Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Dog’s Life

Note: I am posting bits of my random writings for the Mad Hatters - my writing/critique group. Of course anyone is welcome to read and comment!

My life didn’t turn out quite the way I’d expected it to. Sometimes you play the hand you’re dealt, sometimes Lady Luck has other ideas.  I was originally assigned to be a cow dog on the Grant Ranch, a large property in Southeastern Wyoming.  It was a pretty cherry assignment, and any dog worth his salt would have been delighted with it.

The Grant's run a heard of just over 1000, Black Angus and Charolais mostly, on 30,000 acres of prime High Plains land.  The Grant’s have a solid reputation in the West; they pay the cow-hands a fair wage and treat their dogs well. At the Grant Ranch I could expect fresh beef for breakfast and supper, fulfilling work of a day and a nice comfy bed by the wood stove in the bunkhouse at night. It would have been a good life.  I'd been at my post for just a day when Robert Grant loaded me in the truck and took me over to the Graves place to show me off. What happened there changed my life.

Ol’ Bob was bragging about me to the humans on this other ranch, and I was might proud to be described as a prize-winning cow dog, and worth my weight in gold - I knew that I would do all in my power to live up to such high praise.  About the time my head had got plumb swollen from all the compliments that were being heaped upon me, someone stepped in the bed of the truck.  She was a mere wisp of a human girl child with white blonde hair braided into twin tracks curving back from her forehead around graceful pink ears, and twisting like ropes all down her back. She smelled of chickens, fresh hay, horse, and sticky sweet maple syrup.  She was pale, but her skin had been kissed by wind and sun and she glowed with health. Her clothing was a typical Wyoming blend of homemade and hand-me-down utility, except for her fire-engine red cowboy boots. They were brand, shiny new and she had thrust her jeans into them proudly displaying the gaudy color and daring anyone to make comment. It was the defiance of this gesture combined with the light in her eyes that attracted me.  I soon learned that it was her birthday and the child had pestered her father until he relented and bought her the impractical footwear.  Other than those boots, she was a rather unremarkable girl, similar to hundreds of rancher's daughters across the West, sturdy, smart, hard working.

A couple of things caught my attention right away - first was that tantalizing medley of smells – it spoke to me of the numerous places this child had been that morning, breakfast table, chicken house, barn and stables.   She smelled like someone who liked to cover territory, an explorer, and adventurer, my type of kid.  Her scent was just a snare though; it was her eyes that were the bear trap.  An intense teal greenish blue, with an amazing golden corona around the pupil, her eyes expressed a sense of curiosity that was larger than the landscape of the Great Plains.  It was like looking into the ocean those eyes – an unexpected sight in Wyoming.  When that child rubbed my ears and gazed into my own humble brown peepers I swear she looked in my very soul.

The girl respectfully asked Bob if she could take me out of the truck bed to play and Bob told her he would be staying through till supper, so as long as she had me back in the truck by then I was free.  We spent the whole day together; exploring the forest floor of the mile-long wind-break, climbing to the hay-loft in the barn and sliding down the sweet smelling, sneeze inducing pile of hay, testing the ice on the creek, hiding out in the root-cellar and generally getting to know each other. I learned the child's name was Eddie Louise and that she was the 4th child of 5 - the second girl. I learned all about her family, the 19 cousins, the Uncles and Aunts, the Grandparents. I learned that the only life she'd known was here on the Ranch.  She was filled with that particularly Western sense of her place in the scheme of things.

I didn't have a name yet - Mrs. Grant hadn't gotten around to choosing it, and Eddie wasn't satisfied with that so she named me Festus in honor of her favorite character from the TV show Gunsmoke. “I’ll call you Festus,” she said, “because he is good-hearted, and always willing to help, and funny. Festus because I love him, and I love you.”

I’m sure you are aware of the powerful magic that exists in the naming of things. Not just in the slapping on of labels, but in the actual naming of a thing's essence - the identifying of the soul. By naming me, Eddie created a bond between the two of us; but that alone would not have been enough to encourage me to desert my ordained duties. No, it was the truths she revealed after she named me.

We were out in the North Meadow by that time, wending our way through snow banks heading for the copse of cottonwood trees on the far side. There was a hidden gulch behind the trees that contained a small cave, one of Eddie's favorite 'thinking places'. When we had wriggled our way past the sagebrush blocking the cave entrance and settled ourselves into comfortable positions she told me how her siblings and cousins all teased and made fun of her for various things – for telling too many stories; for always repeating the jokes she'd heard on the television; for still sucking her thumb even though she was 5 years old; but mostly because she was afraid of an invisible bear.

For as long as Eddie could remember, there had been a bear in her basement. Her room was in the far back corner, and when she needed to get upstairs she had to walk down a long hallway, turn left through the laundry room and climb the wide back stairs up to the kitchen. During the day it was alright, but at night there was a terrible bear in hiding there that would lunge up behind her as she stepped out of her room, roar horribly, and attempt to bite her on the ass. Eddie would have to run as fast as she could down the hall, through the laundry room and up the stairs into the safety of the kitchen lights, always a mere hair's breadth from being bitten. She was teased mercilessly about her bear, but she explained to me that it didn't matter because nobody understood. The flight from her room was exhilarating - her heart pounded, her senses screamed, she was truly alive! Every night that bear reminded her of how precious the blood in her veins was, of how well her strong young body could respond to the demands placed upon it, of the fact that just because you can't see something don’t mean it ain't there.

In the Native American tribes of the Great Plains a precocious imagination is recognized as a gift, and the elders encourage exploration. Spirit Guides appear to usher the child into adulthood without losing their sense of wonder. It was rare, but not unheard of for a Paleface to have a Spirit Guide, but Eddie's guide, as powerful as the bear spirit is, was confined somehow to her basement. The thought that this child might someday 'put away childish things' and grow out of her sense of wonder was heartbreaking.

I felt a great sense of honor to be trusted with her secrets and so, I made my decision. When Eddie took me out to Bob Grant's truck after supper I refused to get in; scrabbling and whining, willing Bob to understand. Eddie had tears cascading down her face, but she kept pushing me into the truck.  The harder I struggled, the harder that stubborn little girl fought to do the right thing. Bob had a funny look on his face as he watched the struggle, and as I was still no more than a pup he could have easily just grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and tossed me into the bed of the truck – but he didn’t.  Eddie was saying, "You've got to go Festus, I promised." 

I think, in the end, it was the name that did it. "What did you call him?" Bob asked. "Festus," Eddie said, "but that’s just what I named him for today. You don't have to call him that. He's your dog." "No, actually little Miss," Bob said, "I think all the evidence is pointing to the fact that this is your dog. Happy Birthday." And with that Robert Grant released me from his service.

From that moment on I was Eddie’s constant shadow.  I slept at the foot of her bed, accompanied her on chores, played and worked by her side.  That ol’ bear in the basement now chased two of us up the stairs.  When the yellow school bus came into the yard to take her away I walked her to the drive, and watched until she was out of sight.  I would try and make myself useful to Mama or Daddy, but come 3:15, when that bus was due, I’d take up my post at the drive to greet Eddie’s return.

Like all ranchers’ kids, Eddie had chores to do. That meant getting out of bed at 5 am each day.  Being’s as she was only five years old the chore she was doing when I first joined the family was egg collecting.  Each morning she’d take a bucket down the trail to the chicken house, reach gently beneath each of the broody hens and gather the warm egg under each of them.  By the time Eddie had turned six we had figured out how I could do her egg-collecting for her.  She introduced me to the laying hens gradually, first by having me sit outside the chicken-house door, then inside, then follow her on rounds, and finally by direct contact.  The hens grew used to my presence and I became skilled at extracting the eggs from beneath them with no disruption at all.  I would deposit each egg carefully in the bucket at Eddie’s feet. I liked the feel of the warm silky shells on my tongue and was oh so careful never to break a single one.   While I collected eggs Eddie sat reading aloud under the heat lamp for the baby chicks.  She read to me of little engines climbing hills, of cats in hats and little red tugboats.  Chore time was fun!  Of course, when Mama found out what we were up to she changed our chore duty.  She yelled at Eddie about ‘egg-sucking dogs’ and irresponsible little girls, but neither Eddie nor I could quite figure out what had her so upset – we never broke a single egg!

It was all ok though, because our next chore was a lot more fun!  We were put on milk cow duty.  Twice a day – 5 am and 5 pm – we had to hike the front pasture, find the milk cows and bring them back to the barn to be milked.  We’d walk together out past the windbreak and Eddie would find a nice comfy place to snuggle up with her book and flashlight while I went out into the pasture to retrieve the cows.  Those old Bossy’s were none to happy to have me nipping at their heels, but they came along smart enough with the right kind of encouragement!  We had that job for about a year, until Eddie’s older sister Lynn complained that the cows were coming in winded and the milk, when it did let down, was practically curdled.  “It is no good have the cows riled up like that.” Mama grumbled, “Whatever were you thinking child to send a dog after milk cows?”

As Eddie got older she took on more responsibility and chores at the ranch.  We spent many hours each day horseback, ranging for miles across the property – checking fence-lines, making stock counts, setting salt blocks and scratching posts, and moving stock from one pasture to the next to protect the grazing land.  We spent those years exploring the wilds of her family’s 20,000 acres on foot, by horseback and occasionally by bike.  We camped out, climbed mountains and trees, swam in lakes and rivers and raced everywhere, the thrill of the wind in our hair and the scent of freedom in our noses.

Everywhere we went Eddie’s books accompanied us.  When we weren’t reading we were playacting - we were Red Injuns, Desperados, Highwaymen and Pirates.  We traveled the universe in a broken down ol’ tub of a space ship and had tea with the Queen.  We followed our friends through a wardrobe and fell down a rabbit hole; we lived in a Little House on the Prairie, and triumphed at the battle of Little Big Horn.  We shivered under the gaze of Long John Silver and hee-hawed right along with Bottom.  As Eddie grew older, that bear in the basement still chased her, but now it was an old friend, no longer threatening, just exhilarating.  Over the years I watched Eddie embrace her imagination, and now the teasing of her cousins had become nothing more than a spur urging her onto greater flights of fancy.  There was no limit to where imagination could take us until I ran into that damned snake.

Eddie was about 12 years old and we were racing our bike with her brothers and cousins up and around the ½ mile track of the circular drive.  Hearts were racing; blood was pounding, when out of nowhere reared up this 4 foot long monster of a rattler that had thought to sun itself upon the warm gravel of the drive.  That snake was darn angry about havin’ it’s siesta interrupted by a bunch of howlin’ kids on bikes and it struck with deadly intent aiming for Eddie’s older brother Charlie who was oblivious in the heat of the race. 

Luckily, I’d seen the monster and without pausin’ to think I threw myself between it and Charlie’s pumping thigh.  The bite on my eyebrow did not really hurt, but the dust that was flung in my eye was irritating, and the weight of that snake latched on to me made me angry!  I shook my head furiously trying to dislodge the devil, throwing it back and forth across my face like some kind of demented pendulum - finally the damned thing let go.  I pounced on it immediately and with two quick bites I killed the sombitch.  Eddie had leapt from her bike and was at my side immediately, which was good, ‘cuz I was feelin a little woozy.  There was a great deal of shouting and noise and I heard Eddie’s Daddy say “Holy Lord, there are 14 buttons on that rattle!”

I don’t remember much after that.  At some point I overheard the Doc saying that he wouldn’t be able to save me, the poison had gone straight to my brain – the best he could do was make me comfortable.  He also told the folks that they had been darn lucky the dog had been there because as much poison as there was it would have killed Charlie for sure had it got him. Eddie took me home, and trying to hide her tear-stained face from me she pulled me up into bed with her.  Some time later I was awakened by the smell of fresh meadow clover; I knew it was my time.  I inched my way up the bed to lick my girl’s face one more time.  She turned to me, wrapped me in her arms and said “Oh Festus, you are such a hero.  I love you.” And with that I gave up the ghost. No dog has ever died happier.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Singing Out Loud

When I was a little kid I liked to make up songs.

I could sing about my chores:
Collecting eggs  is fun
Chickens are so weird

I could sing about my family:
Too many boys.
There are just too many boys. 

I could sing about the heartbreaks:
Festus, you were the best dog in the world.
Festus, you were the best friend to this girl.
I hate snakes.
I hate snakes.
I hate rattlesnakes.

I sang a lot. I got teased a lot. I was chased, indian burned, wedgied and ridiculed by my brothers and cousins. The adults in my life were baffled, bemused and bothered. No one ever said "Wow! What a great imagination you have!" Instead they said "That girl has too much imagination." this was accompanied by eye-rolling, elbow nudging and entirely too much condescension. I learned to put my head down, to sing quieter.  Not because I didn't want to sing, but because nobody else wanted to hear it. I learned to sing only for myself.

Too many times in my life have I sung or told stories only for myself. Yet now I notice that as I have gotten older, I have grown less and less concerned about the scorn of others. The songs inside of me have called out louder and louder for release. Now, at the mid-point in my life I am learning to sing out again.

What a scary/glorious feeling that is!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Really Fun Contest

I follow a number of writerly BLOGS, and one of my favorites is Writer Unboxed. They have great contributors, insightful commenters, and a general attitude about writing that I find both refreshing and invigorating.

In honor of their 5th anniversary, they are having an Original Analogy Contest. they have some great examples on the post, and a host of eager wordsmiths supplying new analogies in the comments.

Here are a few of mine:

Sam had a sinking feeling, like the trapped and quivering seeds inside a rainstick slowly trickling down to fill his shoes with the dregs of possibility.

Ben shuffled off the mortal coil with the careless grace of a two dollar stripper removing her bra.

Finding the right place was easier than picking the tanning booth abuser out of a lineup of albino stooges.

Go on! Go get to know Writer Unboxed and contribute a few of your own analogies to the mix!

The Mad Hatters' are the Coolest Writing Group Ever!

So, I am part of a permanent writing group once again and that makes me very happy. While we were in Edinburgh I had a marvelous group of scribbler types to meet with, share passions with and generally enjoy a good whinge  every now and again. It kept me writing. It kept me focussed. It kept me sane. Then, we encountered the whole 'recession panic, British jobs for British people, go home crazy foreigners' debacle and I ended up in Denver without a circle of support.

Luckily, I have now found a local group with whom I can commiserate, inspire, cajole and generally badger into regular meetings and cheer sessions in the service of literature. Yay! One of the best things about his group is the sheer enthusiasm for writing. We have an official binder created by members of the group that contains writing prompts, a place to list special events, note accomplishments, and a lovely chart of little tidbits for the day.

I had to share today's info: January is National Book Blitz Month, National Thank You Month and International Change Your Stars Month. This week is Hunt for Happiness Week and National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week. Today is Answer Your Cat's Questions Day and AFRMA Fancy Rat & Mouse Day.

In honor of that, today's writing prompt is:
In 250 words or less, write from the point of view of a ball of yarn being chased by a kitty:

The Mental Dialog of a Ball of Yarn at Work

Rest. Prepare. Sneak, sneak. Ah ha! Gotcha!

Turn, spin, drop, trail an end. Flip, slip, scoot; use the chair. Hide. Breathe. Breathe. Get ready, here she comes again. Jump, tumble, roll. Ooh, not too fast, she'll lose you. Leave a train of yarn. Right, she's got you again. Reel it in, reel it in, tangle, loop, contract. Wait for it, wait for it. Now! Leap, bounce, slide. Roll, roll, roll some more. Tease, tempt. Evade!

Play dead. Play dead. Don't react. Ignore the claws. Good. Oh yes! She is going crazy. Twist, slither, pop. Yeah, you've got her now. Concentrate. You've got her. Explode! Did you see her eyes? That was great! Whew.

Rest. C'mon human, wind me tightly again. Prepare. Wait for kitty to finish her nap. Ooh. I saw an ear twitch. Sneak, sneak. Get ready. Pounce!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing Prompt January 19th

The writing prompt is: In 300 words or less, write about your first toy:

(Today is Tin Can Day - I couldn't resist!)

Being born poor and black in the South teaches you things. Things like you don’t get what you don’t got and you should count yourself lucky if you got shoes. It teaches that if you want a toy to play with you best be making that shit up yourself.

Making toys ain’t hard. A bunch of rags can be tied into a ball, an old inner-tube becomes a makeshift trampoline, a pair of empty tin cans and a length of string serve as a telephone.

I made myself one of those tin-can telephones when I was six. Me and those rusty cans went everywhere together - ringing up friends in the schoolyard, talkin’ to nice old Mister Russell in front of the Save A Penny store, even a stranger lady who came to town in a big green car and said she was from Social Services and did my parents know where I was. I politely tol her that she had the wrong number and hung up right quick.

Bein on the telephone makes people brave. Folk’ll tell you things. Things like "Little Jeny Tucker, yo' mama know you is runnin' round town talkin up strangers like a 2 nickel whore?" and "When I was a little boy, I had one of these and whoo boy, Huey and I used to talk on it all the time about girl parts - you know, the little honey purse you've got between yur legs?"   

My telephone taught me things. Like no-one wants a girl that talks too much. Like nice ladies in green sedans go stickin their noses in ever’bodie’s business. Like stay clear of Tommy and Huey Marsh. Like, waitin on someone to give you toys is a waste of time; you got to make your own in this ol’ world!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Update and Writing Prompt for January 17

This week has been crazy busy! I am in the middle of writing a couple of grant proposals for my work - although I have written 10,000+ words this week, none of them count towards my own writing goals. Luckily, this will only be for a couple of weeks and then life will settle down again.

Anyway - this is why I haven't been doing my writing prompts. But today's was too irresistible (I haven't tried one of these since High School) so here it is:

Write a Haiku on Reading/Books:

Lost for hours and hours
Curled up in the chaise lounge
With my fav’rit book

A book is a friend
When the rest of the world
Struggles to make sense

In a gift, a book
Appears as if by magic,
Just what I wanted

Reality shows,
Can’t hold a candle to pages
Filled with untold bliss

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Preparing the Perfect Pitch

Last night I went to Pitchapalooza at the Tattered cover; it was both fun and educational!
The authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published were on hand to listen to pitches and critque them.

Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to pitch, as the evening was cut short by management, but even just listening to the critiques taught me a great deal, and now I am in great shape to start pitching my book! Below is a list of tips I gleaned followed by my newly refined pitch.

  • A book pitch is a performance - be passionate, animated and direct.
  • Start with action! Do not bore with too much exposition.
  • Do not try and mention all plot points - we do not need to know that the hero has to rescue his little sister Fiona, who is a lover of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, from the clutches of the evil villian who lured her into his hidden sub-terranian lair with same said sandwiches -- we just need to know that our hero must rescue his sister from the villian before it is too late.
  • Be sure to focus on who we should love and why.
  • Leave questions (hooks) those things that make you want to read the book.
  • Mention comparitive titles or authors.
  • Know WHERE in the bookstore your book would be shelved and why.
  • Keep the pitch to 1 minute but be ready to answer questions.

Pitch for
The Arc Riders
Trouble with Mexicans

Can I ask you a question?

What would you do if you were a 14 year old boy, running for your life from a gang of murderous Mexicans known as the St James Boys and a rider-less NYPD police horse suddenly appeared right in front of you? Would you take that ride? Well, in my Young Adult novel entitled The Arc Riders Jason Cisnyski does just that. The only problem is, this is no ordinary horse. He is an Arc Horse, part of an ancient race of magical equines that have taken a blood-oath to work for justice in the world. Jace is just the latest in a long line of human teenagers who have been chosen to work for justice one case at a time. In this first book of a planned 7 book series, Jace has Trouble with Mexicans, both at home in the Bronx and in Mexico itself where the Arc Horse transports him to save a girl from the clutches of the drug gangs. Our hero will need to overcome prejudice, violence and his own fears to save Yasmin and get himself out of trouble with Mexicans. A fresh take on pulp fiction for young adults, The Arc Riders, Trouble with Mexicans will be popular with fans of Scott Westerfeld and Suzanne Collins.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Need Your Help!


I have entered a contest, but need votes to win. If I do win, I get a full year's creative writing tuition. All you need to do to help is vote for my legend - The Legend of the Arc Riders - at the contest page here:

 Legend Writing Contest

When you click the link it will take you to a sign up page. Unfortunately, you have to become a member (free) of SavvyAuthors, but if you are not a writer you can simply designate them as SPAM after voting. If you are a writer you will find a lot of really good information on the site.

Please vote for me and help me become the best writer I can be!!


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Writing Prompt January 9th

Make a list of the 10 worst things to say to an angry Hermione.  Then, have Ron say one.  What happens?  Does the entire castle explode?  Why was she angry?  Why did Ron say it?

Oh oh. I knew this was coming, but I was hoping I could avoid it for a bit longer. I struggle with any kind of Fan Fiction.

For me, if a story is complete, as I feel Harry Potter is, I can see no reason to 'play' with the characters. I think I worry about ruining a story I love - of messing with something that is already great.

If a story is not great, I can't be bothered to change anything because it isn't worth fixing.

Basically, I have *never* wanted to re-write, change, or even add to a story I love. I don't know why, and I don't think badly of people who do, but I just don't feel that urge.

So, to the Mad Hatter's I won't be doing the prompts that involve 'playing' with somebody else's creations. 

I will however, be glad to read yours!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Writing Prompt January 7th

You're not going to take what anymore?

I've been taking it for as long as I remember. Open up. Place the bitter pill on the tongue. Raise a glass of water and swallow it. Don't question. Don't argue. Just do what you are told. Be a good girl. 

The thing is, you can only push someone so far. There is only so much you can take before the little voice at the back of your head, the one that has been a growling accompaniment of discontent the entire time, begins to shout. 

"Hey! There's a person in here! A real, live person with things to say, with passions and obsessions, with needs and desires, with an opinion of their own!"

Every time that voice surfaced before I pushed it back. I tamped it down. I convinced it to wait. I behaved like a good girl with a litany of well rehearsed self-stalling tactics. 

"Not yet. You aren't ready. They aren't ready. They will never let you. They don't understand. You can tough it out."

I can't though. Tough it out. I am tired. Tired of not being heard. Of being cared for without being loved. Of being loved by people who don't care. 

So I'm not going to take it. They say it will make me calm. It will keep me from being hyper. It will help me deal with my anger issues. That's not true. It's only purpose is to rob me of my will, to make me pliable, biddable, docile. 

I'm not going to take it anymore. I'm not going to take those pills. Not today, not ever again!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Writing Prompt January 6th

Write a story or excerpt that includes an alarm clock

5:00 AM - Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep - Groan. Growl. Swat. Swat. SWAT. Ah peace.

5:09 AM - Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep - No! I didn't insult your moth...! Wha... Oh God, not yet. Just one snooze and I'll get up I promise.

5:18 AM - Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep - Uh. What time is it? 5:18?!?!? I said set the snooze! Why is it going off now? Make it stop.

5:27 AM - Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep - Ok, ok, ok! I'm up. Wait, no I'm not. Re-set the thing for 6 will you? I'm sure. I know today is a big day but I could use the extra half an hour of sleep. Got it? Thanks.

5:36 AM - Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep - If you don't turn that thing off I will get a hammer and smash it to bits! Who chose this alarm clock anyway. Have you ever heard anything more irritating in your life? Calm down? I am calm. I was even asleep before an annoying beeping woke me up. I know I start the new job today - why do you think I am trying to get those extra few minutes of sleep? It pays to be well rested when you start a new job. Please, just let me close my eyes.

5:45 AM - Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep*Beep - THAT'S IT! Thump, thump thump, wreech, slam, thump thump thump. I'll show you, you bloody piece of plastic! There is no reason to scream - why are you screaming. Yes, I will get back in bed. Yes, I will put down the hammer, just please God - can I have 15 more minutes of rest?

5:54 AM - Beep*Bee..... *SMASH*

10:22 AM - Yawn. Stretch. ummm. you feel good. I love waking up slow. Will you make coffee or should... 10:22?!?!? S&*T! I am late for my first day of work! Didn't you set the alarm? 

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Writing Prompt January 5th

A loud pounding on the door wakes you in the middle of the night. A police officer tells you that your main antagonist has been taken to jail. What did s/he do? What did you do?

I don't like talking to the police. They give me the willies. Too formal. Too uniformed. Too authoritarian. Police don't understand ambiguity, or concealed motive or artistic license, so when they knocked on my door at 3am this morning to inform me that they had Nick in the slammer, I was not terribly polite. Or coherent. Or circumspect. The overbearing coppers gave me a new set of bracelets and we all took a nice ride downtown. 

Of course, by the time we got there, Nick was gone.  He had dissolved into a cloud of buzzing flies, or turned to mist or simply teleported to remove himself from the premises. The CCTV showed nothing but a blur and an absence. Now the police state expects me to explain his disappearing act, and they are not buying the 'fictional character' aspect of the truth. Nor does their computer recognize the names Beelzebub, Satan, Old Nick or Lucifer.

If they would only give me pen and paper I could write myself out of this fix. I could write Nick back into his cell, I could concoct a plausible defense, I could create a plot twist to save the night. Evidently, a pen is too much of a weapon to be granted a prisoner in a holding cell, and tergiversating prisoners give the police the willies. It is going to be a long night!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Writing Prompt January 4th

Begin a story with: There was once a chance that I didn't take..." 

There was once a chance I didn't take, but only once. I spent my life taking chances, at least when I wasn't squandering opportunities. Thing is, for a guy like me, a jug-eared, corn-fed Iowa farm boy who managed to escape the everyday drudgery of tilling and sowing, taking chances was a way to pinch myself. Proof that I was no longer mired in hog muck captive to the weather, and the seasons and my mother.

Don't get me wrong, my Mam was great. A great cook, a great household manager, a great neighbor - she just never had much time for a dreamy-eyed boy with ambitions to go to sea and climb mountains. As soon as I could, I broke free from her stifling embrace and made my way west. What followed was a life on tramp steamers and freight trains. A life of adventure and exploration - from the shores of far off Gbagbo to the naked wilds of the Amazon, I saw it all. I turned my hand to any job that offered - carpentry, herding, fence-building, dish-washing. It never mattered much what I was doing, only where I was doing it.

But I started this yarn to tell you about the chance I didn't take. Her name was Emily. She was 19 years old and sweeter than a peach. I had come back to Iowa to plant the farmer who would sow no more seeds. My Dad had died in the traces, just like his cherished plow horse. By some sort of providence, I was in the States working the fruit orchards of Southern California when my Mam's cable caught up to me. Like a dutiful son, I headed back to the home place to lend a hand. I had no intention of staying. I would bury the old man and high-tail it for the nearest rail-line. Iowa couldn't hold me.

Then I met Emily, who reached out her smooth blushing-ivory arms and wrapped me in the most captivating trap known to man. Emily was a neighbor girl who had been helping Mam around the farm for a couple of years, doing the heavy work of canning, rug beating and chicken butchering. When I had left she was just a sapling, all bony knees and elbows. Now she was a woman grown, radiant behind a curtain of shining golden hair. Though her skin was soft as down, it encased a backbone of steel. I knew the moment I laid eyes on her I was doomed.

It took three long months to bury my Dad and set the affairs in order for Mam. During that time I worked side-by-side with Emily, inhaling the scent of her in the hay, against the baked wooden planks of the barn, in a loaf of fresh baked bread. Mam kept herself to herself, appearing now and again to suggest a better way to churn the butter or lay in the grain, but mostly leaving me to Emily. It soon became obvious that Emily was the laid trap, but my Mam was the hunter. She rightly figured she would never get me to stay on her own, so she sweetened the pot.

The morning I left for good I was sleep deprived and more than a little hysterical. I talked myself into knots listing the pluses and minuses. I almost convinced myself that Em would consent to running away with me, but I knew better. The dirt of the farm ran in her veins same as it had my father's. At the last, I left with the dawn. I didn't say goodbye; I knew my resolve would crumble and I would get sucked back into the land like a spring rain on a parched field.

That was the chance I didn't take, the chance for love, for a family, for a home. I chose the open road instead, refusing to think about what I had left behind. I drowned my loneliness in the intoxicating sites of Machu Picchu, of ancient Greece, of Egypt. While I wandered life on the farm went on. Emily moved in with Mam, taking on more and more of the daily responsibilities. They hired hands to do the heavy work and kept the farm afloat when thousands of others caved in to bankruptcy. I checked up on them regularly, sending telegraphs to neighbors, calling the town pastor. Emily never married, and the two women lived alone together in the old farmhouse. I told my self it was all for the best. Emily was happy on the land, Mam had company and I could continue to travel unencumbered.

Yesterday I received a letter written in Emily's fine looping hand. My Mam has died. She did die. Three months ago now. The letter had chased me from Spain to Thailand to Florida. I was not there to lay her to rest next to my Dad. I was not there to handle the business, to console the bereaved, to do my duty.  Emily wanted to know what she should do about the farm. It is mine now. I don't know what I want to do. I don't know if it is too late to take a chance. But I am here. All I have to do is knock on the door.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Writing Prompt January 1

Write a Letter of apology for inappropriate behavior at a party:

Dearest Jacques;

First, let me say how much I enjoyed last night’s Gala at the aquarium. The decorations! The seafood! The inspired entertainment by Frankie and the Whalers! The party was perfection from start to last bells.

Upon wakening this morning however, I detected distressing evidence of sea salt in the various crevasses of my own body, and my husband Charles informed me that I became a bit too rambunctious during the course of the evening. Over my morning hair-of-the-dog the memories flooded in and have prompted me to write this sincere letter of apology.

You sir, as you know, have built a sterling career out of swimming among the sharks, and I have admired your dedication and courage for many years. This, however, is not reason enough for my attempt to capture a wee bit of your glory by leaping into the shark tank in gown and tiara. I am certain that had I not startled the poor creatures so, they should have found my flailing thighs a quite tasty midnight snack.

I must thank you for your timely intervention and determination in fishing me out. I cannot have been the easiest catch to land, consumed as I was with the delight of swimming in your world.

Needless to say, in the future I shall confine my admiration to the right side of the glass, and leave the sea creatures to you.

I remain your most ardent fan and supporter.

Muriel Weston-Fishbinder

Post Script: Enclosed you will find my support check for the coming year. As you can see, I have doubled the usual amount, which I hope will in some way mitigate your ire and encourage you to continue inviting me to your annual Galas.

Post-Post Script: Charles mentioned that many of the party-goers snapped photographs of my salty adventure, if any of those prints come into your possession, would you be so kind as to forward them to me? I am most curious to see if I look even a modicum as dapper as you do when you cavort with sea creatures.

Post-Post-Post Script: I do hope that the wee seven gill that I was forced to rap upon the nose with my fan has forgiven me as well, do see that he is given extra rations tonight by way of apology.

I am officially a member of a writing group!!!

I am part of a writing group known as the Mad Hatters. We formed during this year's NaNo and have decided to not only continue weekly meetings, but to set distinct writing and editing goals as well as provide reading and critique services to each other.

I am excited. I need this kind of structure to help keep the pressures of every day life from overwhelming my writing. I will use my time to finish and edit The Arc Riders #1 and then to dive into book #2.

One of the things we are doing is daily writing prompts. Keeping the daily writing habit is one of my paramount goals for the new year. I will be posting these efforts here for your general amusement!

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!