they finish their book, but I was having that experience here, and it was with someone that surrounds himself with books and writers! This is legit, right?

He wasn’t planning to read the book straight through, he said. He was planning to finish, maybe skim bits. He skims, he said. He skims most books from students, he said… but here he didn’t. And once he started he couldn’t stop.

He told me what he loved, what made him laugh and what made him cry.

He asked if he could share the book with others, and I said that was fine. He said I didn’t have to worry about my thesis, and he couldn’t wait to buy the book in print… and then he was off the line.

Now… let me be clear… I’m not telling you this story about a crying professor to brag. I’m telling you this because it was the first time I truly felt like a novelist. Continue reading

10 Things That Prove I Am Getting Old

Father Time1. Sometimes the movies in the movie theater are just too gosh-darn loud!

2. I don’t like emoji’s. I don’t find them cute or humorous. I find them annoying and I’m always sure the sender could have easily typed words in the amount of time it took them to find the blasted image.

3. I rap along with The Beastie Boys each time they come up on my iPhone.

4. I have The Beastie Boys on my iPhone.

5. The idea of virtual reality scares me. (Not because of the technology, it’s just that it is one more thing that will emphasize to me how little I have done in my life and how unimportant I am.)

6. When I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for the first time, I related more to the grownups then the kids. Don’t those blasted kids know they are dealing with powerful dark magic! What were they thinking? No dinner! Go to your room!

7. I still think of YouTube as a new thing.

8. I still think of Twitter as a new thing.

9. I was excited about Bloom County coming back… and then had to explain to everyone exactly what Bloom County was.

10. I have a blog

Uses of this World: Chapter 4

Claudius

Denmark 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

Uses of this World is the tale of the people around the events of Hamlet, from the soldiers to the royal family. Each is tied to the outcomes around the crown. And the country, as well as the world, is waiting to see what happens next.

Previous Chapters

Chapter 4: World Take Note

“So much for him,” joked King Claudius, and with a smile he gave approval for laughter.  It was the signal the royal court was waiting for and they responded loudly. Even Claudius almost laughed… almost.

Many like to compare politics to Chess. Claudius never did. Chess is a game, he would argue, politics was something more.

It was art.

Claudius, if anyone bothered to ask him (and they didn’t), would compare politics to a symphony. For like a symphony, each different player was like a different instrument, in tone and style. Some were made to be soloists, lyrical and moving or bombastic; others only played well with similar instruments along, needing to harmonize to find their beauty. And at the front of that Danish symphony was Claudius, the maestro, directing and signaling each player in turn. He had the sheet music written out, and each of the members (knowing it or not knowing it) were following his direction, and only his.

Everything Claudius had done since his brother’s demise had been to cement his own grip on the monarchy. Even this, holding the morning assembly between him and the court in the portrait gallery helped emphasize that. Look at the history all around you, and then look at the new royal family getting their portrait painted. History and living history were alive here and no one in the court could deny the lineage from the ancestors in oil to the breathing family in front of them.

This was Danish royalty. Continue reading

Catch up on the new online book- Uses of this World

Hamlet Illustrated ClassicGreetings readers!

Why we all wait for the new Harry Potter book and tickets for Hamilton (seriously, I can’t wait to see that show, I’m addicted to the soundtrack), I’ve been working on a brand new novel online.

As I said in this opening discussion about it (here), it is an incredibly snobby enterprise. Prove it? I’m trying to reimagine my own version of Hamlet.

I know, I know…  Hamlet… Shakespeare… there is a chance there might be some eye rolling going on right now over the internet. But if I do this right, it should be a very engaging and interesting book with no prior knowledge of the Bard needed.

Denmark, 1926. The world is on a powder keg, the old world is in conflict with the new, still recovering from World War I. Jazz and flappers. Cocktails and parties. In this tumultuous time, the king of Denmark is found dead… but his spirit is not at rest.

This new book, Uses of this World, will be created here online, and I will be putting up a new chapter each time they are ready. Just this week I shared Chapter 3, finally getting up to the first scene in my favorite play.

Why not take this moment to catch up?

Here are three links to the first entries in this new writing experiment. I hope you will give it a try. I’m really enjoying the work and the process around it.

Three Things I Have Almost Blogged About…

Broken PencilSo when I started this blog, I had nothing but the best intentions. I made lists and lists of different things to write about.

… Then I sat down and did way too much about Disneyland and Game of Thrones (two things that should never be in the same sentence again).

Let’s have a brief tangent- I’m one of the few book readers that is thrilled that Game of Thrones is passing the books. The script writers for the show certainly have their problems (for example, they go darker than the books, amazingly), but one skill they do have is the ability to edit. They cut, cut, cut the books down to something a little easier to consume and that is no small feat. I’ll never be totally happy with the calls they make (poor Sansa) or even the calls Martin makes (poor Ned), but at least we’ll be getting an ending to the tale in the new few years.

Okay, where was I? Recently, I found my list of original ideas for blog entries, focused on only one current theme- what interests the guy writing this.

Hey, it’s my blog, what can I say?

Below are three items I always wanted to dive into and never got around to. Not to say they aren’t interesting, it’s just… I’m a very important and busy man (no, I’m not). I have a lot of writing responsibilities (ha!). These short essays are the best  I can do (that is probably true). Continue reading

The With Music Series

With MusicHi everyone!

Over 2015, I took on a new series of posts on my site. I called it “With Music” and I was trying to tell bits about myself and my experiences through the songs that stir those memories.

One of the things I am really proud of around the posts is how diverse they are. There are serious ones, more humorous ones, and even some that might be considered romantic. Well, romantic from that weird perspective we writers take on the real world.

With the end of the year approaching, I thought I would tell you a bit about the eight posts and reshare the links (via the song title) if you haven’t had a chance to check them out. I might do more in the future. They were fun to take on. I hope you enjoy them!

“Don’t Change Your Plans” by Ben Folds Five: This is the story of a… well… I don’t want to say confused, but maybe troubled is more near the mark, girl I dated a long time ago. But really which of us is truly perfect? We all have our quirks. Of course, for me you can look them up on this site.

“Home” by Sheryl Crow: After graduating from college, I decided to travel Europe alone. I just never realized until I got there how big the word “alone” can be. Especially in a country filled with strangers.

“Sweetest Decline” by Beth Orton: This is me deciding what I wanted to do with my life and having the courage to claim it.  (Oh, and this is a pretty awesome song if you have never heard it before.)

“That’s Amore” by Dean Martin: Easily some of the happiest days of my life. My wife and I exploring Italy. Of course, the fact it connects to this corny song was not by our choice.

“Lucky Man” by The Verve: So I have this comedy radio series. You can actually listen to it via this page. I’ve always had a thing for radio drama and this song/story is about my time visiting the last survivors of this artform.

“Break Your Heart” by Barenaked Ladies: Whenever I think of embarrassing dating stories, this is the song that jumps into my mind. For each and every damn one…

“Hey Jupiter” by Tori Amos: Yes, this is a love story about a car.

“Any Love (Cassandra Et Lune)” by Ken Stringfellow: This is a story about many things. First off, it is an amazing song, but second it is also a story about achieving that writing high. When you feel you have all of creation on the tip of your fingers, you just got to start typing.

Cheers!

Snapshots of Decades: A Birthday Blogpost

Super BirthdayTurning 41

It’s my birthday and I am reading Stephen King again.

I do the book reviews for my local NPR station and I knew I would have to take on this very popular author at some point. After a year and a half and over 30 reviews the moment had finally arrived. A copy of his newest novel landed on my porch from his publisher (three weeks before its official release). They want my review. So be it.

I had an aunt growing up that was obsessed with Stephen King. My aunt in some ways was a King creation waiting to happen. She had fiery red hair; a loud, almost shrieking voice; and many of us kids were scared of her. When she got mean, she got really mean. I always did my best to avoid her, never spending the night at her house, trying to avoid being in the same room with her for too long. My aunt would spend her days either on the phone (always complaining), chewing gum or drinking Pepsi (she drank a lot of Pepsi), and reading Stephen King. When I was in 7th grade, she, for some reason, noticed me and gave me a pile of her Stephen King books to read.

I was not impressed and told her as much when I returned the pile a few months later. Rude of me? Yeah, probably.

We spoke even less after that.

Yet, here it is, 28 or so years later and I am once again reading King and I feel like it is a time capsule to that old me, right then. Mainly, it’s because King sounds exactly the same. His voice/prose hasn’t matured, even the plot and characters feel the same as those other books. I’m guessing for many of his fans (including my aunt) it feels like returning to a home.

For me, I see the cobwebs and I wonder why no one has done any cleaning… Continue reading

BLOG HOP! The whats, whys, and hows of my writing!

Broken PencilRecently, author Kelly Hand asked me to take part in a “blog hop.” She had already included an entry (which you can read here). Thanks for thinking of me Kelly!

To be part of this shindig, I just need to answer the same questions as the other writers out there taking part in this hop. Cool! It’s like an international meet-and-greet for authors and readers. Everything but the little snack foods and punch bowl.

I hope you enjoy my entry below:

What are you working on?

Right now I am busy working on the editing of my novel Permanent Spring Showers, which is set for publication this October by 5 Prince Books. We are about halfway through the editing process now. I really love this book and I hope you will check it out when it is released.

Me Stuff, front coverOne of the side projects I have going on is I am publishing a book collecting some of my personal posts from my blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.” (Yeah, the site you are on now.)That book is called Me Stuff. Should be a lot of fun (at least I hope so). I plan to have it out sometime before the end of the month. I try to write two to three things a week on this blog; it’s really amusing for me and great practice since I can write whatever I want on the site. There are no limitations. Hopefully, the fact that there is such freedom and possibility, readers will return to it from time to time to check out what is going on with me. For me, it always feels like it is evolving.

On the new fiction front I am kind of between a few things. I have a book called My Days as a Thief, which I consider the first part of a trilogy that I’ve been working on for almost a decade. The draft is done, I just got to get around to fine-tuning it. What is distracting that is this new novel idea I have. I’m writing it long hand which I think adds to the flavor of it, but will delay anyone seeing anything new from me for a bit. It kind of has a Douglas Adams, Wes Anderson, and Kurt Vonnegut vibe to it. I’m really having a lot of fun discovering it. Continue reading

ME STUFF, my new book, is coming soon! Cover reveal!

Me Stuff, front coverToday, I am excited to share with you the cover for my new book, Me Stuff! This was a family affair, created by my talented photographer bro, Adam Emperor Southard. (If you would like to learn more about what he can do for you, check out his site at BestLAHeadshots.com.)

Me Stuff is a collection of some of the more popular and entertaining posts from this site, created for my readers (yes, you!). If you want an example of what you will find in the book, here is a link to one of my favorite tales in it- “The Night I Stopped Being a Model.” Enjoy!

Me Stuff is coming soon!

Here is the back cover from the book:

“Me Stuff contains the c0llected gems of Scott Southard… a champion for us all. His words always contain wisdom and whimsey too.” – Richard Sutton, Sailletales.com

“The recipe for success, witty observational humor, heartwarming honest, mixed with two parts creativity.” – Paula Acton, Scribblings of an Aspiring Author, paulaacton.com

Thieves, psychics, evil poets, mad men, car companies, literary greats, tornadoes, models, vasectomies, bankers, children, Satanists, princesses, truckers, comics, rock stars, strippers, superheroes…

Me Stuff is a collection of some of the most popular blogposts from Scott Southard’s writing site “The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.”

Made for both the fan and the newbie, Me Stuff has something for everyone… Well, except for those who don’t like entertaining stories. This book can’t help those people.

“Scott D. Southard is a rare breed of author. His stories are unique and deeply personal, always moving, never trite, never trendy.” – Julia Barrett, author and blogger, juliarachelbarrett.net

Stay Tuned!