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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)

16 October 2009

Writing Prompt

Rewrite a scene from a classic fairy tale. Be creative, be inventive; don't be afraid to turn the tale on its head! Stumped? Ask yourself "what if?". What if Sleeping Beauty had never slept? What if Cinderella met and fell in love with another man at the ball instead of the Prince? What if Little Red Riding Hood wore yellow instead? Be Grimm (or not). Just have fun! I'll be posting mine tomorrow.

Have a wonderful weekend and keep those keyboards clacking :)
Jen

(I found this amazing image here along with an intersting post on the original Grimm's tales.)

14 October 2009

Putting Your Life to Work


Monday I posted a wonderful quote by (and a fabulous portrait of) Oscar Wilde. Experience is something we all have and none of us got it off a silver platter. Good, bad, ugly experience is what happens in life. In fact, we could go so far as to call it life. If we aren't experiencing anything, we aren't living!

As writers, we feed off experience, our own and that of others. Countless books are out there written out of the depths of some one's joy or sorrow, from tragedy or triumph. Many times I look at these books and think, "If I was able to travel to Tahiti, go back to school, drop off the grid for seven years, I, too would have a published book." Sadly, it is true that those with the most sensational story do capture the publisher's eye.

That being said, don't be dissuaded you from your own stories. I may not have lived the adventurous life I dreamed of and longed for as a child (yet, at any rate), but I have had many experiences in my thirty two years that have potential for story making. Some are unbelievable, some are hilarious, others are tragic or down right boring. However, they all make up the rich tapestry that is my life.

No matter where you are in life, no matter where you're going, you have a story to tell. "But I don't WANT to write about living in the middle of no where and working as a receptionist who dreams of traveling to Egypt and discovering a forgotten Pharaoh's tomb!" you may whine (or was that me?). Well, no, I don't see much in that plot line. But what I do see is valuable insights into life that can be used in the telling of a story. Then again, maybe you could write about a receptionist who DOES travel to Egypt and discovers a forgotten tomb.

See where I'm going with this? We don't all wake up every morning to sip champagne and chat with literary giants over crumpets and Earl Grey (we can't all be Oscar Wilde). What we can do is sift through our memories, through the vast storehouses of life past and present and unearth some gems that our characters could benefit from. Some may glisten like diamonds. Others may take a bit of polishing. You may find a few lumps of coal. Give them enough pressure and they'll shine eventually. If nothing else, toss them into the fire and keep your hands warm as you scratch out those tales.

Use what you have. Write what you know. Take your unique voice and your most mundane day to day and turn it into something beautiful. And remember: most of your readers can't identify with riding camels in the Sahara. What they can relate to is honesty and a new way of looking at something they see everyday. Even a grocery cart could spark a story. Especially if you use them to play bumper cars with in the parking lot! (Disclaimer: I do not advocate destruction of public property in the name of storytelling. IF it happens, however, completely accidental of course, then by all means put it in! Just remember to change names to protect the guilty-er-innocent ;) Who on earth would play bumper cars with a grocery cart anyway. . .

Cheers!
Jen
(Day Dreaming by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image found here)

12 October 2009

Monday Musings

"Experience is one thing you can't get for nothing." ~ Oscar Wilde
(image found here)

10 October 2009

Prompt and Circumstance (part the second)

*picture of Noah Webster found here. And yes, there's a good reason he looks so disgusted. He read my definitions!

How did you do? Were you able to find a dictionary? I dug mine out and discovered I own three, one which is over fifty years old.
Below are my ten words and the definitions I made up

esprit de corps - (french) the spirit of a recently found dead body that hovers around the scene of a crime seeking the help of a mortal in solving their murder and crossing over to the other side

lavaliere - the cloth in a lavatory used to wash ones face and hands before a meal
plantar - an instrument from 3rd century Bhutan; ancestor to the modern Guitar

platen - used to describe a surface which has been plated with either silver or bronze

psittacosis - a highly contagious disease caused by too much sitting; can be spread by being in the same room as one who is infected

ytterbium -a mineral found in the Swiss Alps which can conduct static electricity

zeolite - someone who is passionate about a certain cause but not so much as a zealot

zuccheto - Italian for "little zucchini"; used in piano music to indicate short, rapid movements on the keys, heavier and longer than staccato

wickiup - term used to signify the start of a game of horseback crochet

serology - the study of serrated knives

And now, the real definitions

esprit de corps - a spirit of enthusiasm and devotion to a common cause among a group

lavaliere - a pendant that is worn on a chain around the neck

plantar - of, relating to, or located on the sole of the foot

platen - a flat metal plate that holds the paper against the type in a printing press (do I get
points because my definition had to do with metal?:)

psittacosis - a viral disease of parrots and related birds that is transmissible to humans (I was right about the disease part)

ytterbium - a soft, bright, silvery rare-earth element (ha! I knew it was a type of mineral!)

zeolite - any of a group of hydrous aluminum silicate minerals or their corresponding synthetic compounds, used especially as molecular filters and ion-exchange agents

zuccheto - a small skullcap worn by ecclesiastics

wickiup -a temporary dwelling used by certain nomadic American Indians, consisting of a frame hut covered with matting, bark, or brushwood

serology - the medical science dealing with serums

Ok! So, now we know I'd make a terrible linguist. But I had fun! And I invented a new way of looking at some very odd words. Come to think of it, no one would really know if I used them correctly or not. I kind of like my definitions :) Maybe I'll try them out in a sentence and see if anyone catches me at my game ;) Anyone else play along? I'd love to see how you did. Don't be shy! There's no way you were worse than me.

Happy weekend,
Jen

09 October 2009

Prompt and Circumstance (part the first)


It's Friday!

"...and the angels burst forth into a riotous rendition of the 'Hallelujah' chorus, turtle doves rise to the rafters and suddenly I stand atop a hill, arms open wide, spinning as the camera pans a 360 around my rapturous, upturned face..."

...then I'm back in the office typing on this ergonomically incorrect keyboard. Ah well, a few seconds of magic anyway.

Looking for something creative to do today? Bored? Stabbing needles into your Writer's Block voodoo doll? I love writing prompts. I collect them (as you shall soon see) and thought it fun to share them. What good are a bunch of prompts lying about if I don't use them and encourage others to frolic among the wide open fields of my self-professed insanity? If you've got a minute or three, try this:

Grab a dictionary (yes, a REAL one. Dictionary.com won't help you here!) and open it at random. Choose ten words, ones you've never heard of and jot them down. They can be on ten random pages or all on the first page you open to. Here's the catch: don't look at the definition! Write the words down, several lines in between, and close the dictionary. Now, what do YOU think these words mean? Invent your own definitions for these words. Once you're finished, check back with old Mr. Webster and see how close (or how far off) you were. Care to share? I'll be posting my own dictionary rompings this evening. Check back for a sure run in with hilarity!

Have a wonderful weekend!
Jen
(photo link)

07 October 2009

This Writing Life


On Monday, I quoted the brilliant Mark Twain. In searching for a quote for that post, my eyes sought out something inspiring, something that would prove a kick in the derriere, something to get my creative writing juices flowing again (onto the page and not down my chin...). Instead, I got something infinitely wiser.

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions."

Hmmm, how many times have I uttered, in a fit of fluttering excitement, about my new project, my query letter edits, or the fact my finished trilogy has more pages than most people's personal libraries only to have someone look at me and say, "Hn. That's nice."? OK, perhaps not in so many words, but you know what I'm talking about. There are those who root for us, cheer us on, tell us "good job" and "wow! that's great!". Those are our cheerleaders, our "hurrah" corner. We need these people. They make us feel invincible, as if we could do no wrong on page or otherwise. There are those who lovingly (if not firmly) critique our work, forcing us to take a good, hard look at what we've done. Making us take out the dreaded red pen, pair of scissors, freshly sharpened sword and chop out the dead wood, the extraneous adjectives and superfluous descriptions. We hate them, for the time being, but we know they mean well. We wipe up the tears, the snot, and get to hacking. They are our editors, our mentors, our guides and writing parents. We love them, loathe them, would die without them.

Then there are The Others (no, not spirits who haunt our houses and creep under stairs). Those people who can't be happy for anyone, who are more than glad to "Debbie Downer" every speck of sunshine you try to let in. They stuff sandpaper in the holes in the curtains. Dark, dank, gloomy, miserable. And sad. So sad. Perhaps they're jealous of the fact you have a calling and they have yet to find theirs. Or, perhaps they know their calling and are angry that you had to guts to step out of the boat and give it a little rock. According to dear Mr. Twain, they are small. They want you to be small because it makes them comfortable. Step out, succeed, even if it's just to finish a novel but never get it published, and they are uncomfortable. They don't like success because they know they have potential but fail to use it. Why could this be? Because it IS uncomfortable, hard, frightening, and, sometimes, excruciating to follow your dreams.

Everyone dreams, everyone has visions of greatness, be it stay at home mom-hood or rock star status. To dream is easy; everyone does it. Even dogs dream. It takes guts, and a certain amount of insanity, to actually go after those dreams. They don't make sense, they seem impossible, they aren't practical. So what? Great people don't settle for the bottom of the barrel just because it's safe and comfortable. Great people start climbing and the truly great don't stop until they reach the top, look over the side and grin because they see another, larger mountain to scale. At each trek, they find others who settled, who will only be satisfied if you pitch your tent permanently with them. But they'll also find more cheerleaders, more stalwart mentors.

You may lose some friends, you may make some "enemies", but climb you must! There will always be those who are climbing beside you. Seek them out, follow them and lift them higher. Allow them to reach down and pull you up when you need it. Because "the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great". And when you do become great, it will be your turn to help someone else make that climb (just don't be too brutal with the red pen :)

Cheers!
Jen

05 October 2009

Welcome Back!!

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." ~ Mark Twain
Hello my dear readers!

While it was nice to take a break from posting, it's great to be back! I've missed you all! I value the connections my blogs have brought me and more than ever I want to cultivate those relationships. Down time is necessary for the creative process, this we know. It helps us relax and refresh. Taking a step back allows our muse some well needed R & R while giving us a chance to breathe. It also refreshes our ideas and gets our creative juices flowing! I realized these past two weeks that I have more ideas than I know what to do with! That, however, is not going to prevent me from doing my darnedest to get them all out there in the great wide open! This will take some time, but with a little (LOT) of patience and a wee bit of luck, I'm certain it will come to pass.

How have you all been? Anything new and noteworthy? I hope no one was terribly affected by the flooding we had here in Georgia. Where I live, we got a bit of rain and some thunder but not much else. I had no idea until I went into work that there had been torrential and devastating floods a hour north of us. Here's hoping all you fellow Georgians are safe and dry.

I took a writing break in conjunction with my blogging sabbatical. It was much needed. I've been burnt out with working longer hours and moving, trying to get everything in "The Manor" situated and giving ourselves some semblance of home to establish in our foggy minds that yes, we DID move and yes, we ARE home! I sorted through all my writing files, folders, notebooks and napkin scribblings and have established a reasonable amount of order to it all. After a mild anxiety attack over the sheer volume of ideas, I pulled out six files that contain the beginnings of the stories I feel the most connection to. Those will be the stories I begin hammering and sawing at over the course of the next few months, seeing what works, what doesn't, and what's just begging to be born! As for the trilogy, it's had a nice rest, but I'll be shaking it awake this week. The query had been edited and now I must bite the bullet, get an agent attack strategy, and enter those darn edits into my computer. Won't THAT be an undertaking! (Just nod...if you could see these manuscripts in all their printed out glory, you'd probably commit me to an institution. At the very least you'd inform the National Arbor Day Foundation that I'm responsible for the decimation of at least 300 acres of forest!)

I've updated the look and feel to all three of my blogs and I do hope you'll hop over for a visit. You'll find their links on the side bar. I also removed the Google Ads from all of my blogs. They weren't doing much besides lending a commercial air to my blogs. NOT what I wanted! Let me know what you think! I'll be adhering to a new posting schedule, so look for more frequent posts and more pictures :)

Yes sir, dear readers, I'm certainly branching out! (see picture above; pun intended :)

Happy Monday and (oh yeah!!) Happy October!
Jen
PS: I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your patience and continued kindness as I dropped away from the blogsphere. Cheers! You all deserve a day off. Go on, tell 'em I said so!