Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

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Miss Lizzie’s Tea Party

by Dawn Pisturino

Illustration by Ken Lamug

I never wanted to attend Miss Lizzie’s tea party, but mama insisted I go.

“Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady,” she scolded. “I don’t want to hear anymore nonsense about those grisly axe murders! Rich young ladies like Miss Borden don’t go around chopping up people’s heads.”

“But Mama,” I protested. “Miss Lizzie and the maid were the only ones at home. Who else could have chopped off her father’s nose and split his eyeball in two?”

“That’s enough, Olivia,” Mama warned. “You’re going to the party, and that’s final.”

* * *

I had often seen Miss Lizzie sitting in an upstairs window, beckoning the neighborhood children inside for homemade cookies.

Every time she waved at me, my body quivered like gelatin fresh out of the mold. After all, this was the woman accused of hacking up her father and stepmother with a hatchet!

And even though the jury found Miss Lizzie innocent way back in 1893, folks ’round these parts never forget.

But I always reluctantly waved back, as Mama had taught me, and hurried home.

Then the invitation came. Miss Lizzie was hosting an afternoon tea party for all the children in the neighborhood.

Mama was so thrilled, she cleaned and pressed my prettiest, frilliest party dress and bought me a shiny new pair of shoes. “Papa’s law practice has been falling off lately,” she explained. “He needs a wealthy client like Miss Borden to get going again.”

Annie, the housemaid, curled my hair. “You can’t go, Miss Olivia, you just can’t. My mama told me never to go inside that house. I mean, never! And she should know. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden’s housemaid, told her there was blood and brains splattered everywhere. They found Abby Borden’s hair braid lying on the rug, sliced clean from her head!”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “I have to go, Annie. Mama will whip me with Papa’s razor strap if I don’t.”

“Well, don’t eat anything. She never admitted it, but Miss Lizzie tried to buy poison from Smith’s Drug Store right before the murders.”

* * *

Miss Lizzie opened the front door with a wide, toothy grin.

Every muscle in my body screamed, Run! Now! While you can!

But mama’s voice kept ringing in my ears. Miss Borden is a kind and gentle lady . . .

So I followed Miss Lizzie down the hall to an elegantly furnished drawing room — an empty drawing room. None of the other children had come. Cowards!

And then I saw it, gleaming by the fireplace, a shiny new axe!

Gold paint glittered along the sharp edge, marred by dark stains that looked like blood. I clenched my fists, trying hard to ease the queasiness in my stomach.

“You’re admiring my new axe,” Miss Lizzie said. She stepped closer, her pale blue eyes foggy with distant memories. “My father was quite skilled with an axe. One afternoon, I went into the barn and found my beloved pigeons lying on the ground with their heads chopped off. My father was standing over them, holding a bloody axe. I screamed and ran into the house.

“That night, Bridget served pie for dinner. Pigeon pie!” she said as her lips twisted into a smile.

The drawing room door opened then and a fat cook with a red face entered carrying a large pie in her hands. “Sit yourself down, my dear. The pie is ready to eat! I got lucky, Miss Lizzie. I found our special ingredient at Smith’s Drug Store.”

Smith’s Drug Store! I grabbed my reeling head, ready to faint at any moment. Pie! Poisoned pigeon pie!

Screaming, I lunged for the axe and swung it around, knocking the pie out of the cook’s hands, slicing off her forefinger. She howled in pain as blood spurted from the wound. I swung the axe around again, nicking Miss Lizzie’s ear. Fluffy brown curls fluttered to the floor, sliced neatly from her head.

Miss Lizzie tackled me to the ground and held me there while the cook bound her bloody hand with a towel and telephoned the police. My chest heaved with great, gulping sobs as Miss Lizzie’s face drew closer and closer until her lips brushed against my ear.

You see how easy it is,” she whispered.

THE END

Published in the February 2012 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree.

Copyright 2012-2016 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! MAKE IT SCARY!

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Rainbows: A Sweet Vignette

Water_DROP_colored_rainbow

 

Dedicated to my Husband and Daughter

It was early in the morning, and a young woman and her husband were driving to the train station. Temporarily, at least, the rain had stopped. The air was pleasantly fresh and clear, though oh! so cold, and here and there a patch of blue showed through the thick November clouds. Pale sunlight shone thinly against the grey morning dampness, brightening just a little the depressing aspect of the city.

“Oh look, a rainbow!” the young woman cried, pointing out the window.

Her husband, who was driving, looked up into the distant sky. Sure enough, half of a large rainbow emerged from a thick grey cloud.

The woman’s face beamed with happiness. “Isn’t that lovely?” she said. “It makes the whole morning beautiful.”

As they drove down the muddy narrow road which ran alongside the railroad tracks, the rainbow seemed to grow more distinct. Soon they could see each end of the rainbow, though the middle was still hidden by clouds.

“Now you can see both ends,” the woman cried eagerly.

“See where it goes,” her husband said. “Maybe I can find my pot of gold.”

The woman searched the sky, trying to determine beginning and end.

“It seems to stretch between the hills over there” — (she pointed left) — “and downtown over there” — (she pointed right.)

“Where does that story come from, anyways?” her husband asked.

“The Irish, I think. You know, leprechauns and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

“Yeah,” said her husband, a greedy grin on his youthful face. “I’d like to find a pot of gold at the end of it.”

The young woman frowned. “Oh, Jim, that’s all you care about is money. Can’t you think of anything else?”

“Not when we don’t have any,” he answered.

The woman said nothing more, and they drove along in silence until they arrived at the station. But when Jim was helping her out of the car, she suddenly noticed the other rainbow.

“Now look,” she said triumphantly, pointing at the sky. “There are two rainbows!”

Above the first rainbow, which was growing brighter by the minute, half of a second rainbow could be seen. 

“That’s unusual to see two rainbows,” she said thoughtfully. While the young couple watched together, the first rainbow grew stronger and more distinct as the sunlight shifted.

“Now you can see the whole arch!” the woman exclaimed. Truly, it was lovely. The rainbow colors stood clear and vivid against the somber grey sky. “That’s rare to see such a rainbow,” she said, grabbing her husband’s hand and squeezing it tightly. Indeed, the colors seemed almost unnatural.

“And remember, Sharon, there are two,” Jim reminded her gently. “Perhaps they’re man and wife — like us.”

Sharon giggled. “Which one is the man?” she asked playfully.

“The one on the bottom is the strongest.” Jim put his arm around his wife’s ample waist and hugged her close.

“On the bottom, right where he belongs,” Sharon teased.

Her husband laughed. “Actually, I rather like it when you’re on top.”

Sharon pounded him lightly in the stomach. “You’re incorrigible, you beast!”

The young man patted his wife’s swollen belly, feeling the unborn child move inside. “When rainbows make love, do they make little rainbows?” he whispered in her ear.

“How else could there be rainbows,” she whispered back.

“Actually, there are rainbows all the time. We just don’t see them.”

“My husband, the brilliant scientist!”

Suddenly the skies opened up, and a great rain began to fall. The wind whipped up, chilling them to the bone. Laughing wildly, the young couple ran onto the covered platform.

“I love rain like this!'” shouted the young woman over the roar of the downpour.

“I don’t like getting wet all the time,” shouted her husband, who was more practical. “Here comes the train!”

Down the track, the two bright headlights pierced the misty, watery veil of rain, and in a few moments, the train pulled into the station. The woman hugged her husband tightly and kissed him passionately on his warm lips. “You smell so good,” she murmured, snuggling close to his big, warm body.

“I have to go,” he said, disentangling himself from her clinging embrace. “Have a good day. Rest!”

“I will,” she promised, smiling. “Have a good day!”

She waited until he was safely on the train, waved good-bye, then ran into the rain. Behind her, the train began to move slowly down the track. She couldn’t help herself. She stopped and watched as the train gathered speed and chugged out of sight. She pulled her drenched jacket closer around her bulging body. Rain poured down her face and hair. In a moment, she heard the train whistle blasting farther down the track. “I love you,” she whispered, and a lump formed in her throat. Tears watered her eyes, spilled over, and ran down her cheeks, mingling with the rain. She turned and ran as fast as she could to the car.

She climbed into the car and turned the key. The engine sputtered, died, then caught again. She pulled out of the parking space and followed once more the primitive road which ran beside the railroad tracks. She was wet and cold and eager to get home to a hot shower. Her husband was gone to work, the babe was safe and warm inside her. The day would be long and lonely. The rain would carry on, darkening their small apartment. Still, she was happy and content. She had followed her rainbow long ago. She had found her pot of gold.

Dawn Pisturino

November 1983

A true story. Written while I was pregnant.

Copyright 1983-2016 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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The Punishment

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The Punishment

Click photo to enlarge, download, and read.

Story by Dawn Pisturino. Graphics by Rebekah Joy Plett.

Published October 18, 2011 on Underneath the Juniper Tree.
Copyright 2011 Dawn Pisturino and Rebekah Joy Plett. All Rights Reserved.

Published on The Brooklyn Voice, June 25, 2012. Read it here.

Troberg Punishment ill

Artwork by Asheka Troberg, The Brooklyn Voice. Click to enlarge.

Copyright 2012 Dawn Pisturino and Asheka Troberg. All Rights Reserved.

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The oak chest and the bride who rushed to her death

Everybody loves a good ghost story! Click on photo to read the story.

freaky folk tales

The Mistletoe Bride

“Within lay the body of his lost bride, now a fleshless skeleton, wearing the beautiful wedding robes in which he had last seen her. The wedding dress was yellow and stained with age and corruption. Her fleshless hand was raised in a pathetic attitude as it trying to open the door of her tomb.”

Read the whole story: http://freakyfolktales.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/how-a-new-york-society-girl-came-to-inherit-the-ghost-of-an-english-bride/

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Throw Back Thursday. Story Time.

The UNDERNEATH THE JUNIPER TREE anthology will be out soon!

Underneath the Juniper Tree

 

 

The Day Came Sooner For Me

Written by Harley Samson / Illustrated by Michael MurdockScreen Shot 2012-12-20 at 9.17.19 PM

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Screen Shot 2012-12-20 at 9.18.09 PM

 

From the August 2011 issue of Underneath The Juniper Tree

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WRITERS: MIND YOUR MANNERS!

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A MESSAGE FROM JON BARD, MANAGING EDITOR OF CHILDREN’S BOOK INSIDER:

“If you spend a fair amount of time online, perhaps you’ve noticed it:

People are becoming ruder. And angrier. And more entitled.

Really, I’m simply amazed at some of what appears in my e-mail inbox. Folks with whom I’ve never corresponded are sending me demanding messages such as “SEND ME THE EBOOK!!!!” and “I WANT TO GET PUBLISHED. TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”

People (non-customers) send us long, detailed questions out of the blue and expect immediate responses. If they don’t get one, we often receive an abusive message as a follow up.

And then there’s the magic words that many people seem to be using as a justification for curt, nicety-free missives:
“Sent via my iPhone.”

Look, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve got a pretty thick skin. So I raise this not to prevent my feelings from being hurt, but rather as a cautionary message about how *not* to sabotage your writing career.

As a 21st century author, your ability to communicate is paramount to your success. Editors, agents, bloggers, book reviewers, distributors, promotional partners and readers are just some of the people who are important to your career. For goodness sake, treat them with more respect than “Here’s my new book. Write a review!”.

Here then, are my tips to help you be seen as a courteous author worthy of consideration:

• “Dear”, “Thank you”, “Please” and “Sincerely/All the Best/Yours Truly” aren’t archaic leftovers from the distant past. They’re still as important as ever. Use them. Please.

• Composing a message from your phone or tablet is not an excuse for overly-direct curtness. If you have a business message to send, wait until you have the time to write it properly.

• If you’re contacting someone for the first time, make the effort to introduce yourself, and clearly state the purpose of your message.

• If someone doesn’t get right back to you, don’t fire off an angry e-mail accusing them of ignoring you. Perhaps the message got lost. Maybe they’re on vacation. Perhaps they’re ill. Calmly send another friendly message restating your request or comment.

• Remember that you’re dealing with human beings. In our case, every piece of e-mail is read either by me or by Laura. We don’t have a building full of underlings to take care of that for us. When you send us kind words (and many of you do — thank you!), it feels great. When you’re rude or angry, it stings. Treat me with respect — I think I’ve earned at least that.

The vast majority of you are nothing but gracious in your communications with us. That bodes well for your future success. Keep at it, and gently work to correct those who aren’t minding your manners.
For the few of you who may have let your etiquette slip, please take heed of the points I’ve laid out, and make a resolution to make the online world just a little bit more courteous.

That’s it — venting over! Onward….”

THANKS, JON!

Dawn Pisturino

 

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TOO MANY BOOKS, TOO MUCH COMPETITION

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In an interview with the blog SIX QUESTIONS, John Raab, Publisher/CEO/Editor-in-Chief of Suspense Magazine, answered the following question:

“What can you truly expect to get out of your writing?”

“I feel that many authors have false expectations and think they are writing the next NY Times Bestseller. Here is the problem with that. Just because your book is not high on a list or selling that great, doesn’t mean you can’t write. Authors have to remember that anybody can now publish an EBook on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. What does that mean? That means that readers now have to navigate through thousands of more books to find one they like and readers only have a certain amount of money to spend. If you don’t have thousands of marketing dollars behind your work, then you have to spend triple the amount of time marketing to fans than it took you to write the book. Writing the book is the easy part, getting paid from it is the difficult part. Authors should expect to not retire off their work, but instead write for the love of it, because it is your passion. Writing and music are the same thing, you see a great band in a bar and say ‘They are better than anything I hear on the radio, why aren’t they signed?’ Writing is the same way.”

Is it true? Are there too many books on the market? Writers don’t just write for the love of writing, they write to make a living. But if thousands of self-proclaimed authors are flooding the market with books, how can someone achieve that goal?

For myself, I stopped buying books because I was tired of wasting my money on mediocre crap that was marketed as best-seller material. A slick cover and a wide audience do not a-book-worth-reading make. Extensive marketing will not salvage a poorly crafted commodity. Readers might buy from you once, but they won’t come back again.

The book market is, in fact, overwhelming. Every time I go into Barnes & Noble, the stacks of unread (and unbought) books makes me want to swoon.  Scanning through Amazon and Goodreads makes me feel the same way.

The books shout in my head: READ ME! READ ME!

It’s the same on Facebook. Thousands of self-proclaimed authors scream at me: BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!

Millions of blogs and online publications float around in Internet outer space, vying for attention.

TV, movies, and video games also provide tough competition. And to top it off, a recent poll suggested that only 75% of the population ever reads a book (print or digital.)

So, what’s a writer (and reader) to do in an age of information overload?

1. Write the best damned book you can, using original ideas.

2. Don’t write derivative material because thousands of others are doing the same thing. We don’t need anymore books about vampires and wizards unless the slant is so original, and the characters so unforgettable, that the world just can’t live without them.

3. Define your goals realistically. If you are only writing out of love for the craft, then be content to do so. But if you dream of making a living as a writer, then treat it as a business.

Personally, I think the publishing industry bubble is going to burst, just like the dot.com bubble and the housing bubble. Too many books means too many choices and a flattened market. After all, people don’t have the time or the money to spend on reading all the books out there. And traditional publishing houses depend on blockbuster best-sellers to keep themselves afloat.

I will continue to write because I love to write. But don’t be fooled: I want to make a living off of my writing as much as any other writer. The question is: can I beat the competition?

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Writing short fiction has definitely improved my writing. I wholeheartedly agree with this advice.

The Author Chronicles

Now that I have more time to write (Toddler started preschool), I have been trying my hand at short stories. This is a new format for me, but I am enjoying learning the new skills for this format. Even as a novelist, I am finding many benefits to exploring short fiction:

1. Experimentation.

I can play around with things I would not be able to with a novel-length work. For example, if I want to dabble in a genre I usually don’t write, I can test it out quickly. If I have a new or existing character I want to explore more in-depth, I can concentrate on just them.

2. Practicing one particular writing technique at a time.

When dealing with a novel, it is often hard to go back and look at things such as dialogue, to make sure each character sounds different. Even when doing a dialogue pass…

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Bree Ogden, literary agent extraordinaire, is making herself available for all you aspiring authors out there! Check out her class!

this literary life

I’ve had enough experience with writers to know that they almost always feel like this when writing their query letter:

Writers Block

 

Because they know that agents are like this almost every day:

slushpile

 

 

You want agents fighting over your query and manuscript like it’s the freaking Ring of Mordor. If you are stuck, feel like you just can’t figure out how to write that winning query letter, think about signing up for my LitReactor.com class THE ART OF THE QUERY LETTER.

Being a literary agent myself, I know what grabs us, what immediately turns us off, what makes us laugh in good spirits and what makes us laugh in disgust. Often times, you’ll think that your clever opening will win you a manuscript request, when in reality, it’s the thing that makes us hit the “trash” button.

During the course of my class, I will help you:

  • Learn how…

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