Monthly Archives: July 2013

A first encounter

The girl stood cold in the rain, two rabbits dangling from the twine twixt her fingers. The boy had fire but hadn’t eaten in days – she’d watched him closely. This could be mutually beneficial. But what if he took her back to that place? What if he was dangerous? Her stomach growled in response. It was a risk she’d have to take.

She stepped forward from the treeline, allowing the muted glow of the fire to wash over her. Slowly stepping forth, she rose the hand that held the rabbits to make her offer: food for fire. The boy – was he a boy? His hair looked white, like an old person’s – lifted his eyes. His long fingers were already resting on the hilt of his dagger. She gulped but continued her slow approach.

Once she reached the dry edge of the cave, she raised her left hand to signal that she meant no harm. She had no weapons anyway, having abandoned everything at the outcrop; but he didn’t know that. Still she approached, until she reached the edge of the fire. There she stopped, fully extending her right arm to offer up the rabbits. The heat felt so good on her skin she knew she’d cry if he turned her away; or worse yet, die. Their eyes were locked, unblinking, in an intense gaze meant to size up the other person.

His eyes were large with heavy lids and silvery blue Irises. His cheeks, gaunt from hunger, only served to enhance the wildness of the look. Most of him was covered in that tattered blanket she’d seen him with, but she already knew that his figure and frame would not be of too much threat to her at this point. He was too weak. Being armed, however, could easily give him an advantage. The dagger he had was in hand, she could assume the sword was nearby. It was essential she not threaten him and make it obvious that she intended no foul play. She couldn’t be sure that her rain-soaked, shivering body would have the strength or energy to dodge an attack.

She had eyes the color of a dark stormy sky and a look just as threatening. She was thin – probably as hungry as he was – and appeared to have no equipment on her at all, not even shoes. He tried not to imagine the taste and smell of those rabbits as he searched her features. The shape of her eyes and unique coloring of her skin gave her an exotic look, but he would guess she was only a few years younger than himself. Only a child – but children could be dangerous, if underestimated. Around one ankle was an iron clasp and the skin underneath looked bloody and raw. Escaped, he figured; but from where? She was the only one he’d heard in these woods, aside from the two idiots he’d encountered a few days ago. All in all he summed her up as a ferocious spirit but, like himself, a weak and starving body. He made up his mind.

The boy’s eyes flicked to the rock next to him, an offer to sit. She heaved a sigh of relief, quickly rounded the fire, sat, and began untying the rabbits to make their meal.

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Creative Something #7

We drove down the dark highway. Stars twinkled in the sky above, far from the light pollution of the city. The occasional lit-up billboard slowly approached, advertised the adult XXX warehouse at the next exit (in 200 m.), then passed in an instant. The neon blue and red lights of the dashboard illuminated our faces in the silence of the car. The only sound was the wind rushing by our windows. Peaceful, comfortable quiet.

In a few miles, we’d reach our destination. Our stomachs were hungrier than we could wait, so we stopped at a roadside Denny’s. I ordered pancakes. I love pancakes. They’re the perfect breakfast food. Someone told me they don’t really have them in Europe, that they eat meat and cheese there for breakfast – sometimes yogurt. I resolved never to visit Europe. Who doesn’t eat pancakes?

We both finished with a cup of coffee and I marveled at the stereotypical diner mugs it was served in. They’re always quite thick and a bit squat, ranging from grayish-beige to 70’s-brown in color. The quintessential coffee mug, I think. I should find some for my next apartment.

She paid, we left. Just a few more miles to go. I try not to think about it.

We wound our way through a residential neighborhood. I enjoy looking into people’s’ homes at night, so that’s what I did. Lights on, curtains open revealed varying styles of decor and family scenes. Most people were watching TV together. One family sat at a dinner table, with the mother (I presumed) bringing out a steaming casserole dish from the kitchen – she was even wearing an apron. How 1950’s.

Would I ever have a family? Who would cook? I’m a terrible cook. I also don’t really want children. This world is a scary place. There’s a lot of good in it, don’t get me wrong, but I see too much of its horrible side to feel confident about introducing new innocence to the scene. No, I decided. These picture-window snapshots I was admiring were never going to be my life. I wasn’t sure if that made me feel relieved or melancholy.

She took a left out of the subdivision and followed the main road for a while. The shops were all closed, giving the town the feeling of being asleep from its very bricks up. Street lights illuminated the tired eyes of store fronts. Everything slept soundly, which was such a comforting feeling.

Right onto Bethel.

Pass three streets on the left, arrive at the stop sign. Turn left.

I noted that the Cummingses needed to mow their lawn, but Mrs. Henshaw’s rose bushes looked spectacular. Aleisha must be out of town – her mailbox had been full for three days now. I’ll check it for her in the morning and put it in the basket by her door. No need for people to make her a target.

Fourth driveway on the right. That’s me.

She pulled in and let the car idle. I slung my bag over my shoulder, thanked her for the ride, and went in to wash the blood off my hands.

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Pain for Pleasure

When we feel awful, the comforting things in life seem all the softer, all the cooler, all the more… well, comforting. I’m not sure if it’s that way all the time – I suspect it’s not – but so it is for me at the moment. Something I ate has come back to haunt me, leaving me a miserable fetus upon the bed. It’s not the worst I’ve ever felt, but it’s most certainly the opposite of enjoyable. Yet through the cramping and the nausea, I’m able to find utter pleasure in the tactile sensations of things around me.

It’s as if my body is compromising an apology. You must feel as though you’re in the throws of death as I purge this vile substance, it says. Sorry; but to make up for it, I’ll enhance the wonderful things around you.

The cat’s fur feels softer and fluffier. If he’d let me, I’d just run my fingers through his coat over and over and over. After a while of that, though, I get a warning nip at the digits and a rather ticked off glare. His weight pressed against me also feels quite lovely. He doesn’t quite sit on me, but he lays next to me then leans against my body. It’s a very pleasant and comforting feeling – even more so than usual.

It’s also raining out and we’ve got all the windows cracked for a breeze. The air is cool and sweet as it gently wisps in. (I’ve never thought to describe air as ‘sweet’ before, but this evening I finally understand what other writers mean with this attribute.) The soft licks I feel on my arms and neck are like medicine to the weary corpse they caress. Even the soft skin of my shirtless partner, his arm rubbing my back, feels like the most pleasurable sensation in the world.

Sometimes, I suppose, it takes pain to make one savor the pleasure of life.

And isn’t this often a theme for the characters we write? Great adversity strengthens character and resolve, forces a protagonist to grow and develop. When companions die, our heroes often begin to cherish those around them even more (unless they become embittered, of course). Suddenly, in the face of loss, what we do have increases in value. The flip side to this, of course, tends to lead us to our villains or antiheroes; from loss stems hatred, revenge, numbness, apathy, seclusion and/or distance.

I recently commented that the best villains, in my opinion, are those you can empathize with. Those who had perfectly normal childhoods, or at least no (or very limited) mental illness, but simply failed to cope with the struggles of life. Instead of letting go of the pain and anguish they experienced, they harbored it and let it fester. Eventually, they became the villain they are because their anguish completely distorted the facts around them. Tragic, but they’ve taken their torment too far and begun inflicting their pain on others. You empathize, but still want to see them fall.

I also prefer heroes who don’t always handle conflict well. “More often than not” is much more human than “flawless”, and much less boring.

Thank you, dear belly ache, for helping provide such realizations.

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What makes a good love story?

My head hurts.

I’ve had a beer or two.

It’s late.

I had just sat down to eek out some words earlier when I got a message from a friend, asking if my partner and I were coming to a celebration tonight. Since we’d just sat down to dinner, the logical answer at the time was ‘no’. However, it was a celebration to see a friend who had hopped an ocean to come visit. We were upset that we hadn’t been notified sooner, but I wasn’t going to let that stop our fun. My partner was a little less agreeable. We still enjoyed ourselves immensely and got to spend time with some people we hadn’t seen in a long while – catch up, laugh, and enjoy some good beer and good company. The only trouble is that now I have to write.

What do I write about?

The idea flitting around my head right now is, “What makes a good love story?”

One of the blogs I’m following has been making several posts lately about “What do you look for in…” a number of different characters, environments, and scenarios. I really enjoy these posts because they really get me thinking. Often I get an idea and decide it sounds good to me, then just run with it. I don’t often stop to think about what elements really make a something good. This should be remedied.

Perhaps due to the mood of the evening or perhaps due to the point I’m at in my current story, the topic currently at the top of my mind is love stories. An oft over-used tale is the one of fate. Two star-crossed lovers who, love or hate one another upon first meeting, are destined to wind up together by the end. I’ve gone this direction in the past, but now I question the romance that actually goes into it. Isn’t it more special if, out of anyone in the world, you choose someone?

There are lots of tropes out there for romance – childhood friends that meet again as adults, some guy defeating the “friend-zone” by virtue of always being around.. particularly after being contrast with a complete jerk, etc. I’m sure you can think of a few. It’s really hard to come up with something that’s truly unique. However, even if your story houses a romance about a low-born governess who falls for her wealthy employer, there are ways to make your story stand out from the rest. I often think this comes from the depth of the characters (and the environment they’re in) themselves. If you write truly engaging and complex characters in an environment that hasn’t been done over a thousand times, your story will stand out – in my opinion. They devil’s in the details, is it not?

A convincing romance for me has a good hook, in which the writer actually reminds you of those blushing moments from your own experience. It also has a conflict that must be overcome, forcing the characters to grow as a couple, as well as individuals. Furthermore, both characters must be believably interested in one another. I don’t often buy into the stories where one character gives up all their vices, without looking back, because he or she has fallen for someone “pure”. I like characters who have vices.

What do you think makes a good love story?

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Paltry

Today’s word is one I’ve seen used a lot lately. I don’t use it often enough, so I thought I’d practice with it today.

paltry (adj.) – small or meager; trivial; inferior or petty; mean.

Example: She picked up her paltry wages after the day’s shift, hoping it would be enough to cover the rent that was already late this month.

It had been a paltry trick, letting him take the fall like that. Stepping into the bright sunlight from the shadow of the doorway, Gregor looked on the world with a new vigor. Things were going to be different for him now, he resolved.

He looked left, then right. There was nothing but road for miles. The sun beat down hard on the line of asphalt that stretched through the desert. The horizon even had those visible waves of heat that rippled through the air, like brush strokes left by God. It reminded him of some of the paintings he’d seen pictured in the magazines Sampson kept in the library. It was hot.

He rummaged in his pocket for the cash he’d come in with all those years ago, pulling out a paltry stash of coins, some lint, and a couple of dollar bills that looked like they’d been through the wash. Damn. This new life was already presenting some challenges, and it was only going to get harder from here. Well, no need to get down about things so soon. No one said this was going to be easy.

And with that in mind, he started walking. He wasn’t sure which direction the nearest town would be or what he’d do once he got there, but he was content to take things one step at a time for now – literally.

Gregor started humming to pass the time. He had never been much of a singer but he fancied himself a pretty good hummer, if there was such a thing. The tune of the moment was Folsom Prison Blues, by Johnny Cash. He’d thought it appropriate given the setting he’d just left. It was also pretty quick in tempo, which helped him keep a good walkin’ pace. After about an hour or so, the pep was gone from his step though and he started to wonder why he’d thought it a good idea to try to walk all this way. Sweat dripped from the forehead that was surely red by now. Only a paltry number of cars had passed and there hadn’t been so much as a mile marker to indicate he was actually making progress. It began to feel like it was just him, the dessert, and his songs. He considered trying to hitch, but who would stop to pick up someone like him?

Then, almost as if the Lord had heard this thought, a car passed, slowed, then stopped at the edge of the road. By the time Gregor reached it, the passenger side window was rolled down. He leaned down so the driver could see his cherry face and look of surprise, unsure of what to say.

The driver was a handsome man, in a pretty way. With his slim figure, neatly trimmed hair, clean shave and bright white smile he reminded Gregor of the men who’d served in World War II – back when all men seemed to be trim, dapper, and boyish. The man’s eyes seemed to actually twinkle as he smiled – must’ve been the heat.

“You look like you could use a ride, stranger!” the driver beamed.

Gregor nodded, adding with skepticism, “Just got out, though.” He thumbed over his shoulder in the direction of the prison he’d walked from, “You okay with takin’ an ex-convict?”

He prepared himself for the uneasy look of someone who didn’t want to be rude, but also valued their safety. Instead, he was met with the same unfaltering smile he’d seen before his honesty.

“Sir, I leave the judging up to the Lord… and I’d hate to hear what he’d think of me if I left a brother out in this heat to walk only He knows how far,” he leaned over to open the passenger’s door for Gregor. “Now, where ya headed?”

That was when Gregor met Hargrave – a day he’d not soon forget.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane

“I laughed, cried, hated, loved… I felt comforted and nostalgic. Also, I recommend you read it with this: http://amandapalmer.net/blog/20130618/

Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This is the review I posted on GoodReads. It’s the first, and so far only, review I’ve published there. Normally I just rate what I’ve read and move on. Most of the time I don’t even like rating the stories. They give you a scale of 1 to 5 stars, and that’s not how I read things. I judge books based on the impact they have on me, which I find difficult to convert to quantitative marks. So I reserve the five-star designation for works I would read again. Three stars receives the mental label, “It was well done in some fashion, but perhaps not my preference.” I have no idea what I consider four stars, and anything below three is just a ranking of how awful I considered something. I gave The Ocean at the End of the Lane five.

On Appearance

Of course, you’re not supposed to just a book by its cover… but I feel they did an excellent job with the construction of this novel. I genuinely appreciate the work that went into it aesthetically. The entire look of the book is centered on water, which is important to the story within; and the images on the front and back even offer a bit of foreshadowing. The texture of the dust cover is my favorite part, I think; followed closely by the tattered look that was given to the pages inside. It’s literally rough around the edges, as the pages are purposefully frayed and uneven. It sounds cliché to say it – I’m going to anyway – but that’s a bit like life, isn’t it? It also gives the feel of pages haphazardly shoved into place by a child; appropriate since it is a book centers on childhood. The only downside I experienced was that the pages were a bit hard to turn, as I have a tendency to turn from the side rather than plying pages from the top.

Story: What I Liked

We never know the protagonist’s name and it’s not missed. It’s written in first person, which I think makes this a little easier to do. However, it  wasn’t until I’d finished the book and sat down to mull it over that I realized how little I knew about this boy. You’re right there with him, experiencing this all, sucked into his childhood… and yet, he had somehow become less important than the people around him. You’re not left wanting for a name, either. If his mother had called him Neil or he’d introduced himself as Simon, it would have immediately distinguished character from reader. I think the magic of the book comes from being able to place yourself in his shoes.

The Hempstocks. They provided the ‘comfort’ I mentioned in the review, and I think that the image I’ve formed of their kitchen is now inextricably linked with that word in my mind.

Honestly I could go on, but I’d just end up itemizing the entire book for you. Let’s suffice to say I thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing.

What I Didn’t Like

Not knowing. The ending is not a neatly tied bow, which I both like and dislike. (I have a hard time finding anything negative to say about this novel.) It’s meant to be this way, as the book wasn’t written just to tell a story… it was written to explain something. When viewed as that, it’s easy to accept. My imagination goes wild, however, wanting to know more… This is good. I think it’s the sign of a good book – I didn’t want it to end! But all stories must come to a close, especially those still being written.

What’s it about?

Being human. Struggles that come from glimpsing the darkness in the world. Childhood. Magic. Reassurance. Feeling as though we must do something worthwhile in our lives to make it “worth” all the sacrifices of the past. Nostalgia.

Could be a blend of any of those or none at all. On the surface, it’s about a man who returns home for a reason and stops to visit a place from his childhood. While there, he remembers something long forgotten. We get to share in that memory, which is both comforting and terrible. The tale is described as ‘elegiac’ on the inside cover, which I think is apt.

The book is not long, only 180 pages. I suggest you read it.

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The Traveller

There’s no point in trying to remember when this all started, or how. What matters is that it’s happening now.

My life isn’t a continuous series of events running from birth to death. I’ve been all over the globe and seen history, as I was taught it, in the making. I’ve met people I’ve never seen before who know me by name, and I’ve encountered people that I know who don’t recognize me at all. My time just isn’t the same as everyone else’s time. At some point I came into this world, the same old-fashioned way everyone else has: from between my mother’s legs. The difference is that I’ve lived before that time, and I’ve lived long after I should be dead. I’ve even encountered some people I’m fairly certain were present when I died, though the didn’t tell me so.

I’m not telling you all this because I’m afraid of death. Comes to us all sooner or later and I’ve got no qualms with that. I’m concerned with what happens in between. That’s the important part – the stuff that matters. You only get one shot at that and I aim to get it right. The only problem is that I have very little control over that because for some reason, I slip through time.

Time, space… whatever. I could be anywhere in the world at anytime in the world, but as far as I can tell it’s all the same planet. And spoiler alert – there is life on other planets.

Where I go and when are completely out of my control – it just happens. Sometimes it’s as abrupt as turning a corner on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee 1972 and winding up on Koenigstrasse, Stuttgart, Germany in 2031. Other times it happens gradually, like I’m walking through what’s left of the English countryside on a morning in 3075 and the terrain gradually becomes a little more sparse, the temperature slowly drops, and by late afternoon I’m trudging through a snowy countryside in what will someday be Russia. (I do a lot of walking.) Every time I’m about to make the switch, though, I feel nauseous. It feels like the world is spinning too fast. That could start a couple of days before the slip or a couple hours. And that’s it – the only warning.

For a while, I figured this at least keeps things interesting. I didn’t have anyone to miss, no one to miss me. I could just wander. Everywhere I’d wind up, it seemed like someone could use my help and that’s rewarding. Most of the time I can keep a full belly and good enough company to last the stay. It’s rare that I see anyone more than once, but it’s happened. And I suppose that because it’s happened is why I want to stop it now.

You see, there’s a time in the world when things really go south… and when I say that, I mean they really go bad. I’ve saved a lot of people and lost a lot of people during those times, but whatever it is I’m doing I get to finish it before I make the slip. Except for once.

I’d met this girl a couple of times, but she was never the one I was helping. Then I met her a third time. Figured something important in the universe must be happening around her – whoever or whatever has any control over the travelling thing, they want me to be there – at that place, during that time. So I did what needed done. Only things got a little overrun and we had to make a break for it. We ran. We ran for a good long while and she managed to keep up – not everybody did. The streets of Seattle are an unforgiving place during that time. We finally made it to a safe point, someplace where we could climb high enough that the things chasing us couldn’t reach. I boosted a few guys up, then climbed up myself to help the others. She stayed on the ground, doing what she could to fight off those things. Everyone was up and the others were starting to climb down the other side now. I called out to her, laid flat on my belly, and reached my hand out. She came runnin’. She jumped up and reached her arm out – her hand was going to fall perfectly into mine. I was so focused on it. I decided in that moment that if no one else made it that day, she was going to be the one I’d save. She had to make it. I felt the contact of skin, clamped my hand down on hers and hoisted her up. All 130lbs of 2nd Lieutenant Berry, of the Talon Brigade in what used to be Glasgow, Scotland.

I’d slipped.

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