Our Vacation Out West Part 2: The Desert

After driving through the Rocky Mountains, Mike and I watched the landscape turn dryer, the rocks and dirt became a burnt red and orange. Small bush-like trees grew across the desert. And if you looked towards the horizon, the land continued for miles and miles in every direction. Flat and sparse and rocky, shadowed by giant mesas, we were just accessories to an already finished masterpiece.

This was the Utah that first greeted us. We drove for miles with no one around, except for the sparse trailer or house dispersed across the barren landscape. We drove through a good portion of the Navajo reservation and much of the landscape was the same; houses dotted a flat landscape of orange, red and brown.

Whoever lives here must drive for an hour to reach the nearest grocery store, or a half an hour at best to reach the nearest gas station. Little huts which promised finely woven Navajo rugs and pottery and jewelry, started to pop up every couple of miles alongside the highway.

We felt awed by the difference of this landscape compared to what we were used to back home. Upstate New York is green, the mountains are gentle hills, breezes tease the trees and rainstorms nourish. Here in this desert landscape was a harshness and a palette of colors we had never encountered before.

As the we drove into higher elevations and then drove back down, we kept our eyes out for eagles, and looked for big-horned sheep. We saw a few horses, and the occasional grouping of cattle, which chewed on the brown-yellow grass.

During our journey, I’m thinking about Star Wars, about a lonely teenager longing for adventure his desert home doesn’t provide. I’m thinking about science fiction stories of life on Mars, or a desert planet much like this one.

I fell in love with the desert’s stark beauty in a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Of dirt, and hot wind and a sun that blazes so hot and bright, it makes the sand burn underfoot.

I’m already in awe and we haven’t even made it to Zion National Park yet…and as we soon discovered, it’s always beautiful in Zion.

Laundry, a menial chore – a nice journaling opportunity!

Moved to a new place in the last few months, and the building we are living in doesn’t have laundry on site, so every week or so I must make that dreaded trip to the laundromat. I hate doing laundry, and I hate laundromats, but the last time I brought my journal along and it gave me this somewhat amusing (if a bit depressing) journal entry:

ZZZZZ

3/5/14

I hate the sound of a laundromat. The way everyone’s laundry bumps up and down and goes every which-way, it makes me feel like there’s a hovercraft nearby, the rinsing and the swooshing, the quick, jagged vibrating of a laundry load full of jeans. The heavy slosh of an empty washer only half-full, only half used.

The dryer doors that fly open in mid-spin on a whim, flinging out their contents…be free undies…be free towels…be free…

Then there is the final rinse, the final spin, the heavy drone of a washer that bids you to keep waiting, groans and shudders, waiting….waiting…wait. One final spin, a heavy moan and then it shudders. It’s done.

How disturbing that washing clothes sounds like sex on paper, but it’s not like that at all.

Doing laundry is not sexy. It is the un-sexed, the final hangnail, the equivalent of having a migraine with a piercing light shining down on you.

It is like finding a stain on your favorite t-shirt, drumming your steering wheel in long lines of traffic, a fly buzzing in your ear, diarrhea, a sink full of dirty dishes, an open wound, the stink and the squelch of feet stuck in cold mud.

It is that raw, open feeling of words not said, of empty spaces, of regrets that come flying back in crowds of laughing, boisterous people. It’s like realizing you’ve forgotten something very important, and that dread of forgotten assignments…a pop-quiz, a failed class, the feeling of social paranoia. It is that trapped, dizzying realization that no one is coming to rescue you – life really comes with disappointments, heart ache and hurts.

And no one is going to rescue you from the overwhelming joyless feeling of living sometimes. Sometimes, all you can do is feel lost in the hullabaloo of it. Sometimes all you can do is look around hopelessly at the blank, wide-eyed, too-beautiful people and hope that they won’t notice that you might smell like prey to their eyes, that you might be that one person that might make this second of their lives a little more entertaining.

But ah, I digress – laundry. That menial chore that reminds you that there are other hopeless people in the world around you. You may think that you smell like roses most of the time, but in the end of it…eventually, all your clothes smell like shit. And that’s enough to bring dread to anyone.

Yeah, I really hate laundry. One day, when I’m rich and famous, I’ll hire someone to do it for me. But for now, it keeps me with the realization, and reminds me that no one is perfect – myself included.

In Medias Res Part 2 – Chicken and Rice Soup

Picture taken by my cousin, Mark. Watch out Mr. chicken…that’s a bull!

So, as emphasized in my last post, my creative writing teacher was big on the phrase “In medias res,” which means in the middle of things. She encouraged us with various prompts to start out our stories in the middle of the action and let the exposition flow through in the narrative.

I loved those prompts, so I thought I’d share one of my stories from that 15 minute exercise. I wrote all of it in that 15 minute journal session, and very little is changed from the original with the exception of added commas, and a few extra adjectives here and there. I’ve always meant to add more to the story, but it always seemed so neat leaving it the way it is.

I believe the prompt was something along the lines of “write a prompt of a family situation, made up or real and include a body part or some catastrophe. Start the narrative in the middle of the drama. Go!”

***(FYI, this is completely made up. Although I do have an uncle named Donald.)

Chicken and Rice Soup

So Uncle Donald dropped his teeth in the chicken and rice soup, and there they were grinning stupidly up at us, like they were about to start yammering about how maybe too salty the soup was or start shivering – chattering back and forth – yak, yak, yak, yak, yak.

We all stood around the pot of soup in silence, staring down at it. Me, Aunt Josie, Uncle Donald and Daryl, my brother. Uncle Donald’s toothless mouth wore a grim expression.

I thought that if we broke the silence that would be it, and the teeth would start talking back up at us. I felt a smile tug at the corner of my mouth, felt it want to yank up to one side and let out a large gurgley sort of laugh. Daryl caught my expression and coughed into his rough callused hand. He wore a black t-shirt, his jeans baggy like always. Aunt Josie went and got the tongs.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” she fretted and scooped the teeth out and set them down on a paper towel.

Uncle Donald cleared his throat. “Might want to want to wash them off, Josephine,” He said. He only used her full name when he was being real serious.

She had wandered into the kitchen and set the tongs in the sink. “The tongs?” she asked him.

“Not just the tongs,” coughed Daryl into his hand. Aunt Josie returned to the Dining room.

“Now, now,” she chided, although she wasn’t scolding. “These things happen.”

Uncle Donald got up with a grunt and took his teeth into the bathroom.

“Yeah, only in our family,” I said when Uncle Donald’s back had disappeared behind the bathroom door.

Daryl and I started laughing.

(In which it ends, and I’ve tried to add more but just can’t seem to get the same innocent frankness of the narrator. Who is a young girl about twelve or so named Charlie. Leave some thoughts below if you want to!)

Rainy Writer’s Block

It is raining here in upstate, New York (thank you, hurricane, Isaac,) and I am having one of those days where the couch, a nice, warm blanket is where I want to spend the rest of my day. Suffice to say, you might think that this might be a nice time to write…NOT.

A view from my front porch; rain dripping off my mother’s hummingbird feeder.

The more I know I need to write, the more I can’t. When writing becomes an obligation, it becomes not fun anymore and then I  get that dreaded writer’s block. (This has been happening more often than not lately, now that I’ve given myself a deadline for this eBook and definitely want to see this one completed! I think I’m going to aim for November. I want a draft and some finalizations for November at the latest.)

I’m reminded of a fantastic article I found on Patricia Briggs’ website. (Patricia Briggs is one of my favorite authors…she writes primarily Urban Fantasy; the Mercy Thompson series…amoung other things.)

Anyway…where was that article again?

Ah, well I couldn’t find the article I wanted…buut, at any rate, the main gist of it was this: to find a way to make writing fun again.

  •  Go out for a walk, take a break from it, phone a friend…etc.
  • Try another project than the current one.
  • Write in a different character’s perspective for a while.
  • Think outside the box…think outside the current chapter you are working on.
  • Start writing in another place.
  • Research.

What I do sometimes: Take a character in your novel or current idea and have that character write a letter to another character. The end result is this: You get to know what your character is feeling, you know their relationship with that other character based on the letter that he or she wrote, and you get a better understanding of the motivation behind why he or she does what he or she does.

I like this technique because it is very personal and because it’s so personal, you can really understand and hear the particular voice that your character has. (I’m not just talking about the voices that writers hear in their heads, although, there is that too.) I’m talking about the voice, the mannerisms of your character; why he or she is the way he or she is.

Anyway, perhaps, I’ll go follow my own advice now…

Because when it comes down to it, only 20% of what you know of your character actually gets on the page; so you better know that character 100%! And who is a grand example of this? Only J.K. Rowling of course!

Self Publishing — Great Writing or No?

I was doing some reading today on Smashwords.com and was taken to this page: http://blog.smashwords.com/

It is Smashword’s blog, where there is an interview with a self published or “Indie” writer, Rachel Higginson. (For those of you wondering what Smashwords is, it is a company that helps you create your own eBook. Out of all the eBook publishers out there, they seem to make it the simplest and the cheapest to publish to Kindle and all the other Electronic stores and I have chosen them to publish my own eBook.)

Rachel expresses in the interview, how she had a dream of being published since college, but all of the queries that she sent out to publishers kept getting rejected.

Now, she is a self-published writer and making a living at it! The article felt inspiring to me, who has the very same aspirations…to see my work in print and to make money from it someday.

Nasty spider who built its web in the corner of my house. Sometimes the art of writing is like a great web–there are so many different strands that make up the greatness of the whole, that sometimes one weakness can corrupt the overall structure.

I have not read Rachel’s work, so I cannot say anything as to the quality of her writing…but if she is a best seller, it must mean that it can’t be too terrible right?

My biggest fear is this: to present something that I might consider a work of art to the general public and have it be trash. There are many best sellers out there that have been critiqued for that very reason (Stephenie Meyer for example). They write a novel that reaches a large audience of people and while their characterization and their plot line isn’t original, or their writing, something in their story drew people in.

While one can argue that the writing is not great, the writer has presented an idea that is catching. While the plot is mediocre, and the writing cliché, I would like to argue that in some cases, there is a way to write good cliché.

And perhaps this is the case in many self-published novels. While editors are waiting for that next, great, purely, original idea, the readers and general public are saying: No, we like simple and we like fun and no amount of originality can make up for a good, simple and relatable read.

While I want to be a great writer and to be appreciated for the art of my writing, I also want to create a book that is relatable and fun for a wide audience. I think to create something that is relatable and fun to read is also difficult, because it comes down to style. Every writing style is different, just like every writer behind the writing is different.

My question is this: Is there a way to write well, but also make it accessible?

You see books out there classified as “great reads” but they are not best sellers. And while great reads are not always easy reads, they are not always the most interesting either.

Is there a way to write intelligently, but also make it accessible?

I think, that when it comes to a great writer, great writing is all about balance. And every self published author, must find their very own balance. Finding that balance, on the other hand, is a whole different matter…

New TV Show: Revolution! Yeah!

Is anyone as excited as me about this new TV show coming on NBC in the fall??

My Dad’s only comment: “Where do they get the bows and arrows and swords from?” Hehehe. I love him.

Finally, NBC’s taking a show of post apocalyptic proportions and presenting it to us for entertainment! (Eh, with the exception of Terra Nova…and we all know how thaat turned out.) J. J. Abram’s involved, so it can’t be too terrible, right? Very excited about this!

As I am an avid TV watcher and lover (of course I am! I’m nerdy like that!) I will occasionally be reviewing some of my favorite TV shows on here. Revolution will most definitely be making an appearance. Also, keep an eye out for reviews of Vampire Diaries, Bones, and Once Upon a Time later on.

I love the summer, but I am excited about the new season of TV starting soon! FINALLY! Something worth watching! Can’t wait!

 

Fifteen Minutes of Fame – Words Worth a Thousand Images

Spent the majority of the day watching my niece and after the pancake and bacon making, the Lego Star Wars, and the playing on the playground, aunt Amanda is whooped! So, thought I might relax on some of the research of eBook making for the day, and focus on another very important interest of mine: Writing.

In my creative writing classes over the years, we used to take at least 15 minutes of the beginning of class to do a little creative journaling, usually inspired by a prompt that the professor provided on the board. A couple of months ago, I discovered this webpage:  http://creativewritingprompts.com/

It is a website that lists hundreds of writing prompts for free. Although a trifle simple perhaps, the fun is in not knowing what might spark the imagination just by scrolling through the various numbers on the page.

I usually like going through until one sparks my interest, but tonight I’m going to just pick a number at random by scrolling over the page…

#200: Create a story based on this plot: gets trapped in the bathroom on Valentines Day:

Hmm…now, let’s see what I can create out of that. I’ll give myself 15 minutes and will write it now, and will leave it mostly unedited…like I would if I were writing in my journal (Beware of run-ons):

For some reason, Buffy the Vampire Slayer seems to come to mind…I imagine a girl crying, make up running down her face, dark hair, a bruised eye and red lipstick that’s been smeared a bit at the corners, giving her a grim smile…

Veronica wiped at her wet cheeks and her wet lips and then grimaced as she looked at her fingertips. The lipstick that she had carefully applied that morning was sticky and wet from her tears and looked like blood — she was just thankful enough that it wasn’t her own. Who knew that her date at the Valentine’s dance would turn out to be a Vampire? One really couldn’t tell these things…and who would know that he had a vampire posse, or was it a horde? attack everyone in the school cafeteria? She was sure she saw Mrs. Collins taken down by one of the monsters in the large, pink cake next to the punch bowl and Mr. Peters, the Principle, watching, with a fork dangling in the air somewhere half-way between his mouth and plate– his piece of chocolate, pink-slathered cake smeared on the floor next the blood running out from the crown of Mrs. Collins’ head. Her friends had all fled to their cars, but she, the idiot, just had to use the bathroom and first dates were usually rough the first time…right?

There was a tap on the door of the bathroom, the creek of the door swinging open and she heard footsteps and she very quickly tucked her feet up on the toilet she was crouched on. It could be one of them…ran the thoughts in her brain. I’m next…I’m another, quick, snack…. But the door swung open and she was almost knocked  to the floor when someone with large, red, hair poked their head in and said loudly, “Well, hi!”

The head belonged to a young girl, with very, carrot-colored hair and a lot of it. It ran down her back, in a mass of curly, wriggling, orange ripples. The girl had to at least be twelve years old, a startling difference to Veronica’s own fourteen–whoever decided to combine the school into seventh through ninth graders were idiots, but that wasn’t what startled her. The girl had huge, blue eyes and she was wearing a too-cheery smile, the grin stretched widely across her face, white and fixed and planned…

Well, that’s that. Fifteen minutes and I’ve got a poor Vampire-attacked Veronica and a mysterious creepy-clown-like twelve-year-old. *Insert sinister grin here, haha*  Well, the cliff-hanger is kind of lame, and while not great, original plot writing, and very raw and unedited– where was that comma supposed to go again? The point is this: the imagery!

I forgot how great it feels to lose yourself in something that is completely different from other writing projects and I am very proud at the detail that such writing creates! Curly, wriggling, orange ripples and pink-slathered cake notwithstanding!

What a great way to get the creative voice flowing! By remembering that sometimes the simplest writing can create such alive, evocative images. And images are very, very important in great writing.

Occasionally, I am going to post in this blog with my random image-worthy creative writing prompts and here might be a way that can inspire other stories, OR, it’ll help to remind me to keep the visual images flowing on current projects.

Oh, and there is always that other thing: It’s fun!