#OctPoWriMo & #Writober Day 8: Moments of Madness, or Clarity through the Fog

For Tourmaline .’s Halloween Challenge “fog,” I jumped out of bed and was rewarded with a little morning fog on the lake. I love the pareidolia of a giant ghost bat in the trees over that mysterious light in the water.

I love how a photograph through the fog made this house look like a painting. All I did was crop the photo.


Here we are starting our second week already. Today’s prompt didn’t appeal to me (my whole life is either before or after the storm), so I took a look back at 2018. I like the prompt Moments of Madness. I didn’t respond to it in 2018, so now’s my chance.

If I truly surrender to love (of words and sound), will it be in a moment of madness that I glimpse genius: perhaps not genius, but the genuine, truth, my truth, the elusive in which I would choose to surrender forever?

Twine Twirling in the Fog

Flowing fog,
the groggy morning mist
kissing frogs
of lingering madness,
mysteries shrouded
through history fester
with testimony
slogging along with hints,
tinted glints
glimmering lint littering
winter darkness bringer,
but the crazed found ways
through the maze,
a chance to dance
along the fine line
between life and divine
and entwine
the obsessed with the possessed
inner-child and beguiled
within this damned pestilence
of tormented sadness
within a ballet of blessings
where delicious gets messy,
fomenting malicious decisions
for salacious reasons,
or threads of sanity.
Is it sanity clinging
that hinders full progression
to wild recession
reminders in the cinders
that logic, though toxic,
still reigns
in this brain
still clinging to meaning, never
truly trusting surrender?
The twine
though unraveled and taut
twirls between
my fingers never released,
teases the flowing
fog burns
then ceases to be.


The first story

I named the first story of this Writober “But No One Died This Year.” Here’s an excerpt from the draft:

Rafael had to admit that Reese could even make a boar costume look sexy. The tusks jutting along her high cheekbones had accentuated her smile; the shadow from the snout protruding from her forehead made her brown eyes even bigger; and the spiky, glow-in-the-dark fur stripe down her back drew the eye to her tight, curved tail.

She had traipsed so lightly before she tripped, but her bloodied body curled in the wheelbarrow was heavy. Every rock, rut, and twig unbalanced the dead-weight of muscle and bones. The blade of the rusting shovel mercifully covered her face. Full concentration and determination were the only things that kept him readjusting and pushing forward.

The sound of snorting, snout rooting through dead leaves and underbrush, was all he could hear. He thought it was his guilt, bringing Reese’s costume to life, but then he heard footsteps.

Maria L. Berg 2021

The second story

I’m feeling intrigued by the image and microstory from October 14th last year. The image is by Gregory Crewdson. His cinematic scenes are great for story inspiration. Here’s the microstory I wrote:

He couldn’t stand that scraping sound under the bathroom floor for another day. He chiselled through the tile, and cut through the wood. He gripped the hammer, prepared for something to run out: a mouse, a rat, even a opossum, but nothing came. The scratching continued. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness. He grabbed his flashlight and slowly reached down.

Maria L. Berg 2020

Like last week’s story, this image and microstory present an intriguing image, but leave the real story untold. This week, I’ll attempt to remedy that.

During the first #Writober, I wrote a story about something found in a crawlspace. I’ll give it a read and see if the ideas can combine.

Let’s see. What questions arise when I look at this picture? Why did he dig through the bathroom floor? Is he one of those people who refuses to call a plumber? Did he bury something there in the past and is trying to get it back? Did he find out that someone else buried something there? Is he hoping to find something that someone else buried and thinks it’s there? Is this the spot where a sound or smell is coming from? Maybe the linoleum started bubbling up in that spot, or a tile kept hopping around?

Upon closer look, is he supposed to be reaching down the shower drain and there’s nothing there? And why is the cupboard under the sink open? And what’s up with the medicine cabinet over the sink? And the two white lights in the photo, what are those? I think Pinterest is trying to sell me his shower and medicine cabinet, so that’s just plain meta-weird.

There’s a lot to play with there. I have an obsessive do-it-yourselfer with a scary bathroom. Do I need to do some plumbing research? Maybe. Taking a look at A. M. Moscoso’s Halloween Prompt Challenge I might include:

  • A terrifying dark place, such as a basement, attic, or cellar
  • Fear of and contact with spiders or snakes
  • A repetitive scary noise without any apparent source

and maybe my DIYer could be

  • a Weird new neighbours with a secret
  • who finds out he had a close relative he knew nothing about that was insane
  • or Makes the mistake of stealing from witches

How are your spooky stories coming along?

#OctPoWriMo & #Writober Day 7: Balanced Between a Zombie and a Horror Story

Good Morning Monster Pooper by Maria L. Berg 2021

For Tourmaline .’s Halloween Challenge “zombie,” I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m not a fan of dead people walking around trying to eat my brain, so I avoid them. Yesterday, however, I had to go to the store, so I took a look at the slim Halloween offerings (my local Walgreen’s shelves were quite bare), and found a few fun zombies. This morning, I hopped out of bed and “unboxed” my wind-up zombie that poops candy. What a great way to start the day.

And speaking of zombies, I watched the new Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City trailer this morning. The movie looks pretty dumb, but it has some cool looking monsters in it.

Wind Up Your Pooper by Maria L. Berg 2021


Today’s prompt is about finding balance. Living a creative life, it often feels like everything I do is work, and that I’m always working. However, I’m working at the things I love, and I am always playing (or should be). It’s a sad part of the human condition that ecstasy wears off. Everything, no matter how wonderful and enjoyable, becomes work eventually. How do I find that sweet spot where I’m improving, but still ecstatically enjoying the process?

The Balance looks like a fun form. I’m going to give it a try.

Waking the Zombies

talons balanced on live wires ignite fires
slicing and dicing upon flight
sparks in the dark excite
my mushy mind
to find

a sign
for these dark times
every monster alive
alert and flirting for brain-bites
meets ancient rites and smoke-filled skies from pyres

carefree banshees alarm like squealing tires
mired in blood the body still fights
a dance of duck and dive
freezing fear climbs
and chimes

through grime
I design crimes
against the monstrotized
the zombie hoard, now bored, alights
talons balanced on live fire-wires ignite

That form was fun, but didn’t feel like surrender, so I’m going to try a Cadralor to further explore my yearning for balance. Over at dVerse Poets Pub Björn challenges us to try this poem form made of 5, unrelated, numbered stanzas created by the editors of Gleam.

The Scales

1. moans and groans fill the blood-red morning
waking bones creak, seeking footing
then should-ing begins even before
pouring the mind-pricking poison

2. a dalliance with the day’s events
sends me scurrying through tales regaling
reveries, new discoveries, I flit like a feather
until sore eyes and worry lines retether

3. in the carnage brain-eaters stain two-seaters
like teenagers on a rampage hearty to party
after, their bodies teeter entranced like plants
to a heater, a sunbed of the well-fed undead

4. slanted light heightens delight as I search
out the angles and tangles to represent
my vision without derision or indecision
I click and snap intending dissection

5. The swell and the crest of the wave
rolling through each making day at play
equivalent gold dishes chained, swinging
fiercely alive, tamed, murdered, revived

Brains by Maria L. Berg 2021


With everything going on, I almost forgot about the fun writing prompts of A. M. Moscoso’s Halloween Prompt Challenge over at MY ENDURING BONES. Luckily, I saw her story, “The Lady in the Walls,” yesterday which reminded me.

I think Rafael and Anouk’s story which I am drafting today will cover:

  • Being lost in the woods at night and something following you
  • Losing any knowledge of who you are or where you live
  • A repetitive scary noise without any apparent source

Tomorrow, I’ll share the title and an excerpt, then I’ll find another image and microstory from previous Writobers to turn into a short story. Do you have any favorites?

#OctPoWriMo & #Writober Day 6: Treating Myself to Conquering My Fears & Bokeh Jack-o-Squashes

Jack-o-butternut by Maria L. Berg 2021

For today’s prompt at Tourmaline .’s Halloween Challenge, “treat,” I reworked the mouth of my Jack-o-lantern bokeh filter. Since my treat today is going to be homemade butternut squash soup, I thought I’d try my idea of putting jack-o-lantern faces on my squash. And it worked! So fun.

Jack-o-spaghetti squash by Maria L. Berg 2021

Since treats are usually associated with taste, other than the soup, I wanted to think of treats for all of my other senses. I’m thinking of reading Salman Rushdie in a nice bath with lavender epsom salts while listening to piano classic records, then putting on my footie pajamas and playing with paint. That might have to happen.


Today’s prompt asks what we do to achieve our dreams. The chess piece (representing strategies) made me think of a great puzzle I designed for Artifact Puzzles.

Tyukanov Cheshire Cat has Alice in Wonderland inspired whimsies including chess pieces. I love that the thickness of the wood allows the pieces to stand up. Wooden jigsaw puzzles are definitely a special treat.

The suggested form is a Villanelle. With its repetition, it might work nicely with sonic surrender.

In 2018 I didn’t write a poem for the day 6 prompt “Conquered.” The prompt asks the question: Does love conquer all, or is love just a battlefield? With words and poetry as the focus of love, I would have to settle squarely on both. “Conquers” has some great sonic surrender potential.

Strategies of Perpetual Patience

Fear’s conquered contours
linger on my fingers
eternal patience fills the room
with ginger blossoms and
persistence tastes like plum-halves
straight from the freezer
their sweetness teases my teeth
but fear conquered, I risk
fleeting pain and am rewarded
unguarded I eat my treats
at my seat meeting defeat
to the beat of my talking drum
squeezing it between my thigh
and side to hear it sing
and sigh, a seesaw of highs
and lows, to and fro
the daily dance, love’s caveat
emptor of risks taken
leaps leapt, hopes kept
to on-lookers bonkers
I endure and conquer

(I guess the Villanelle will have to wait for another day)

Jack-o-acorn by Maria L. Berg 2021


While figuring out my plot points and filling in my outline, I got curious about what the “obligatory scenes” of the horror genre are, so I headed over to StoryGrid.com and found Secrets of the Horror Genre.

Looking at the horror genre conventions, I would say, so far so good. I have a huge power divide between my body-burier protagonist, Rafael, and a mystical wild boar monster. Rafael is unable to escape the isolated forest and small village. Rafael is actively burying Reese in the woods and following/interacting with the man and the boar. The idea of a giant boar protecting a forest and needing human sacrifice every fall is pretty improbable. If the boar isn’t satisfied, it will lash out and kill the villagers.

Both Rafael and the reader (and me at this point) don’t know what the boar and the man with it will do. Rafael’s goal to stay alive and not be damned is a common goal. The boar cannot be reasoned with and I think Rafael will remember Reese telling him that it cannot be defeated (speech in praise of the monster). Rafael will be the last one standing/ live to tell the tale and I’ll need to end with an implication that the boar will be back.

So there we have it. Characters and an outline. Time to start the draft. Here’s the logline for this horror masterpiece: The man selected to bury this Halloween’s sacrifice to Anouk, the wild boar that protects the forest, has to face the price of mocking superstition, and ignoring tradition.

Hanging out with this guy is my favorite special treat.

#OctPoWriMo & Writober Day 5: Tricks Played Along the Path

Homemade Healthy Halloween Chocolates by Maria L. Berg 2021

How’s that for a trick? I found a simple healthy dark chocolate recipe, and a Halloween chocolate mold (glad I had one skull left, I already ate all the pumpkins). I think those little people are supposed to be cherubs (other chocolate mold), but I choose to see them as people running in terror.

Jack-o-Lanterns by Maria L. Berg 2021

My best trick, in my opinion, is my bokeh photography. For today’s prompt at Tourmaline .’s Halloween Challenge, “trick,” I made a new filter, so I can now put jack-o-lantern faces on every point of light.


Today’s prompt, Follow you path wherever it may lead was the focus of my August “Pathways” project. I think most of you have already watched it, but if you haven’t, I read two poems about pathways over my original music and a video of bokeh footprints. So I’ll choose a different path and look at the 2018 prompt for Day 5: Denied. “Denied” has a great sonic quality. I used it in a song I wrote a long time ago called “Dry Your Eyes.” Here’s the first verse and chorus.

I feel it building,
coming up from deep inside.
Imploding bits of yearning, parts of everything denied.

But no don’t do that, girl don’t do that, please, just dry your eyes.

Maria L. Berg from Live Bait Machine 2002
Dry Your Eyes by Maria and the Aftermath from Live Bait Machine 2002

I hadn’t planned on sharing the song, but I’m enjoying listening to it, so I thought you might too. Does it sound like “denied?” I sure think so, but I’m a bit biased.

In 2018 I wrote a short poem called “Denied” exploring all the senses of “denied.” I like the smell I came up with. So I’ve got a sound and a smell (laundry left in the wash overnight). But what is the texture of denied? Slippery, I think. I remember trying to get out of a pool of water that had been a treacherous jump to get into. The rocks were too slick and I couldn’t get out. It took one person pulling me from above and another pushing from below (embarrassing) before I finally found a foothold.

The taste? For me, cilantro. And these days, “denied” looks like rejection letter after rejection letter. The joy of the life of a fiction writer.

So I have my senses wrapped around “denied.” How do I sonically surrender to it? What’s the trick? Bring it back to this love of words and poetry. Accept that being denied is part of the process of the path I’m on. Let’s see what happens.

All the Judgy Jack-o-Lanterns by Maria L. Berg 2021

I opened the washing machine and I faced

forgotten laundry, wet, rotten, and tawdry
sodden limp bodies, whirled cotton underthings
left too long, waft wrong

a sharp reminder of efforts denied
intentions resigned, redefined
dallies-dillied, willies-nillied, paths-a-wandered
time squandered, thoughts pondered
monkeyshined attention bamboozled to other directions

but funkified clothes are but a sigh and an eye-roll
a stale-fail waste of soap and water
but taken in stride those whites get another ride
the flunk undone and a battle soon won


I did my character sheets: Time-consuming, but fun. I love when the random selections fit the character I have in mind, almost as much as when they create conflict in the character.

All my characters have names now. Harvey is gone. My dead body is now name Reese Tribble. She was the school nurse of the small village, but got murderously greedy. The wheelbarrow man is named Rafael Minghella. He was an introverted ap designer who thought Reese was his best friend. Anouk, the mystical wild boar, protector of the forest, is an egocentric idealist whose destructive flaw is impatience, has a bad habit of snacking, and is afraid of the number four. Anouk is accompanied by Boonam Funk who is also impatient and egocentric and is moved by evil forces.

The story so far:

Every year on Halloween night, the people of a small village by an ancient forest bury the body of someone recently deceased deep in the forest as an offering for Anouk, the mythical wild boar that protects the forest. This year, however, no one has died and people are beginning to worry about Anouk’s wrath. Raphael Minghella, this year’s designated body burier, doesn’t believe in Anouk, and gets in an argument with his friend Reese, the school nurse who has been offered a lot of money to “come up with” a body. Reese doesn’t like the way Raphael is looking at her, and assumes his lustful pass at her is an attempt to strike first. She evades him in such a way that she slips and impales herself on his high hat stand. He decides to bury her in the forest and try to collect the money she was offered. On his way out of the forest, he sees Boonam Funk, the man with Anouk, approaching.

As you can see, the micro-story has expanded, but I still haven’t gotten to the real story. What happens to Raphael? To the village? Where is the fear and horror of the story?

At the moment, I still think the story is from Raphael’s point of view and starts as he is leaving the forest. Maybe it starts with his thoughts as he is burying his friend, and the turn of the story is when he sees Anouk and Boonam approaching. Since everything with Reese happened because he didn’t believe in Anouk and she did, his world view would completely change.

Okay, I think I’m getting somewhere. Rafael’s main fears are separation and dying which are pretty universal fears, so I’ll dig into those fears as my themes. Now that I have my themes and my turning point, I can get started on a chiastic outline. This article “The Strength of a Symmetrical Plot” does a good job of explaining chiastic structure and has a great example created by Susan Raab using the story of Beauty and the Beast. I created a similar worksheet for myself to print out and use to brainstorm my story outlines. Hopefully I’ll have a completed one to show you tomorrow

Ghosts of judgy jack-o-lanterns by Maria L. Berg 2021

My Skeleton and Other Wild Animals: #OctPoWriMo & #Writober Day 4

From the Lake by Maria L. Berg 2021

Today’s theme for #tshalloweenchallenge is Skeleton. I’m so glad I found this challenge yesterday. I’m finding it very inspiring. Yesterday, I started looking through my Halloween fabrics and today, I started playing with my Halloween decorations. For once in a long while, my Halloween might not feel rushed and last minute.


Today’s prompt is about the turning of the season. In the word prompts “change of direction” speaks to my interest in forces (In physics, a force is an influence that can change the motion of an object – Wikipedia) and peripeteia (noun – a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work). I also like “fresh starts” and “cool nights.”

The suggested form is Pantoum. I enjoyed how Michele Vecchitto used the form to talk about the comfort of traditions in her poem Change of Season, Change of Heart this morning.

In 2018 the prompt was “_________________ and other strange animals.” In my journaling this morning, I remembered it as wild animals and for some reason I’ve decided my skeleton is a wild animal. The poem I wrote back in 2018 “The Guilty Man and Other Animals” also removed the word strange, and the imagery is definitely more in the wild, or feral category.

I don’t think I explored the prompt much back then because I’ve never read My family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell or seen the film. I watched the first ten minutes this morning and I think I will enjoy it.

The suggested form was Kennings which will be a great compliment to sonic surrender. A Kenning is a two-word phrase describing and object through metaphor. The example given often is “whale-road” meaning “sea” from Ezra Pound’s The Seafarer.

What’s a Kenning for skeleton? bone-train, internal-frame, calcium-hoarder, marrow-storage, organ-armor, giblets-cage, meatless-me, meatless-motion, sated-dermestids (flesh-eating beetles), people-stands, people-poles, maggot-leftovers, X-ray-art, radiation-picture, X-ray-white.

What a great way to get the mind thinking metaphorically and to generate imagery. I’m so glad I came back to this prompt and really played with it.

So much to play with: surrender to sound, repetition of the Pantoum and metaphor-fun of Kennings. Here we go!

The Bone-train Symphony

I listen for the tones of my X-ray-whites
the meatless-me meanders along the tracks
the bone-train, pops and grinds when gravity fights
groans and moans, creaks and cracks

the meatless me meanders along the tracks
a shell of elemental elegance sketched
groans and moans, creaks and cracks
a schism, a radiation-picture etched

a shell of elemental elegance sketched
rattling, prattling, tattling organ-armor
a schism, a radiation-picture etched
why does action bring on such a clamor?

rattling, prattling, tattling organ-armor
the bone-train pops and grinds in gravity’s fight
why does action bring on such a clamor,
a cacophony of tones from my X-ray-whites?


So far I came up with an idea: A man coming out of the forest with a wheelbarrow and a shovel passes a man in dark goggles and a leather trench-coat, carrying a large suitcase and leading a tusked boar by a sheer scarf. Okay, that’s not really an idea, more of an intriguing image.

Then I did some research and found that there is mythology around boars as protectors of forests and that they are tenacious and hard to kill (especially if supernatural 😉). They may symbolize luck and fulfilling desire for some, but betrayal for others which fits well into a story.

The collective noun for boars is a Herd, a Singular, or a Sounder; as in how did this boar get separated from his singular? Or why did this boar choose the company of a man over his sounder? Yeah, anything other than “herd” would probably just confuse the reader.

Then I started to develop my characters. I need another day to develop these characters, so I’m going to put off theme and outline until tomorrow.

Any of you working on fun spooky story ideas for #Writober?