Tidbits: Crossroads

As discussed in my previous post, this short story sprung from a few exercises in flash fiction and grew from there. For more on the history of this composition, read this blog post.

Crossroads by Penny Freeman

Rob understood his brother’s love for the road, especially, as then, in the dead of night. Like himself, Nate had never been one for large crowds. On the road, one was utterly alone. The growling four-fifty-four V8 of Nate’s cherry 1977 El Camino Classic and the steel-belted radials humming on the blacktop lulled to silence all the demands that sucked the life out of Rob. They slipped away like the endless blur of the dotted, white line that streamed beyond the windshield. The highway soothed. Mesmerized. It held life at a safe distance where Rob could nibble off bits at a time, or ignore it altogether as the mood suited.
Except, there he was, returning with his brother’s ashes, hurtling at 75 mph toward the madness: the boss, the job, the mounting bills and overdrawn bank account. The labyrinth of life with no easy way out. Toward Annabelle—his own Nan—and that look of dread in her eyes: anguish that assaulted him and reticence that held him at arm’s length.

Rob jerked awake, jolted from a deep, dreamless slumber by something—the baby? He couldn’t remember. Nan had argued with him, and he put off going to bed until she slept to avoid a demand to hash it out. He turned in very late, and the fog of somnolence melded to his brain like his kids’ sticky hands to his skin. Scarcely lucid, he ignored his transient bob to the surface of consciousness, and surrendered again to the depths of sleep.
Her voice prevented it, however . . . a low murmur . . . hesitant . . . wary—scraps of sound distorted by the cobwebs of his sleep-deprived brain. He rolled over, pried open his eyes, and forced the numerals of the digital clock into focus. 04:00. Good grief. He had to be up in two hours. Couldn’t she cut him some slack?
He turned toward the wall and fended her off with the silence of feigned sleep. He was tired of bending over backward to make her happy, and for what? No matter how he tried, he couldn’t figure out what the devil she wanted.

Editor's Notes: The Editor's Editor

I need to write. I need to keep up with this blog. I need to chisel away at the stacks of books piled up on my nightstand awaiting my review. Fortunately, I’m able to steal a minute now and again to return to this project. I appreciate the kind patience of all the authors who have been put on hold for so long. Hopefully, within the next few months I’ll be able to provide the content they were promised, although not quite as quickly as I had hoped.


Today, I offer one of those “everybody needs a good editor” posts, a subject I love to harp on, as any reader of this blog knows. However, this one comes with a twist: every writer needs a good editor, even editors who also write.

A few months back, I whipped up a short story. It sprung from some flash fiction and grew from there. Then, since it seemed to fit into the theme of a short story competition, I polished it to the best of my ability and entered it. It didn’t get picked for their anthology. Despite my repeated references to readers whose opinions I trusted, countless adjustments, and a precision word count that met the maximum limit with exactness, the two judges didn’t think as well of my work as I did.

Their evaluations sat on my desk unopened for a few months because I dread (just as much as any author) the red pencil of death which I knew awaited me within. Not so; I received just a 1-5 grade scale in seven different areas. The judges gave me numbers, little else. One kindly left a positive comment. The other felt I tried too hard to be artsy and had inadequate tension or conflict (I still don’t get that). I got a 4/5 from the kind one, a 3/5 from the more critical.

Sr. Editor McKenna Gardner
But, since I wrote this months and months ago, I’m giving myself a bye for not following my own advice. I have since corrected that egregious error, with happy results. The trick here, my friends, is to use an editor whom you both respect and trust. It’s not about who will be the most kind or who will give you the most strokes, but who will help you produce the best work within you. Who will properly guide you to your goal? I turned to the senior editor at Xchyler Publishing, McKenna Gardner.

A good editor is like a good coach. They identify strengths and help the author stretch their muscles, build their stamina, and fine-tune their literary muscle memory. They identify weaknesses and drum them out of the author. Like the coach, the editor doesn’t replace the author. They do not rewrite their stories; they draw them out of the author. They assist the author in fulfilling their own highest potential. They’re the author’s personal cheering section. 

All that said, I required no fewer than thirteen separate versions to make my short story worthy of public consumption. After all that trouble, what did I change? I added a grand total of 131 words to the manuscriptone hundred and thirty one excruciating words wrenched out of me with painstaking care. 

Months after the short story competition had come and gone, why bother? Simple: I wanted to explore the possibilities with such a coach in my corner as those that we have at XchylerPublishing.

If you would care to review the product of our exertions, you can review my separate post, Crossroads, here. Leave a comment and tell me what you think.