The Battle Hymn of the American Republic

by Louis Malloy

Julia Ward Howe in her room on the second floor of the Willard Hotel gathers the sheets around her. She sings softly, cupping her pale hands around her mouth in case the sleep of the man next door is disturbed.

      When she heard the song at the parade and her companion suggested she re-write it- “something deeper, my dear, less of the doggerel and more like an anthem”- her blood grew warm and the words began to form immediately.

       There is a phrase she must check in the bible: “A terrible swift sword.” She breathes in.  Her unconscious belongs to the gospel tellers and the red-faced priest of her childhood who was as solid as the mountain and possessed of a certainty now beginning to crumble everywhere.

      She gets up and takes out her writing paper, for it is time to record her creation before it seeps away.  She walks across the room to find her blouse. Almost shamefully she scribbled phrases on the cuffs as they came to her, out of sight of the companion.

      That soldier who sang “John Brown” at the parade had such a rich voice...the night is calm, but she can hear the music, louder now, thunderous. Her pen is quick and still she sings, raising a palm in apology to the man next door who may be turning distractedly in his sleep. She cannot stop for anything.

      When the first draft is finished she goes to the window. Julia Ward Howe is intoxicated, full of the world outside this room of drying petticoats and stale flowers. She closes her eyes and puts her ear to the glass to hear the sound of battlefields and churches and the soldier in the distance singing her new words.

Going Nowhere

by Janet Webster

Writing Diary: Monday

Day one of my career as a successful...

Day one of my career as a famous...

Day one of my career as a best-selling...

Day one of my career as the most famous and best-selling writer since Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling. I have bought a moleskin notebook (Tip Number One from my writer’s guide – Always keep a notebook handy).

Writing Diary: Tuesday

At desk right after breakfast, as per Tip Number Two – Treat writing like a job; aim to write between five hundred and a thousand words per day. One thousand words per day equals seven thousand words per week or approximately thirty thousand words per month. The average novel contains between sixty and eighty thousand words. My first novel will be finished in two months time!

Writing Diary: Wednesday

I have created a spread sheet so that I will be able to record the details of the different characters I will create (Tip Number Five). This will help me avoid careless mistakes such as changing the hero’s hair colour between chapters.

Writing Diary: Thursday

Tip Number Seven is not to become isolated through writing and Tip Number Eight suggests that when faced with writer’s block it is best to do something different for a while. Accordingly I have checked my emails and sent messages to friends on Facebook.

Writing Diary: Friday
In search of further stimulus I decided to take a trip into town so as to write in a café, á la J. K. Rowling. Unfortunately the car broke down halfway there. By the time I had walked into town the café had closed.

Writing Diary: Saturday

I have decided to start my career by writing a short story. Yesterday’s trek into town has inspired the title – ‘Going Nowhere’.

Writing Diary: Sunday

Day off.

Imagine

by Nicole Yatsonsky

The monster under the bed is real. You know because you saw it. You suspect you were the one that put it there. It might have been there the whole time, crouching in wait from your childhood, or newly materializing from a vision where your deepest fears ate your deepest hopes.

You might be crazy. It wouldn’t be the first time that thought has come to pass. Remember the Pegasus that rocketed you across the sky, leaving braided rainbows as it navigated around golden, crepuscular rays? Or when you escaped from that Chinese prison for protesting the emperor’s rule, braving the Yellow Sea to make a new life in Japan? How about the faceless killer that took your whole family, sending you on a tortured path across the zombie-ridden plains? Can you see them? Can you see it all? Broken images that look a lot like words.

Your mind is strewn with the collateral of life’s battlegrounds. Mysterious and cluttered, like your grandmother’s attic, forgotten relics beg to be uncovered, their spindly fingers reaching out to brush your hair in the darkness. You can’t find a clear path to navigate—stumbling over parts of yourself you thought you left behind, avoiding the disembodied whispers that call out: No! Not here! Not now! Not enough!

The voices in your head sound like people you’ve always known, but have never met. They’re back there, hiding, behind a sheer curtain you can nearly touch, but never see. The curtain between the things you never talk about and the reality that won’t let you—a smudged window you might have opened once, now forever unaware of which side you’re on. Did you dream this place? Are you here, right now? Is it real? Are you?

Or are you the monster under the bed?

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Where has the Spider Gone?

By John Mannone

My desk is a wilderness, a web of tumbleweed-papers. I am haunted by the ghost of words lurking there. The glow from my computer screen illumines a cold half-filled cup of coffee; glints off the dust cobwebbing this wasteland. A backlit spider crawls from inside my mind. It has been eating my words for months. I must kill it!

I thrust my pen as a javelin, but it only tears the page. I swing my pen as a club, and the words are bludgeoned. The spider escapes; hides in the hard folds. I overturn every sheet, but they flake as shale where the words have fossilized.

Where has the spider gone? I am a recluse staring at papers and my fingers spider across the keyboard. On the blue sky of the screen, a few words gossamer the page.

Here it comes again… that eight-legged thief with eyes staring me down, defying me. It taunts me. Now I am the hunted one, and I buzz like a fly. Snared in its web, I am drained of strength. Its fangs are about to pierce me, but I do not give up.

I swing my body — too heavy for the web — until I fall free. I fall into safe crevices of my papers, and see words materialize. No longer ghosts.

The spider leers at me as it slinks off. The sticky web around me changes to silk of royal garments. No longer do I feel a pauper to my own words. My pen transformed from sword to scepter, regales the page with words, with wisdom, with imaginative tales, and with stories from the heart.

Where has the spider gone? Caught in its own deception, dissolving in its own venom. My wings unfettered.

The Monster Room

By Julia Bohanna

A writer’s room must be in vile and glossy nightclub purple as befits a monster in captivity. It should offend everyone’s eyes except the writer, who will bear it because they are inside their own heads, not looking at walls. There must be only one chair, as no other is welcome. A desk perhaps but a lap comes as standard. The carpet beneath must be partly worn by pacing and angry kicks, other parts of it slipper-comfortable. 

Inside the room there is no motherhood, no marriage, no soft focus kindness. Such things are indulgent, reckless and distracting. There may be the necessary madness of talking aloud, clenching of fists and sucking of teeth. The monster creates.

There can be flowers beyond the room, bees like cotton balls, a wall, the odd interruptive birdsong. But never people, who become in that short time the enemy.

A page must never stay innocent for long. It is the writer’s sacred duty to defile it but defile it with skill. Language should be agile without limit, not be pushed uphill like a wheezy old woman in a wheelbarrow. Tip her out, abandon her bones by the roadside and start again. Ruthless, you are. Ruthless you stay. You should feel the breath of each character at your shoulder and hurt when they hurt, be happy in the same degree.  Run story, story run. Be breathless with the joy and despair of it all. This will stay in the world long after you are ash.

Your cheeks will burn. You forget to eat. To step outside is a mistake. You are no age at all, no particular sex, your body is not important. The mind drives you. Time fades.

You are done. The heart slows. The story cools.

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