Lost in the Twilight Zone Marathon | Ep 14 | Thoughts and Prayers

Recent events have reminded me of a little work of fiction I wrote that was meant to be dystopian. With each new day, it feels more real, less imaginary. When will enough be enough? I woke up tears this morning. How about you?

Lovely Curses

After thoughts and prayers didn’t work, the state decreed the nonexistence of God. As proof, they declared terrorism no longer a threat. “For what god do you strap a bomb on your chest and take the lives of the innocent and able-bodied?” The Cross-bearing political zealots accepted this, not realizing their God too was rendered an anachronism, and they were swiftly liquidated for their attempts to merge church and state.

With the death of God went all morals. Mass shootings increased. Gun reform was abandoned. Immigration was outlawed, and anyone who couldn’t prove citizenship by birth or command of the English language was shipped to whatever shithole country their skin complexion or dialect most resembled. Public health was sacrificed for strategic business plans. It was decided that court hearings were a waste of time: if deemed of no use to the state, one was shot on the spot.

The faithful…

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FTP #BlaPoWriMo

I keep a list of names in my chest pocket

and wear it like a bullet-proof vest.

Trayvon Martin

Sandra Bland

A scroll that writes itself each

time the pigs shout “Hands up!”

Tamir Rice

Philando Castile

Then pull the trigger. It descends

to my feet, lays a path by which

Michael Brown

Walter Scott

I march toward the Capitol steps

to call for justice. I roll it tighter

Eric Garner

Breonna Taylor

The longer it gets. One day it will

be thick enough to block the

Ahmaud Arbery

George Floyd

Bullets when they shoot. But

when that happens, who truly wins?

You Never Told Me Goodbye #BlaPoWriMo

You never told me goodbye
as you slipped out the stables
we shared with the horses
and cattle just before dawn, 
and the dew on the grass 
dampened the hem of your
skirt. You only left instructions—
The Missus doesn't like her food
to touch. Mister has a Sunday
night ritual he expects you
to follow—You were tight-lipped
on what that was, only that I
should wear loose clothing
that was easy to remove. The
clarity came when he snatched
my wrist as I served him tea.
Now, as I coil in my bed of hay
under the stench of manure, 
I think how much I hate you,
even though I know—It was
never your choice to leave.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Daddy’s Girl

Good evening, Dear Friends, and welcome to another Insecure Writers Support Group Wednesday!

February 2 question – Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn’t around anymore? Anyone you miss?

If you’ve ever submitted a short story or poem to a literary magazine, you’re familiar with writing a short, 3- to 5-sentence third-person biography about yourself. Nothing too detailed. Just a few fun facts about yourself—your interests, your hobbies, what inspired you to write, a list of previous publications (but not too many; we don’t like a brag). If your work is accepted, this biography will appear alongside it in the published issue of the magazine.

Over the years, I’ve spent time perfecting my bio, revising it as I discovered my voice and my creative niche. The final product sums up my life, my style, and my influence quite nicely:

Nortina Simmons has been writing since the age of three, inspired by her songwriting, guitar-playing father. Her stories and poems never quite fell into the category of ‘love.’ Love in the real world has restrictions, is wrapped in pain. Through her writing, she explores the characteristics of love the hopeless romantics remain ignorant to. Every ‘love story’ has a curse within. Nortina has stories and poems published in Agave Magazine, FishFood Magazine, Ceases, Cows, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, fēlan, Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal, and Minerva Rising.

As the bio says, my biggest inspiration was my dad. He died of lung cancer when I was 18, but his influence lives on in my writing. My dad was a triple-threat artist. He was a painter, a songwriter, and a musician. My earliest writing memory was writing a ballad called “Oh, Desire” and singing it for him as he played his guitar and my little brother smacked his tambourine in the background. I still faintly remember the lyrics.

Oh, desire for my heart forever.
Will you love me if we're not together?
Do you want to have dinner at a table to love each other?
Do you want to have dinner at a table for two?

At one point we recorded it on cassette, which may still be somewhere in my childhood bedroom. I found it once, several years ago, and listened to it repeatedly—immersing myself in the memory, rewinding the clock—until the cassette player chewed the tape (did I just reveal my age?). The next time I go home, I may look for it again.

In addition to writing music together, we also wrote stories. Often times I would do the writing, and he would do the illustrations. Memorable titles include “The Junkyard Kids” and “Children’s Island.” There was even an intergalactic space odyssey, but I think that was more his idea than mine.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were of us creating together. I owe so much of the writer I am today to him. Unfortunately, our real-life story didn’t have a happy ending. Life happened, and he moved across country with a new wife and family when I was barely a teenager. His diagnosis came a few years later. I saw him just once after that, and the next month he was gone. But those few nostalgic days we spent together, when we were reminiscing, and writing, and singing, and playing music, I will cherish forever.

After all these years, I still miss our collaborations. Even though he’s not here anymore, I read those lyrics from our song, specifically the first two lines, “Oh, desire for my heart forever./Will you love me if we’re not together?” and imagine younger me saw a glimpse of a future when I would have to write without him and thought to remind me, his love and support is always here, in my heart.

A Haiku to Kick Off #BlaPoWriMo

Hi, February—
Mother to Black History
And Black Poetry.

Every February, I like to do a little something on my blog called Black Poetry Writing Month, also known as BlaPoWriMo, a challenge to write a poem every day inspired by the Black experience or Black history, set in America or across the African diaspora, whether you’re Black or an ally.  If you’d like to join in, just use the tag #BlaPoWriMo. Happy writing!

Tennis and a Movie: Thoughts on the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Premiere of ‘Alice’

Good evening to you! I know, I’ve been away for a few weeks—up all night watching Australian Open tennis, which has been full of drama this year! And that’s excluding the fact that the number 1 player in the world (on the men’s side), defending champion, and holder of 20 grand slam titles was (not so) swiftly deported from the country the day before the tournament for not being vaccinated. That whole ordeal by itself was an epic saga. One that may or may not happen again at the French Open… TBD…

But you’re in luck tonight! Because there is no late-night singles tennis scheduled, so I may actually sleep (but Lord help me on semi-finals night tomorrow).

While I have the time, I thought I’d give you a follow-up to my post about the premiere of the film Alice in the U.S. Dramatic Competition of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which stars Keke Palmer and Common. I watched the film earlier this week (though I almost missed it, distracted by so many exciting sporting events happening at the same time—NFL playoffs divisional round, tennis—I had games playing on my phone, my computer, my TV…it was a wild night), and I must say I really liked it, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.

If you recall, I found the plot to be eerily similar to my story “Runaway,” which was written as part of my Twilight Zone New Year’s marathon. Although the film was definitely Twilight Zone-esque, it wasn’t the time travel sci-fi flick I was expecting it to be. And, in hindsight, I realize the synopsis pretty much told us that, I just overlooked that part entirely.

Alice (Keke Palmer) spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973. Rescued on the roadside by a disillusioned Black activist named Frank (Common), Alice uncovers the lies that have kept her enslaved and the promise of Black liberation.

In her debut feature, writer-director Krystin Ver Linden spins a modern liberation fable that is equal parts earthy Southern Gothic and soulful Blaxploitation. Inspired by true accounts of Black Americans who were kept in peonage for more than 100 years after the end of slavery, Alice is an audacious mix of grim historical fact and exceptional fiction. Moving from a purgatorial plantation overgrown with Spanish moss to the lively landscape of urban Savannah, Ver Linden traces Alice’s breathless journey down the rabbit hole and into the turbulent wonderland of the post–Civil Rights South.

2022 Sundance Film Festival

The twist (and this is not a spoiler because it’s right there in the synopsis—I was just a little slower in catching on) is that the year was always 1973. Alice didn’t jump through time when she ran from her tormentor through the woods and emerged on a highway, nearly getting run over; she, the other slaves on the plantation, the plantation owner, and neighboring plantation owners and their slaves were all anachronisms, living in this surviving pocket of the antebellum South deep in the backwoods of 1973 Georgia.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Eliza Morse

And there were hints of this sprinkled throughout the first 30 minutes of the film: Alice’s husband’s grandfather telling the story of a man “like us” (Black) he once saw fall from the sky (paratrooper) who could make fire with his hands (lighter), the foreshadowing that there’s something else out there beyond the woods, the elderly mistress recalling that she was once a dancer in Chicago (presumably during the roaring 1920s), the owner’s son returning home (I originally thought from boarding school, but it was actually from his mother, who has divorced his father and is now living in the real world, but is still an overt racist) with some new toy that makes this strange static sound (a radio), and the fact that the slaves are never actually referred to as “slaves” but as “domestics” (something the writer and director said was intentional).

But what I found more sinister was that this film is actually based on true events! Now, I know what you’re going to say. “Based on true events” is a phrase used loosely in Hollywood. A movie or series can profess that it’s based on a true story, but in reality, 0.0025% of it actually happened.

Again, because I overlooked this revelation in the description of the film, I thought “true events” might have been referring to the true stories of brutal mistreatment of African slaves by white slave owners, which is not a secret in our country’s history (even if our government is trying to ban it from being taught in schools today). So after the movie, I decided to tune in to the live Q&A with the film’s writer and director, Krystin Ver Linden, producer, Peter Lawson, and lead actor, Keke Palmer, to see if they would provide more details on these true events that apparently inspired the film.

The answer, again, was not what I expected, and is truly spine-chilling. It’s true, there were pockets of slave holders throughout the Deep South who continued to own slaves well into the 1960s, one hundred years after slavery was abolished—though, I don’t think these people were as dramatically frozen in the 1800s (period clothing, lack of electricity or plumbing, etc.) as the characters in this movie were.

I’ll save you the trouble of having to look it up (because the director literally just said, “Google it” 😂) and link the Vice article here. It’s a fascinating history lesson, but one that is also tragic, especially when you think about the story behind Juneteenth and realize there were countless others who had to wait even longer. Generations!

Now, I’m not naive. Forms of slavery still exist today, as the author of the above-mentioned article points out, the “school to prison pipeline and private penitentiaries.” Others that come to mind include sex trafficking, sweat shops, child labor. But something as blatant and defiant as the continuation antebellum chattel slavery when the rest of the world has progressed a century is abominable.

Thankfully, our titular character, Alice, has emerged in the era of Blaxploitation films—as was explained by Krystin and Keke in the Q&A, in that lull period post-Civil Rights when hope feels lost after the assassinations of leaders such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr, but there’s still a desire to bring progress and freedom to one’s people—and she quickly (perhaps too quickly, though it helps that she can read) realizes she’s been lied to all her life and returns to her personal hell donning an afro and black leather pants with fire and fury to “stick it to the man!”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Eliza Morse

Alice’s triumphant words to her former owner, “I am freedom,” in the final act was the culmination of a phenomenal performance by Keke Palmer. Common was a bit lack luster, unfortunately, but I think that had more to do with a weak script; he really didn’t have much to work with. The most I got from his character, Frank, was that he was a disillusioned ex-Black Panther who was still grieving his mother who had died alone in a sanatorium, and his brother, a Black Republican who owned a farm and employed poor, underpaid Mexican immigrants, was a source of great shame to him. For the most part, he merely served as a supporting character to Keke’s more dominant Alice (despite her meekness in the first 2 acts), which made some of their dialogues underwhelming—another possible reason for why it took me so long to figure out that she didn’t in fact travel in time.

This film will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the 2020 film Antebellum (which is valid, though the brutalization of Black bodies is not as graphic as in Antebellum), and some will wonder why stories like these still need to be told. Are we as Black people not sick of this constant bombardment of our traumatic history being glorified in movies and television? Why must they continue to trigger our PTSS (post-traumatic slave syndrome)? And while yes, I agree that I am tired, the reason why I believe a story like Alice is necessary in cinema can be summed up in the words of the Vice article’s author, Antoinette Harrell:

However, I also believe there are still African families who are tied to Southern farms in the most antebellum sense of speaking. If we don’t investigate and bring to light how slavery quietly continued, it could happen again.

The truth behind those words is haunting. There is so much more we just don’t know.

A 2022 Sundance Film Festival Discovery

Today a coworker was kind enough to share that this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival is offering $20 tickets for single films. I decided to browse the website for any movies I might be interested in paying $20 to see. One particular movie caught my eye: Alice, staring Keke Palmer and Common. Here’s the synopsis:

Alice (Keke Palmer) spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973. Rescued on the roadside by a disillusioned Black activist named Frank (Common), Alice uncovers the lies that have kept her enslaved and the promise of Black liberation.

Okay, am I crazy or does this sound a lot like my story “Runaway“?? What are the odds that I would write a story with almost the exact same premise of a feature film premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, right?

Let me be clear, when I wrote “Runaway,” I’d never heard of this movie, so let’s not throw around the “P” word. Besides, I was high on caffeine and 10 hours deep into a Twilight Zone blogging (and watching) marathon, so any creator not named Rod Serling was far from my mind at the time of writing.

In any case, time travel is not a novel trope in fiction, nor is time travel to or from the antebellum period, for that matter. One book that immediately comes to mind is Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred (high on the recommendation list, if you haven’t read it already). And “Runaway,” specifically, was inspired by a Twilight Zone episode. So, while I can’t call my idea 100% original, it still fascinates me how I and the movie’s writer and director, Krystin Ver Linden, had the exact same setup for how our stories would begin.

Great minds, huh?

Anyway, I think I may buy tickets for this one. Maybe I’ll get ideas for an extended version of this Twilight Zone “episode.” But more than likely, I’ll just relish in the belief (now proven) that my stories are fully capable of becoming Hollywood feature films.

I just gotta write and publish them faster.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Quiet that Inner Critic

Good morning, Dear Friends, and welcome to another Insecure Writers Support Group Wednesday!

January 5 question: What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?

Well, this is somewhat of a difficult question to answer, because at times, I don’t feel my “writing career” has started. Sure, I have a few short stories and poems published in literary magazines, and of course I have multiple books’ worth of content on this blog.

But when I think “career,” the first thing that comes to mind is making money, and although the time and effort I put into the maintenance of this blog, from the posts I publish to the look and feel of the page layout, often feels like a second job, currently, the only check I’m getting is from the 9-to-5.

One thing I do regret—as I believe it has, in a way, derailed my progress to publishing that first book and, as a result, stalled my writing career—is being too critical of my work.

You know how the saying goes: You are your biggest critic. Well, as a perfectionist, I’m ten times worse.

I have left so many stories unfinished because I feared the first drafts sounded too elementary, or the plots I’d outlined too unoriginal.

I write, and rewrite, then rewrite the rewrite, then delete everything and start over. (Prime example: there are currently three versions of Love Poetry on my computer hard drive as we speak.)

I’m constantly ripping through the thesaurus because I don’t feel my vocabulary is diverse enough.

I second guess whether I’m showing rather than telling.

I worry about my pacing in some scenes. Is it okay that I have a page that’s 90% dialogue?

I question if I’ve provided enough details in the narration for the reader to visualize the story:

  • How many ways can you say it’s dark outside?
  • Does every detail in the room need to be meticulously sketched out to set the scene? I mean, I’m not a screenwriter here.
  • Can I just say, “She got in her car”? Do I have to write every step? She grabbed her purse, walked out of the front door, descended the porch steps, walked (is there another word for “walked?”) across the yard to the driveway, and got in her car.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that you don’t need a million pretty words to be a great writer. I’ve read books like that, and they were BORING! You also don’t have to be the next great American novelist to produce stories that people will still love and enjoy and want more of. That’s the one downside of taking those university literary courses. They assign you the wordy stuff, the dated stuff. Although classics, not many in today’s Internet age (the era of instant gratification) have the attention span to read them. Well, let me speak for myself, I don’t have the attention span to read them. Not anymore. So why am I trying to write like them?

Writing the drabble, the 100-word story, has helped me to eliminate those inessential words and descriptions that, although great for atmosphere, don’t necessarily move the plot along, so that all I’m left with is a story. Because that’s why we read, right? We want a good story.

On New Year’s Eve, I embarked on an ambitious challenge to write a marathon of Twilight Zone-inspired stories every hour, midnight to midnight. While I wrote some stories that were pure gems (I smile and get giddy every time I read them), there were others that I wasn’t 100% satisfied with. But I had one particular fan (okay, it was my mom) buttering me up the entire time, encouraging me to keep going, saying that she was enjoying the stories more than the actual marathon on TV. It was a great feeling, and I definitely want more of that.

So my goal for this year is to not be so critical. Don’t worry so much about the details. Perfectionism is an enemy of success, and do you really want to deprive your biggest fan?

Hi, mom! 🙂

Nala

At dusk, the Legend sets sail for Bermuda. On my stateroom balcony, I watch below as the ship cuts through waves, the small crests forming shapes reminiscent of the six-inch stuffed polar bear I carried everywhere as a child, until one day at the beach a rip current snatched her out of my hands.

I cried myself violet that day—as I do now, on what was originally an anniversary cruise, until that secretary and her ripped stockings snatched him out of my hands.

In the white foam, I see her little paw reach up and dream for a reunion.


It’s Day 4 of Bloganuary, and the question is: What was your favorite toy as a child?

The real story has a much happier ending. A boy surfing a little further down the beach found her in the water, heard me screaming my head off, and figured she belonged to me. She’s never left my side since.

Yes, Nala was named after Nala from The Lion King. Yes, I’m aware she is not a lion.

Chronicles of a Single Black Christian Female: Episode 2

Pastor says, “No Christian woman should be online dating.” But the only males in church are either married or teenagers.

Granddaddy says, “Do you expect Mr. Right to break into your house?”

Only undesirables, who follow you home and never leave, are available at the bar and club scene.

So I find myself at the Ruby Tuesday, planted in a booth next to the all-you-can-eat salad bar, trying not to look too desperate that I scare away potential suitors, but just lonely enough that a friendly stranger sits down, buys me a drink, and maybe asks for my phone number.


It’s Day 3 of Bloganuary, and the prompt is: Write about the last time you left your comfort zone.

Short answer: I’ve taken myself on a date only twice. Both times were very awkward—people tend to stare at the person eating alone. But that could all be in my head…

Deep down: I first published Episode 1 of Chronicles of a Single Black Christian Female way back in 2018. It was supposed to be the first installment of a new serial story. But Episode 2 never came, until now, because of the long answer: I’m a Christian woman who writes romance fiction, sometimes about Christian people who sometimes have sex, sometimes outside of marriage. Because that’s life, that’s real. And too many protagonists in contemporary Christian fiction (that I’ve read) are “holier than thou” caricatures, and it doesn’t show the truth: that we’ve all fallen short, and that’s okay because there is forgiveness in Christ. And I know some people won’t like that, some will judge me, call me a sinner, that I’m not doing the work of God, blah, blah, blah. And maybe I am and maybe I’m not. And maybe that’s why I hesitate to hit publish for some posts on this topic, and maybe that’s why I go back and edit censor certain love scenes, and maybe that’s why I don’t tell people at church that I’m a writer. And maybe this is a conversation I should be having with God instead of blabbering online.

But at the end of the day, I just hope you can accept my work for what it is, fiction, and me for who I am, human, just out here trying, like everyone else.