Last week I attended the Christian Writers’ Conference in Green lake, WI.  The conference is held on the grounds of the Baptist conference grounds, a huge place with beautiful shoreline, acres of woods, and all sorts of recreation.  I’ve been there many times before and this time did not disappoint.  I took a short story writing class from John Lehman, the original editor of a national literary magazine called Rosebud.  I’ve sat in John’s classes before and always learn something.  This time I learned the concept of “writing in scenes”, something that play and screenwriters know all about.  A scene must have at least 2 characters, each with a goal, conflict, and a conclusion that carries the story into the following scene and ultimately to the final conclusion.  It was a great week spent with other writers and old friends.  Outside of class, we attended lectures by each of the instructors in their specialized genre and expertise.  I had a one-on-one meeting with Cynthia Ruchti, a Christian radio host and author.  We discussed the possibility of putting together a book of my best D-mails for publication!  She thought it was a great idea and gave me some advice on how to do it.  I’ve written more than 350 D-mails over the years so it will take time to go through them all to choose the best ones - and then edit them down to 750-800 words!  She suggested that I attend the Write-to-Publish conference in Wheaton, Ill next June to shop it around.  One of the great things about the Green Lake conference is the accessability of the instructors.  Everyone is so encouraging and helpful that even beginners feel comfortable and excited to keep writing.  The students and instructors all had our meals together and spent free time writing and enjoying the beautiful grounds.  By the end of the week I had produced a short story, my first ever crime story!  It has been accepted for publication at an emagazine site called Lit Noir.  Here are the first paragraphs of the story:

The Sticky Key

by Cathy Conger

The night of January 11th was bitterly cold. The only light inside the music building shone through the small window of the door to Laura Olson’s assigned practice room. She was practicing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in E minor for her upcoming senior recital, but a sticky key was driving her nuts. Middle C felt dead under her fingers.

“Oh, come on!” Laura slammed both palms down on the keys. “They were supposed to fix this crappy piano weeks ago. Thirty thousand dollars a year for this school and I can’t get a decent piano to play.” She struck the annoying key again. Nothing. It felt like the hammer beneath the key was stuck. She kicked off her woolen clogs and lifted the lid of the piano, revealing the row of hammers and taut strings. “Hope nobody catches me doing a little piano tinkering,” she said, glancing toward the door. “Hey, so what? I’m the only one anal enough to be here on the coldest night of the year anyway, and Stam won’t notice.” She looked down at the dirt her socks had picked up on the linoleum. “I’ll bet he and his trusty broom have never even been in this room.”

Laura climbed up on the piano bench and stuck her right hand down into the works of the old upright. With her other hand, she struck middle C while she watched for its hammer to move. As she suspected, it wasn’t striking the string.

“Hmm. Something must be stuck under there,” she muttered. Feeling around between the hammers, her fingers met with something squishy, like a soft, little pillow. “What the heck?” she muttered. She pulled her finger away and hit the key again. This time she noticed a little puff of dust as the hammer came down. She tried it again. Another puff. Grabbing a pencil from the music rack, she pried the thing out, only to have it elude her fingers and drop down between the hammers. On her tip toes, she thrust her hand into the works as far as she could reach and felt around. “Gotcha!” she said, when suddenly the doorknob rattled. She practically jumped a foot, nearly dropping the bag. Whoever it was started banging on the door. “OK, OK! I’m coming.” Climbing down from the bench she shouted, “Who’s there?

“It’s Dr. Sterling. I need to use this room.”

“Just a minute.” Laura tucked the small, powdery bag into her jeans pocket and opened the door. “What’s wrong? You nearly scared the liver out of me!”

Dr. Sterling pushed past her into the room. “Oh, sorry Laura. I didn’t know somebody would be here so late. Listen I’m afraid you’ll have to pack it up for tonight. I need this room.”

“Why don’t you use the piano in your office?” Laura said. “It’s a lot better than this piece of junk.”

Sterling looked at the open piano lid. “What do you think you’re doing to this `piece of junk’?”

“I discovered a sticky key. Really annoying, so I thought I’d see what the problem was.”

“You’re supposed to report things like that to the music secretary. I’m surprised at you. A senior should know not to tinker with the schools’ instruments. Gather up your things and run along now. I’ll report the problem to the secretary in the morning.”

Pg 2

“But, I…”

“Good night, Laura.” Sterling interrupted, crossing his arms like a scolding parent.

Laura shrugged her shoulders. “OK, then. Let me quick get my clogs and my backpack.” Throwing her coat over her arm, she slid carefully past Sterling to the door. “Well, good night, Dr. Sterling.”

“See you in class tomorrow,” he said as he closed the piano lid. “Oh, Laura.”

“Yes?”

“ You didn’t find anything in there, did you?” His suspicious tone on top of his odd behavior was beginning to give Laura the creeps.

“In the piano? No sir. Didn’t get the chance,” she said, trying to sound nonchalant. No sooner had she pulled the door closed behind her than she heard the lock turn. “That was weird,” she thought, a chill running through her body. “Something funny’s going on.” Her heart was pounding as she took the little bag from her pocket and examined it by the light in the hallway. It was a plastic bag about two inches square with what appeared to be some kind of white powder inside. Peering more closely, she noticed a split in the seam. Most of the white powder had leaked out in her pocket.

“This must be where the puff of dust came from,” she murmered. “I wonder what this stuff is…and how did it end up under the hammer of a piano?” It suddenly occurred to her where she’d seen a bag just like this - police shows on television. “Oh my God!” she gasped. “Cocaine.”

to find out what happens, watch for The Sticky Key at www.Lit Noir.com