What a Fabulous Conversation! How to Write Great Dialogue.

DialogueWritingAdvice

I love dialogue.

Of all the elements of fiction, dialogue is my favorite as both a writer and a reader. I get excited when a come across a long stretch of dialogue in a novel, and as a writer, I work on dialogue for hours.

There is no resistance. I love picturing these scintillating conversations between characters, and I have no complaints working out the kinks as I put those talks to paper.

If anybody has come across some of my work-in-progress excerpts, you would find a lot of dialogue because I love it so much. If you’d like to check that out, go here.

Maybe I should have been a screenwriter. Because splendid dialogue between characters on a movie screen makes me high for days.

For example, Pulp Fiction is one of the best dialogue movies I’ve ever seen. Without the exquisite dialogue in every single scene of the movie, Pulp Fiction would have been awful.

As far as the characters and the plot are concerned, the stories are disturbing. Generally speaking, all the characters are out for themselves and nobody has a moral compass.

There are exceptional scenes of personal growth, like the choice Butch made to save Marcellus Wallace from a hideous fate, even though Marcellus Wallace had put a hit on him.

Also, the epiphany of Jules to quit the hit man’s life, walk the earth as a holy man, in the final scene when he spares the lives of Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, made a breathtaking end to a film that boggled the minds of most people who saw it.

Pulp Fiction took black humor to a new level. Throughout the many psychotic and psychopathic events, the audience laughed hysterically and savored every moment (or almost every moment), and I believe it was because the dialogue was that brilliant.

This was during the days when Quentin Tarantino collaborated with Roger Avary. Either Avary was the dialogue genius, or the two of them needed each other for that magical precision of back and forth verbal volley between characters. All I know is the dialogue in Tarantino’s films has made cringe once they fell out and parted ways. Too many monologues.

I love good dialogue in a novel. I relish the chance to imagine these fictional conversations in my mind and put myself in the story as one of the characters.

The dialogue in Tom Robbins’ work (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Jitterbug Perfume, Still Life With Woodpecker) makes me want to dance and celebrate the glory of life. But his characters and his plots are every bit as magnificent as the dialogue they speak.

Back in the day, Jane Austen had some pretty luscious dialogues set in Regency England. But Jane Austen had far more fodder to work with. We’ve gotten lazy and unskilled in the act of communication. For centuries, conversation was an art that most people wanted to excel at.

Now that my rant about my love of dialogue is finished, the nuggets of advice I can offer on how to pen dialogue are:

1) Practice and Read Your Dialogue Out Loud. That’s the only way you can hear the rhythm and flow of a conversation.

2) For anybody who really struggles with dialogue, I suggest writing dialogue between the writerly YOU and your principal characters. I suggest doing this one character at a time, to open yourself up to an impression of who they are as people and how they sound, even their quirky and unique expressions. A few exercises like this and you’ll be creating dialogue between the characters with little to no trouble.

I’m also happy to share a lovely article that gives more detailed tips on gorgeous dialogue. Click here.

I Used to be Ugly - Novel Excerpt "The Shepherd and the Courtesan"

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This excerpt is out of my WIP, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” To view an earlier excerpt, click here.

“Ella Bandita’s thieving ways clearly did not affect your fortune,” he continued. “So I really don’t understand what this has been about.”

“Allow me to enlighten you,” Adrianna said. “You know that marvelous bounty you and the Shepherd sacrificed for the future of orphans?”

We nodded.

“Where do you think that bounty came from?”

“My grandfather told me a collective of wives and courtesans added to it every year,” the Wanderer said.

“That’s what I heard too.”

Adrianna stared at us without a word, leisurely finishing her soup and sipping from her wine.

“And who do you think started the collective?”

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The Wanderer’s face cleared.

“That must have been you.”

“It was.”

“But why?” I asked.

“Lots of reasons. One of them was that she destroyed my favorite beau and I was outraged. His wife was angry too. I started the collective with her.”

“You did all that over one beau?” the Wanderer exclaimed and burst out laughing. “How long ago was this?”

“A little over twenty years ago.”

“And you’re still going to a lot of trouble,” I added. “What do you want?”

“I already told you what I want, Shepherd. I want your stories.”

“About what?”

“Everything.”

“You would find my life very boring. Most of my time has been very solitary.”

“I want to know about the years you spent with Ella Bandita.”

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“I already told you I never talk about her.”

“Maybe it’s time you did, Shepherd. How long have you been haunted by her memory?”

Something in Adrianna’s tone caught my attention. Her beautiful eyes were narrowed and her face was pale.

“How did you know her, Adrianna? Was she your protégée at one time?”

In response, Adrianna choked on her wine. Two maids hurried to her aid, until her coughing fit died down. I couldn’t imagine my fierce and stubborn Woman as a courtesan. But what she became shocked me so much that anything could have been possible. For how else did she have access to the most elite gentlemen in the country?

“That sounds like curiosity to me, Shepherd. I’ll trade you all of my stories for some of yours.”

I shook my head.

“I’ll even start with one of mine,” she pressed.

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“You’re very determined. But you have nothing to persuade me.”

“Yes, I do. And I can prove it.”

The Wanderer chuckled.

“Good luck, Adrianna. I can see you’re used to having your way, but the Shepherd is one of the most resolute men I’ve ever known.”

“I used to be very ugly. Even uglier than Ella Bandita.”

The Wanderer’s jaw dropped and I thought I’d misheard her. Adrianna’s features glowed in the light of the fire. Her generous mouth curved in a smile. She was obviously pleased with the affect she had wrought. Adrianna was ravishing, even in old age. She raised her hands to frame her face.

“As you can see, the Sorcerer of the Caverns was very powerful.”

8 Nudges to Write Fantasy With These Gorgeous Writing Prompts!

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I’m going to come straight out and just say it. I’m proud of these!

What’s not to love about beautiful images with a chunk of story to get your creative juices flowing?

It’s that time of year again.

When the faery folk come to dance upon the earth.

So light the way for them beneath the ancient tree.

If you remain still, you might get a glimpse of them.

Be careful though.

If they suspect a trap, they will grab you and imprison your soul in the tree for 1000 years.

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“Dance with the Devil, you handsome darling. If you please me, all your dreams will come true.”

“Are you saying you’re the Devil?”

The sensuous woman smiled and shrugged.

“I never thought of the Devil as a woman. So what dance?”

“Tango. Of course.”

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“You can’t be serious!”

“I am. Lie upon the yellow lines and the genie will come to grant you three wishes.”

“I thought genies lived in bottles and oil lamps.”

“Times have changed. Genies are now captive beneath the cement of roads and sidewalks.”

“What if a car runs over me?”

“That’s how the portal opens.”

“You must think I’m an idiot.”

“No. That’s the chance you gotta take. How badly do you want this?“

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Isabelle knew she was disappearing into the world of words, but she didn’t care.

Carlos begged her to stay, but she shook her head.

“I’d rather cease to exist physically if I get to enjoy all the pleasures of fantasy, of the erotic and romance.”

“What do you want, Isabelle, from the ethers of imagination? You will cease to be.”

”I know, darling Carlos. But ordinary life is mundane. I can’t bear the mundane.”

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Bernado’s heart pounded. This was the portal. it had to be.

But how could he get past that brick wall?

If he didn’t, Celeste was lost forever and their parents would perish from heartbreak.

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Fern yearned for the glory of humans. As psychic beings, plants healed, soothed, gave solace, and offered insight.

But there was no power. Plants were at the mercy of humans and animals.

Until the day a sad looking woman came into the forest undergrowth and lay down on top of Fern.

Fern felt her sorrow, and knew its time had come. This woman no longer wanted to be human.

“How about if we trade places?” Fern whispered. “You become me and I become you.”

The woman looked right at Fern.

“Is that possible?”

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She was emerging. She could feel herself coming back to flesh, blood, and bone.

After so many centuries held captive in the trees, she would be free at last.

“Why now?” she asked. “Why let me go now when the world is so changed?”

“Because we need you to convince humanity to protect us.”

“Why would I do that?”

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Ophelia threw herself into the water, but instead of the death she sought in her despair, she found conviction.

She deserved life. Only revenge would do for her father’s death.

Hamlet would suffer.

SO HERE THEY ARE! THE FANTASY WRITING PROMPTS FOR JULY. HOPE YOU LOVE THE IMAGES AS MUCH AS I LOVED PUTTING THEM TOGETHER, AND I HOPE THEY GET THE STORIES SPINNING!

PEACE,

MONTGOMERY



Why Roses Have Thorns - Progress on Illustrations

Illustration by:  Natalya Kolosowsky  website:  http://www.lunariusgraphics.com   Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

Illustration by:

Natalya Kolosowsky

website: http://www.lunariusgraphics.com

Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

As I said in an earlier post, one of the joys of self-publishing is the power of choice. Creative collaboration is one of my favorite parts of this process, especially when it comes to working with artists and designers. 

I wrote “Why Roses Have Thorns” more than twenty years ago. It was the first fairy tale I ever wrote, and I’d say it was that miraculous beginner’s stroke of luck when that tale flowed out of me. I’m still amazed at how naturally people of all ages connect to this simple parable about the dangers of pride.

Since I use storytelling (NOT reading!), I recently had a chance to witness again the impact this story has on people when I told this tale and “The Golden Pedestal” at my stepdaughter’s school for screen-free week.

Illustration by:  Natalya Kolosowsky  website:  http://www.lunariusgraphics.com   Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

Illustration by:

Natalya Kolosowsky

website: http://www.lunariusgraphics.com

Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

I had practiced “Pedestal” for days. After I saw an email from the school librarian that set people up to expect both stories, I did a hasty run through of “Roses.” 

Anyway, the librarian’s kids came to my event, and listened attentively with inscrutable expressions. Later, the librarian told me her son had retold “Roses” to his father when he asked about his day.

Talk about the highest compliment a writer can receive! I love it when things like that happen.

Illustration by:  Natalya Kolosowsky  website:  http://www.lunariusgraphics.com   Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

Illustration by:

Natalya Kolosowsky

website: http://www.lunariusgraphics.com

Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

So needless to say, the illustrator for this story was a crucial choice. 

So far, I believe I hit the ball out of the park in the choice I made with Natalya Kolosowsky for “Why Roses Have Thorns.”

She has been as pleasant and professional throughout this process as she was in our interview. She’s thorough, asks questions, and makes certain we’re clear in our agreement of what my expectations are.

I’m impressed with the level of research she has done to prepare for this story – everything from the shape of roses and other flowers, to greenhouses, children, and the style of illustration during the golden age of fairy tales.

Natalya is passionate about fairy tales, certainly seems to be passionate about my story, and I’m very grateful for that.

I appreciate her grand vision for this work, so much that perhaps the bar is raised for how I want to put this book together. Usually, I try to make books as affordable as possible. To date, I’ve only done paperback and ebook, of course.

Illustration by:  Natalya Kolosowsky  website:  http://www.lunariusgraphics.com   Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

Illustration by:

Natalya Kolosowsky

website: http://www.lunariusgraphics.com

Instagram: @lunariusgraphics

When I told her I avoid paperback because it’s expensive to produce and thus, must be expensive to sell. I’ve seen hardback children’s books run for $25-30, and I mentioned that.

“But why shouldn’t you make a $30 book? You’re investing a lot to do something unusual that nobody else is doing. An original classical fairy tale that I will make beautiful artwork for, and there are people who would want a hardback copy of something like that because it’s special.”

What she had to say made me think twice. Maybe I will raise the bar and have a hardback and paperback version designed.

I’m also really excited about the artwork she’s done for this project. I think what she has done thus far is fabulous! And what you see are only shots taken by phone!

Previous posts about the process of working with Natalya can be read here and here for anybody who’d like to have a look-see.

 

Lazy Hiking and Positive Omens - On the Road #14

DIYAuthorMarketing

Hey y'all,

Honest...I think I wouldn't be keeping a journal if I wasn't sending it to fifty people. It's weird, but even though I have little to say this week, I feel compelled to write anyway. 

For those of you who live in Alaska, ignore this if you like, because we experience cool shit like this all the time. This is more for those who live elsewhere. 

I love lazy hiking. Sitting on my duff whenever I feel like, zoning out until I feel like getting up and moving again. 

It's the peak of autumn right now, and the colors are breathtaking. Staying last weekend in Denali, I couldn't find my camera before going on a hike; but I looked at the cloudy, rainy skies and figured it wasn't that important, so I left without it.

Of course, lots of special Kodak moments happened.

"Etch it in your brain," my inner voice said. "That way you can take it with you when you die." 

That's very nice, but I still wish I had my camera with me. Even if I can recall the image vividly at will, my bragging rights have been severely stunted.     

There had been a group of fitness-junkie hikers that zoomed up to the overlook and back, while I puttered along and sat on my ass regularly. They said the view was "awesome," and nothing else.

But they didn't have a squirrel flirting with them from branches three feet above their heads, trying to seduce some snacks out of them. I did. And that's the kind of thing that happens when you do lazy hiking. 

I continued on up even though the fog was totally socked in and it looked as if I wouldn't be getting any "awesome" views. But I saw at least five flocks of migrating (after asking around, I decided they were cranes) birds flying above me as they made their way to their winter homes. 

Whatever they were, it was impossible to miss them, because their purring birdcalls could be heard for quite a few minutes before I actually saw them. 

I had also seen a flock of cranes (they definitely were) flying above me in Fairbanks. And I saw folded cranes in Gulliver's - who is carrying my book - and in the College Coffeehouse - where I did my last minute storytelling.

My time in Fairbanks was effortless.  

Cranes are definitely a "thing" in my life, whether they're made out of feathers or paper. What can you expect from a woman who folded a thousand cranes and put most of them up on her wall? 

But back to my hike. I made it up to the overlook and there was a ridge trail continuing on. Once at the top of the hill, I hiked the ridgeline. The undulating ease of the ridge is the hikers reward for getting there. 

The mountainsides were stunning with the red, gold, and fiery colors, and the deep green spruce speckled throughout. The fog kept coming in and going out, and eventually, the rainy skies cleared up. 

The views alone were enough to make me regret my camera. And that was before I saw the sheep. 

Going the extra distance was worth it. A quarter mile up the ridgeline, I saw a horned head poking around a rock staring at me, and a smaller head joined hers. 

Looking to the right, I saw a young Dall ram - his horns hadn't curved all the way around yet - poking along the stray plants munching away. He gave me a bored glance and kept chewing. 

The mama sheep and her young were just a little more nervous. They were also right on the trail, so I gave them time and space to move, which they did hesitantly, eyeing me all the while. 

I watched the sheep, the lamb, and the ram for a while, cursing myself the whole time for not searching more diligently for my camera. They practically posed for me, and there was nothing but my memory to remember them by.  

I passed them and sat on a rock that gives that "top of the mountain" feeling and just soaked in the space around me. After a few minutes of sitting on my duff, I head footsteps behind me and turned to see yet another Dall sheep coming up the trail and she stopped about six feet away from me.

We just stared at each other for a few minutes. Maybe if I'd stayed still, she would have strolled right past me, but as soon as I moved, she scurried to the side and around me to join her group.

Now that was cool. 

Between the flocks of cranes and the sheep, I took the whole day as a sign that things were looking up and a breakthrough had happened on my book tour. 

Maybe I'm a superstitious ninny.

But this week, I heard from the Anchorage Press that they are featuring my last storytelling at Organic Oasis, instead of just putting it in the calendar. And book sales have been steady. Maybe that's only a coincidence.

Either way, I still love lazy hiking. 

By the way, many thanks to Jason Caputo for featuring my journal entries on his website, www.juneaumusic.com. Don't forget to check out the site regularly for info on what is happening in Juneau musically and artistically.

Besides some of the links are cool, but beware the infinite David Hasselhoff crotch shot. Unless of course, you like narcissism...and David Hasselhoff. 

Peace,

Montgomery 

This excerpt from my DIY booktour/roadtrip in 2005/2006 was one of my favorites. I don’t know if the juneaumusic.com site is still active with or without David Hasselhoff’s crotch shot. But my email journal ended up being my first blog during the infancy phase of blogging. Andrea, who was on my email list, forwarded it on to Jason and that’s how it all began. If you’d like to see the previous letter in this journal, click here.

4 Steps and 40 days to Healthy Habits For Writers Who Struggle With the Juggle!

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Hey y’all,

Did you know that it takes 40 days to change a habit?

According to the late Yogi Bhajan, it is so. It also takes 90 days to confirm the new habit; after 120 days, the new habit is who you are; and if you keep it up for 1000 days, you have mastered the new habit.

I’ve found that 120 days will make some profound changes. 120 days was enough to quit smoking. I did this by replacing a bad habit with a good one. Instead of puffing on a cigarette, I practiced the Kundalini breathing exercises Yogi Bhajan passed on to Western culture.

I focused on 1 or 2 meditations and mantras at a time for 40-day runs. At the end of that winter, I had transformed into a non-smoker rather than an ex-smoker craving a cigarette. That was more than 15 years ago.

Some would say Yogi Bhajan was a cult leader. And maybe that is true. Either way, smoking is a gnarly addiction for a lot of people; it was for me, so the man and his memory have my respect, as well as my gratitude. 

Since then the 40-day method has been my standard go-to when it comes to making constructive changes in my life.

I’ll get back to this later.

A few days ago, a gentleman responded to a meme on my Twitter page about writer’s block. From what he had to say with very young children to raise, I gathered that he doesn’t have time to write.

Since I’m new to parenting via the stepmother path, I could sort of relate to what he was talking about.

I got to thinking about all we have to juggle in life – and then there’s the writing. It’s a balancing act that I’m not comfortable with. There was a time when I had the time to isolate for several weeks to write a rough draft because I didn’t really have to worry about anybody but myself.

Even if the loneliness of being that single got to me so much that I suffered some serious writer’s block as a result, I miss having that kind of space to immerse myself in another world. Now, I only get 2 hours of daily writing time - 4 if I’m lucky - before I have to move on with everything else that needs to be done.

As an independent author, I’m also a publisher. I have to find my editors, artists, graphic designers, printers, and whoever else will be involved in the process of giving birth to a new book.

Independent author or not, there’s no getting away from all the social media stuff that needs to be done. Instead of simply working on the creative juice of novels and stories, writers now have to have a platform. We have to blog, tweet, pin, Facebook, and Instagram, etc.

All this for the sake of getting our name out there in the hopes that the world knows our stuff exists and will come to read it and love it. Traditionally published authors have to do the social media thing just as much as the Indies do.

Then there is the stuff of life - relationship, friendships, parenting, day jobs, and beloved hobbies for those who have the time.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems there are more demands on time and attention and energy than ever before. Or maybe it’s because a child has been thrown into the mix of life, and I’m still getting used to that.

I’ve never been organized in my life, and now I have to be at least a little competent at it. Which brings us back to habits because I had to improve mine.

So about that 40-day method of creating healthy habits…

Or 90 day.

Or 120 day.

Last year, I made a commitment of 4 small yet mighty changes of habit - daily meditation, walking, chores, and writing. I started the day with meditation and walking before getting my morning coffee. Then I wrote at least 2 pages every day and did at least 1 chore.

I did this for 120 days.

Small changes led to big results.

Meditation balanced me a lot more and I could concentrate so much more.

I lost about 15 pounds from walking – just walking.

I usually wrote more than 2 pages a day.

One chore often led to another chore, sometimes 2 or 3 more.

I’m not saying that I’m a neat freak now, but I tidy more than I used to and it has made a difference in how functional I am.

In that 120 days, I finished the rough draft of the novel that I am well immersed into my second draft now. In that time, I finished rewriting and polishing a fairy tale I wrote years ago.

I was more productive during that 120 days than I had been in years. With all the demands on my time and energy, I was much more productive than when I had the time and space to dive into an imaginary world for weeks at a time.

Just in case anybody would like a to-do checklist on consciously changing habits, I got some great tips from the guys at JumpCut, and their Viral Academy on making Youtube videos. Here ya go:

1) Identify the bad habit you need to change.

We lie to ourselves all the time about our habits, and justify them. Don’t do that.

2) Replace the bad habit with a good one.

We rely on our habits to get through the day. Taking away a bad habit without putting something else in its place won’t work. For example: Meditate for 5-10 minutes first thing in the morning, instead of opening your phone to check Facebook. Or do deep breathing exercises that will give you a head rush instead of reaching for a cigarette. That’s what I did.

3) Plant a seed habit.

Start small and build from there. It helps if you put yourself in the position that you have to do it. That makes it easier to do it every day. For example: Walk or ride bike to work. Write 2 pages before checking social media, etc.

4) Don’t break the chain.

This is where the 40 days comes in. If you don’t have a wall calendar, get one. Put a big fat X in any color you want on each day that you do your new, healthy habit. Do this for as many days as you can. Doing this feels deliciously satisfying.

If you make it to 40, try to push it to 90 days. Maybe spread to 120 days. And then…

I should probably aim for 1000 days to make sure these new habits stay with me forever.

Are there any writers out there who have any healthy habit forming tricks you’d like to share? What tools do you have to make it all happen? If you have any insights, please check in with a comment or two. Check in if you struggle with the juggle. Because I’m pretty sure we all do.

Truthfully, I should start another 40-day challenge to get the second draft done. Or 90 day. I’m sure I could get this draft done in 120 days.

For anybody who wants to be a Youtube influencer, or to check out some of Jumpcut’s courses, click here. For the record, this is NOT an affiliate link, and I do not get a commission if you anybody signs up. That one video they did on changing bad habits did me a lot of good and I want to spread the love.

Thanks for reading.

Peace,

Montgomery

 

 

 

How to Tackle Setting

Setting-WritingAdvice

So I’m looking into various articles and blogs about setting. I think I talked about this in an earlier blog, but setting is one of the last things I take on when I’m writing a piece. If you want to take a look at that blog, go here.

But what are the gifts of setting? Why is it so necessary? Personally, when I get bogged down in all the details of a room, I space out and skim and get straight to the action. That said, there is no doubt that it’s uncomfortable and perhaps even unpleasant to read about characters talking and acting in empty space. Setting grounds the story to a particular time and place that the reader can connect to. So there’s no getting away from it.

As I said in that blog, for anybody who is reluctant to tackle setting:

Tip #1 Write setting as a character and describe its personality. That is very liberating. I’d even say it’s fun, especially if you write about a place here in the real world that you hate. At least that’s how it worked for me.

“Happiness is very important there (Orlando, Florida). After all, it matches the weather.”

That piece about the place where I grew up from Margaret Grossman’s writing class is long lost, but I do remember the last lines. I was proud of it, and she praised it to the skies, which made my week.

Tip #2 Exaggerate the details. Extravagance can come in really handy when it comes to writing about place. Going over the top about the details of a place, or even a feature can free one up and thaw one out to go to town on setting because like making setting a character, it’s more fun to write. Here’s an example from a piece I’m writing right now out of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.”

How in the devil did I come here?

That’s what I wondered as I encountered again the cavernous entry into the home of the most legendary Courtesan the Capital City had ever known. All I could think about was that afternoon when the Wanderer and I first stepped inside the Courtesan’s Casa.

The atrium had soaring ceilings with pale pink satin lining the walls, while mottled pink marble stretched along the floor and up the steps of the sweeping staircase in the middle. Maybe even the ceiling was pink. It was impossible to tell because the massive chandelier hanging in the space between the ceiling and the floor reflected pink everywhere. Hundreds of candles and thousands of crystal droplets married fire and ice when the tiny flames coupled with the glimmering teardrops, then flickered along the marble floor, the stairs, and the walls. Such a pairing had cast rosy radiance throughout the foyer to render everybody inside timeless and ageless.

The procession of servants and protégées lined up and waiting were the most gorgeous household I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe it when the men bowed! Even the strongmen actually bent at the waist, after they had pulled me and the Wanderer out of the rioting mob. They may have saved our lives! Yet here they were, bowing to us like royalty, while the women curtsied. The courtesan protégées made quite a vision as they fanned their sumptuous skirts. Even the most junior maids held their plain skirts wide. Their timing was impeccable. The Courtesan’s staff moved in flawless unison, but how could they have rehearsed that moment?

My friend, the Wanderer had enjoyed many grand adventures in his life. Yet his black eyes were wide in his face. He appeared as stunned as I with this spectacle. None of it seemed real, especially with the hard coldness of pink marble penetrating my boots to chill my feet.

So those are my tips about taking on setting from the spirit of reluctance, along with an excerpt. 

Given that I struggle with setting, I can commiserate with another’s frustrations with it. That may not make me the best teacher. So here are some gorgeous and thorough articles offering practical and detailed instruction on creating gorgeous and memorable settings. Check them out here and here.

The Writer's Calling

WritingLife

I came to writing through vocabulary.

I’ve written stories since I was a child, with plots and intrigues that flowed easily.

Mimi, my grandmother, swore that I wrote my first story around the age of 7.

But my earliest memories were the weekly writing assignments in 3rd grade.

Mrs. Beatty gave us a list of 10 new vocabulary words every week with daily assignments.

We had to define them, spell them correctly, use them in sentences of our making, and the grand finale was the homework due Friday – writing a longer piece about whatever we wanted, so long as we used all the new words appropriately.

Most of the kids wrote essays. I made up stories with my classmates as characters. I had fun, the kids loved it, and thus, I found my writer’s calling.

Mom said I was the only one of us who willingly did this assignment. Apparently, my brothers hated it.

Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

Those 3rd grade writing assignments were fun. But writing has gotten more complicated and demanding in the years that followed.

Stories and plots flow as much as ever, but I now have a lot of resistance that I didn’t as a 9 year old.

I know this is what I’m meant to do. I have no doubt that writing is my destiny. But it’s hard, painful work.

Writing requires never-ending introspection into who I am and what motivates me, as well as observing people, interpreting who I think they are and figuring out what makes them tick. That’s a lonely job.

Although writing is rewarding, there’s never that sense of completion or that belief that I finally got it exactly right.

Jack Remick, an author and a former writing teacher of mine, said that final manuscript was an illusion.

He said he could go back to “Terminal Weird,” which he said won a lovely award and make improvements on those stories.

(For the record, this was the teacher who taught me the Cage-Escape-Quest-Dragons-Home story structure.)

His point was that you have to decide when a manuscript is good enough to let it go, but it will never be perfect.

How frustrating is that?

As a whole, I believe the writer’s calling is an honor. But like most honorable and worthwhile pursuits, it’s isolating and has many challenges that make me wish I had the calling to be a biologist or something.

That’s pretty kooky, really. I didn’t even like science when I was a kid.

What about some of you? Were you inspired to write as kids? Does inspiration come as easily now? Do you resist or go with the flow? I would love to hear some thoughts and stories.

Your Girls Are Good - Novel Excerpt "The Shepherd and the Courtesan"

By Émile Bernard - Christie's, LotFinder: entry 5493043, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17885614

Novel Excerpt out of my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” For a previous excerpt, go here.

“You must have done something supernatural to be here, Wanderer. None of Ella Bandita’s conquests have ever been redeemed.”

Adrianna moved fast, reaching down to take the Wanderer’s hand in hers before he could react.

“Did you get your heart back as well?”

Adrianna paused as she pressed her fingers into the side of his wrist.

“Well, well. I feel a pulse.”

“As I said,” the Wanderer murmured. “I was lucky.”

“That was more than luck,” she retorted. “She must be dead for you to get that crystal stargaze, and get your heart back. How did you kill her?”

“You can hardly expect a confession,” I interrupted. “We would hang.”

“For destroying a monster? I don’t think so, Shepherd. You and the Wanderer are our most cherished heroes. Legends will be told about you long after you are gone.”

Adrianna glanced to Celia who stood two paces behind the Wanderer, and then to Astrid who must have stood about the same distance from me. She nodded appreciatively to both of them.

“Well done tonight, girls. You may go and finish supper in the Joy Parlor.”

Astrid touched my shoulder with a soft hand.

“It really was an honor to meet you, Shepherd. I enjoyed our talk.”

I nodded, surprised that my feeling towards Astrid was one of neutral benevolence.

Celia threw her arms around the Wanderer’s neck and kissed his cheek.

“Thank you for leaving your fortune to the orphans,” she said. “It means more to me than I can ever tell you.”

“Okay,” the Wanderer said. “But it was nothing, really.”

He was obviously confused, not having heard that the woman he had made love to twice had grown up in the orphanage. Once the young courtesans followed a steward and maid back into the Casa, the Wanderer focused on Adrianna and whistled appreciatively.

“Your girls are good,” he said.

“Of course, they are. I trained them. So tell me how you got your heart back, Wanderer.”

“Let’s just say I had exquisite timing.”

“I’m sure it’s quite a story.”

“I suppose.”

“I would love to hear it.”

The Wanderer smiled at Adrianna and shook his head. Reaching for the leftover wild duck croquettes, he ate what was left, his deep black eyes peering steadily at his wily hostess.

Adrianna smiled and backed off. She took her seat in the chair Astrid had left vacant. Nodding to her servants, the stewards brought us each the fourth course, steaming bowls of pureed chestnut soup, while the maids poured red wine in ample goblets, and handed them to all three of us. Adrianna leaned back and took a sip.

“I must say, Wanderer, the years you lived as a Wolf have served you beautifully. I’ve always found rugged men most attractive. We don’t get much chance of meeting those in our civilized Capital City.”

“You flatter me, Madame.”

Adrianna smiled graciously.

“I told the Shepherd, and now I’ll tell you to call me Adrianna.”

“Your praise is generous, Adrianna. But I’ve never been one to be swayed by compliments.”

They smiled at each other in understanding. But Adrianna was far from done. She turned back to me and peered at me intently, her lovely golden eyes sparkling in the light.

“One thing I’ll say for my nemesis, Shepherd, she certainly had exquisite taste.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You are the man who loved Ella Bandita. The only man whose heart she didn’t steal.”

“No. She broke it instead.”

The Story Behind Free Flying Press

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I struggle with social media self-promotion.

I have never understood ‘branding’ or ‘author’s platform.’ Every time I hear about the need to ‘define my brand,’ I cringe. It’s one thing to offer my writing as a product, it’s another to make my self into ‘content.’ That is odious to me, this image of livestock burning flesh because some poor cow or horse just got branded - pun intended.

Natalya, the illustrator I just hired for “Why Roses Have Thorns” has made me see branding a little differently. Like many creatives, Natalya wears many hats and has collected a lot of tools to make a living.

Besides illustration, Natalya collaborates with people to figure out their social media marketing plan. She is passionate about ‘branding’ and claims she can talk about it all day.

“Defining your brand is simply telling the story of who you are.”

Well, ok. I can get behind that, especially because Free Flying Press can be utilized as my ‘brand.’ What Natalya had to say spurred some ideas of what the ‘brand’ of Free Flying Press could be.

This website has been up for 5 years, and it’s been an homage to my brother the entire time. Yet I have neither filled out his In Memoriam page or deleted it. Writing this blog prompted me to do just that. Click here if you’d like to see it.

Perhaps some random readers have noticed the various drawings of skydivers in the banners, and wondered what does skydiving have to do with dark-fantasy-love-stories-with-explicit-sex-scenes or innocent children’s fairy tales?

Well, nothing obviously. At least, not directly.

Years ago, when I was trying to find an agent and editor on the pathway to traditional publishing, I always considered the self-publishing path. The original name for this indie author vehicle was Freedom Junkie Press.

‘Freedom junkie’ was my first muse, so to speak. The phrase popped into my head during my first summer in Juneau, and that literally convinced me to stay and make Alaska my home, rather than enjoying it as the last stop of my vagabond bartender phase.

I thought ‘Freedom Junkie’ would be the name of a book, but it ended up being more an underlying theme of my life for close to 20 years.

When I decided on the self-published road, ‘freedom junkie’ seemed an excellent fit for the DIY mentality. I even started the domain in cyberspace: freedomjunkie.com.

Unfortunately, I didn’t protect it, which is what we do when we don’t act on an idea.

Anyway, somebody bought freedomjunkie.com after my ownership of the name expired.

Much later, whoever had bought it sold the name to a Life Coach out of Anchorage who used the expression ‘for realz’ all over her site. It made me sad and kind of sick to my stomach. But no way in hell was I going to purchase a domain name of freedomjunkie.net with this kind of thing around. The time had come to let that name go.

And then, my brother died around the time I finished the final manuscript of “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer.” After the tailspin of grief and apathy wore off enough to pull myself together to get back on track, it was time to come up with a new name for my press.

That’s where the skydivers come in.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert had been a skydiving champion in the prime of his life. His team won the nationals twice in the 10-way formation 2 years in a row before he switched to freeflying.

Freeflying skydiving was very new and very experimental at the time he got involved with it. The team was a trio of 2 freeflyers and a cameraman that keeps up with them to get the best shots. It’s a very acrobatic and creative form of skydiving with flyers doing crazy, aerial stunts as they’re hurtling towards the ground at about 170mph.

Robert’s team, Z Airtime, won 1st place at the X-games their first year and 2nd place the next year. Here’s a video of their work that Brian Germain posted on Youtube recently. Robert is the one on the left in the below still, the barefoot skydiver, and the one hamming it up.

Team Z-AirTime was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I was forever bonded with two of the most amazing people I have ever met. Robert Mahaffey, brilliant wild man of the team, was an incredible athlete in everything he tried.

Lots of things happened between this gorgeous time in Robert’s life and the dark times that led to his death in November 2012.

So in late 2013 or early 2014, when I was ready to get my writing off the ground and it was time to find a new name for my self-publishing vehicle, Free Flying Press had a nice ring to it. It gave me a lot of peace to honor Robert in this way.

Besides knowing he would have loved the attention and the compliment, Robert’s skydiving years were the happiest time of his life. He had found his people, his calling, and even his portal to freedom.

Somehow that elusive freedom is a primary motivator behind this DIY press. The freedom to craft my stories as I see fit rather than follow arbitrary rules that I don’t agree with is my favorite advantage, and I’m willing to sacrifice the validation and prestige of traditional publishing in order to have it.

DISCLAIMER: For all anybody knows, my writing sucks and I’m not good enough to get published. See for yourself and decide: here are some blogs of excerpts of my work-in-progress here and here.

Besides freedom, there are other themes that informed my life, Robert’s life, and the stories behind this press. But those are subjects for other blogs.

To conclude, doesn’t the image of freeflying skydivers somersaulting through the air as they’re rushing towards earth at breakneck speed present an image of ultimate risk and ultimate freedom?

And if that isn’t the essence of an unforgettable, bad-ass ‘brand,’ then what is?

The graphic designer flipped the image, but you can see the stunt that inspired the Free Flying Press logo in the video above if you watch almost to the end.

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Making the Right Choice - Illustrators

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One of the things I love most about self-publishing is creative collaboration.

I can’t say I love the searching and interviewing process to find my ideal collaborator. But that is a necessary chore.  

Since most of the stuff I write is for an adult audience, I don’t need an illustrator most of the time. But I do write children’s fairy tales from time to time, and 2 were polished enough to warrant completing them into a book form.

I got “The Golden Pedestal” illustrated and designed into a book last year, and I’m working on getting the 2nd one, “Why Roses Have Thorns” illustrated and designed this summer.

By the way, “Roses” was the first fairy tale I ever wrote. 

I learn through making mistakes. Lots of them.

Last year, I didn’t take the time to interview various artists, and went with an illustrator who was willing to work for less because he lacked experience. He said he “always wanted to illustrate a children’s book.”

I had never done this outside of collaborating with friends, and our collective lack of experience caused problems.

So I learned some lessons, and went about things a little differently this year. 

I put up my Craigslist post and waited until I had a healthy variety of choices.

I don’t know what it is about Craigslist, but it seems the incompetent, the inexperienced, the desperate, and the dregs rush to answer brand new posts.

I took my time sifting through the various applications that came in (most of which were hopelessly inadequate), and picked three artists to interview.

Two of the three did exactly as I asked in my post, and the 3rd sent a lot of her work through various replies and was clearly eager.

Since I liked her work and thought it might be appropriate for this story, I asked to meet with her.

Sonja was my second interview, and I really liked her. She really wanted this project, and had an interesting and unique story. Unfortunately, she was not computer savvy and most of her work was from the 80’s.

I’d consider her for another project or to illustrate flyers, but I would need somebody who could transfer her work to a jpg or tiff file.

Truthfully though, the next 2 interviews had a steep slope to impress me because my first interviewee hit the ball out of the park.

It’s weird to remember that I almost didn’t ask for an interview until I thoroughly checked out all the links she sent me.

The illustrations she sent me didn’t impress me as much as the wide range of her experience. Besides illustration, she designs costumes, is a dancer/choreographer/performance artist.

I’m really glad I was thorough because in our interview, she was able to show me work that wasn’t available on her website.

I was also impressed with her follow through.

Since I answered all three at the same time, I thought I had confirmed time and place with everybody. But I hadn’t with her.

So I show up at the tea shop, without my computer or my phone (???!!!!), looked around and waited for about 15-20 minutes. I was perplexed because everything about her seemed so professional.

I began to wonder if I hadn’t confirmed. Since I didn’t have my phone, I didn’t see her email asking for confirmation of where we were meeting.

So Natalya impressed me to no end when she showed up, even though she wasn’t certain I would be there.

Her manner was warm and engaging, and she really loved fairy tales.

She had a lot of knowledge about how they were illustrated, and seemed to get it about dark fairy tales.

Anybody who approaches a subject with knowledge and understanding is going to bring a lot to the table.

I really liked Natalya a lot. I probably made the decision to hire immediately, even though I had interviews with 2 more people.

But I also liked Sonja, my 2nd interviewee. I can’t remember the name of the 3rd artist I met, and I don’t care enough to dig through my email to find out.

She was very professional and had a lot of materials. In the moment, I actually considered her for the covers of my adult work.

I had loved BANE’s art who worked on “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer,” and did all the work for the novelettes.

He was also a pleasure to work with. But he stopped illustrating due to problems with his vision.

This 3rd artist assured me she was good at imitation. I considered working with her, and quasi-offered her that job during the interview, which she quasi-accepted.

The problem was her demeanor. She was cordial and professional, but very cold.

Since I’m pretty scatter-brained, I showed up looking like a mess after workout, while she showed up immaculate.

I also was a mess when I had met Natalya. But there was nothing in the way she acted that inspired me to feel self-conscious.

When I walked away from that 3rd interview, I felt icky. If we really can feel energy from people, it’s possible the woman I just interviewed judged me unkindly. 

Of course, all this may be my imagination or insecurity.

Either way, I don’t see the point of working with somebody AND PAYING HER if I feel like sh*t when I walk away from a meeting. I mean…Eeeewwww…

So, Natalya got the job. I had my first meeting with her and I’m already so happy with the choice I made.

Writing Tips! Character, Plotting, Novel Structure, Oh My!

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Plot first, character second, or character first, plot second?

That is the question many of us struggle with.

General rule of thumb: Characters who drive the plot make up literary fiction; a fully developed plot where the characters come across as ‘flat’ or ‘1-dimensional,’ kind of like actors in a play, make up commercial fiction.

Perhaps that is an oversimplification. But generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to discern when a novel has its foundation in ‘character’ or ‘plot.’

To refer again the marvelous Margaret Grossman, one is either a plot writer or a character writer, and each envies the other their talent.

As a plot writer, I’ve had to research and devise tools to give birth to more intriguing characters – or at least, I think they’re intriguing. But I haven’t a clue how to show those writers who struggle with plot how to develop one.

Remember the post, Engaging Characters or Juicy Plot?

In it, I gave a character checklist for those who write plots but don’t write characters naturally. If you’ve never seen that post, here’s the link.

This is a similar tool I use when I’m struggling with fleshing out characters and why they do the things they do. Since I write plot naturally, I have to work on developing characters. Yet it’s very difficult to give pointers on something that comes naturally, at least it is for me.

Anyhow, on Pinterest, I came across a writer, Penelope Redmont, who offered a very simple and elegant method for developing plot, clearly for those who naturally write character. Here’s that wonderful blog here.

Also, while I’m at it, here is my Cage-Escape-Quest-Dragons-Home, the basic structure for forming chapters and the arc of the novel as a whole. This may help with the character arcs Penelope Redmont refers to in her blog, Plotting Fiction: 3 Plotting Tips to Make Fiction Easy.

And guess what else? Penelope Redmont writes Romance! Regency romance and romantic suspense – ha! Oh, what an odd coincidence that is! For anybody who doesn’t understand why that’s strange and would like to know, check it out here.

I LOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVE FAIRBANKS!!!!!! - On the Road #13

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Hey y'all,

I Love Fairbanks. I love it, love it, love it!!!!!

Let's color this email happy, baby!

(No color fonts in SquareSpace, unfortunately, hence the colors in the photo.)

Just when it seemed as if I was burrowed in the vat of discouragement, eating bitterness for breakfast, I came to Fairbanks. Never mind the drive up with the fall colors lighting up the tundra - that was beautiful! - but at Fairbanks, I arrived.

Granted my trip was not just sneers, you're-weird-looks, and other unpleasant run-ins - I have met so many wonderful, supportive, and amazing people at every stop...but in Fairbanks - at least from the college side of town to Ester, it wasn't just random individuals here and there, but packs of people in general. We all know that there's safety...and strength in numbers.

And coming here on the tail end of the Alaska Fair was just what my spirit needed to keep going.

I could feel from the first that Fairbanks would be different. At Gulliver's - awesome bookstore! - I ran into an acquaintance I met in Juneau - several of those up here - and was bellyaching about the trip and the difficulties of selling my own work, and myself, etc. when a friend of his sat down and after hearing what I was doing, offered to buy a book.

That night, I was at a dinner party in Ester when Jen, an artist I'd met in Girdwood, suggested that I go by this coffeehouse and if they didn't have anything scheduled, ask to do a storytelling there. Sure enough, one night was open, so I managed to set something up at the last minute. She also challenged me to "creatively visualize" a hundred people waiting in line to buy my book.

"If you do that every day for a month, I promise you, things will happen."

On the same day, I was at Gulliver's again, waiting for my turn for free computer usage when the manager came by and said they'd take five books to start out.

I also sold three more to acquaintances that I ran into and a stranger I'd just met.

The next night, I had a couple of groups, Jen's friends and people that I met at the hostel show up for the storytelling - one man bought five books, a Japanese lady bought two, and yet another bought one. Better yet, Ethan, a high school English teacher bought one and asked permission to photocopy it, so he could teach it.

"I love your book!" said Kliff, a drummer who is a friend of a friend. And apparently, he has raved about it to everybody he knows, because the Ethan the teacher was a friend of his.

At the Pub that night, I sold two more. I also met a radio dj who wants to interview me when I come back to town - because of course I will!!! - and one of the women who bought a book and was at Jen's dinner party - is a natural at marketing and is already cooking up ideas for a dinner party with a story segment in between courses. I had been wanting a venue to do "Ella Bandita" as a combo dinner theatre/tableside storytelling, and here Sarah was just handing it to me.

"Fairbanks is a place where a lot of people are trying to create something," said Jay, a musician who lived in Juneau briefly a few years ago. "So people really try to support each other here."

Jen said her art has just taken off since she moved here. Her friend Heather, who makes hats does quite well at the Farmer's Market.

I don't know what it is about this town, but after weeks of people's walls, boundaries, suspicion, and all other forms of attitude, the feeling of openness, generosity, and support was like the nectar of the gods. I sold twenty books in a few days without even trying and I have a posse in less than a week.

Hope everybody has patience with my bragging rights, but hell, this was long overdue.

Did I mention that I love Fairbanks?

Montgomery

This is from the DIY booktour/roadtrip I took in 2005-2006. This stop was one of my most joyful, and I still have cherished memories from that time. The DJ ended up being a total dud in the long run, fyi.

If you’d like to read the previous On the Road post that strongly contributed to the relief of this journal entry, click here.

A Touch of the Erotic, Maybe It's Even Funny - Novel Excerpt, The Shepherd and the Courtesan

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At that moment, I thought I heard the sound of a woman’s sigh, even through the high vibrato of the mandolins. I thought it might be my imagination until I recognized the muffled grunts of the Wanderer. My eyes snapped open and I brought my head up.

“Celia is a born slut,” Adrianna said conversationally. “She could enjoy an illustrious Life if she ever learns some self restraint.”

“Surely they are not making love right now!”

       “I think they might be.”

       “With all these people around?”

       Celia’s sighs escalated to moans and cries, and even through the music, I could hear the slap of flesh on flesh. Unable to resist the urge, I turned around. Celia lay backwards on the divan, her coppery hair cascading to the rugs, and her was face flushed from her head hanging over the edge. Her tapering, pearly legs were wrapped around the Wanderer’s waist, and her breasts bounced as the Wanderer thrust in and out of her.

       “It certainly looks like they are.”

       Adrianna sounded delighted as she murmured in my ear. When I turned around, the stewards smirked and the maids smothered their giggles. Even the awkward girls on mandolins couldn’t repress their grins, and Astrid twittered as she continued her massage of my shoulders. It suddenly occurred to me that I was the only one on the back patio who was shocked.

“A little discretion if you please!” Adrianna called out. “Celia, please remember I have two honored guests here, and I want them both to be completely at their leisure.”

Celia giggled and made an effort to muffle her cries by burying her face in the Wanderer’s shoulder. He pulled her up and flipped her on top of him, leaving her free to ride him, her rump rolling back and forth.

       “Shepherd, you have two beautiful women trying to spoil you. So be a darling and grace us with your attention, please.”

       I turned around.

       “We are used to this,” Adrianna continued. “And clearly, you’re not. But it is possible to focus on the pleasures before you, rather than on the pleasure for another.”

       Astrid moved one hand to the middle of my upper back and one hand on my upper chest.

       “Hmmm…” Astrid murmured, pressing deeply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I can feel your pain, Shepherd. I can feel you holding on to it.”

       I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t speak. It didn’t help when Celia’s sharp cry of ecstasy rang out through the back patio. Next to me, Adrianna laughed out loud.

       “Why must Celia be so cursedly loud when she meets her crisis?”

       Then the Wanderer joined her with a whooping yell, and I could feel the blood rush to my face.

       “And he is no quieter,” she concluded.

       Astrid kept her hold on my back and chest, and moved her hands in slow circles.

       “Breathe,” she whispered. “Let yourself melt, Shepherd. I promise I’m not trying to seduce you.”

       I laughed hard. I simply couldn’t help it. Everything about this scene was unreal and so outside of my reality that in that moment, it all seemed like an elaborate prank. The moment of brevity gave me a welcome release, and I even did as Astrid suggested. However, the ecstatic cries and moans of a coupling between two people who had met not even an hour ago made relaxation and ease impossible. I couldn’t remember any time I had ever been so embarrassed.

       “Your effort to ignore them is valiant,” Adrianna murmured.

For more excerpts from this work in progress, click here and/or here.

How Can Writers Get Out of Their Heads and Into Their Bodies? DANCE!

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I’m really surprised I’ve never written anything about Ecstatic Dance.

I love to write and I love to dance. Dance is good for my writing, so one would think that it would be a natural marriage.

In truth, writing about dancing is extremely awkward for me.

I have loved dancing for a long time - all of it, partner dancing, dance orgies in clubs, getting down to live music. There truly is nothing sweeter than getting a groove on with a live band; in and of itself, that is ecstatic.

During the time I lived in Juneau, Alaska, I got really lucky with the bands who lived and played there. They really savored the high that comes with a rhythm that got people on the dance floor to shake it.

It was communion of sorts - a better, cleaner high than anything found in a bottle.

Dance is healing for many reasons, but what really sets it apart for me is that dance creates joy. Ecstatic dance is not the same as dancing in a nightclub or to a band.

I’ve also heard it called “Dance Church,” which makes sense to me because movement is a powerful way to worship.

Ecstatic Dance is a practice.

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The dancers are always barefoot, usually sober, and they are expected to be. The dance sets range from 1-2 hours that follows a wave or a double wave.

The two pioneers whose work evolved into Ecstatic Dance are the late Gabrielle Roth and her 5 rhythms (New York), and Vinn Marti and his Soul Motion (Portland, OR).

In a 5 rhythms set, the rhythms of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness happen in sequence to make a Wave.

In Soul Motion, each dancer moves through 4 relational landscapes – Dance Intimate where we move alone, Dance Communion where we move with a partner, Dance Community where we move with everyone, and Dance Infinity where we move our practice to everyday life.

Most Ecstatic Dance communities combine these two approaches, and the experience is powerful.

I have felt everything from irritation to exaltation to ordinariness to exhaustion to euphoria depending on my mood, my openness, and how deeply I connect with the music, with myself, and/or with others during the dance.

During a typically good set, I go into bliss. Often, I savor a tingling along my skin that is similar to a full-body orgasm.

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There have been times I’ve almost walked out because I was in a bad mood and NOT feeling it. Then a song transported me. Or I made eye contact with another dancer and started a wordless conversation which brought me into the practice. Then I fully arrived and let go into dance.

During the closing circle of my first Ecstatic Dance, a young woman described the feeling of her soul leaving her body during the set.

Wow. I can’t say I’ve had that happen.

But my experiences have been enough to satisfy.

Is Ecstatic Dance a hippie-dippie thing to do? Well, yeah. It is. Yet people from all walks and all ages come to dance every week.

Regulars include an old man well into his 80’s. His range of motion is very limited, but he moves with what he’s got. Sometimes he’s dancing using a walker. Yet the radiance on his face inspires me every time I see him.

Another is a young woman with cerebral palsy, who is confined to a wheelchair. But she dances from her wheelchair, and she has her share of dance partners.

One handsome man I’ve seen for years seemed so closed off when he first came, and he’s opened up so much. I don’t know these people by name.

We meet on the dance floor and that’s how I know them. It’s kind of magical, really.

I heard about Ecstatic Dance from a guy I met at Hippie Hot Springs. We fell into a spontaneous dance on New Year’s. And it struck me how present he was and the lovely sensation of being pushed to the edge.

I mentioned that to him the next day at breakfast. He nodded and told me he went to Ecstatic Dance every Sunday, and that’s why. He said he started this after his divorce, and made all his new friends through that community.

I had just moved to Portland, and he told me where I could find all this marvelous information of ecstatic dances in the area. I got on it and went the following week. I loved it immediately.

Then I didn’t go again for 6 months. I don’t really know why. I think the intimacy and intensity of it both intrigued and frightened me. I guess I couldn’t handle so much of that at the time.

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So what does any of this have to do with being a writer?

Besides an experience that gives me something to write about, very little. But Ecstatic Dance has a lot of value for a group of people who live inside their heads all the time.

Writers need nourishment. We need practices outside of writing to keep us healthy and balanced. Ecstatic Dance brings me into my body.

It also moves energy within and through me, which keeps the channels open for inspiration and creativity.

On an emotional and psychological level, dance brings me community when I feel lonely, solace when I feel sad and angry, and expression when I feel overwhelmed with celebration and joy.

On a pragmatic level, I’ve also gotten some gorgeous ideas for stories and blog posts, and solved plot snafus where I was stuck while dancing.

Dancing clears the mind, opens the heart, and supports the body. Dance is great therapy, and what doesn’t need that?

So find an ecstatic dance in your area. Google “Ecstatic Dance,” “Dance Church,” “5 Rhythms,” or “Soul Motion.”

If your area doesn’t have anything, you can always take your shoes off, play your favorite jams, and dance like an idiot in your living room. Or kitchen. Or bedroom. Location hardly matters.

So get out of your head and into your body. The muses will bless you, and your writing will thank you.

Got Writer's Block? Here, Have Some Writing Prompts!

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Writer’s block is such a bitch. Prevention is worth more than cure here, of course, and one of the best ways to prevent the dreaded writer’s block is to write your story ideas down as they come to tinker with them later.

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But in case you didn’t do that, here are some prompts and story ideas that might get you rolling. One could be used as a journaling piece or memoir.

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What do you think about doing a series of essays on your most embarrassing moments – those times we’d prefer to forget? I think the experience would be both humbling and liberating at the same time. It’s very empowering to embrace our human frailty.

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And here, enjoy a couple of others. Hope this helps!

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In case these aren’t enough, there are plenty more prompts to be found here and here.




Why Do We Write?

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Why do we write?

I ask myself this question all the time for all kinds of reasons. I ask myself why did I want to be a writer when I procrastinate for far longer than I actually spend typing, when I’m frozen on a scene, or when I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story nuggets that have yet to be the rough drafts, rewrites, revisions, and edits of gold mines. Writing is so much work with very few tangible, immediate rewards. It is not a “fun job.” It keeps me in my head. It keeps me solitary, sometimes even isolated. There is no way to be a writer without being a watcher. That role of observation keeps me out of the active participation of life far more often than I would like.

A perfect example of this watcher/player dynamic can be found amongst the Beat Generation of writers and poets. “On the Road” was not about Jack Kerouac so much as it was about Neal Cassady, a friend Kerouac found fascinating. Apparently, Neal Cassady also had a talent for writing. A “Joan Anderson letter” written to Kerouac from Cassady featured the stream-of-consciousness writing which inspired Kerouac, and he write “On The Road” in that style, this book that made him famous. What Cassady did not have was the discipline or the drive to become a great writer himself. He was too busy playing on the stage of life, being a muse, an inspiration, the Holy Fool who lived on the edge until he self destructed right before his 42nd birthday. He died alone on a railroad track in Mexico from exposure, after mixing powerful drugs and alcohol.

Kerouac wrote his story down. Allen Ginsburg probably enjoyed a lot of inspiration from Cassady as well. Ken Kesey further immortalized him in the Merry Pranksters as the manic bus driver of “Further.” In the lives of these writers, they were both players and watchers; but ultimately, they had to be watchers to sit down, reflect, and write it all down. It’s hard work. It’s painstaking. Writing needs a lot of patience. And in my case, writing comes slowly.

I had so many dreams. Why did this one stick? It would have been so much more exciting to have a dream of dancing or skydiving or mountaineering or snowboarding. I’ve done a bit of all of these, some more than others. But these were passionate hobbies, not callings. Even being a geologist or biologist would have left some room.

Writing is an exacting taskmaster. So why do we do it?

In my case, I suppose I write because I’m called to. When I don’t, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. When I do, I feel at peace.

Writing does help me sort out my thoughts and ideas. Writing can upset me, but it can also bring me clarity. When I write a piece I can feel in my bones is special and just right, sweet gratification follows.

As far as the stage of Life is concerned, I’ve sought out unusual and extreme experiences, knowing that there would be a story in there somewhere. So oddly enough, writing goaded me into being a player on plenty of occasions – even if I watched the entire time.

I must admit I like playing God. Writing stories and novels makes that role inevitable. So when I finally arrive to that sense of finish – knowing I’ve done all I can do for this novel and this world I created without an editor – and write “THE END” on the last line, it feels f*cking great!

The anticipation of that satisfaction keeps me going. What works for you?

Who is the Critical Mass? On the Road #12

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Hey y'all,

Although it was a stroke of luck to get any space at the Alaska State Fair since I didn't get on it until the very last minute - and I am grateful to Denise of Non Essentials (homemade natural skincare) for giving me that space - I am nonetheless exceedingly relieved that I wasn't at the State Fair every day, much less paid exorbitant rates for a booth there.

There was something about the fair that made me think of the Celestine Prophecy and the Critical Mass, those select individuals awake to the spiritual journey of their lives, and will thus raise the human race to a higher level of existence.   

Even if this is an act of love for all of humanity, one could still argue the concept of a Critical Mass as another form of elitism - sugar-coated and with the new age stamp of approval - but still a statement that some people matter and most people don't.

Although I found the message to be inspiring, hopeful, and way groovy, The Celestine Prophecy is also one of the most badly written books I've ever read, so I couldn't take it completely seriously. Yet, some of the most intelligent people I know have eaten it up, and I don't know what to make of that.   

For those heartfelt idealists who really want to believe in the potential of all humanity, but feel the pull to...get in touch with their tendencies towards elitism…I suggest you go hang out at the State Fair. Even better, try to pursue your dream at the State Fair, and you'll get in touch real fast with your inner snob. Anybody who has ever spent any time in any customer service job knows just how awful, stupid, and downright annoying people can be.  

And at the Alaska State Fair, as I was commiserating with Denise, the lovely woman who let me set up a table on her "porch" free of charge, about the oblivious rudeness of those who come into her booth, I was struck by all the people. Swarms of people streaming by me with their hair spray-painted in rainbow colors, outlandish designs that will take the better part of the night and next day to wash out, designs painted on their faces, in tight hip-slung jeans in varying stages of fat and thin, with quite a few Mabelline cosmetics covering teenage faces that don't need make-up, and the scruffy teenage boys in their shapeless clothes. Not to mention tourists with their sparkling white, comfortable, "walking shoes" and their name tags. This sea of humanity walking back and forth was striking in their ordinariness, and there were so many of them. It occurred to me how few of these people really seemed interesting or vivid. Denise agreed and remarked that she was shocked that so many young women looked tired to her, and even more haggard than she was in her early fifties. 

"When I was young, I was young," she said. "These girls I know are young, but they already seem old."

On a positive note, a beautiful mother/daughter duo got my attention as they approached Denise's booth. I noticed them immediately because they had the same eyes - large and almond shaped, slightly Asian, and bright green. The mother was in her mid forties with her hair short and her clothes practical; she wasn't trying to impress anybody. Her daughter had her long hair in a ponytail, no make-up. She was about fifteen and absolutely beautiful in an effortless, natural way and her manners matched her looks. They spent quite a bit of time in Denise's shop and made her day, not only because they spent some money, but because they looked over her products with appreciation.  They stopped at my table for a minute. They didn’t buy anything but I didn’t care. They were not only pleasant and respectful, they were very present.

If I had to pick shoo-ins to the Critical Mass of those who are truly alive, I’d definitely choose these two. 

These ladies were a vast improvement over the stout dowager clad in a pink sweat suit with a goofy cartoon character on the front. She announced that she didn't read fiction, only the Bible; and she certainly didn't read fairy tales since she was a Christian.

"But I have many friends who do and I don't hold it against them," she puffed up.  "And I don't hold it against you for writing them."

I'm sure she felt the greatness of her spirit as she told me that and reveled in the righteousness of the narrow world of those who do not think. Perhaps she's an eager participant in book burning parties. 

Shortly after that exchange, I found myself thinking of the Critical Mass and wondering if maybe there wasn't something to it.

I'm sure this lady was certain that she was part of the Critical Mass of those who had been saved by Jesus. She certainly believes she's right and maybe she is...Who am I to say otherwise? Maybe we all are supposed to be mindless dogma junkies who live by a checklist of good behavior and see the Devil in fairy tales. Perhaps they really are the saved. Who knows?

If they are though, I will gladly go to Hell. Who wants to hang out with people like that for all eternity? 

So, who are those who make up the Critical Mass?

Call me selfish, call me vain…but in my world, the Critical Mass are those people who say:  

"Oh!  I would love to buy your book because I believe in supporting local artists."

Peace,

Montgomery

This is from a journal I took of a DIY booktour/roadtrip I did in 2005/2006. You can find the previous entry here.

 

Writer's Block in a Sex Scene? How to Open Up and Break Through

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Writer’s block hits in so many different ways.

Technically, right now, I’m not “blocked” per the usual meaning, because I’m writing regularly. Even if I’m in a slack phase in my writing, I am making progress on the crucial second draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan” (working title only), and I have to keep up on the blog.

Since I was blocked in the truest sense of the phrase for years in that I didn’t write at all, what’s holding me up now is not that much of a big deal.

But I do find it interesting.

There’s one scene that’s holding me up – the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan. This scene does not happen right away in this novel.

In fact, it doesn’t happen until the second half of the novel, and there are a several sex scenes before we even get to them, which are juicier, more transgressive, and more exciting.

Before we get to this, we have the psychological BDSM sex scenes between the Patron’s Daughter and the Brute – neither of them main characters – while the main character, Addie, who will later become the Courtesan, acts as voyeur.

We get to Addie’s flight to the Capital City, and none of the sex scenes with her as a Courtesan for the sake of pacing. But we do get the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Woman who would become Ella Bandita; and the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is right after that.

But the difference between all the other sex scenes and this is that this sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is rooted in tenderness, whereas the others have some element of drama and intrigue.

Also in the scene between these characters, I’m writing about those who are not the usual players in an erotic scene, mainly because of age and ageism. The Shepherd is 50, and the Courtesan is 60. They are still true to the usual standard of romantic fantasy in that both characters are exceptionally attractive.

In an erotic scene, the Courtesan suspends disbelief because she’s been very sexual for more than 40 years; and any woman who stays active keeps her juice much longer than those who don’t.

The Shepherd, however, has been mostly solitary and without a mate for 25 years. There is a lot of vulnerability there. I’m resistant to writing about that, and I wonder why.

I wasn’t resistant to writing about the psychological and physical violence between the Brute and the Patron’s Daughter; for the record, that’s not the kind of scene I live through in my personal life, and perhaps that’s why. I’m emotionally detached.

So maybe I can’t be emotionally detached at the thought of a character who had embraced his solitude, and was now suddenly confronted with emotional and sexual intimacy, along with the fears that would entail. That hits closer to home to my experience.

Then I arrive at the logistics of impotence. Erectile dysfunction is reasonable to expect in a middle-aged man who has not had sex in a quarter century. That likelihood cannot be ignored because it would render the scene ridiculous, even in a “fantasy.”

Oh, and then there’s the logistics of being a woman writing a sex scene from the POV of a man. I’ve done it before with the Wanderer in the previous novel, but it adds a whole new level of awkwardness to writing it.

Since Viagra is not an option for a story set in pre-Industrial fairy tale times, I consulted with my Tantra teacher on natural methods to induce a solid hard-on for the good Shepherd. She shared the finger-in-anus-to-massage-the-prostrate technique that she claims would raise an erection in a dead man. (Ok, I exaggerate.)

Although that information is very pragmatic, I couldn’t figure out a graceful, poetic way to introduce it in the scene. And the long-celibate Shepherd is more likely to be scared off with a move like that. Maybe I’ll use it later in the story once they get better acquainted.

For their first time, I went with tender loving care, encouragement, tantric breathing, and palpating the perineum. Although there’s no guarantee those gentler methods would be effective in real life, who is to say that’s impossible? It only has to be in the realm of possibility, and that is good enough for me.

As far as insights and how-to advice, I think I led by example. You can write a blog or a Facebook Note, and open up to strangers. Writing this post gave relief to my shyness. I've never used Facebook Live or Instagram Live, but I bet that would lead to some pretty out there input, and there’s always something useful.

If you prefer a more intimate place to get feedback is talk about it with people face-to-face. Discuss the sex scene with close friends or your writers’ group. I will need to do this eventually for that masculine perspective on those sex scenes told from the man’s experience. But even without that, other perspectives can be very helpful in fleshing out a challenging what ifs and snafus. And talking about it in person is likely to break you out of your reticence.

I’m ready to take on that sex scene now. How do you handle being shy about writing a descriptive sex scene?

For anybody who’d like a nibble - and this is only a nibble - because sex is part of the background, not the main event in the scene, click here to view this excerpt out of my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.”

She's a Victim of her own Success

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Sometimes I hear these pithy statements, and know immediately I have to use them later. This is tied into the “Give Yourself Something to Write About” theme of my blog. The best way to come up with fresh ideas and new perspectives is to DO STUFF. Do stuff that hurts, that’s difficult, that makes you uncomfortable.  

That’s what I did when I had a conversation that gave me the title of this blog: “She’s a victim of her own success.” I’m currently at a Contact Improv Jam. Contact improv is a form of dance that makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it entails getting into intimate personal space with strangers, rolling around on the ground, sharing weight, being lifted and twisted into all kinds of bizarre shapes.

Anyway, I was deep in conversation with this guy who I know through these jams, about his friend. They live in Seattle, I live in Portland, so these are the only times we connect. Anyway, I asked him about his friend because I hadn’t seen her in a while. She’s a cute blonde who is an excellent Contact dancer, who men love, and who seems to have everything. She did tell me about a pretty gnarly health problem she had, and I mentioned that. He shrugged and said he wonders about the health problem that she’s treated for years, and has his doubts. He said she’s gotten reclusive, never wants to go out, go to contact jams, or do anything.

“She’s a victim of her own success,” he said. “I think that’s all that’s wrong with her.”

Talk about a mic drop and a head swivel! That statement is rich with meaning and hidden meaning, the kind of statement that stops us in our tracks and makes us think.

We really do have it so good, and have for so many generations. But to think of being so blessed, of having so many advantages that one could possibly implode on oneself boggles the mind. Another way of looking at it is that having such a sweet deal in life may be so boring that one creates problem to have a challenge or some strife to get through.

I’m sure there are many other ways to look at that. But who knows what may become of that chance remark. Perhaps it will only be this blog. Perhaps this kind of woman will be a character in a story. Maybe she already is in a variety of novels, TV shows, movies, and plays.

Either way, that was a fantastic statement and I wouldn’t have found that nugget of inspiration if I hadn’t been DOING STUFF.

So get out of your head and into the world and do stuff that gives you something to write about.