Riches and Rhymes

The Poetry and Writing of Janis Gaines

Category: Writing Prompt

A Boy with Freckles

Writing Exercise – Write an embarrassing moment.

I sat in the back of math class, my worst subject. I surely didn’t want the teacher to see me or call on me. I was seventeen, and it was “Spirit Week,” the week before Homecoming at my high school, and every day the students were encouraged to dress in a fun way, different from the norm. One day was Twin Day, or School Colors, or Backwards day. This particular day was Redneck Day. I grew up in the South, a suburb of Atlanta, and this was the home of Jeff Foxworthy during the height of his fame with the “You Might Be A Redneck If…” comedy routine.

On this particular day, a boy sauntered into the room late who fit the challenge to a T. He made a grand entrance with blue jeans, cuffs rolled up, plaid shirt untucked, with a straw hat on. He was even chewing a long, thin reed hanging out the side of his mouth as if he was fresh from the farm.

Impressed with his commitment to the costume, from the back of the room I shouted out for all to hear, ”Wow, look! He’s even added freckles!” I meant to congratulate the guy, yet he gave me an evil side-glance, embarrassed I had called attention to him.

To my horror, as the boy approached his seat, not too far from me, I could clearly see that he had not added freckles, but instead, he had a horrible case of acne.

I wanted to shrink into my chair even further. Now, we were both red in the face. And I wanted nothing more to do with math class.

© November 12, 2016
Spartanburg, SC


Lyla’s Tears

Attending a writer’s workshop today by Suzanne Van Atten with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Given this prompt: Pick an emotion. Write a scene. Can you guess the emotion? This was an exercise in Show vs Tell. 10 min.

Lyla walked to the edge of the riverbank, carrying a small wooden box. This was where they had first met. She had been walking her dog Rufus, and he had asked if he could pet him. Now, five years later, both were gone from her life. Just a year ago she had scattered Rufus’s ashes here, his favorite place. Today she didn’t have ashes but letters, his love letters.

She took them one by one from the box and read them again. She wept at the memories and then tossed them one by one into the river, which would carry her tears away.


©November 12, 2016
Spartanburg, SC

Reject A Hit: Much Ado About Nothing

I’ve submitted this for the Writer’s Digest series called Reject A Hit. The idea is to pretend to be an editor who rejects a famous book, which sadly, happens all the time! Don’t let it discourage you if you dream of publishing. All of the best writers have received dozens of these.

I chose the play Much Ado Bout Nothing by Shakespeare. If you know the story, you’ll recognize lots of puns here.


Dear Mr. Shakespeare (if that really is who you are),

We’ve heard the rumors about your cast of characters in Much Ado About Nothing. This is all just smoke and mirrors and surely no one would have a ball to read it. Beatrice is far too brazen. Don’t you know a woman of her time should be seen and not heard? How fitting that her love interest is Benedick, who has really been a dick. Don John is a jerk. You have a dingleberry for a cop. And how presumptuous to name one of your main characters Hero! We’re all aware of the Hero’s Journey, but this is arrogance at its finest.

Marry, Sir, you have committed falsehood; moreover, you have written untruths; secondarily, you are fabricating lies; sixth and lastly, you have belied the scoop, and to conclude you are an ass.

We were ready to dump this rotten orange of a manuscript in the trash, and truly we wish it had never been written. The garbage can is the only fair covering for this drivel, but on the suggestion of our lawyer, we would like to keep it in the rejection pile for just a short while, and if it can be proven virtuous, we would be willing to consider it again. Otherwise, there really is nothing here at all for us to publish.

Much Adieu,
Funky Cold Messina

credits-by-visitrenotahoe© June 13, 2015
Asheville, NC

“That was so holy…”


“That was so holy,” he choked through his tears. He was weeping for my pain. Three days earlier a man had broken into my home in the middle of the night and raped me at gunpoint. And yet, on Sunday, I was at the Vineyard Airport Church in Nashville, dancing before the Lord with great passion and abandon, truly grateful to be alive and free to worship that way. Normally, I and a few other women would dance, unobtrusively, sometimes with banners, in the back of the auditorium. This wasn’t about being seen, but about loving Him, expressing it, feeling it — heart, soul, mind, and strength. For me, it was always about victory.

But on this Sunday, the worship leader had called the dancers to the front. And afterwards, this man approached me. He honored me with his words and with his tears. For a moment, he bore my burden, one that would become heavier over the ensuing weeks and years as the aftermath of rape would prove to be just as rude and merciless as the act. In time and through circumstances, I no longer danced. I had to learn again how to live in the world and trust God, and only just recently has dance returned to me — in baby steps.  When I remember that time, now so long ago, I am encouraged by his words that spoke life to me that day, unexpectedly, sacredly, reminding me that my life matters. That was so holy.

*** I shared this post with my friend today and he said this, which honors me all over again: Yes, i remember very well. Such extraordinary freedom in your refusal to be devastated by hell itself. Thank you, Jonathan, you have a way with love and words. ~ Janis

© October 18, 2013
Asheville, NC

Death by Default

Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History
What was the most depressing (or uplifting) news item you’ve seen recently?
Why did you react so strongly to it?

Last night on Facebook I read this story about the death of Philip Marshall and his two teenage children. While this happened back in February, this is the first I had heard about it. Apparently, Marshall had worked for the government as a pilot and had some inside knowledge about the corruption that goes on behind the scenes AND he had written about it (find his work on Amazon). The police are calling the deaths a murder-suicide, but conspiracy theorists believe otherwise, and I tend to agree.

Either way, regardless of political persuasion or cause, two beautiful, innocent children are dead. It is so sad to see these young people with such hope and promise have their lives ended too soon — through no fault of their own. Did they take the heat on behalf of a brave father who dared to speak his mind? A selfless man, willing to put his life on the line for the sake of truth and the good of all. Or were they the victims of a selfish father’s weak moment? A man who caved to fear, anger, or some other unknown darkness. Either way, it is death by association…death by default.

I’ve been reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee with my high school English class. It’s a classic and for good reason. The title comes from a statement in the book that devoted lawyer and father Atticus makes, explaining to his kids that it is wrong to kill something that is innocent or harmless, like a mockingbird. Or like these two precious young people: Alex, 17, and Macaila, 14. It is a lesson our culture, our government, still needs to learn. As Hemingway once said, borrowing lines from poet John Donne, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Death by default is the worst death of all. How many more Americans await a similar, senseless fate?


The Morning After…


The sun shone through the cracks of the curtains like it was any other day. Outside I could see the familiar shapes of trees and landscape, the neighbor’s house across the street. I lay in bed, unable to move. I was at once both empty and angry. I had nothing left to say in my fight with fate who had taken my lover from me far too soon. Grief had poisoned me, and yet if I could raise my voice, my fist, I would blot out the sun, erase the arrogance of anything that mocks the vacant place beside me, this sacred space where her shape was so familiar. Her scent is still on the pillows, and I inhale her like a deaf and blind mute, with no other senses left to discern what is real any more.

© October 15, 2013
Asheville, NC