The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
Issue No. 58, Autumn, 2019
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Editor's Note:


Golden Era. This term has always intrigued me: “The Golden Era of Hollywood,” “The Golden Era of Train Travel,” “The Golden Era of Radio,” etc. The term sounds both joyous and melancholy at the same time, as if there was a magical epoch for some activity, but we missed it because we were too young, or weren’t born yet, or were so busy doing other things that we didn’t notice the era go by.

And yet we are now in another Golden Era: the Golden Era of Short Stories. Never before has there been an era with such a proliferation of short stories being both read and written. It is a flood, a wonderful flood.

You want read a great short story? Or write one? There is a massive array of literary magazines (nearly every university and college in America has one) trying to fill their pages. Browse the internet, and you’ll find dozens of small publishers and individuals putting together hundreds of anthologies based on a theme or concept, as well as many e-zines looking for literary or genre stories. There are 
social sites that want to share their writers’ treasures, and individual and group blogs dedicated to sharing their own and their friends’ stories. Finally, don’t forget the immense assortment of writing contests looking to discover new talent. 

Our own BWG Roundtable is right in the mix. Our featured stories for this issue are “The Spouses Club,” by Jeanne Moran, and “A.E.S.O.P.,” by Sarah Felsted, which took, respectively, second and third place in our annual BWG short story contest, focusing on the theme of “animal stories.” These were truly outstanding efforts by Jeanne and Sarah, considering the quality and quantity of stories submitted to us.

This issue also has a fascinating interview of Kelly Jensen by BWG member Ralph Heib. Ms. Jensen, who writes science fiction and romance—sometimes both together!—is the author of twelve novels, including the Chaos Station series co-written with Jenn Burke. She’s here to talk about genres, publishing, and how to get your work noticed.

Based on our theme of family functions (or dysfunctions), I could not, as one of your faithful co-editors, resist adding a book review of the New York Best Seller The Great Santini (also a major movie hit starring Robert Duvall) and the follow-up autobiography, The Death of Santini, by Pat Conroy. Mr. Conroy knows family dysfunction, and for many of us, his stories strike close to home.

And as usual, we have a great range of short stories and poems in our &More section that we hope you will enjoy.

All of us at the BWG Roundtable staff love to read and to publish your stories. You and we are in the Golden Era of short stories. Let’s enjoy it and take advantage of it while it is happening, so that one day we can say we were part of it. And keep on reading (and writing).
 
-- Jerome W. McFadden, Senior Editor                                           

Second Place Winner 
2019 Short Story Award

In her career as a pediatric physical therapist,
Jeanne Moran helped hundreds of children with disabilities gain strength and motor skills. That left her spare time (ha!) to teach Sunday School, direct an after-school program, organize an international student-athlete exchange, and help planand implement construction of a new community playground. Along the way, she learned a bit about tang soo do and sudoku, tap dancing and German, whole foods cooking and the joy of selling on eBay. Anything to avoid cleaning! 

Jeanne writes fiction and non-fiction for young and young-minded readers surrounded by inspirational quotes, vinyl records, countless books, and innumerable dust bunnies.
http://jeannemoran.weebly.com

 The Spouses Club

An interview by Penelope Oddfellow

 Jeanne Moran

In this issue of Creatures Quarterly, we share highlights of an interview with two remarkable people: Aspen Hill, a former trail guide turned entrepreneur who is married to Sasquatch, or Sassi as she calls him; and Tom Floss, owner of a landscaping business who has developed an ingenious product based on the work of his celebrity wife, Celestial Moonglitter, better known as The Tooth Fairy.

Our own Penelope Oddfellow caught up with them after the monthly meeting of The Spouses Club at Wonderland Restaurant in New York City.

Penelope Oddfellow: Thank you both for agreeing to speak with me. First, tell me a little about The  Spouses Club. Your members are all human, is that right?

Tom Floss: Yes, we’re human spouses of magical or legendary creatures. The Club’s been around for thirty-odd years. Currently, I’m Vice-President and Lena of Loch Ness, Nessie’s wife, is President. I know you hoped to speak with her too, but the tide was going out and her hubby was waiting to take her home. It’s a long trip for them.

The Spouses Club doesn’t have a stated mission or a formal charter. But I can tell you – we need this connection with one another. 

Oddfellow: So you meet here every month to talk?

Tom: [nods] And clear our heads. Our marriages are not like other marriages. First of all, [lifts one finger]  we’re married to celebrities, so there’s the whole fame thing going on. And second, [lifts another finger] we’re not married to a PERSON. Having a non-human spouse presents all sorts of, umm…

Aspen Hill: The challenges are quite unique.

Oddfellow: We’ll get to the challenges in a minute. Let’s start with you, Aspen. How did you meet Sassi?

Aspen: I worked as a trail guide up in Oregon at the time. I had a young couple with me, first-time hikers, and a heavy thunderstorm rolled in. We took shelter in a shallow cave. It smelled dank and musky and the couple didn’t want to go in, but what with the rain and lightning, I told them we didn’t have much choice.

On little rocky outcroppings inside the cave were these neat piles of fresh berries and nuts. The young woman pointed to a large divot in the earth floor where someone or something had obviously slept. Her boyfriend screamed, “Bears!” and they both ran out of the cave and down the trail in the pouring rain. [scoffs] Rookies. I had to notify the ranger when I got back in cell range.

I stayed put until the storm broke, so I was alone in the cave when Sassi walked in.

Tom: I met Celestial the day an employee buzzed my office about a customer looking for a very unusual plant – a tree that grew money. Actual money! I figured it was some kind of joke, so I laughed and buzzed off, then turned back to my work. And just like that, [snaps his fingers] this tiny woman dressed in a million shades of blue was in front of my desk. She sort of shimmered. She said, “You’ll help me, won’t you, Tom?” I babbled something like, “How did you get in here?” but I couldn’t take my eyes off her. 

Oddfellow: Was it love at first sight?

Tom: I wouldn’t say love, but I was enchanted. And curious. Seems she’d been watching me for some time. She was convinced I’d come up with some way to support her line of work, so she kept popping in when I least expected it. [shakes his head and smiles] Soon I found myself hoping she’d pop in. Wasn’t long before she was all I could think about. Seriously—who wouldn’t want a beautiful, generous, magical woman in their life? 

Aspen: [smiling at Tom] My first reaction was nothing like yours. I was terrified. Here was the huge, hairy creature. Plus, he smelled really bad. He seemed to understand that I was scared, because he stood there on the threshold of his cave, staring at me for like a full minute. Then he grunted and offered me a handful of nuts and berries. He started a small fire and gestured to a log. Before I sat, I moved the log near the cave opening for two reasons. One, I wanted to keep an escape route open, and two, the stench! Wet dog, times one thousand.  

So I sat there on that log with a hand over my nose, and did what I always do—I talked. As I did, I began to relax. Inside an hour, Sassi knew everything about me and I started asking him questions. He doesn’t use words, but I could interpret his gestures and grunts just fine. I learned that he lived alone way up in the woods so he wouldn’t scare people. That hermit’s life was for the sake of others. [shakes her head and smiles] I began to see him for the sweet, gentle creature he is.

Once the weather cleared, he walked me back to the hiking trail and showed me which way the young couple had gone. Such a gentleman. I asked if I could see him again or if that was against some kind of Big Foot Code of Conduct. He laughed this big rumbly laugh, gestured toward his cave, and nodded.

I went back the next day with shampoo, detangler, and a half-dozen combs. The day after that I went back with some essential oils to freshen up the cave. The rest is history.

Oddfellow: What did your family and friends say?

Aspen: There was no way to break it to them gently. I mean, how do you tell them you’re in love with this huge and hairy creature who lives in a cave and grunts a lot? But after a few minutes with Sassi, folks realize he’s super shy and harmless as a butterfly. [laughs] A big, furry, stinky butterfly.

A couple of my buddies said that since Celestial’s work would leave me alone every night, I could still join them at the pub after work. She must have overheard.

Oddfellow: Why do you say that?

Tom: Because when I brought it up a few days later, they didn’t remember the conversation. Not at all. I suspect fairy dust.

Oddfellow: It sounds like those close to you have accepted your unusual relationship.

Aspen: Well, sort of. Sassi’s a loner so large gatherings are awkward. Plus, not everyone can hold up both ends of the conversation like I can. [laughs] I will say this though—everyone agrees it’s easier to have him around now that his fur’s been tamed and he smells better.

Tom: Celestial’s work demands that she pop in and out often. She tries not to make it obvious, but people are put off when she disappears in the middle of dinner and reappears a minute later. Especially if she’s still tucking a tooth into the sack at her belt.

Oddfellow: That brings us to challenges. Both of you have taken your spouse’s unique challenges and turned them into a business. Tell me about that.

Tom: Celestial’s in an expensive line of work. Handing out quarters and dollars doesn’t sound like much, but it really adds up. When we met, she was in desperate need of a steady funding stream. Then there was the problem of all those teeth. She had an entire shed filled with jars and jars of them. What do you do with them all?

We tried to solve both problems at once. Using my experience with trees and her magic, we worked on developing a variety of tree that would grow actual money. I’d show her a promising sapling. She’d sprinkle it with fairy dust and spells and bury those tiny teeth around it. Two years later with no money tree, we were frustrated and out of ideas.

That’s when it hit me. What if we took those teeth and turned them into a saleable product?

Oddfellow: That sounds rather gruesome.

Tom: Actually, it’s not gruesome at all. Celestial spreads out her night’s collection on a large tray and sprinkles it with fairy dust. In moments, what’s left is sparkling white enamel, perfect as the finish to outdoor statuary and birdbaths. The result is that TomCel Industries has become known worldwide for garden statuary with a distinctive pearly white finish.

Sales of TomCel products fund Celestial’s work. So in a way, the teeth she collects are recycled and support the next generation of gap-toothed kids. Her work supports TomCel, and TomCel supports her.

Oddfellow: What about you, Aspen? I understand you’re an entrepreneur, too.

Aspen: [nods] As I said before, when I met Sassi, his fur was a mess. All matted, tangled, and full of burrs and twigs. I sent him to a nearby stream with about $100 worth of shampoo and told him not to come back until he’d washed every bit of his furry self. He sat in the sun while his fur dried, and I stood behind him spritzing bottle after bottle of detangler and combing out debris. Took hours. When it was done, he looked awesome. Even stood taller and bellowed this happy, musical note, so I knew he felt better, too.

Two days later, we were back to square one. Burrs, tangles, clumps of matted fur, the whole bit. We repeated the shampoo-detangler process, but I knew, we both knew, we needed a long-term solution. We wanted to spend time together, and I couldn’t snuggle up against him with all those pickers and that filthy fur.

A few years of research and development led to the creation of the Silken Yeti line of haircare products. The entire line—shampoo, detangler, conditioner, anti-frizz balm, smoothing gel, and finishing oil—is totally natural, vegan, and infused with the freshness of lavender and mint.

Oddfellow: Are the products just for use with thick or problem hair?

Aspen: Since Sassi was my test subject, they were developed for problem hair, yes. But customers with all hair types tell us how much they love the products. Since Sassi started using Silken Yeti, his fur has grown so soft and manageable that burrs slide out without tangling. And my own hair, [shakes her shoulder-length auburn tresses into the light to show off their shine] well, it’s never been better.

Oddfellow: I’m sure our readers are curious about the, umm, more intimate aspects of your human-creature relationship. Using just two words, can you sum up your most private moments as a couple?

Tom: [grinning] She’s magical.

Aspen: [laughing] He’s big.

Third Place Winner 
2019 Short Story Award


Sarah Felsted is a Carolina girl who relocated to eastern Pennsylvaniawith her family. Sarah loves to write stories that delight and entertain her four children.  Sarah practices yoga, curates a beautiful home, studies cookbooks, and works out stories in her head while speed walking the neighborhood.  











A. E. S. O. P.

Sarah Felsted

“Come to order! Come to Order! We’re not just killing time here. There are writers to help and we have one new member, so we need to jump right in with introductions. Welcome this evening to our monthly meeting of Authors Emotional Support offered by Pets. The “by” is silent.”

A brown standard-sized poodle stood while the rest of the animals situated themselves in a ring. Night in Maine was turning cool, almost cold, with the almost full moon casting light down from the heavens. The poodle cleared his throat and began again, demanding the attention of the small group.

“I am Mr. Darcy. I started AESOP ten years ago and act as president, as well as publicist of our small group. My genre is Regency Romance, with the occasional mystery romance.” He turned to a toad to his left.

The toad, nodded and looked around the gathered circle of animals. “Neville is my name, unfortunately. Harry Potter phase and such. Anyway, Young Adult Fantasy.” Neville glanced at a wise-looking cat with tail whipping around. Her large green eyes were warm and inviting. Her voice was velvety like her black fur.

“I am Maya. Poetry. The light in me sees the light in each of you. Don’t let my sassiness upset you.” The cat, seemingly satisfied with the introduction, looked back to the proud poodle.

A Capuchin monkey ran over to Mr. Darcy and began working his tiny hands through the dog’s fur, fluffing his shiny brown coat. Continuing his focused grooming, he introduced himself next. With a tip of his small hat, he spoke.

“I am George. Children’s literature.”

Neville croaked back a laugh. The others glared at him until he quieted.

Mr. Darcy signaled to a white and orange ball python to go next. The python pulled up his head to the level of the other animals and looked around.

“I am Kaa. Sssspeculative Fiction,” the snake said slowly and deliberately. “The occasional short ssstory or article on sssnake life.”

“Welcome, Kaa!” the animals loudly greeted their new member.

Finally, the last introduction was a small horse named Mr. Ed. The equine author very dryly said, “Humor and Satire.”

“I need a motion to add this new member to AESOP,” said Mr. Darcy, appealing to the group.

“Wait, I would also like to join,” said a small voice that appeared to come from nowhere. Mr. Darcy ignored the voice, and asked again for a motion.

A grasshopper jumped up from the ground and onto Mr. Darcy’s brown nose.

“I said that I wish to join,” the grasshopper repeated earnestly. “My name is Dennis Hopper and I am a pet.”

Everyone groaned. Neville croaked, “Not you again! Grasshoppers are not pets. No exceptions.”

Undeterred, the grasshopper pleaded, “But AESOP is for animals who support published authors. Insects are animals. And my books are published. They are quite well known, not to toot my own horn. Stephen K…”

Mr. Darcy interrupted the insect with disdain. “Any ant or cricket could claim to work with published authors. AESOP would be over-run with the entire animal kingdom claiming they give support to writers. Very simply, we do not believe you are a pet. And certainly not to a world- famous author.”

Mr. Darcy looked to the horse for support. “Mr. Ed, do you believe this grasshopper is a pet, yay or nay?”

They all looked to Mr. Ed. He pursed his horse lips and furrowed his brow.

“Neigh,” said Mr. Ed.

The grasshopper shook his legs angrily.

“Insects can be pets! This is prejudice!” he yelled at Mr. Darcy as he hopped back down to the ground. Neville stuck out his long tongue at him. Mr. Darcy rolled his eyes and continued.

“Now that introductions have been made, I wish to officially add Kaa to our group. All in favor say ‘yay’.”

A chorus of yays was followed by silence as they all looked at Mr. Ed. He furrowed his brow once again.

“Yay,” said Mr. Ed. All the animals sighed in relief.

“Thank you, kindly. AESOP has a new addition. Let us all focus now on the craft.” Mr. Darcy attempted to distract the monkey who was grooming him.

“George, how goes the world of children’s literature?” 

George exhaled. “It is exhausting. I am so sick of pretending that everything is new and fascinating. I just want to sit and read a good book or groom the neighbor’s cat. Curiosity is killing the monkey.”

“I believe the phrase is ‘care killed the cat’,” whispered Dennis Hopper from below the grass. Maya sharpened her green eyes and glared at the insect.

“No one asked you for help,” said Mr. Darcy.

George started picking through Mr. Darcy’s hair, searching for bugs to calm himself. The haughty poodle would not allow such intimate grooming in front of the group and shook off the monkey. George hopped to the ground. Holding his palms out in front of him, the monkey began miming walls around himself. He was an expert pantomime from his years of illustrative modeling.

Neville got it at once and said, “You’re feeling trapped, old Man?”

George nodded sadly and sat down.

They all nodded sympathetically. To be the model and muse of a children’s book series would be dreadful. No one else in the group had such a cross to bear.

Kaa hissed his desire to speak.

“The trouble at home lately has been the inappropriate use of verbss. My writer is using the wrong verbss to desscribe the action. I will recite the following passage to illussstrate my point.” The snake stabbed the air with his tail to accentuate his words.

“Wagging his tongue and clicking his talonss along the wall, the alien moved closer toward the group. Ssscreams filled the tight ssspace. The group was trapped.”

Immediately Neville spoke up. “Why is the alien wagging his tongue?” With a long tongue of his own, the correct verbiage for describing the action of a particular tongue was of the utmost importance to him.

Mr. Ed agreed. “The wagging tongue is a speedbump to the story. The alien sounds more like a puppy than predator.”

“Took me right out of the story,” Maya murmured.

“Why isn’t the alien flicking the tongue?” Mr. Darcy asked.

Kaa nodded his head in agreement. “I know. It is obviousss.”

From below, Dennis Hopper interjected, “I think we need to focus more on the alien’s motivations…”

“Only group members can provide commentary and feedback,” Mr. Darcy interrupted with distinction. “Just one more comment before we move on.”

Neville croaked, “I suggest you flick your tongue more to encourage the proper word usage.”

“Very good idea, Neville. Thank you.”

Mr. Darcy then asked to share a passage from the latest iteration of corset-popping romance novel. He spoke loudly and recounted with flourish a love scene that made even Mr. Ed blush. However, upon finishing, the animals were ready with critiques. Maya began.

“While it pains me to admit this, the word ‘milky’ was used in excess,” the cat complained.

“I counted three ‘milky’s” said Kaa.

“That paragraph had more milk than a dairy cow,” said Mr. Ed.

Neville, who knew the habits of Mr. Darcy’s author to read her work aloud to her very attentive poodle on a regular basis, suggested the following:

“Every time she reads the word “milky” you should bark,” said the toad. “It will bring attention to the over-usage. Very simple solution.”

“I liked the repetitive use of ‘milky’’ said a small voice coming from the ground.

With a quick pounce, Maya swatted the insect straight towards the toad. Neville shot out his tongue and caught the grasshopper with one well-aimed flick. His long tongue recoiled and he swallowed the insect whole. Everyone was quiet. The team-effort turned barbaric-act was recognized with a moment of reverence and awe. For a full minute they sat in silence. Then the poodle brought them back to the purpose of their meeting.

“Well, to conclude our meeting, Maya, would you grace us with a bit of your poetry?”

The cat pulled herself up to her tallest height and spoke:

To all creepin’ upon the earth,

Walkin’ on four legs from their birth.

Realize the measure of your creation.

All are creatures of our God and King.

‘Cepting those who are annoying.

Those we eat.

Those are treats.

Ain’t we bad?

 

The animals looked around the circle and smiled. Mr. Ed spoke for them all when he whinnied aloud,

“Neigh.”