Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Story View 2.0 - outlining software on steriods

I've owned my Story View software for years, but never felt comfortable outlining on the computer. Well, along with my cell phone and Kindle, I recently decided to give it a try. It blew me away! I love how I can add scenes into the time line with just a click. Everything simply moves over in an organized manner and is perfect.  There's no more brain strain trying to rearrange events, no more time wasted moving everything around and making sure it fits right.There are no more cumbersome index cards to deal with. Not in my life. I'm hooked. I recommend it to anyone who likes to outline.

Click here for the lowdown and some screen views.

There's also a newer, fancier version available called Outline 4D. Check it out here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Critiquing - do unto others...

Learning the art of critiquing, in my opinion, is an important part of the writing process. Examining another writer's story with an eye for what's working, what isn't and why can help you understand the craft on a deeper level. It does take time to read and critique, but it's time well spent. especially if you're receiving a return critique.

It can be difficult, however, when you read something you really don't like. For me, this is the hardest part. I know what it's like to pour your time and soul into a project. I don't want to hear at the end that it amounts to a pile of rotten beans. Regardless, if it's the truth, it's the kindest critique partners that will come out and say it. It would be much worse to let those smelly legumes out into the world with your name written all over them for everyone to see. A harsh critique is often a blessing. I've come to love people's opinions about my work, both good and bad. It's all helpful. When your main objective is to grow as a writer, you learn to set your ego aside and focus on craft.

When giving a critique, I like to start by telling the author what I liked about their story/writing. Then when I get to the harsh stuff, the stuff that didn't sit well with me, it's not as painful. Hopefully. Also, I always keep in mind my opinions are just that. Opinions. Mine. My way isn't the only way, and just because I don't like something doesn't mean it's wrong.

A critique is always an opinion. Get several people to read the same story, and you'll most likely get several contrasting views. If you get a bunch of people saying the same thing, that's when you know you need to make some changes, or if they all love it, leave it alone. It's usually not so clear, unfortunately. I've had one person tell me they hated something about my writing, and someone else say they love that very thing and that's what makes them like my work. You can't please all the people all the time. Best not to even try. When you get contrasting critiques, take them all into consideration, then decide whether or not you think the advise is worth applying.

One of the best articles I've ever read on giving a diplomatic critique was written by Andrew Burt
for Critters Writers Workshop. I'll add a link to the article here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Staying warm and healthy this winter

I've decided to set my writerly thoughts aside for this post and focus on staying warm. It's not easy this time of year. Not where I live. Here, winter lasts about half the year. The snow is beautiful, it's fun and magical. But it's cold. So I've compiled a list of simple things to help keep circulation moving and warmth generating.

Firstly, eating the right foods is key to both staying warm and healthy during this time of year when Old Man Winter brings cold and disease to our doorsteps. Some wonderful, warming, healing foods are:

mustard greens or seeds

This is by no means a complete list, but plenty to keep warm by. As a general rule, foods that produce heat in the body are pungent and spicy. Winter foods should be cooked for further warmth.

I add turmeric to just about everything I eat right now. It goes on rice, beans, potatoes, in soups... It's delicious in just about everything. And it makes my food a pretty orange color. I've started to steam radishes or put them in soups. Cooking them takes some of the bite away. Also, I use short-grain rice in the colder months because it is denser and supposed to have more heat.  

Exercise can't be ignored here, either. Whether aerobic or  yogic, it moves the blood and lymphatic fluids, important for overall vitality as well as warmth.

Also worth mentioning is Dry Brushing. You can read about the technique here.

I hope all you cold climate dwellers stay healthy and warm this winter.

I'm off to plot!!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Two Reviews in one day for Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts, Oh My!

The Vampires, Zombies and Ghosts, Oh My! (and other creatures of the night STORIES) anthology was published less than a month ago. A very exciting event in my world. I couldn't wait to find out what readers thought. And even though it hadn't been that long, I began to get anxious, to wonder if anyone would actually review it. Well, yesterday we received two very shiny, very beautiful reviews.

The first came from the Amazon UK kindle store:
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Go, buy!, 12 Nov 2010
This review is from: VAMPIRES, Zombies and Ghosts, Oh My! (and Other Creatures of the Night STORIES) Anthology (Kindle Edition)
Firstly, what a splendid idea to showcase an anthology of short 'horror' stories by different contempory writers.
I read 'All the Delicate Things' by Heidi Mannan, and if the standard of writing here is typical of the other stories, then the anthology is superb value for money.
'All the Delicate Things' is the work of a remarkable imagination. To find a completely new angle in the popular 'Vampire' genre in itself is a feat. The idea of a vampire being kept captive by a lady called Rachael, who collects 'exotic' pets and has problems with men, intrigues from the start. 'Does she really fancy the vampire, who is called Sigmund?' enters the mind straight away. The dry sense of humour in play throughout the story counterpoints the horror that is relentlessly dripped in ('thunk' goes another blood-drained rat, into the bin). Credibility for the theme is underpinned by the scientific facts that are shared. For instance, this reader certainly didn't know coconut milk is chemically similar to blood plasma.
The skill of the writer is illustrated by the amount of tension that is built up though the developing relationship between the protagonists. Where is it all going?...the reader has to know, and needs to read the whole story to find out. A lesser writer would spin the idea out into a full novel. Here, the writing is tight and accomplished.
Go read , and find out how a short 'horror' story should be written.


The second came from writer Elaina J Davidson's blog:

Review Of Vampires, Zombies and GHOSTS, oh, My!

VAMPIRES, Zombies and GHOSTS, Oh My!
(and Other Creatures of the Night STORIES) – Anthology Edited by Eve Paludon

Published by

Recently I have rediscovered the short story after a long hiatus. Generally I prefer a lengthy read, but I find the punchiness of a tale told in a few pages to have huge impact, particularly so when each is kind of off-the-wall, from the dark dungeons of the imagination.

Halloween is over for another year! All ghouls have receded into the woodwork of deadness...or have they? Vampires and zombies, ghosts and other creatures that go bump in the night don't give a whit for one night in a few hundred, oh NO! You may pack away your crazy costume, but you may not ignore a really good read.

From Heidi Mannan’s intriguing tale of a vampire trapped in weakness through JR Rain’s short but potent finale (wonderful imagery), you will be captured.

My favourite is The Bone Flute Maker by Carol J La Valley, a tale of humanity and its delusion after an alien race is rescued to become like gods. Her weaving of music throughout is quite brilliant.

And I simply must mention Eve’s tale, the lady with an imagination who put this anthology together. Pandora’s Boxes is a sweet story of love lost and two women who are receptive enough to deal with ghosts...and Pandora’s actual boxes sound like the kind of thing this reader would love to own!

Here are 16 tales bound to get your attention: an adrenaline rush, a sigh and a gasp, even a smile. To tell you of every tale will make for a too lengthy review, and I’d rather that you discover them yourself. If you enjoy a quick burst of strangeness, this is definitely for you.

Available for purchase on Smashwords:

Elaina J Davidson
November 2010

It's also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Does your story have a MacGuffin?

Sounds like something good to eat, but really it's a powerful plotting device. Alfred Hitchcock is famous for his usage of the MacGuffin, but it's certainly not reserved for mystery or suspense stories. Nor is it reserved for the screen.

Writing a story without a MacGuffin is doable; the story could even become something of a masterpiece, but using this plotting tool makes steering a lot easier. Many writers use the MacGuffin without noticing, but becoming aware of it and utilizing it to its full potential is the difference between taking a road trip with a map or driving aimlessly.   

Hitchcock described a MacGuffin like this:

"The device, the gimmick, if you will, or the papers the spies are after..."

It's the thing--a document or painting, love or God, a treaty or a secret--that is of vital importance to the characters. The protagonist will have some interest in the MacGuffin, whether it be he/she is trying to obtain it or withhold it. Somebody is after something, and someone or something is in the way.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the MacGuffin in the tale told by the ghost of Hamlet's father. The ghost appears to Hamlet to tell him his uncle killed this father to marry his mother and become king. All else follows from the beseeching of this vengeful spirit.

In Shakespear's Henry V, the MacGuffin is the entire country of France.

In The Maltese Falcon, the MacGuffin is the black bird that Gutman, the villain, is after. Dashiel Hammett spends over 2,000 words explaining this foot-high falcon for a reason. If the bird isn't romanticized and made a big deal of, it wouldn't seem plausible to have Gutman use 17 years of his life hunting for it, or have half a dozen people die pursuing or protecting it.  A MacGuffin has to be worth the drive. 

In Hitchcock's view, the MacGuffin wasn't that important. It's merely a device to pull the characters through their journey. But it must mean the world to the characters, whose journey is of great importance to both writers and readers.

Some things to keep in mind when creating a MacGuffin:

The MacGuffin has to match the character. If your character isn't greedy, you probably don't want your MacGuffin to be gold. Maybe your character is competitive, though. A good MacGuffin could be something like winning a race or catching the guy before another girl does.

As mentioned earlier, the MacGuffin should seem plausible. It'll have to be something worth it, at least to the character. This takes both good characterization and good description of the MacGuffin.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Six Tips for Creating Character Emotion

Emotions drive everything a character does. Every word they utter, every facial expression, every action is the product of what he/she feels. Creating Character Emotion by Ann Hood is an excellent source for writers looking to delve deeper into their characters hearts. I recommend this book to anyone who doesn't already own it. It's one I personally reach for time and again when my characters start to feel forced or fake. I've gleaned six basic tips from the book to share here.

1. Give your own emotions to your characters. This doesn't mean to make your characters like you, or even think the way you do. You're just letting them borrow some of your soul. For example, in my first novel, Seeds of Change,  my protagonist visits her dying grandmother. This is obviously a scene that requires some emotional charge. At the time of writing, I'd never watched anyone, let alone someone I love dearly, die. But I had visited my Parkinsons afflicted grandfather in a nursing home. We were neighbors and best friends when I was young. I hadn't seen him for many years, and seeing him with this illness was extremely difficult for me. I called up that memory before writing my scene, and I used those emotions, put them in a different setting with different people and voila.

2. Avoid emotional cliches. We've all read them at least a hundred times, and some of us have even written them. The single tear rolling down the cheek, the pounding heart, the furrowed brow. Cliches do become cliches for a reason. They're usually spot on creative descriptions. But once you've read something a dozen times, it no longer sparks that oh yes response. It's like eating plain rice. It gets the job done, but doesn't have any flavor. A good way to come up with fresh emotional descriptions is to work off the cliches. Take the pounding heart and have it do something out of the ordinary. Have it tumble or skip or shutter. You get the idea.

3. Follow the golden rule of writing: show don't tell. Rather than stating a character is sad, it's better to paint out the details. Props are a wonderful way to accomplish this. For instance, if your character is depressed, you can show it by using too many wine bottles in the recycle bin, or a house that hasn't been cleaned for too long. You could even have him proclaim happiness to other characters, but carefully selected props will show readers otherwise.

4. Use point of view. If your character finds the negative side of everything, if he has a bad attitude towards life, it's pretty clear he's not a happy individual. Internal monologue is one way to show these qualities. Dialogue is another, very effective method. Let a character say what he feels, in his own voice. On the flip side, dialogue can show a character's emotions by what he doesn't say. A couple on the brink of divorce need not shout at each other to show their failing love. They can just as well have a conversation about a chipped plate, wrought with unspoken feelings, tensions and metaphors. Unexpressed emotions can sometimes prove more powerful.

5. Avoid the obvious. It's okay to state a character's emotion. Doug is sad. But it's important to back up your statement with action. The obvious back up for Doug is sad would be to have him cry. Sometimes our characters will cry. Sometimes they'll do the obvious. That's okay. But not all sadness leads to crying. It's an easy idea to come up with, takes no effort whatsoever. Our job as writers is to keep things fresh, unpredictable. Maybe Doug washes the windows to get his mind off whatever it is that has him down. Or maybe he hitchhikes to Vegas and puts his entire life savings on red. You decide.

6. Remember, emotions are complex. Rarely do we feel only one emotion at any given time. A character going through a divorce might feel angry, confused, disappointed, and afraid all at once. Think of all the emotions associated with a wedding day, a job interview, sky diving. A few well chosen props, fresh descriptions, unpredictable actions and telling dialogue will have characters jumping from the page and into readers minds and hearts.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A New Writing Experience

Several months ago I wrote a short story titled Braddock Naddosh. The ending needed an overhaul, but the beginning and middle drew me in every time I read them. This was one of the first stories I'd written since I had my son almost three years ago. I loved not only the act of writing again, but the story itself. I loved the characters, the storyline, everything.

But Braddock Naddosh wasn't happy. As I thought about possible better endings, I soon realized this little tale wasn't so little. This short begged to be something more. I hesitated at first. I have  outlines and character charts already drawn for the Keepers of Light trilogy, part of the redhead series of which Turning Red is the first. I spent about a year of nap times working on these preparations and was looking forward to delving into them.

But I'd already started writing Braddock Naddosh. I'd give it some space and time to grow, I decided. I'd let it become a novella. I had no plot outlines for it, no character charts, yet I knew exactly how it should continue. It unfolded effortlessly, and It's kept me intrigued constantly. The process amazes me every time I sink into the warm waters of my bathtub to write it. My  previous two novels demanded rigorous outlines and thought before the writing could begin. I've always used free-write form for short stories, sometimes knowing ahead how one would end, sometimes not. But in the past when I'd try to free-write a novel, I'd hit a wall, pretty quickly, and need to break out the plotting devices and figure out a lot of things to continue.

Braddock Naddosh, now a novel by the name of Spellcast, has surprised and delighted. Who knows why this story grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Who knows why it demanded to be a novel when I wanted it to be a short story. And who knows whether this organic unfolding is because of the story itself or a new-found ability within me. Possibly I've been writing long enough now that I've earned spontaneity. Whatever the case, I'm not convinced I could do it again.

On the other hand, a lot about my life has changed in the past three years. Anyone who's had children knows you shed your old skin and grow new once the fist whipper snapper comes along. For instance, before I had Levi, I could use entire days to write. I could use evenings and weekends. And although I loved writing, I often had to force myself to the desk because hey, I could always do it later. Now, I have bath-time to write. That's about it. Yet I'm more productive as a writer than ever. I anxiously await writing time each day. I'm already super excited about it when I get there, and always use every second to the fullest.

So maybe this new style of writing is another development brought about from giving birth, part of my new skin. Or maybe it's just something that has to happen without thought or effort, things that hung me up in the past. I don't know. It's all sort of mystical, really.

I'm almost finished with the first draft of Spellcast, and I've already started my first edit of the beginning chapters. I'm amazed as I return to the beginning how new character depth and plot points deepen themselves. I could be wrong, but this manuscript feels just as developed and layered as if I'd spent months plotting and charting. I'm thoroughly enjoying this experience and this story. Still, I'm anxious to get back to the charts and outlines I made for the redhead series. As soon as I've finished my first edit of Spellcast, aside it goes to cool while I start my next WIP.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Award Winning Story

Camas Man

QwaQwai knew something was wrong when he saw a flock of geese migrating to the Southern tribes. The season called for them to come north and stay awhile. Something, however, had scared them away before they had a chance to touch ground.

Several weeks before, when QwaQwai had trekked up and settled onto this mountain, he'd felt the inevitable press of many lives depending on him. Although his new status among the people gave him pride and purpose, he couldn't help but feel inadequate.

Medicine Man was the gift of only a few. Sure, he'd been trained since boyhood for this purpose, but what if the spirits didn't want him. What if it had been the power of the old man, Somkay, that guided him to the spirit world before?

Despite his personal misgivings, QwaQwai sensed the mountain welcoming him as he traversed it, seeming to say he could not fail. He tucked his heavy, fur-lined hide around his shoulders and glided, light as air, between thick patches of Kinnikinnick.

As he settled on the mountain, looking out over the lake and the Qapquape, the sandy place—later to be named Sandpoint by the pale skinned tribes—he felt the crisp alteration of the air on his face. The trees stood like proud warriors around him in vibrant yellows and autumnal browns, preparing for the spirits of winter to inhabit them.

QwaQwai inhaled to help calm his nerves. He had only a short time to speak with the spirits and have them guide his people to their last hunt before the snows came. One wrong step could lead them into the arms of the Siksikas, their fierce scowls penetrating as deeply as their spears.

From under his blanket, he pulled a gourd rattle, the only possession he'd brought with him other than a skin full of water. He chanted over the lake toward the distant mountains, lightly pounding the air with the rattle.

Before long, he felt a subtle bliss, lightheaded waves coming over him. The trees surrounding him blurred; but he knew they were still there because of his feeling their soft-spoken voices touching his back, his face, his hands.

He smelled the deep breath of the earth yawning up from the hole he'd dug two days before, when he'd chosen this spot for his quest. His moccasined feet dangled into the hole where he'd built a small, inconspicuous fire to keep his toes from freezing.

He closed his eyes and let his body sway into realms beyond. He became less and less aware of himself as he sank deeper inside himself, letting go of his insecurities a little at a time.

He sat this way for several days, days that spread into weeks. Hardly was he aware of his heart slowing, his lungs opening.

He began to see visions.

These visions, however, were not the visions he had expected. He had expected to see the faces and violence of the Siksikas coming from the east, their blackened moccasins kicking up dust and snow and arrowheads.

Instead, he saw his people where they had camped along the river several moons ago. They were fishing and digging camas root from the flood plains, laughing together at the antics of his sister's son, swaddled in a woven cradleboard that leaned against a tree. He saw their sharpened digging sticks pierce the ground. He saw a flock of the great honking birds migrating to the Southern tribes.

This was when QwaQwai knew something was wrong. The flock's time to fly south was now, when the cold winds blew in from the north and froze the earth, not at the time of his vision, of the camas harvest. He paid special attention to the speed with which the birds flapped their wings. Something unexpected seemed to drive them away.

The clouds surrounding the flock moved and came together to form a face. QwaQwai recognized this face as that of a great Ani-kituhwagi shaman who'd traveled to their camp along the sandy place when he was small. The shaman had planned to winter over with them, beginning his long journey home with the first thaws of spring. He had instead died by the hands of a Siksika warrior during the last big hunt before the snows fell.

QwaQwai figured this vision must have come from the shaman, from the spirit world where he walked.

QwaQwai saw the vision of his people harvesting camas over and over in his mind, each time its pace quickened, until the hands of the people were nothing but smudges across the ground and their laughter wind between the trees.

Leaves fell from the high deciduous branches. Women and men alike grew creased with age. QwaQwai's nephew grew into a strong man, fishing and practicing throwing his spear by the river, the people laughing, still, at his antics. This one would take his place when he grew too feeble; would become responsible for bringing the people good medicine.

QwaQwai felt himself floating, like a bird riding a summer gale above the mountains. Locked tight within his vision, he didn't realize that he had fallen into his fire pit. He landed in the cold ashes of the long extinguished fire.

His vision continued.

He saw a black ribbon laid out over the surface of the earth, and once this ribbon was in place, he saw himself dancing upon it, shaking his rattle. He watched the sky, the flapping wings, listened to the frantic honking of geese until a movement on the ribbon caught his attention.

Two huge eyes, as bright and glaring as the midday sun, stared at him. The creature moved slowly toward him, honking in a manner much like the geese.

QwaQwai dropped his rattle. He stumbled back until he fell to the side of the ribbon, his breath troubled.

The creature moved passed him, bringing with it a strong wind that fluttered QwaQwai's hair; and a trail of smoke followed it everywhere it went.

Outside QwaQwai's vision, the snows came, accompanied by heavy winds that left him frozen and buried deep within his pit where he stayed for many years.

His vision never left him.

He again saw his people, this time gathered around a fire during a ceremony, but as the creature moved past them, they faded away.

Nothing could have prepared him for this. It was much worse than the Siksikas attacking them during their hunt. There was no direction they could go to avoid the scourge of the creature on the black ribbon. No way to fight back.

Many more years of thaw and freeze came and went while QwaQwai watched these things unfold, curled into a ball at the bottom of his fire pit.

At last, he awoke with the spring sun shining on him. He had no idea how much time had passed, no idea how he had ended up in his pit.

He realized something was amiss when, upon climbing from his earthen bed, he saw spring flowers reaching up to greet him and felt the warm air envelop him. He looked out over the lake, his eyes wide, his jaw set.

The lake looked much larger than it had, covering more land than before. Yet more shocking, across the lake, uniting the shores on either side, lay the black ribbon that he'd seen in his vision. It continued on the land and ran as far as his eyes could see; and upon it, creatures moved on quickly spinning wheels in both directions, their big round eyes apparently shut.

QwaQwai's legs staggered when he tried to walk; they had become atrophied and weak. His whole body shook with an emotion more primal than he could identify. This couldn't be part of the vision still; the vision had felt much different, and in the vision, he hadn't been hungry.

He found at the edge of his fire pit a rock sharp enough to use as a blade—a dull blade, but a blade all the same. He broke a strong yet slender branch from a tree and began to construct a spear for hunting rabbit and grouse and such. When night fell, he would make his way down the mountain to the lake to fill his water skin. When night fell, there would be fewer creatures traveling the black ribbon.

In this way he spent many days and nights on the mountain, taking in the structures that now stood along the Qapquape, the people with pale skin who seemed to have taken the area over. Nowhere did he see the Camas People. Instead of the sturgeon-nosed canoes paddling along the shoreline, he saw the unnatural shine of odd-looking boats buzzing this way and that.

He had concern for his people, but he knew from his vision that searching for them would be fruitless. They had vanished, taking with them his need to find good medicine for them, his purpose. It felt good to know he could have true visions, powerful visions even; but without anyone to share them with, he felt more alone than he knew possible.

To fill his time, QwaQwai gathered bark from the nearby trees and began to construct a small woven basket. The process reminded him of his mother, of the time when he was still a small boy under her protective watch. Young Camas boys would spend mornings helping their mothers with their chores before they wandered off to play.

In QwaQwai's case, the old man Somkay would call to him and they would take long walks through the woods were Somkay would explain medicine, both physical and spiritual.

QwaQwai now found medicine in the easy-minded work of weaving the basket. Although it was supposed to be a woman's work, he saw it beneficial for a man as well.

When the basket was finished, QwaQwai picked it full of thimbleberries and, leaving his campsite for the first time since he awoke from his vision, traversed down the mountain. Along the way, he speared two grouse and carried them along with him by their talons.

He'd watched the pale skinned ones long enough. He understood little of their ways, but wanted to speak with them, to learn from them.

His moccasins remained silent as he walked along the raised portion at the side of the black ribbon. He stopped behind a couple of men lingering outside what looked like a cave in a manmade wall of bricks. A sign hanging from the awning read: barbershop. QuaQwai didn't know how to read English. Even if he had, he wouldn't have known what it meant.

Neither of the men noticed QwaQwai until one of them turned. His face twisted at the site of the Camas man, and he drew his hands from his pockets, where he'd been jingling change. His companion turned in response.

QwaQwai held out the grouse and berries.

The men looked at each other and others started to poke their heads from shop doors and second story windows.

Finally, the man who first saw QwaQwai took the gift and handed it to the other man, who set it on a bench next to him.

"Pend Oreille" was the only word QwaQwai could decipher from the jumbled sounds the men started to make. QwaQwai picked out this word because they said it often. They pointed to the shell earrings dangling from QwaQwai's ears, then pointed to their own, bare earlobes.

"Pend Oreille," they kept saying.

QwaQwai removed his earrings and handed one to each man, and while all the mens’ fingers lingered on the gift together, before QwaQwai had a chance to let go, he was grabbed from behind and torn away.

The men in front of the barbershop returned their hands to their pockets and the faces disappeared from the windows and doorways.

The man who forced QwaQwai away wore a miniature shield made of shiny metal over his heart. He also held a weapon that QwaQwai had never before seen the likes of. It had a handle and a long tubular component that the man kept pressed to QwaQwai's back.

QwaQwai tried to speak to the man in Salish, tried to tell him he came in peace, but his words were lost on him.

The man led him into another structure made of bricks and into a room with cages.

QwaQwai's uneasiness deepened at the site of men in these cages. Never had he seen or heard of such an abomination. He knew now what the man had in mind for him. He knew he must become the warrior he'd never been. All his life he'd devoted to healing. A Medicine Man only fights when he has to, and QwaQwai had very little practice.

Before he could retaliate, however, the man with the shield over his heart pounded the handle of his weapon into QwaQwai's skull.

He awoke slumped in a cell, a bowl with cold mushy grain next to him. For three days he sat in prison, fasting, chanting, and praying for good medicine. On the third evening, two men came who spoke of a reservation.

QwaQwai picked this word out from their conversation, though he didn't know its meaning.

The guard opened his cell and QwaQwai did not hesitate. He'd brought forth everything he knew of fighting as he sat in his meditation. He sprang like a cat, pounding all three men with fists and feet and head.

They hadn't expected such speed, such ferocity from the quiet man who hadn't eaten.

He sent them all to the concrete floor and then knelt to feel for pulses. He was, after all, a Medicine Man. He filched the keys from the guard and released the others in the cells: five men in all.

He then blew as the wind from the pale skinned camp, up to his mountain. There he waited and watched. He stayed in the thick forest and avoided the pale skins with ease.

When the time came for the air to shift and the trees to change color once again, he dug out his fire pit, for it had started to grow over with weeds and brush. He built a small, inconspicuous fire to keep his toes from freezing. Pulling his gourd rattle from under his blanket, he lightly pounded the air with it as he chanted.

He looked out over the lake, sadness overcoming him as he took note of the hollow place within that his people had filled. The world had grown older and was changing, the way a beautiful maiden changes into an old maid. The Camas People seemed to be the youth that she shed.

After some time, he felt bliss, lightheaded waves overcoming him. He closed his eyes and swayed into the next realm where he saw the face of the Ani-kituhwagi shaman in the clouds.

He saw the light skinned tribes growing, building ever more structures along the water's edge, into the mountains even. He saw them moving faster and faster, creating great whirls of smoke around themselves, which began to suffocate them.

QwaQwai didn't realize when he fell into his fire pit. Didn't realize when the snowdrifts covered him and froze.

Many years of thaws and freezes came and went. QwaQwai's visions continued.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Blog Ceremony

I'm never quite sure how to open a new blog. Here I am, alone in time and space with infinite topics to choose from, approachable  in a myriad of ways. It seems like there should be some formality about it, some ancient creed or right of passage. This isn't a website, after all. It doesn't just sit on a shelf and display something. It's more alive.  

After some pondering, I've decided to consider my first post a ceremony. I encourage all to participate (post a poem, prose, philosophy, comment). 

I've selected five short works to display, written over the course of my years. These five small works represent me as a growing person as much as a growing writer. So light some candles. Burn incense. Dim the lights. The ceremony will now begin.

  • This first poem I wrote when I was about six: (spelling edited)

Through the sea
Travel! Travel!
Through the state
Travel! Travel!
Through the country
Travel! Travel!
Through the city
Travel! Travel!
We're there.

  • Ten or Eleven:

Beauty Is
Beauty is the land
Far and outspread
Beauty is the trees
From toe to head
Beauty is the grass
That lies beneath my feet
Beauty is the people
Who nourish me and put me to sleep
Beauty is the night and beauty is the day
How come we're throwing it all away?
Beauty is the wind that blows through my hair
But when I ask questions the answers are never there
There's all sorts of different religions and all sorts of different race
That doesn't mean we all have to go a different pace
All's I ask is for what I really want
It's not just nothing; it's not just a phase
It's me, the small and wondrous maze.

  • Sixteen:

Marble echoes entering the cat's eyes will come to all who listen.
Endangered material runs from a flame that is harmless.
On the other side of the universe we live.
And then, suddenly, the rain fell upward below.
The voice is my mind, the power untold.
Beware and behold.

  • Twenty-five: (A snippet from my first, unpublished novel. Someday I'll return to this one with some revisions)

Seeds of Change
Today, as most other days, Granny reclined on her bed, asleep, a heavy wool blanket draped over her. Tadra released a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
She moved to the foot of the bed and watched Granny's breath rise and fall with great effort. The old woman had grown feeble and thin, but to Tadra she was still more beautiful than the cut roses on the nightstand next to her bed, more beautiful than the songs hummed by the nurse in the kitchen.

The room smelled of death, like mold and musty flesh and the disinfectant used to try to wash it all away. Not pleasant smells. Especially not when they emanate from someone you love.

Granny opened her eyes and gave Tadra a heartfelt smile, a smile as strong and vibrant as it had ever been, just as sincere. "Come to me, my child," she said, her voice raspy and weak.

Tadra didn't speak. If she tried, she knew hot tears would erupt from her eyes.

"Come close so I can look at you." Granny stretched out her wrinkled arm, beckoning for her granddaughter.

Tadra moved in a daze. When she reached Granny's side, the old woman took her hand, Granny's cold and bony, yet the best thing Tadra had ever felt. It moved in response to life, slowly fading though it was.

Tadra remained silent. She could do nothing but stand and look into the woman's watery blue eyes.

"In my closet, there's a box," Granny said. "Bring me the box, careful not to drop it."

In the closet, Tadra rummaged through piles of dusty and forgotten clothes. "The only box I see is an old shoebox."

"That's the one. Bring it here."

Tadra returned to the bed, Granny patted for her to sit. "Open it."

Inside the shoebox, something magnificent met Tadra's gaze, as precious, it seemed, as life itself. A golden goblet. Granny had never mentioned it before. Tadra hesitated to touch its luster and elegance, afraid she might break the spell that seemed to encompass it.

"This is for you to keep," Granny said. "It's an heirloom, passed to me by my mother. Now it's my turn to pass it to you."

Tadra couldn't tear her eyes from the goblet. "Are those real emeralds?"

"Real as rose water." Granny repositioned under the blanket. "Now Tadra, you must listen to me. You must always keep this safe. Never let anyone you don't trust completely so much as look upon it. You must do as I have always done and keep it locked away in a dark place. Promise me."

Tadra swallowed what felt like a wad of cement. "But why? It's too beautiful to keep hidden away."

"You must promise." Granny's words were strained but powerful.

"Of course," Tadra said, responding to her grandmother's urgency. "I promise."

"If it falls into the wrong hands..." Granny's breath wheezed, then became more even. "They will do bad things if they get it." She pinched her eyes shut, as though a volley of pain spoke to her and she had to strain to listen.

"Granny? Are you all right?"

Granny opened her eyes, nodded.

"What do you mean they'll do bad things? Who?"

Granny's lips slipped back in a withering smile. Her body seemed to wilt just a little. "Keep it safe."

She then closed her eyes, her breath coming like whispers from heaven before extinguishing like a flame gone out forever.

"I love you," Tadra said. Too late.

  • Thirty: Written in a WOW workshop

The woman, Sandra, sitting in the window is not beautiful the way a young maiden is beautiful. She does not have the glow of youth, the taught complexion of a future. Sandra's beauty rests in her wrinkles. Her face is an open view of history. One woman's reactions to the world in which she has lived, touched by many other lives than just her own.

Around her eyes, one can read the sorrow endured because of a stillborn child; around her mouth, the past smiles induced by a child who lived; by baking bread for this child and leisurely driving him through the countryside. Her forehead reads like a journal, the sentences and paragraphs describing long winters of chopping wood and waiting for a husband to return from a hunting trip in the mountains. Along her jawbone resides the story of menopause, of long nights gripped in flashes of heat and irritability, fading into chills as the sun rises, only to turn into heat again.

The wrinkles, those unabashed words written into the flesh of her hands, speak of both pleasant and persistent work in a garden under many summer suns. Any time she wishes to recall the moments of her past, she simply has to glance at her hands or look in a mirror and it will all come rushing back.

Sandra reads books to supplement her social security income. She writes reviews of these books for a local literary journal, reviewing up to five new books each quarter.

She loves her over-stuffed recliner that sits next to the window, waiting each morning for her to fold into its soft embrace. She loves the stained and chipped coffee cup she drinks from each day while she reads. She knows each of the cup's imperfections by the subtle differences when she curls her lip around them. She cherishes her collection of books, all her favorites that she's hoarded over the years. She loves the imperfections in the books, as well. The softened edges, the wilted corners where she likes to worry her fingers as she reads. Especially, she adores the rims of her reading glasses that her granddaughter painted for her in art class. And She gives thanks for the breath of life that allows her another day of reading.

Sandra plucks her wooden cane from the hall closet and shuffles out the door and onto the sidewalk where she picks her way toward the library. She waves to her neighbors as she walks, smiling up at the mid-afternoon sun that beams into her face. Every so often, her cane bumps and kicks against one of the cracks in the sidewalk, or against a sprawling tree root.

It takes her half an hour to venture the two blocks to the library. She ambles up the steps, pulls the door aside and shuffles in. She sniffs the air packed with the scents of musty book covers, dust and fresh paper. The old and the new mixing for the perfect recipe of learning, of discovering, of passing the time. She wanders the isles until she spots a book that interests her: a mystery by an author she's never tried previously, always passing him for someone familiar. She slips the book from the shelf and carries it to the checkout counter. The woman at the counter knows Sandra well, speaks to her of the weather and her most recent reviews.

Sandra tucks the book under her arm and exits the library, poking her way down the steps, watching her footing as she ventures home to her over-stuffed chair and a fresh cup of coffee.

The ceremony is now open for participation. Thank you so much for coming.