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30 December 2009

Lady in Waiting

If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~ Toni Morrison

Honestly, it wasn't so much the "book not written" or the fact I have to write it that caught me. It was one little word. One insistent, provoking, prodding word. Must. A compulsory word. A word that means, no matter what, it shall be done. It MUST be done. To feel so compelled to write, to feel so pulled by tendrils of story and light that I have no choice but to sit at my computer, at a pile of paper, to scratch words into leaves.

Not so easy. Life rushes at us at breakneck speed. I wake every morning knowing eight hours of my day is devoted to helping someone else's dreams of success come true. I wake when all is quiet and glance down my dark hallway, wanting desperately to take a candle and climb the stairs to the second hand table and type. Nothing in particular. Just to get words out. To let loose the moths in my soul and let them fly northward to the moon. They flitter about all day, turning circus tricks in my stomach. I know they want freedom. It's my freedom they mimic.

I think of stories all day long. Sometimes I act them out when no one's around. I'll speak the lines of every character. It helps me process. C.S. Lewis is rumored to have told his friend J.R.R. Tolkien that the books they wished to read weren't written yet so it fell to them to write them. What if they hadn't? What if Tolkien and Lewis had been so trapped in the day to day that Narnia and Middle Earth never existed except in their dreams?

The world would have lost out. Maybe you think you don't have a Narnia. Perhaps the thought of Middle Earth frightens you. It's full of orcs, of goblins. Of Balrogs and flaming, all-seeing eyes. But it's also full of music and love, laughter and heroines so desperately afraid of losing a chance at valor and glory, being sat on a shelf to mind manners and rule in a position she was never meant to have.

Perhaps your story sits patiently. Perhaps it speaks to you in night dreams. Perhaps it nudges you, prods you, shoves you down stairs. Perhaps, like a lady in waiting, it sits beside you, helping you with your day to day, feeding your slowly shriveling soul. And then, in the darkness, when you wake unable to sleep because of the words dancing in your head, she takes you by the hand and leads you by candle light up the stairs to a second hand table, looks you in the eyes and says, simply, "Write".

What is your story? What is pulsing in your veins? Doesn't make sense? Doesn't have a plot? Doesn't have a direction? Doesn't matter. Put in on the page and let the words have their way.

Image found here

28 December 2009

FINALLY!!!

What a wonderful Christmas present! I got a new computer at work. Ok, so it wasn't a present per se, but it's as good as one to me! I can now email without the letters skipping and catching. I can send interoffice emails without waiting five minutes for the computer to decide it wants to do so. But most importantly, I'm back to blogging! My Internet at home is so fickle (and hates uploading pictures) that I do most if not all of my blogging at work. It's good to be back in blog-topia! I have missed you guys so very much and can't wait to see what you've all been up to.

I hope your Christmas was wonderful. Ours was. We kept it quiet, just like we like it, except when spending time with family. Things always get a little crazy when you have more than 15 people in a house!! But we were able to go home to the Manor and enjoy the peace and quiet it affords.

And now, without further ado: Monday Musings!!!

"If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." ~Toni Morrison

Happy, happy Monday.
Jen

20 December 2009

Internet Connectivity...

...cue the Hallelujah Chorus!

Hello dear readers! My, my it has been too long. In an effort not to jinx my ability to post, this won't be a long one. I just wanted to share with you some of what I've been up to. Christmas gift making has been in full swing at The Manor and below are some of the gifts we're giving this year.

Handmade Paper with Dried Lavender

Wrapping with Twine and Tags cut from old File Folders



Stuffed Animals from Vintage Fabric and Buttons


Hand rolled Beeswax Candles in Up-cycled Tin Cans



Handmade Paper, Mint-Lavender soap, Clay tags, and Brooch from a Vintage Pendant




The Keys to Joy...

I have also been feverishly at work on a new writing project. It came to me quite suddenly and out of the blue. I've never had a project come to me so insistent on being written. I'm still needing to edit those last fifteen chapters in my current manuscript but I'm going to put those off until after the holiday hooplah.
If we don't cross paths again before Christmas, I wish you all a very merry Christmas filled with joy and light. I hope Santa is good to you all. Enjoy the festive season in whatever way you see fit, but take a few moments, this Christmas Eve night, and pause to remember the reason for the season.
Happy Christmas,
Jen
PS: Welcome to my newest followers! I apologize profusely for not being able to wander over to your blogs. As soon as my computer is more reliable, I shall be over to thank you :) Thanks for bearing with me!

15 December 2009

Apology

Just in case you're wondering, I'm not dead! But my computer is close to being so. I apologize for the lack of posts but most importantly I apologize for the lack of reading and commenting on your wonderful blogs! Please forgive. I hope to be back to "normal" by the end of this week. Hopefully by then the computer issue will be rectified. Please don't give up on me dear friends! My once consolation is that I will have a lot of reading to catch up on! Sounds like a nice, leisurely Sunday morning to me :)

Happy week!
Jen

10 December 2009

What Do You Want Your Words to Say?

They spill from us. Pouring from our fingers as blood from an open wound. Sometimes, that too is true. Depending on what they are, where they come from, what has initiated the fall. Words are like shadows, like leaves, like rain. They hide, they creep, they sneak up on us and pounce, devouring us with their all consuming power. They float gently, from lofty branches, they sprinkle, flow steady, or drown us in deluge.

When you write, how do your words mostly come? A trickle? A downpour? A raging river, sleepy ocean, stagnate pond? If you're like me, it depends on the day, the hour, the phase of the moon. Our words are subject to our emotions. Perhaps, our emotions should be subject to our words.

What do you want your words to say? Do you want them to encourage or drive onward? Do you want them to provoke thought, stir up anger, incite action? Make someone cry, laugh, throw bricks? I've read books that have done all of that. I read "Three Cups of Tea" and wanted to build a school for girls in remote Afghanistan. I read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and laughed until milk came out of my nose. I read "The Lord of the Rings" and did all of the above and threw it against a brick wall. Twice.

Words are power. They build up. They tear down. They make us sit, be still. They beckons, they drive away. They force us to action, to dive, to fly.

What do you want your words to do? What do they ask of you? "Give me wings," they cry. "Just give me wings!"

Cheers,
Jen

07 December 2009

Monday Musings

"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all."
~ Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977

03 December 2009

Back to Business

Hello dear friends! I'm back to (somewhat) normal posting, though a day off. The holiday really threw me for a loop! Not to mention the hours I spent rambling around Narnia trying to find a lost fur and avoid the wrath of an evil White Witch :)

I got so many lovely comments on my musing that was posted Monday. I fell in love with that particular quote m'self. "You must stay drunk on writing..." The phrase conjured up an image of a lovely Victorian lass sitting at a small desk, scribbling away with ink stained fingers by candlelight. I saw myself there, hair askew, dress smudged, fingers black around the nails, desperately trying to say what is in my heart, avoiding the rising sun. I have always worked better at night. Blame my Celtic ancestors, but I much prefer the rain than the sun and when the moon rises over the trees I come alive! A pity I have to get up early during the week. I'd stay up 'til 2 creating if it were up to me, sleep until 9 and do it all over again. Funny thing is, I am quite worthless between the hours of 10 am and dark. It's as if my creativity goes on holiday. Then, around 9:30, I'm fired up, ready to go! Cruelty I tell you...

To drink in our words, to stay drunk on writing, to need pen and paper, to be willing to do anything to come by just one more moment of uninhibited writing...is it possible? Is it possible to, even in the midst of daily obligations, of "reality", stay absorbed in our work? It's a tricky case of balance, but I think it can be done. If we're willing to step out of our comfort zone and take the risk of seeming, well...different.

I can remember a few times when all day I moved within the grey area between dreams and reality. I was completely aware of what I was doing, where I was, what needed to be done. But a part of me was lost in story, creating, drinking in the mist shrouded trees that called to my soul, beckoning me to ride the dark steed of wonder into the forest to discover the secrets that lay within. It's not something that has happened often. It's a tricky thing, too, but it is possible. I think it's a matter of allowing the muse freedom to do what it will alongside our day to day. This, dear friends, is a matter of letting go, of trust.

I'm guilty of fear. Fear of what others will think if I abandon preconceived notions and be, unashamedly, who God has made me to be. The Great Creator knew what he was doing when he put this gift of words in our hearts. Unfortunately, it's not something easily understood by those who aren't writers or creative spirits in general. I'm guilty of allowing compromise to slip in, whispering, "Oh, just keep quiet! No one will understand. No one wants to hear." Perhaps not, but how will you know if you don't speak? It's not an easy thing to do, wear our words on our sleeves. But to mingle creative with reality, to join them together in the matrimony God intended in our day to day, we have to be willing to speak out loud in our actions, our voices, our song.

Walk alongside your muse today. Hold her hand, let him put his arm around your shoulders. Share your experiences with her. Perhaps you don't know your muse. Perhaps you're waiting for them to appear. Well, take a moment today and just sit, inviting them to arrive. Don't try to hold him back, but don't allow him Puckish abandon either. Balance, and a willingness to obey. Reality, dreaming...could it be they are one in the same?

"What is real?" said the Unicorn to Charles Wallace.

What is real, indeed.

Happy Thursday,
Jen

01 December 2009

Mr. Toast's Christmas Tea (Part Two)

Finally! I made it. And with only a bit of time to spare. I apologize profusely, Mr. Toast and all you distinguished guests! But when you hear my tale, I'm certain you'll understand just why I'm so late.

Oh good, I see Mr. Darcy arrived! I'm glad. ...Yes, yes, I'm fine dear friend. Your concern is appreciated. ...What? Send out the cavalry? No, no there was no need. I was in good hands..er..paws. ...Oh, well, yes, that does require some telling. But first a hot drink would be much appreciated...Earl Grey please, and make it a double!

I was in my room, when last we spoke, searching for my beloved (faux) fur when I stumbled upon a small chamber which adjoined to my room. I grabbed my bag thinking I'd pop in, find my fur, and be off. In the room was a large wardrobe of the most beautiful quality I've ever seen! The wood was like nothing I'd seen before. Perhaps my fur had been put in there by the man who brought up our bags. I opened the door and peered in ...

I saw many coats, but not my fur. I did, however, see something white in the very back of the wardrobe. Could that be my fur? I crept in on hands and knees and reached for it. Imagine my surprise when I found that the wardrobe just kept going. Further and further back I went until I felt something very cold and very wet on my hands. No! Impossible! There was snow in the wardrobe! I crept out and found myself in a forest. A snow covered forest, completely silent. Not a bird sang, not an animal scampered by. Just trees, silent snow, and a lamp post burning brightly up ahead.

It is impossible to describe my confusion! I had to touch the lamp post to convince myself I was not dreaming. I looked around, thinking if there was a lamp there must be a road nearby. A road I did not see, but I began to hear a strange sound, like silver bells tinkling in the distance. A sleigh appeared, elegant and icy, pulled by reindeer. Could it be, I thought, Saint Nick? But no, it was not Father Christmas at all but a tall, dangerous looking woman dressed in blue and crowned with icicles.


She appeared nice enough and asked casually for my name and where I was headed. I told her I was on my way to tea but misplaced my fur and fell, quite literally, into the forest. "Could you, I asked, perhaps guide me back to the wardrobe? Or perhaps you know Mr. Toast and could direct me to the tea?"
Her eyes narrowed and she told me crisply that she knew of no tea and had no toast. The only wardrobes were encased in ice in her castle and the only fur she knew of was her own, warm creation sitting in her lap. Then she began asking me many questions about my family, how many brothers and sisters I had, things of that nature.
Suddenly, a frightening roar came from the forest and the ice queen jumped! She spun around to the trees and her eyes widened in terror! There, emerging from the trees, was the largest polar bear one could imagine! I'd never seen a polar bear before, but this one had to be a giant compared to his already large brethren. Oddly enough, he was dressed in armor.
The bear snarled and the queen whipped her reindeer into action. They sped off at a whirlwind pace, disappearing behind the trees and leaving me to confront the giant bear alone. He grinned as she went, and gave me a little bow. He said he heard my story and could indeed guide me to the tea. There was a road, and if I needed to be somewhere, anywhere, the road could take me there. Up on his back I climbed and away we went!



On and on we trudged through snow and up hill, no sign of the lodge (or my fur) in site. The bear began to wonder out loud if the road had been enchanted to lead us off course. "By the White Witch", he said. I did not need him to tell me he was referring to the woman I had just met. It soon became apparent that we'd been wandering aimlessly, with no destination in sight. Furthermore, we had no way of knowing the way back. The bear's paw prints had been covered by snow flakes, large, drifting ones the size of dinner plates.
We needed directions but who to ask? I told the bear if he could just get me back to the lamppost that I could go back through the wardrobe and take a more traditional route to the tea. He admitted, embarrassed, that he knew not the way.
It was then I noticed we were being watched! Someone was peeking out at us from behind a large tree. He seemed to be carrying a red umbrella. I called out to him, told him not to be afraid, not thinking how ridiculous that sounded seeing that I was riding atop a huge, armored bear! The man came around and *gasp* he wasn't a man at all but a faun! Oh delightful! A faun! And a handsome faun at that ;) After convincing him the bear would not eat him, we asked his assistance in finding the lamppost.
"It's simple," he said, indicating with his red umbrella and shifting the parcels he had in his hands under one arm, "Just head that way, stray straight, and you can not miss it!"

I thanked the dear faun and away we went. No more than a half hour later, we were standing beneath the burning lamppost. "I guess this is goodbye," I said as I hugged my armored friend. "I would love for you to join me, but I'm afraid you wouldn't fit through the wardrobe!"
"Don't worry," he said smiling (if a bear can smile), "I would frighten the guests and I'd hate to ruin such a splendid occasion as a Christmas tea."
Away I went, thanking him for his help. I crawled back through the wardrobe, never once seeing my fur, scampered down the hallway and just in time to hail a passing sleigh!
And now, dear friends, I must go. There are foods to try and teas to taste and guests with which to mingle. My story is unbelievable but I assure you, it is all quite true. I'll just check my lipstick...

...and be off! Amazing that this dress managed to emerge from that bag in such fine condition! Oh, and I did manage to bring a bit of something along with me. When the White Witch was frightened off, she left the loveliest silver container behind her. I picked it up and decided it would make a truly gorgeous host gift. I do hope you like Turkish Delight, dear Mr. Toast!

And now...dessert!




Mr. Toast's Christmas Tea

For those of you who don't know, Mr. Toast is hosting a delightful Christmas this afternoon/evening. Check out my side bar for the link (or click HERE to pop over. Just remember to sign the RSVP if you decide to attend...)

My date and I arrived in Aspen late last night thanks to a broken down Rolls and a late flight out of Nova Scotia. Mr. Toast's wonderful driver was there, patiently awaiting our arrival, and whisked us away to the rather regal inn we reserved for that evening. We'll be staying at the lodge tonight.

Oh, who am I with? Awesome Photographer Husband is out on assignment for National Geographic and insisted that I not go alone. Who am I to argue? I asked our dear friend here if he'd accompany me and he was more than delighted:

And he even agreed to dress in full "Mr. Darcy" duds for the occasion :) What a dear! Fear not, dear friends! We are rooming separately. That's Matthew's room there. My room is every bit as elegant. In fact, I need to go see if he's ready. We were going to leave soon and join Mr. Toast for a bite of lunch before the festivities.



It seems I have misplaced my fur, faux of course, but needed nonetheless. It's quite chilly out and the snow is a sparkling wonderland just begging to be romped in. I hated to hold up dear Matthew so I send Mr. Macfadyen on ahead. My apologies, Mr. Toast, but I simply *must* find that fur! It was a gift to me from Bogart and I'll never forgive myself if I've misplaced it.

My gown is packed (as delicately as they can be) as I wish to dress once I arrive. It's much to cold to be gallivanting via sleigh in a sleeveless gown. Especially if I can't find my fur! O wait a sec...there's a wardrobe in the small, adjoining room. Strange, dusty place for a wardrobe. Why on earth would they fashion a room simply to put in one piece of furniture? Perhaps the young man who brought up our bags put it in there. I may be able to catch the next sleigh out!

Now why on earth would someone put such a gorgeous wardrobe in a room all by itself?

...To be continued...

30 November 2009

Monday Musings

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
~ Ray Bradbury

[I hope you all had a marvelous Thanksgiving :)]
Jen

24 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving to All






I pray your Thanksgiving Day will be filled with laughter, feasting, family and friends. And may you take just a moment, between second and third helpings, to pause and remember all the reasons you have to be thankful.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Love,
Jen
PS: I posted a little "tour" of the Manor over at my other blog. Wander on over and see what I've been up to besides editing and querying and editing and revising and editing and...

23 November 2009

Monday Musings

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." ~Sylvia Plath

20 November 2009

It's a Funny Little Thing...

Every time I decide I'm going to begin querying my novel, every time I announce the hunt, enlist in encouragers, beg my husband to ask me daily "have you finished your agent list yet?", something inevitably comes up to change my mind.

Now, before you go accusing me of giving in to fear, let me explain. The first time, I decided it was time, I decided it best not to just send out a few queries and see what happened. I decided to do some in depth research, to hunt down agents and agencies that really believed in the genre in which I write. Thus I began my in depth agent research. While I was doing that, I realized my query was weak. Very weak and very...wordy. So I sliced and diced and deleted and rewrote until I came up with what is now what I believe a very good query indeed.

So what is it this time? Oh it's quite simple. The story isn't ready.

Can I tell you it pains me to type that? I've wrestled with it ever since I submitted a two line hook to a contest this past Sunday. If they pick mine and ask for more, so be it. I'll be excited. I entered the contest and it lit a fire under my fanny to enter all my pen and ink edits into the computer. Something I have not had the energy to do. (Have I mentioned my trilogy is loooooong?) Knowing if they chose my hook entry, I would have to have an edited manuscript ready should they ask, I started entering those edits. Getting up before the sun to put them in. Staying up late adding little things, taking away unnecessary apostrophes (I just love those things...), the usual.

This started Monday. I excitedly took out my whopper of an manuscript and began. I love my story. I believe in it. But something doesn't sit right with me about it. To be honest, I don't know what it is.

The first three books are written. Yes, there's more to the story. I have yet to begin writing the rest, but it's there, floating around in my head. And it's a good story (no really!). So what is preventing me from submitting the query in hopes of having an agent request a partial or a full peek at it?

I wish I knew. All I know is that I'm going to enter these edits. All three manuscripts have more marks than a well used Rand McNally Atlas. It's not the content, it's the feel. It doesn't feel right. Does that make sense? I can feel book two and book three. It's book one that's bothering me. Maybe I am afraid. Maybe I feel there's too much of what so many are saying you shouldn't put in. Maybe I should just put in those edits and let 'er fly. When I start thinking this way, however, I remember something I read a month or so ago: It's never too late to submit your work but it can be too early.

Should I risk sending my project out there too early? Risk having it turned down by everyone only to confirm the feeling in my gut? Risk being haunted by the "what ifs?" I get every time I see something vaguely similar on the shelves? Or should I stick to my gut and pick it apart, making it the best I know it can be. Should I keep at it until I can crack open that file and really feel the story. Really get into it. Really believe in my characters and the trouble they're in?

Honestly, I'd rather just let it go, send it out, see what happens. Seize the day and all that. But, again, there's a hitch in my heart that won't let me. My original plan was to research agencies and edit and send out queries after Thanksgiving. I'm now leaning more towards January.

And you know what? I'm ok with that. I'm ok with taking a little more time. I'm ok with sitting down with my manuscript one more time, reading with an open mind, a hungry heart, and let it sing to me. Because if it doesn't sing, it's not ready to be sent.

Happy weekend to you all!
Jen

19 November 2009

Thanks!!

One of my new dear bloggy friends just awarded me this little diddy:


You should really go check her out! Blondie has a simply fabulous blog and you can find her right here! Feel free to tell her I sent you :)

Now it seems I'm supposed to tell you seven things about myself and then pass this along to seven other deserving bloggers. Only seven!?!?! Sadness, but I shall prevail!

1. I have always wanted to get my pilot's license.
2. I would move to England tomorrow and live on a sheep farm. I would live in a thatched roof cottage, take classes on pottery, and build my own stone wall. Dear hubby would gladly wear the sweaters I would knit him (um...after I learn to knit) as he traipsed through the fields taking award winning shots of the countryside.
3. I have wanted a tattoo for years but only recently have I decided what I'd get. Now to save up the moolah!
4. I've been to Ireland and India. I have inadvertently started a trend of traveling to places that being with the letter "I". It's like an episode of Sesame Street! "This adventure is brought to you by the letter 'I'..."
5. My father and my writing mentor both died in November. Mixed feelings about this here old month.
6. I would love to own a vineyard.
7. If it was up to me, I'd always dress like an lady from old England. I'd travel the world with steamer trunks and cross India by elephant. I'd see the pyramids from the back of a camel while sipping syrupy sweet Moroccan tea. My porters would love me and I'd tip them handsomely. The sky would alternate between raining marshmallows and cocoa packets and books would grow in cultivated fields, their leather spines glimmering in the early morning mist. And I'd spend my days writing, crafting, and reading darn good poetry. At night I'd host dinner parties for Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, C.S. Lewis and Ernest Hemingway. Oh the delicious debates we'd have!

And on to the distributing of the awards. Oh wait...I should change.

There. That's more like it!
And the award goes to:

1. Jody Hedlund (because she's fabulous and I appreciate her honesty)
2. DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom (because she makes me laugh when I desperately need it)
3. Lin at Duck with Wheel and String (because where would we be without Hobbes -or her?)
4. Elana Johnson (because she just signed with an agent...WOO HOO!!!)
5. Jermaine at French Kissed (because this blog is simply BEAUTIFUL!)
6. Mr. Toast over at Hot Toast and Jam (because a life without tea would be simply dreadful)
7. Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm (because this woman knows how to get to the meat and potatoes of life, dish it up heavy, and leave you feeling as if you've been sitting on her back porch, listening to the crickets while the sun sets over her peaceful farm world)

Ok guys! Post the picture, tell us seven things about yourselves, and send it on. Or just post the picture and remain quietly in your happy corner of the world. Or do nothing but know that I find your place simply divine :) Whatever suits you best. No pressure here. I'm just passing it along because in my little world, awards seem like the thing to do today!

Waaahh! Can't I give everyone the award? There are too many beautiful blogs out there. Not fair, not fair (ok...my tantrum is finished.) Go see these guys, tell 'em I sent you, and enjoy :)

Sorry if this post is a little more hyper than usual. I've had two cups of tea and an eggnog latte and I've been up since 5am! Bring it on, baby, bring it on!
~Jen

Words, Balrogs, and other Curious Things


Gut wrenching or easy going? Sit down at the computer, fingers flitting two and fro, effortless in their pursuit of the next line? Or growling at the clock, wishing the second hand would move faster so you can log in your thirty minutes, knowing the only thing you've written was borrowed from a Gothic horror story: "It was a dark and stormy night".

I think we all experience both from time to time. I have had days when I woke up with a story in my bones, just aching to get out and dance across my notebook. Unfortunately, those days aren't the norm. I'm more of the drag myself to the table, coffee in one hand, reading glasses in the other. The words have to be pried from the crevices of my brain, my trusty crowbar jabbing and prodding as they scurry to darker corners. Then, when I do grasp them, they refuse to cooperate, smudging my paper, scampering from one corner to the next. Sometimes, out of sheer frustration, I swat at them, squashing them, smearing adjectives and adverbs unnecessarily between nouns and verbs. Jeez, what a mess.

I don't think writing comes easily for anyone all the time. Nor do I think it should. Writing is a hard business. I know many who would argue. So do you. Especially if you write for children or young adults. "I could write a children's book! No big deal." Grrr...don't even get me started with that one...

Personality quirks, bad hair days, the waxing and waning of the moon all affect us in varying ways. Some days I can wake up and be on top of the world. The very next, it's as if Pippin dropped a rock down the well and the Balrog awoke to storm the mines. On these days, my husband bravely plays the roll of Gandalf and I crack my fiery whip until I can no longer roar. If only every day could be fairies and unicorns and the goblins and trolls could stay under the bridges.

But would we grow if all were sunshine and daffodils? Would we learn more about our writing selves? Would we fully be able to grasp the depth and breadth of what we do if it were not for the dark places? I don't think so. As much as I love romping through the Elvin woods, there's something to be said for braving "the long dark of Moria".

All that matters is that we show up. Consistently. Faithfully. Whether we want to or not. Whether the Muse is sitting there, waiting for us, hot chocolate in hand or the demon sits on our chest and hisses all the reasons we should just stay in bed. We may pound out a sentence. We may produce a masterpiece. We may eek out a few feeble words or simply type over and over again, "I have nothing to say!!!" Regardless, get the words out. On the page. Be it computer or ball point pen, clacking old typewriter or a feather quill you carved yourself. It matters not how we feel. It matters not how the words come. What matters is that we're there to receive them when they do, come they by casual unveiling or ripping from the gut.
*image found here

16 November 2009

Monday Musings

"A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket."
~ Charles Pequy

13 November 2009

Sincere Thanks are Due


I just wanted to say THANK YOU to all of my readers. You guys are the best!! I sincerely appreciate all of your encouraging words. You make my writing here seem important and keep me going when I don't want to lift another pen. There are so many days when the low self esteem monster I've battled most of my life tells me my writing is worthless and I might as well pack it in. You guys (every single one of you) help me realize that's not true! Thanks for brightening my life :) I'd give you all a great, big hug if I could.

I apologize that I don't get to read and comment on your blogs every day. I want to, know that. I do follow up on your comments via a comment on the corresponding post. Please check back if you wish to read my response to your words. I appreciate the time and effort each comment takes. Time is precious and the least I can do is let you know I appreciate you spending a bit with me :)

Have a fantastic weekend, keep those pens (and keyboards) moving, and I'll see you all on Monday!

Most sincerely yours,
Jen

12 November 2009

The Voices in Your Head

I apologize for the delay in posting. Wasn't feeling quite up to par yesterday. It was all I could do to keep my head up while waiting on disgruntled customers to call and tell me their computer woes.

Is it possible to digress at the beginning?

The overwhelming response to the quote posted on Monday confirmed to me that we, as writers, do seem to hear things others don't (won't or can't). We live in a sort of in-between place, where this world and the world of imagination intersect, at random intervals, pulling us in. We have little control over when this happens. I've been sitting in a crowded movie theatre, watching the film, when inspiration stepped in front of me and smacked me in the jaw. Bookstores are notorious places for walking through mirrors. I'm a firm believer in bookstore goblins. They roam the shelves looking for an unsuspecting creative soul, ready to pounce, attach themselves to our brains, and regurgitate every particle of a quasi-great idea they've ever digested. That explains why I can't walk into a bookstore without getting the overwhelming sense that I'm not fulfilling my creative call and I must hasten to the cafe counter, order up a grande of liquid perseverance and crouch in a corner until my fingers are bleeding from paper cuts and pen jabs.

Our characters pop up and the most inopportune times. I've seen my characters walking down the street, driving cars, even in other people's films (seriously, Mr. Shayamalan, did you HAVE to get there first?!?). They sneak up on me, whispering places they wish to go, things they need to do, foes they need to slay. Really? And you need to do that now? I'm watching Murder, She Wrote!

The point of all this insanity *ahem* eccentricity is to get us all (myself included) to see our gift as something that isn't just a thing we do, but something that is a part of us. Writing is in my blood. My great grandfather was and my grandmother is a writer. But it goes deeper than that. For whatever reason, I was chosen for this gift. No matter how hard I try to hide it, how fast I try to run from it (which is futile as I've never been much of a runner), or how emphatic my "not now, I'm busy!" is, this gift will always, ALWAYS find me out.

What should we do when we wake in the wee hours of the morning, when the sky is dark, the floorboards are cold, and the bed is singing it's siren song, and the glimmer of an idea haunts our thoughts, urging us to pursue it on paper or screen? The easy answer is to roll over and chalk it up to a good dream (or too much rich food at dinner) and try to go back to sleep. But nothing worth doing was ever done by taking the easy way out. Coffee will work as well at three a.m. as it does at seven. I've tiptoed across cold floors many times to jot down a dream or story idea given to me in the night. Often, I've written it down on a paper towel by the light of my cell phone.

The point I'm trying to make is this: don't look at this writing life as something you do when you have a free moment, when you're good and ready to let the story take over. Look at it as a lifestyle, something that cannot be helped, that must be nurtured and allowed to run free. We all have daily obligations, we all have things we must attend to. We all must learn to balance our writing with the rest of our lives. But to separate it from our lives is to do ourselves damage. It is entwined with our breathing, linked to our souls. When it hits, even a scrap of napkin and a purple crayon can be enough to start our next project. Don't feel like you have to hide those urges or quiet those voices. Let them come, open yourself up to them. Keep a notebook with you always in case of character coups. Don't be afraid to pursue an idea when it first strikes you. And besides, what harm could really come from a sudden leap upon a table in a department store to recite the latest brilliant prose your villain has composed? The time alone in a padded cell would be more than enough to finish that novel ;)

Cheers!
Jen

10 November 2009

The Thrill of the Hunt

"There is a passion for hunting something deeply planted in the human breast."
~ Charles Dickens
(I apologize in for the lack of formatting. For some reason, my spaces between paragraphs did not come through.)
Odd for me to be posting here on a Tuesday, I know. But I wanted to share with you some very good information I have discovered in the past week. As most of you know, I'm in the "actively seeking agent" stage of my writing career. How long has it taken me to get here? Do you really want to know? Considering I started writing stories when I could simultaneously grasp pen and language, I'd say it's been a couple of decades. I've been writing seriously for fourteen years. I had one...two...three books under my belt by the age of twenty five. Trust me when I say they shall never see the light of day! I'm considering burying them in a personal time capsule only to be dug up upon the occasion of my death. About that time, I started toying with the idea of my current young adult fantasy series. I started, I stopped, I created worlds, I messed with character's lives! Then...then....then I found my story. On again, off again I worked on the beginning of a story that got more and more complicated as it progressed. There were weeks I didn't, couldn't write. There were days when the words flew off my fingers so fast I could barely keep up. Five years later, I have a completed trilogy, the first installment of a young adult fantasy adventure steeped heavily in ancient mythology.
That was the easy part. I finished editing back in July and for four months I've sat on it. Call it fear, loathing, extreme aggravation at a gaggle of characters who think they know their story better than I do. I, their creator! (um...right...) Inspiration was slow to come but it has finally won over fear, self doubt, threats issued by anonymous characters. The agent hunt is on, and boy oh boy is it a battle.
That being said, I have found two resources that are making my hunt easier than I could have hoped. If you are already aware of and utilizing their services, forgive my posting the obvious. You are free to roam the blogsphere at your leisure starting ... now! If you are, however, as I was, oblivious to the fact these two resources were out there, then read on pilgrim.
The blog Guide to Literary Agents has been on my blog roll for some time and I would casually glance at the articles, read up on ways to impress (or distress) a prospective agent, and ooh and ahh over the newly acquired author. What I didn't realize, until last Wednesday, was that they possess a data base chock full of agents, both new and seasoned! If you follow their blog, you'll see that once a week, they post a New Agent listing. It tells what they are seeking and how best to contact them. I went to the index on the right and scrolled down to the genre in which I right, clicked on it, and perused all the articles that talked about young adult agents. My list grew and grew until I had three pages (handwritten) of agents who I intend to further research online. Note: even though Guide to Literary Agents is current on their information, I would still go to the agent's website and get the pertinent information from there. When it comes to the future of your manuscript, it pays to do the extra leg work. Chuck Sambuchino has done a wonderful job of gathering as much information as an author can stand on the subjects of agents, query letters, and the dreaded synopsis. I highly recommend spending as much time as you need to gather the priceless information this site has.
My second ah-ha site has become Query Tracker. Their blog updates regularly and has great posts on the craft of writing, contests and a weekly Publishing Pulse which lists the recent goings on in the world o' publishing. Their website is the main site I want you to be aware of. Sign up (it's free!!!) and receive a monthly newsletter with info on the publishing world as well as agent listings. You can access their website without a free account. The site has a database which allows you to search for genre specific agents and agencies. I was able to ask it to search for "young adult" and "fantasy" and it brought up 65 listings. Granted, I will be looking them up online to check out their submission guidelines, etc. but this is a great first step to finding the agents that represent what you right.
I'm not posting this to hurry you. Hunting takes time, patience, resilience, and thick skin. It also requires that your manuscript be as ready as humanly possible. Once it's there, once you're absolutely (or at least 98% certain) it's as perfect as you can make it, take a breather. Go cycling, kayaking, spelunking. Then come back to it, give it one last read, take a deep breath and write that query. There's some excellent info on query writing on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Some of the best advice I've received for this stage of the writing journey was from Karen at Following the Whispers: "Take the action; let go of the result". So hard, but so very necessary. I'll add this: "Do your best, then let 'er fly!"
Happy hunting!
Jen

09 November 2009

Monday Musings

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia." E.L. Doctorow

06 November 2009

A Brief Word

Sorry for the lack of inspired post to start off your weekend. Since yesterday afternoon I have been feverishly on the hunt for agencies that represent the type of book I have recently completed. I have been sitting on this since July. I have needed the separation, however, and it has been a wonderful respite. A time to put things in perspective and weight my priorities in the writing world.

I'll be spending my spare weekend hours, between preparing for a party and partaking in an annual Native American festival, seeking out agents, agencies, perfecting my query (for the 1,000th time) and beginning to write the dreaded synopsis. Gasp!

I signed up for NaNo this year, but decided this was a better way to spend my month of November. I'd much rather get this story aloft on it's own little wings than to start another of my twelve dozen projects I have strewn across the upstairs studio floor.

Here's to a great weekend! I hope you all enjoy yourselves. May the weather be wonderful wherever you are, take a quiet walk and breathe in the crisp, autumn air, and carve out some novel writing time for your own projects. There's no time like the present! Seize the Day and every other positive, forward moving affirmation you've ever been told to get your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard!

Cheers!
Jen

05 November 2009

Emma Thompson did it better...


...but I had tons of fun pretending :) Yep, that's me playing dress up. I simply adore Emma Thompson's portrayal of the absent minded Professor Sybil Trelawney in the Harry Potter series.
Thanks to my brilliant husband for the use of his time, camera, and lighting.
I just realized, this is my 70th post! I see many long and prosperous years on blogger in my tea leaves, and yours too! Have a wonderful Thursday.

04 November 2009

It Takes a Little Heart...

...and a whole lot of soul to write anything. An article, a poem, a novel. You can tell when an author has put all of himself into his work. It's there, lying on the page, a beating pulse that can be felt through each word.

Everywhere you turn, authors and editors, agents and "those who know" admonish us to write what we know, to find our voice, to pour ourselves into our stories. It's so obvious and yet so hard to do. Why?

I think I have an answer. If I'm wrong (or way out in left field...it wouldn't be the first time that's happened!), please forgive me. I believe it's because we are conditioned to concern ourselves with what others think. The thought of rejection, the thought of "what if THEY don't like it", is enough to drive even the most talented artist into the underground.

I can remember being free. I remember as a child playing with abandon, writing stories that made sense to my five year old brain, stories where I could correctly spell "tyrannosaurus" but misspelled "island". I remember laughing, dreaming, scheming, telling jokes, making others laugh in class and choir practice.

Then something happened. I'm not sure if there's an actual date and time to it; I can look back and see several things that contributed. Something shifted and I was made to feel like my ideas were "wrong", "dumb", "punishable". Nothing horrible, mind you! I wasn't trying to sacrifice the neighbors goats or anything. Somewhere along the way, I lost the freedom to be myself and ever since then, I've been trapped behind a wall of "what ifs" and "no one will understand".

Art is subjective (at least that's what they told me). I've taken art classes as an adult and had "professionals" belittle my ideas and tell me they just don't "get it". I've watched people open their veins on stage, screen and page and marvel at their audacity, their bizarreness, their courage. Perhaps they never had that teacher put down their ideas. Perhaps they never were made to feel left out and betrayed. Or maybe...just maybe...they don't care.

What? Don't care? How callous! We're supposed to care. We (especially we women) are supposed to make everyone else comfortable, sacrificing our time, our dreams, our cares for those we love. Yes. And no. We are to put others first. We are to reach out and help. We are to go out of our way to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minster to the hurting, lonely and sick. But how can we do these things if we don't take care of ourselves first? A sick nurse is certainly not someone you want caring for you when you're ill.

This care and concern, while a noble and righteous thing, gets misconstrued in our modern society. It seems we teeter to one of two ends: care so much we shun ourselves and sacrifice our very health and well being in order to become a saint (or worse, a martyr). Or we guard ourselves so fiercely, let no one in, and alienate everyone in order to protect number one. Where's the balance? Simple. It's right there, in the middle, where your heart is aching for you to reside.

When i look at my stories, I see fantastic beasts, imagined lands, strong characters with even stronger flaws. I see mystery and murder, fantasy and magic. Do I dare see a message that someone may need? That someone has been longing to discover?

Inside all of us is a voice that is wanting to be heard. We push it, shove it, water it down. Why? No one will get it. It's not "the right way". It's too bizarre, too "out there". Of course, there are technical rules we must follow, grammatical dos and don'ts, regulations to follow in order to submit a query and grasp the attention of the right agent. Beyond that, however, the door is wide open. There's no filter. We are the ones who put on the blinders, get out the sieve and pour our hearts into them, discarding what we deem "odd", "unimportant" or "not recognizable".

Get out a pen and paper. Yes, yes, you know, those poor, sacrificed trees and ink filled piece of plastic. What's that voice inside telling you? You know. The tiny voice that's been so pushed away, crowded out by overstimulation and self-deprecation. Write what it tells you. It may be a few words. It may be a torrent of adjectives and nouns, verbs and run on sentences. Don't edit, don't filter, just write. When you're finished, you can pick through. You could find that you just needed to let our some pent up emotions, worries, fears. Then again, you may find that story that you've been dying to tell has finally come free of it's tethers. If that's the case, don't put it back in the box. Let it roam free. Let it take wings and soar around and around, higher and higher. Don't be afraid of where it's going. Let it lead. Don't try and direct it like a child on the beach tries to harness a kite. Allow your feet to be lifted off the sand and give in to the wild, tempestuous wind that is your brilliance. Frightening? You betcha. Necessary? More than you know.

02 November 2009

Monday Musings

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein."
~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

I hope everyone had a wonderful Halloween! We had an impromptu party at The Manor and I graced our guests dressed as Professor Trelawny of Hogwarts ... photo to come!

A happy November to everyone,
Jen

30 October 2009

Things That Go BUMP in the Night

In keeping with the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to share a little clip of a story I wrote about a month ago. In between queries and new ideas, I've been creating a collection of short "ghost" stories. Enjoy this snapshot:

Monday was miserable. Unseasonably cold weather had blown in over night and the sky churned, the clouds silently laughing that they knew something those beneath did not. Cathy was shoved down the bus steps when she got to school. Timothy helped her up and scowled at the boys who did it. They only laughed and called her a "crazy retard" and him a "freak lover".

"Ignore them," Cathy said, wincing at her skinned palms and knees. Timothy picked up her book bag for her and slung it over his back. "They're only repeating what their parents tell them."

"I don't care!" He turned to glare at the backs of the still laughing kids, "They should be so stupid as to believe everything that said!"

One of the bigger boys turned around, "Wha'd you say, Cooper?"

Timothy, trembling and seeing red, repeated, "I said you shouldn't be so stupid as to believe everything you hear!"

"You callin' me stupid?"

"If you're repeatin' crap your parents told you about Cathy then yeah, I'm calling you stupid."

"Why you little-"

"Chad!" Miss. Pimsler, Cathy and Timonthy's teacher, appeared at the door. On her face was a dangerous expression. "I think you had better get inside before the bell rings. If you're late again, it's detention for you. I'd hate to see you sit in detention again."

Chad made a cutting motion across his neck at Timothy and walked to the door.

Miss Pimsler stopped him, "Mr. Smith, if you so much as lay a finger on Mr. Cooper or Miss Parkins, I assure you I will tell your father and he will not be pleased with you causing even more trouble at this school."

Chad snorted, "He don't care what I do. Go ahead and tell him. He'd probably be happy with me if I busted the little creep in the face. Everybody knows he's gonna be an orphan soon. No good ever come from orphans."

Timothy lunged at Chad but Cathy held him back.

"You can take yourself to the principals' office, Mr. Smith. Tell them I sent you. If I find out you didn't go there, I'll pull you out during whatever class I find you in and escort you there myself."

Chad didn't say another word. He knew better than to cross Miss Pimsler. She was the best teacher that school had ever had, and one of the nicest. But cross her and she was more than able to make your life a living hell.She believed in the old way of running a classroom: the teacher made the rules and the students obeyed or they got in trouble. It was a novel approach, but it worked.

"Are you alright, Cathy?" Miss Pimsler held the door for them as she and Timothy entered. The bell rang and Miss Pimsler smiled, "Don't worry. You're with me. I won't count you tardy."

"I'm ok, Miss Pimsler," Cathy said. "Just a scrape."

"Timothy, please take Cathy's things to class. I'll take her to the nurse and get her cleaned up and then return to class. And would you mind stopping by Mrs. Daniel's room and letter he know I will be a few minutes late and if she'd listen out for my class I'd appreciate it."

Timothy nodded and left Miss Pimsler and Cathy to walk to the nurse's office."That was a very brave thing you did, giving Preacher Larry that letter."

"You knew it was me?" Cathy sighed. "I knew everyone would know, but I couldn't help but wish they wouldn't."

"No one else in the town would write anything like that. You're a brave girl, Cathy and I'm very proud to say I'm your teacher."

"Thank you, Miss Pimsler, but I'm afraid it didn't do any good. Except to make people hate me more."

Miss Pimsler stopped at the door to the nurse's office. She knelt in front of Cathy, took her by the shoulders and looked her deep within the eyes, "People always hate that which they don't understand. They're afraid of it. Don't you ever change who you are because of how other's may treat you. You keep on doing what you have to do, being who you are. I promise you, one day, it will pay off and you'll be glad you followed your heart and not the masses."

"Why do I have to be so different?" Cathy's eyes brimmed with tears. "I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask to hear the Music."

Miss Pimsler stood up and knocked. The nurse opened the door and frowned when she saw the state of Cathy's hands and knees. "Because we need you to be different," Miss Pimsler smiled down at her and they both walked into the nurse's office.

***

Cathy and Timothy hurried up the road. They had notes to get off the bus at the stop by Cheshire Bridge. They jumped off the bus to the tune of "freak" and "weirdo" and "hope you get lost on the way home". Cathy ignored them. Timothy's nails dug deep into his palms.

"Ignore them," she told him again, "they don't know any better."

"You're way too trustin'."

Cathy shrugged her pack up her shoulder. "Come on. There's Preacher Larry."

They rushed up the drive to the little white church. Preacher Larry was standing there, leaning on a shovel. Aunt Jessica was sipping iced tea. Her face was smudged with dirt.Cathy looked around and sighed.

Timothy was indignant, "Where's everyone else?"

"Ain't no one else," Aunt Jessica said. "Your Mama would have come had she felt like it. I told her you'd be here. She was very proud." She smiled at Cathy, "She'd mighty proud of you too, for writin' that letter."

Preacher Larry handed them both some rags and a spray bottle of cleaner. "Here you go. You get the grand duty of scrubbin' off spray paint from the head stones."

Cathy smiled sadly. "Did you get the graves fixed?"

Preacher Larry's smile faltered slightly, "Almost. Just one more to refill."

"How many had been dug up?" Timothy asked.

Preacher Larry cut his eyes to Aunt Jessica. "Several," was the only reply they got.

"That means a lot," Timothy said as he and Cathy began scrubbing a large black mark off a tombstone.

"I know."

"Why would anyone want to dig up a grave?"

Cathy looked up the hill to the old tree. It swayed in the wind, a dark silhouette against an increasingly darkening sky. "I don't know."

"In stories, people dig up graves for treasure. I don't think there could be much treasure in these graves."

"I don't think this grave robber is looking for gold."

"Then what?"

There he was. Lurking behind the tree, his eyes fixed on Cathy and Timothy. "Something worth a lot whole lot more than gold."

Timothy followed her gaze and stiffened as he saw the Locust Man. "You think it's him?"

"I know it is."

"What's he stealin'?"

"Souls."

"I thought souls left when a body died?"

Cathy shrugged with one shoulder. "Does anyone know what happens once we die? Maybe some leave at once. I reckon some hang around, afraid to leave what's familiar. Afraid to leave their loved ones."

"You mean ghosts?"

Cathy nodded.

"Like the one they say haunts Cheshire Bridge?"

Cathy nodded, her eyes never leaving the Locust Man. He tipped his hat, his eyes gleaming deep red in the late afternoon sun.

"I hear it's an old soldier, still troops up and down the bridge at night. Perry Macy said he ain't got a head."

"It is an old soldier and he does have a head."

Timothy's eyes widened. He looked at Cathy. The Locust Man vanished. "You've seen him?"

"I have." She turned to Timothy. "Let's finish this stone. There's something I want to show you."

Cathy took him to the oldest part of the cemetery. No grave robber had bothered to dig there. These bodies had long been decomposed. Some as far back as the Revolutionary war. "I can't take you to him, not for danger of the Locust Man."

"Who?"

"The soldier. He's buried in this cemetery. he fought in the Revolutionary War."

"You know this?"

"He told me."

Timothy looked at his friend, his eyes filled with fear and admiration.

"Plus it ain't hard to tell from his uniform."

"How'd you talk to him if he haunts the bridge?"

"He don't just haunt the bridge. Remember the fall festival last year? I came out here while everyone was doing the cake walk. Something in the air was different. I heard a new song, one I'd heard at the bridge but never so close up."

Timothy shivered and wrapped his arms around his chest.

"It was a sad tune, old and not of this country. Beautiful but sad. I walked out to this old graveyard and saw him coming out of the woods. He was dressed as if the war was still going on, his musket over his shoulder. He was humming. When he saw me, he looked a bit startled but then he bowed, tipping his tall hat in my direction. I smiled back and he introduced himself."

"What's his name?"

"I'll tell you later. Not here. Don't want the Locust Man to hear."

Timothy nodded.

"He told me he'd been guardin' the bridge when a cannon ball took out the part he was standin' on. He fell to the rocks below and died. He didn't leave when the light came. Said he felt he needed to still guard that bridge. He's been there ever since."

"That's a long time to guard a bridge from nothin'."

"How do you know he's guardin' it against nothing?"

"I ain't never seen anything. No bad guys have come in from the woods. No monsters have-"

"How do you know it's not because he's kept them back?"

Timothy didn't have an answer.

Cathy heard the awful sound that accompanied the Locust Man. It drifted over the hill like a mad violinist, skipping through the leaves and playing everything but the right notes. It was shrill and chaotic and made her heart skip a beat. "Come on. Let's go back down. We need to clean off more stones."

"Yeah," Timothy watched as the wind picked up and carried a pile of leaves up and over the hill. They swirled from the forest's edge as if someone had left a door open in the trees and a cold draft was pouring out. "I'd rather be down there anyway, closer to people who are alive."

Cathy looked over her shoulder as they walked back to where Preacher Larry and Aunt Jessica stood. A soldier, dressed in red held up one hand in greeting then peered over the hill, his musket at the ready.

Have a safe and happy Halloween,
Jen

28 October 2009

Fear and How to Use It

We all have things we're afraid of. Me? It's spiders. Sure, most people think they're gross, but I seriously have a phobia. I see a spider bigger than my pinkie toe and I freak out! My husband is well aware that if I suddenly freeze, my eyes go wide and I point with a gaping mouth flapping like a fish flung up out of the deep blue, there's a spider close at hand. I've had to kill a few when home alone and the act sends me into hyperventilation and a mild panic attack. Crazy? Perhaps. But I'm convinced they are the spawn of Satan and come from the eighth level of hell. (PS: you have no idea how hard it was for me to actually google pictures of spiders!)

But enough about that *shudder*; I'm starting to look over my shoulder, half suspecting Shelob or Aragog to appear and haul me off to the Forbidden Forest. What frightens you? It could be something very real, like spiders, the dark, the threat of war or disease. It could be something in your mind: fear of being alone, of never measuring up, of always having to settle for second best. Or it could be completely fantastic. I grew up reading ghost stories and watching spooky movies. Not horror movies mind you; never liked the things. Out of all the ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night, I was terrified of the Headless Horseman. Every year at Halloween, my sister and I, after trick or treating, would settled down in front of the Disney Channel and watch A Disney Halloween. Remember the weird mountain demon from Fantasia? Or how about The Sorcerer's Apprentice? It never failed, toward the end of the program, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow would air. My favorite Halloween tale of all. And yep, every year I would sleep with the light on, convinced I would hear the horseman's gallop underneath my window as he came to claim my head.

You want to know something kind of silly? I'm still a bit scared of him today. I went and saw Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" twice just to prove to myself I was an adult and could handle the old Hessian. It's a legend, right? There's no basis for facts, right? Heck, I live in Georgia, hundreds of miles from the Hudson River Valley. There's no way old headless would gallop all the way down here for my noggin'. Would he?

See where I'm going. We're all afraid of something. And that something can give real zing to our stories. You don't have to write suspense or even murder mysteries to throw in a good fear factor or two. Fear makes our characters appear more real. I enjoy reading about a character who has fears and flaws. I can identify with that because I have plenty of both!

Dredge up an old fear, or use a current one in your story. See what happens when you give it to different characters. Try on different fears, see what works, what doesn't. Perhaps you could try your hand at writing some suspense stories. I have a small collection of them now that I'm hoping to compile into a short story anthology. I find I love writing scary stories. They really creep me out. I work on them and glance over my shoulder, shudder, and keep on typing.

What kind of fears could you use on your characters? Me? I think I have a headless horseman just begging to be put to use. (I don't think I could stomach the spider research!)

Cheers!
Jen

26 October 2009

Monday Musings

"The death of fear is in doing what you fear to do."
~ Sequiche Comingdeer

23 October 2009

Poetry and Lessons in Risk

I had an idea for a writing prompt, to take a line from a favorite poem and use it to create an entirely new poem. Then I remembered: I'm not a poet and I dare not crucify poor Tennyson. So I decided to do something a bit different, still keeping with the poetry theme.

What's your favorite poem? I have several. I love Emily Dickenson; her poems speak to a deeper region of my soul and say what, many times, I cannot. W.B. Yeats has been a favorite since I heard Loreena McKennitt put music to his "The Stolen Child". Ms. McKennitt also introduced me to Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman", Archibald Lampman's "Snow", and Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott". It's perhaps sad that I'd not been familiar with these poets before hearing their words put to music sometime in the late '90s, but the fact remains had it not been for a local pop station playing a strange, ethereal song that consumed me until I discovered the artist's name, it would have taken me years more before I'd delighted in their company.

A lot of McKennitt's music stems from poetry and she weaves a spectacular tapestry of words and melody. Her own lyrics are breathtaking but her ability to take a poem, hundreds of years old and turn it into something meaningful, into something that speaks to this modern woman is magic indeed.

"The Lady of Shalott" wove a tight spell around me from the first moment I heard it. I've secretly longed to sing it myself, though it would require a band of people playing instruments most of the musicians I know in Georgia do not play. It's the story of a maiden, cursed to sit in a tower and never look upon the real world except through a magic mirror, and doomed to weave what she sees in a magic web. "There she weaves both night and day" seeing the world as it passes her by. The people going to and from Camelot. She's been told that should she look down to Camelot a curse would come upon her and she would die. Apparently nothing ever tempted her to look out that one window until she spied Sir Lancelot as he rode down to Camelot. And she did. At a risk to her own life, she decided to follow her heart and see what was out there. She wanted more than security.

Her story, sadly, ends in tragedy. But it is not for this reason I am drawn to her story. My favorite line from the poem. "She left the web, she left the loom - She made three paces through the gloom." I have always thought those words so poetic, so beautiful. And often, I've asked myself, why am I drawn to such a tragic poem?

It's not the tragedy that draws me, it's the promise. The hope. Her hope. You see, how often to I feel as if I'm cursed to sit, day after day, bound to my computer in an office, only watching the world go by through my one little window. I don't see that much of the world, mind you, but it's enough to tantalize and cause and intense longing in my soul. Blue sky and storm clouds, autumn leaves. Sparrows and swallows, stray cats and little green lizards. Living life while I type away, waiting for phones to ring so I can listen to someone complain about what's wrong with their technology. What if I left? What if I left the web (the world wide web??), the loom? Sure, I'd lose my job if I just walked out. But what of the life that is calling to me, beckoning? Dare I take a chance to quit what is secure, what has been deemed "the way it has to be", to follow a dream? There are risks involved. No, I won't have to get into a small boat, scrawl my name upon the prow, and wonder what the curse may bring.

Risk. Safety. Rules. Passion.

How do we make the decision to step away from all that is "safe" into that which has no guarantees, but is beckoning us with such fervor that we either die slowly inside denying it, or jump in, headfirst, and figure it out as we go along? Risk is not something we are raised to take. It's sad, really. There are helmet laws and plastic thing to jab into electrical outlets. And while these are all well and good, putting everyone in a cushy little bubble does damage. Life is not perfect. Things will happen we did not intend. How will we handle it if we've been kept from hurt and risk?

Siddhartha Gautama was a prince. He lived in a opulent palace and was sheltered from the outside world. Cared for by servants, fed the finest foods, given the best gifts, he had it all. Safe. Secure. One day, he decided he wanted to know what was behind the palace walls but his father forbade it. Gautama snuck out one night and was appalled at what he saw. Poverty. Death. Starving children. Sickness. Filth. His father had tried to shelter him from all of this by spoiling him, and any parent would do the same if they could. But I believe all this safety is damaging. Too many people exchange their freedom for security. I for one would much rather take risks and have my freedom, than sacrifice liberty for a comfortable bed and cable television (PS: one can now get this in prison. Think about it.)

Gautama renounced the throne and devoted his life to the poor. You know him today by another name: The Buddha. He took a risk, leaving behind the life of privilege to walk amongst the hurting. Jesus did the same. He left the splendor of Heaven to walk amongst the dying, the sick, the lost. He risked death for something greater.

The Lady of Shalott was tired of watching life pass her by. She took a risk. She paid a heavy price. But ask yourself this: would I rather die in my safe office, my warm bed, in front of a huge television or would I rather get out there, get my hands dirty, invest in my life and the lives of others, risk pain, and hunger, and failure, doing all I can to make sure that when my time comes, I will be totally and utterly spent? I'd much rather die knowing I was completely used up, there was nothing left for me here. I'd rather go out knowing I explored every option, looked behind every rock and leaf. Knowing that I stepped out, took a risk, and found a larger world.

Paces through the gloom. Isn't that what we're here for anyway? To shine a light in dark places. One cannot shine into the dark places, however, until one is willing to leave the light.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Jen

(image found here)

21 October 2009

Imagination Diagnosis

How's your daydream life? That's not one we hear often. Usually people want to know how are you? Are you well? How's your family, the job, the dog, the car? No one asks how your imagination is doing. And why is that, I wonder? Could it be that in our culture, imagination has gone the way of the Dodo, a childish waste of precious time in which we could be earning more money, doing more, hustling and bustling more? Hmmm, something, indeed, to ponder.

I have always had a very vivid and very lucid imagination. I have been known to wander into realms uncharted during meetings, church services, even movies! I can imagine myself away from anywhere at anytime. Growing up, my parents encouraged my imagination. It was like food to me, water. I was awash in the world inside my head. My best friend and I created a whole world in which we were princesses and we rode unicorns and lived in castles by the sea. I've been most everything in my daydreams: an astronaut, a paleontologist, a college history professor, an Egyptologist. Needless to say, my imaginary wanderings tend towards the exotic.

For years I just knew I was going to go away to college and become a famous explorer. The female Indiana Jones, if you will. But, life happened, and to college I went but I have yet to achieve that coveted degree (I did finally settle on a major, by the way. Cultural Anthropology. It's a great excuse to travel, eat weird food and spend days studying mythology!). For years I beat myself up, telling myself I was a loser, a hopeless romantic who could never commit long enough to earn a four year degree, much less a graduate degree. Then I got to thinking: I'm a writer. I have myriad characters rummaging through my brain and they so enjoy trying on my careers of daydreams past. It occurred to me, I have a more than enough fodder for my imaginary friends to take and make their own. With a bit more research (and a whole lot of work) I could have a character in every occupation I've ever had even the most remote interest in.

Actress Jodi Foster once said in an interview that she loved acting because she was able to be everything she'd ever wanted to be growing up. Unless Tim Burton suddenly discovers me standing in line at Starbucks, I doubt I'll be doing any award speeches for the Academy anytime soon. But I have the same opportunity with writing. Career paths, research projects, fascinating stories in the paper, imaginary worlds and mythological creatures all have a role to play. Be it a leading or a supporting part, that which I've dreamed about (and studied) can come in handy in my stories.

What are you most common daydreams? Have you ever thought of using them for your stories, giving your characters the role of biological chemist that you played in your high school fantasies? Think about it. We all carry an enormous amount of knowledge, both imaginary and life-learned. Take some time and mine your vast resources. You'll be amazed at what you come up with. And who knows, you may have a biological chemist inside you just waiting to be born!

Cheers!
Jen

19 October 2009

Monday Musings


"Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young."
~W. Somerset Maugham
Dream a little dream today and work tirelessly to make it come true.
Happy Monday,
Jen
(image found here)

Writing Prompt: Part 2

I learned this weekend that I shouldn't promise a specific time to have something written and posted. I really meant to have this up on Saturday, but my weekends have suddenly gotten shorter. There just never seems to be enough time to do what I need to get done. Why can't we have five days off and work two? Then I could get the really important things done. Ah well...enough about that. Here's my twist on Cinderella. What if she'd met someone else at the party that night instead of the Prince? I hope you don't think it sympathetic dribble. I was in dire need of a happily ever after this morning.

Cinderella stood at the top of the stair case looking down on the crowd of people. The ball was in full swing and she, having to wait on her fairy godmother, had just arrived. No matter; she wasn't that intent on participating. She just wanted to experience it, be there, soak it in. Across the room she saw the Prince. Oh how handsome he looked. Surrounded by women (including her ugly step sisters) he chatted amiably with everyone who approached him. Carefully, she made her way to the floor and swayed as the music struck up a lively waltz.

"Pardon me, Miss," a soft, deep voice caused her to jump. She spun around to find a handsome young man standing next to her.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

"Oh no, it's fine." Cinderella lied. She was hoping to go unnoticed, particularly by her step mother who was directly across from her, eyeing everyone with criticism and judgement.

"I've never seen you before. My name is Henry."

Cinderella dropped a small curtsy, "Pleased to meet you, sir. My name is Cinderella. This is my first visit to the palace."

"Ah, a friend of the dear boys no doubt." His voice sounded a tad bitter and his smile seemed a bit stretched.

"The boy?"

"Ah, Edward, the Prince."

"Oh," Cinderella smiled, shaking her head lightly, "no. I've never met him."

"Really?" Henry cut his eyes across the floor at Prince Edward. His perfect teeth, perfect hair, his natural way with the ladies. Henry had grown up with the Prince and knew him to be a nice enough gentleman but a terrible flirt and a dreadful conversationalist. Prince Edward had no use for literature and science. He would rather flit about on hunting parties and make appearance at his mother's dinner parties. "I thought Edward knew all the dashing young ladies."

Cinderella felt her face flush at his compliment.

"May I have this dance?" Henry asked with a gallant bow.

"Um..." Cinderella again looked at her step mother. The woman saw her, narrowed her eyes then bobbed her head as if out of forced courtesy and continued her surveillance of the room. She doesn't recognize me! Cinderella's heart gave a little leap.

"I would be honored, sir."

Cinderella and Henry danced several dances. They laughed and talked, Henry telling her he was on holiday, staying at a little country manor and would love for her to come by and meet his mother. Cinderella kept information about herself at a minimum, telling him only that she lived nearby in a grand cottage her father had left to her when he'd passed away.

"That's dreadful! And you live there all alone?"

"No. My step mother and step sisters live with me. She, my step mother, manages the estate."

"I see," Henry had noticed how Cinderella kept glancing over at the imposing woman in the corner. "And your step mother, she governs everyone? The servants, the staff?"

"You might say that." Cinderella hadn't the heart to tell him there were no servants save herself. Her step mother had blown the inheritance Cinderella's father had left for her. It and the estate were to go to Cinderella on her eighteenth birthday. However, there was no more money, and her step mother certainly wouldn't give up the only luxury she had left: a home and a slave.

"Tell me," Henry said with a glance down at the lovely young lady, "who is that woman you keep watching?"

"What woman?" Cinderella feigned ignorance.

"That one. Just there."

Cinderella swallowed the lump in her throat. She couldn't lie to him. No matter what he may do, Henry was a kind and handsome gentleman and she owed him the truth. Lying never brought about good in the end. "That is my step mother," Cinderella sighed. "She doesn't know I'm here."
"Really?"

"She doesn't recognize me...like this."

Henry suddenly became very aware of the scars on her hands, the deep lines of worry that etched her otherwise beautiful face. The way Cinderella cringed every time the sneering woman's eyes raked across the dance floor in her direction. Henry discreetly guided them to the balcony, out the French doors, and out of prying eyes.

"You must be frank with me," he suddenly laughed, "I do beg your pardon! I don't even know your name!"

Cinderella again curtsied, a habit she'd been trained at when someone of higher rank spoke to her. "My name is Cinderella, sir."

"Please, you must stop this 'sir' business. A lady such as yourself-"

"I am no lady, sir." She sighed. "Perhaps, I should have been, but I try not to linger on that which cannot be changed."

"Cinderella," Henry guided her to the railing. "I implore you to tell me, your step mother, does she mistreat you?"

"Mistreat me?" Cinderella's hands began to shake, "Why, I...that is to say she..."

Henry took her hands in his, "The scars on your hands are hardly befitting a lady of an estate."

Be it moonlight, the music, or the kind sincerity in Henry's eyes, Cinderella could hold it in no longer. She collapsed onto a metal bench and sobbed. Henry sat next to her, awkward, thankful no one came onto the balcony.

"I'm sorry," Cinderella sniffed. "I'm terribly sorry. It's just been so long since anyone cared!"

Cinderella told him everything, how her father had married after her mother's death, how her step mother had treated her well until her father's death, how she was to inherit but instead was now a pauper, doomed to serve the woman who could have been her mother but hated her and turned her two daughters against their beautiful step sister.

Henry listened, nodding once or twice, but did not interrupt. When she finally finished, he handed her a handkerchief and asked, "Tell me then, if you are forced to serve, how is it that you came to this ball tonight?"

To this Cinderella only laughed. The clock on the bell tower struck 11:30. "If I told you, you
would most certainly not believe me. Know that out of all the people in all the world, there is a...a godmother, whom I just learned of this night, who cares for me. She has enabled me this one night of pleasure. I must, however, return by midnight. Those are her stipulations. For if I am gone longer, my step mother will surely find out."

"You cannot go back there!" Henry stood, his eyes fiery. "You cannot go back to that dreadful woman."

"Oh but I must! If I don't she'll..."

"She'll what? I'll be hanged if I see that woman harm you further! You are to return with me this evening. My mother will receive you warmly. She has retired to our country house."

"Oh no!" Cinderella tried to pull away but Henry kept his hand firmly gripped around hers.

"I will not take no for an answer."

"But you don't understand! If I don't' return..."

"She'll think you've run off. She'll send out the cavalry and pretend to care that you're missing only intending to treat you worse if you are found."

"But-" Cinderella looked anxiously at the clock tower.

"No buts. Come with me."

She had no choice but to comply. With her free hand, she lifted her dress and hurried behind Henry, no letting go of his hand unless she lose her nerve. What of her fairy godmother's warning? That the illusion of ladyship would be lost at midnight? Henry knew the truth. She would have to trust to his kindness for a bit longer. Then, all would be made known. If he shunned her when the truth was before his face, she would hurry back home and be no worse off than before. Deep down, however, she knew that wasn't true. She had grown fond of Henry in those few hours spent dancing. She'd enjoyed his company and appreciated his willingness to listen and his earnest questioning. Henry helped Cinderella to step into his carriage. They practically flew over the cobbled streets and into the dark night out past the reach of the castle lights. Cinderella was anxious and twisted her gloves in her hands for fear of what may occur once the clock struck twelve. Finally they arrived. The manor before her was enormous, stretching for a great distance in either direction. She could tell by the light of the moon it sat upon splendid grounds and a large, dense forest loomed behind it. The coach man helped her down and then Henry helped her to the door.

"Oh," Cinderella exclaimed as one of the glass slippers became lodged by the heel in one of the stones of the drive.

Henry bent down and plucked it from the stones, "Your slipper, my lady." He slipped it back on her dainty foot.

"Now, to my mother. She'll know just what to do!"

Cinderella allowed Henry to lead her into the house, lit by a hundred candles. Into a large library where crackling fire and the smell of tea and fresh baked cakes greeted her. She shivered when she saw the clock. It was five minutes until midnight. What would happen? Was her godmother aware of what was happening?

Suddenly, a familiar voice broke her thoughts and Cinderella spun around out of shock.

"Hello my dear! I did hope Henry would find you and bring you back."

Her eyes wide with wonder, Cinderella stared at her fairy godmother. "Godmother?" She whispered.

With a wink, the older woman went to her, arms outstretched. She led Cinderella to a chair beside the fire. "Yes, my dear, I have been watching you for some time. You father and my husband were dear friends. For years I have wanted to intervene but could find no way to penetrate the heavy walls that Cinderella's step mother had built.

"But how? I don't understand!"

Henry entered the room with a wrap and draped it over Cinderella's shoulders.

"Mother has been telling me of your plight for some time." He admitted. "I had half a mind to dash in and storm the castle, so to speak. I knew you wouldn't remember me. We used to play together when you were young, before your step mother's iron grip took you away from the world."

"You knew?" Cinderella looked aghast. "Then why ask me? Why feign interest?"

"Feign interest?" Henry strode to the fire place and stoked it viciously with the poker, "My dear, I had to know for certain if it was you and if my fears were founded on fact! When I saw you watching your step mother with hooded eyes, I knew my suspicions were clear. I had no intention of deceiving you but you had to tell me everything, you had to ask for help."

"Why? I mean, I never did ask for help."

"Didn't you?" he smiled down at his mother sitting across the room. "Your pouring out of your anguish was a plea if ever I heard one. Mother told me if you told me the truth, I was to bring you here before midnight."

"Midnight!" Cinderella gasped and looked at the clock. She looked down at her lovely ballgown. Indeed it had turned back into the rags she's been wearing. She felt her head and there was the cloth that she kept tied about her forehead, her golden curls tamed by the dirty piece of cloth. But there, on her feet, remained the two glass slippers. With tears in her eyes, she looked at her godmother, at Henry.

"How can I ever repay you?"

"Stay with me," her godmother said. "Be my companion. Henry is often away, on official business you see. He is hoping soon to retire to the country an lead a more relaxed life then what he is afforded in London."

"But what of your job in London? Surely you are needed there." Cinderella asked.

Henry laughed, a joyful, hearty, contagious laugh that could not help but be smiled at. "My dear girl, I don't have a job in town. I run this estate as well as several others. I am constantly on official business for my aunt, the Queen. You see, my mother is the Duchess of York. I, am Sir Henry of York."

"Duchess!" Cinderella exclaimed. Her godmother smiled.

"Yes." Sir Henry explained, "The Prince is my cousin. That is why I was invited. I would not have gone had my mother not implored me for your sake."

Cinderella's eyes filled with tears. "But what of my step mother and sisters? What will become of them?"

"They will be consumed by their own greed and corruption. Without you, the home your father built will fall in around them. They will be forced to sell. And I, benevolent neighbor that I am, shall buy it from them, at a reduced price, and send them on their way. The home will again be yours, child. For as long as you wish to keep it."

Cinderella forgot herself completely and flew across the room to her godmother. She engulfed the old lady in a hug and sobbed lightly on her shoulder. Henry stood behind watching, a smile on his face, knowing that finally, the girl he'd always loved was safe at last.

The End
(image found here)