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.”

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.

 

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.

 

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.

The Forgotten Little Bastards - Novel Excerpt from The Shepherd and the Courtesan

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This is a novel excerpt from my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” The title may be changed and maybe this scene deleted, because this is between one of the protagonists and a minor character, a courtesan protegee. But I liked the dialogue and I think this scene shows the world the Shepherd has found himself in very well, as well as shed some light on the other protagonist. If you’d like to read another excerpt from this work, click here.

I shook my head.

“You don’t mind?” Astrid persisted. “Or you prefer I leave you be?”

“No. I don’t mind.”

“Good,” Astrid smiled. “Because I wanted to ask you some questions about that scene this morning in the town square.”

“You were there?”

“Of course I was. Everybody was there, even the scrubbers from the dirtiest whorehouse in the Capital were there.”

“What do you want to ask me about?”

“What possessed you and the Wanderer to give the bounty on Ella Bandita to the children of the orphanage?”

“Why do you want to know about that?”

“Because it’s too marvelous! Who would give a fortune for a private education fit for highborn children to a bunch of penniless, nameless forgotten little bastards? Not to mention a modest legacy to start life once they left the orphanage?”

I tensed up. I had not expected this at all. The Wanderer and I had agreed it was the best possible use for what was essentially blood money, but we also believed that such a gesture would silence any questions.

“It seemed like the right thing to do.”

“I’m not saying it wasn’t. But you could have lived as patrons for the rest of your lives!”

“That means nothing to me.”

Astrid’s hazel eyes were wide in her pale face.

“But everybody wants to be rich.”

I relaxed a little. Nothing in Astrid’s expression indicated suspicion or cunning. She merely seemed amazed and curious.

“I can’t explain how or why. But I’ve never coveted wealth and I’ve always had what I need.”

 Astrid nodded slowly, and her white cheeks flushed a pale pink.

“I can’t claim to understand you, Shepherd. I simply wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing that.”

“I appreciate your kind words. But why are you thanking me?”

“Because I’m one of those forgotten little bastards. Most of us here at the Casa came from the orphanage.”

 “Like who?”

 “Celia and I grew up together there.”

 Astrid nodded to the trio of mandolin players, whose ethereal music filled the air.

“They’re younger than we are, but I remember them from the orphanage. Almost all the servants came from there too.”

 “Are the musicians also protégées?”

Astrid shook her head.

“Not everybody can be for the Life. Originally, they came here as little girls to train to be maids. But Mi’Lady always tests the children, and discovered these girls had a natural talent for music, so she mentored them in their learning. Now they get to be musicians. Not only do they entertain us, but they are often hired to perform at various salons around the City.”

“Do they live here?”

Astrid nodded.

“There are two dormitories at the back of this yard. One is for servants and servants-in-training. The other is for the protégées, as well as the artistic girls.”

“Really? That is extraordinary.”

I stared at Astrid, who smiled at me in appreciation.

“What you and the Wanderer have done is truly wonderful. You saved this generation of boys from a criminal life and eventual hanging, and all of the girls from the drudgery of servitude and prostitution in the brothels. The orphans who had any kind of lucky star on their side end up at the Casa, and the Casa is full. Except for a truly gifted and beautiful girl here and there, Mi’Lady doesn’t have much room to add to her household for at least twenty more years.”

I was speechless. Astrid paused for a moment, then continued.

“There isn’t an orphan, harlot, or servant who wouldn’t sell their soul to be here.”

Tiny Victories and Tremendous Satisfaction

Storytelling

I’ve always used storytelling as a vehicle to get my work out there, but it is also an art form that I love in and of itself. So, since January of 2017, I’ve done these events called Tea & Tales where I tell a story out of Ella Bandita as well as fables, myths, and folk tales from all over the world. We lounge on pillows, drink herbal tea, chill out, and the audience listens while I talk. Sometimes I sell a novel out of this, but for the most part, donations are the only payment I get out of it. The first year, I quickly figured out that Tea & Tales 2x/month-year-round is not realistic. So Tea & Tales has since become a monthly event that happens seasonally from the fall until mid-Spring when the days are noticeably longer.

I was burned out at the end of this season. I was more than ready for the last Tea & Tales on April 7th to come and go because the light was increasing along with my restlessness, and I was more than ready to be done for the rest of spring and summer. I’m proud of what I’ve done with Tea & Tales, that I’ve stuck with it for 3 seasons, and have slowly built up a network of regulars that I can count on somebody showing up.

For the first 2 seasons, I had only 1 regular who I could count on, and Simran is fabulous. He kept me going, showing up when nobody else did. And so long as he was there, I told my stories and got some practice. He even participated as a guest storyteller a couple of times, and he painted my Tea & Tales sandwich board sign on both sides. Isn’t it fabulous?

During the 2nd season, I promoted and emailed and pushed and had larger audiences as a result, but I did not gain new regulars. I tend to find my regulars through the things I like to do. For example, I love espresso and my favorite barista came to a few of the Tea & Tales this season. A friend of mine has been coming, and a couple of potential new ones came who I met through a women’s group that I recently joined. Marc started coming in the 2nd season, and he invited me to do a skit with him through Open Heart Mic after I did a storytelling there.

And on this last Tea & Tales, a young woman showed up who had seen me last year at Open Heart Mic. This was the first she had seen of my Tea & Tales on Facebook, and she jumped right in. The fact that she came a YEAR after she had seen me perform at Open Heart Mic left me elated.

If that’s not the highest compliment to what I do, I don’t know what is. These are the small victories that keep us going. I may have to promote more next season, but I also need to get out there at other events. That was a gorgeous eye opener, and a warm glow that will last me until the fall when I do it all over again.

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? - On the Road #11

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I was on the road in Anchorage when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. That catastrophe hit me hard because I had lived in New Orleans for two brief stints before moving to Alaska. Even though I was so immersed in my DIY booktour road trip, all I could think about was my time in New Orleans, so I couldn’t help but write to my friends about it, even though that wasn’t a part of my road trip. Many of my friends found this piece to be one of their favorites from the trip. For previous journal entries from On the Road blogs, go here and here.

Ah, the decline of the city of debauchery!  That spit in the face of nature, a major port city built with a swamp as the foundation, a place that has suffered through being changed to the rule of differing countries like a spoiled brat being tossed back and forth between reluctant parents who never should have had kids to begin with.  That inconvenient city that has been neglected, corrupted, bought and sold, taken over, all the while home to murder, slavery, the birth of the "free people of color." The latter were the offspring between slaves and white plantation owners who became so widespread, they became their own segment of New Orleans society. The free people of color even had slaves to serve them. They threw octoroon balls, so the beautiful daughters of the free people of color could meet privileged Creole gentlemen, and be set up as their long-term mistresses. Not to mention the recurring presence of the plague brought on by the innocuous mosquito wiping out populations making the Nile Virus look like the common cold. Not to mention voodoo, everybody in New Orleans takes voodoo seriously, thanks to the 19th century mulatto free woman of color, Marie Laveau. She made two fortunes before and  after the Civil War, when everybody there lost everything. Then the arrival of Yankee Irish carpetbaggers who came to scavenge Louisiana and other parts of the south, showed up on her doorstep due to her reputation as a powerful sorceress.

It's hard to believe that so much richness and wretched beauty existed in such a thoroughly whacked-out place, and you have no idea how much it hurts my heart to see the pictures and read the reports of the destruction of that city. 

Although it had been pimped out to common tourism (we in Juneau know nothing about that, now don't we?), New Orleans never lost its mysticism or its magic. I could write a book about the short time that I spent there, and it's impossible for photos, news reports, or writing to do that city justice. New Orleans to me was one of those places that really made an impact on my psyche, even if I didn't spend years of my life there. My parents went to college at Tulane where they met. They even married there. Without New Orleans, I wouldn't exist, so there's always been that connection.  Then, of course, there was the writing of Anne Rice and Truman Capote...

Mysterious, fascinating, decadent, violent, New Orleans never should have existed except for the megalomaniacal vision and ambition of man; from the day le Sieur de la Salle saw that space in the swamp, and the access of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, and was consumed with trading glory for France. De la Salle never found that spot again; he got lost in Texas and was murdered by his crew before they ever found it, so Bienville and Iberville were the brothers given credit for founding this city built on a swamp. 

"So what's your story?" 

This is the usual go-to when meeting new people. And the superbly fucked up story of La Nouvelle Orleans was unstable from the word go. It’s part of its charm and mystique, and nobody can do dysfunctional with the same expertise and panache of those who were born and raised there. New Orleanians revel in their dramas, and always welcome newcomers, so they can perform their story for a fresh audience. The one thing I remember about that city is that lots of people helped me stay, but it was like extricating myself out of molasses when it was time to go.  Let's face it, anyplace built in a swamp is going to encourage stagnation, not growth.

But there's no place like it on earth. The vibe of that town is mysterious with its decadent homes where 11 foot ceilings are considered stunted, with wrought iron gates, magnolia and jasmine trees scenting the night, and the hanging oaks insuring the privacy of the doings inside the houses. It's a city of sin and secrets, masquerade and carnival, even if Mardi Gras has been degraded from nudity and body paint, fucking strangers while in mask to a frat boy street party where "Show your tits!" and fresh-faced twenty-something teeny boppers pull up their shirts is the pinnacle of thrill.  

There's nothing quite like being drunk in New Orleans. It is literally a different kind of high, all the ju-ju, mojo, and mysticism must get in the air and permeate the alcohol. A town where seeing people smoking joints in the street is not an uncommon sight and of course, taking your drink with you when you leave the bar to go to the next, whether in the French Quarter or any other part of town, is legal. 

Lawless.

"No human being should be in New Orleans during the months of August and September."  So said Laura, my lunatic roommate in the neighborhood known as "Uptown," when we were discussing the humidity of New Orleans.  

The heat and humidity still live in my memory. I was raised in Florida, no slouch in tropical weather humidity, but in New Orleans, it's worse. But from the first weekend visit before I moved there a month later, the beauty and the vibe of that town knocked me out, and I absolutely loved it.  I found a job and my first place to live within a week.

"Five fifty?!  For a beer?!" (This was in 1996. Nowadays, $5.50 is normal.)

I worked as a bartender on Bourbon Street during my first run there; and well, it was a vivid experience. I've never worked so hard or so long in that profession as I did at that particular job, the only bartending job where I worked fifty to seventy hours a week during busy times - Superbowl, Mardi Gras, and Jazz Festival - for a very colorful family. I didn't make the “bank” that one would expect, due to appallingly over priced drinks, but I had to stay. I worked for the "Jewish Mafia" as one of my co-workers put it, the last of the old families that ruled the French Quarter from the old days before corporate companies brought Californication to the Big Easy and put the smiley-face, homogeneous smear on the place. The kind of people who "bought" the employees they wanted, instead of "stealing" them. The Karno family was a hold-out from a different time; they were gleefully corrupt, unapologetically greedy, and cheerily abusive. I was definitely out of place there. Being the cog in the machine, I got yelled at every day for three months until I adapted to my surroundings and became a part of the "There's us, and then there's them" mentality they had towards outsiders.

"Larry, is your name motherfucker?" Gail, the manager, shouted to one of the cocktail waiters at a meeting geared towards building teamwork in time for the Superbowl/Mardi Gras season.

It was not a warm and fuzzy environment, being that I was working amongst a bunch of self-admitted hustlers, and stress ran high. Squabbling, fighting, cursing each other out were daily occurrences. And as I said, I would have made a lot more money in half the time spent if I had worked at any of the other bars on the street. Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy working there, but I had to stay. 

The Karno’s owned these bars, worked their employees like plantation slaves, and played the nastiest head games with us because they could.  They were the last of their kind and I knew I would never meet anybody like them again. Face it: they would have been sued out of business anyplace else but New Orleans. Their psychology was shaped by the absolute power of the good old days, when the bosses of the French Quarter could have people black-balled, and one really didn't want to piss them off if one wanted to continue to make money there. Their core employees were still a part of that mentality, and it kept them frozen in time.

Even then, I knew it couldn't last. Modern times were catching up with that swamp city of decay and decadence. I had a feeling my employers would eventually lose everything, but I never imagined anything like this.

"Yeah, one good hurricane coming up the Mississippi would wipe us out, we'd be living underwater," joked Sammy Karno. "It hasn't happened in over two hundred and fifty years."

This isn't the first time a hurricane has wiped out New Orleans, the only difference was that the first buildings were last minute shanties.  It wasn't the architectural marvel and fantasy it's been ever since.

"What keeps it up? Technology, or dumb-ass luck?"

"So far," said Sammy, "it's been dumb-ass luck."

It just hit me in the last day or two that many people that I knew and cared about are going through this misery of Hurricane Katrina. The folks I worked with were under-educated, ignorant (some had no idea the corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was known as "Cancer Alley" due to the pollution of the Mississippi and looked shocked when I told them. I was equally shocked at their shock, I mean what do you say?), and living from paycheck to paycheck or tip day to tip day.  If you wait tables in Louisiana, your base pay is about $2 an hour. Apparently you can pay bartenders as low, but since Miss Billie, my boss, was paranoid about stealing and the bartenders had access to cash, she paid us minimum wage - I think I made $5/hr when I worked for here nine years ago (1996-97).

"Hang in there, baby," said Gail and Dawn, my managers.  "The Karnos will take care of you." 

I didn’t stick around to find out, and left after less than a year to continue my happy trails of the vagabond bartender phase of my life. But many musicians, entertainers, cocktail servers, and other bartenders did not evacuate before Katrina hit.  There's no way. They can't afford to go and leave everything behind. 

Both times I left New Orleans, I was so thoroughly exhausted - physically, emotionally, mentally and psychically. It was a place that I loved, but it was impossible for me to be healthy there. Also, I can't stand limbo and being stagnant was unbearable. My friends and community there were shaped by decadence, drama, and various forms of abuse. I loved them, but they were draining. They loved me and they didn't want to let go...

In New Orleans, lots of people will help you stay, but nobody will help you go. You gotta pull yourself out of the swamp. 

The second time I left, I cut all ties and never looked back.

But I can't stop thinking about them lately.  

Peace,

Montgomery

 

Genre Matters, But I Hate It!

GenreBooks

One of the most frustrating questions asked of me as a writer is “What genre do you write in?”

As much as I hate it, genre matters. Genre matters a lot. This is true when it comes to looking for an agent, an editor, a publishing house, and even self-publishing is not free from the tyrannical clutch of “genre.”

Writing contests and awards are one way to stand out from the sea of horribly-written, self-published fiction. And guess how are those writing contests classified and divided? 

There’s no escape from genre.

Technically, mine is fantasy but I don’t get so wrapped up in the magical elements or alternate world building that is considered usual in the genre.

For me, magic is a tool I use to make my point and carry the story in ways that I would not be able to do in a setting of the “real world,” but magic is not the focus of the story.

I consider my foundation to be in fairy tales, fables, and mythology, and forget urban fantasy or science fiction, because I’m not into technology in my personal life and I don’t want to get bogged down in that in fiction.

I also want to be commercially successful, but well written. So well written, that my commercial fairy tale fantasy would be considered literary. 

Then there are the sex scenes, which reach the explicit standard of erotica. But I treat sex with a lot of reverence. So in those scenes, I do my damnedest to write them beautifully in as poetic and lyrical fashion as I can, in the hopes that one would consider this literary erotica.

But if the main genre is “fantasy,” some readers may not see that coming and I’ve read that explicit sex scenes make a novel less “serious” and not “literary.”

For the hell of it, why don’t you consider that it’s possible that the description of good sex can also be literary and artistic in the world we’re writing in?

For erotica to be literary, the sex must center on a love story.

But it doesn’t fit the romance genre because romance insists on the happily-ever-after ending. My love stories don’t end that way.

Oddly enough, the second novel I’m working on right now in a series of 4, is far more of a love story with a lot of erotica more than fantasy.

It even has a HEA ending, but the two love stories within that end in abandonment and heartache. There is some magic there, with a Sorcerer who turned an angry, ugly peasant named Addie into Adrianna the Beautiful, a Courtesan who only gets better with time.

But other than that and a couple of other scenes, magic plays very little in this fantasy novel that is much more about love, sex, intrigue, and rivalry than a fantasy world of magic.

The question of genre irritates me because it is so confining.

As a writer who blends styles, and prefers to do some of this, a little of that, a bit of this here, and touches of that there - why can’t there be a space to write outside of the limitations of genre?

Isn’t that what creativity is supposed to do? Isn’t that how we grow and evolve what is art and literature?

Changing a Novel That's Already Out There

HeartofLoneWolf-Fantasy

So I wrote and self-published a novel almost five years ago. At that time, I wrote, rewrote, and rewrote again, then edited and polished; my goal was getting an agent, an editor, and a publishing house. So I knocked myself out to meet all their nitpicking details, like a modest word count. What ended up happening was an over-rewritten novel that had lost a precious measure of juice and the lingering annoyance that something’s just not right 

There wasn’t adequate backstory needed to make the central character more sympathetic, instead of one who readers couldn’t connect with – except those who had suffered enough loss in their personal lives to read between the lines and understand her. I took out at least 75 pages of that backstory, as well as a chapter that had won 3rd place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category of the Southwest Writers Contest. That 75 pages held a lot of information about the relationship, or non-relationship between the unnamed Patron’s daughter who would become Ella Bandita and her father. It also told the story of her crush, the Horse Trainer who had Come as A Vagabond from his point of view.

Ella Bandita and the Wanderer was my 1st finished novel. First novels are seldom, if ever, an author’s best work. In the novel, “The World According to Garp,” by John Irving, the main character, Garp, was also a novelist; and his editor praised his first novel as a fine story, with the caveat that it was still “just a first novel.” So, got that. But it still doesn’t feel good to read the more critical reviews and know that they’re right. My partner put it simply: “Something’s missing. 

So I’m putting most of those cut out parts back in to complete the story, even though it will be such a pain in the ass to redesign and reformat the novel. I’ll have to update the copyright as well, and the novel needs a new title. In other words, this is a hassle and I’m not too sure that the novel will be that much improved for adding some missing pieces. It will still be a first novel. But I hope the series will be better for it.

I realize that much of what I wrote in my journal of the writer’s process makes no sense to anybody but me, and perhaps the SEO gods will frown upon me. But what the hell - it’s my blog and sometimes one must do whatever one wants.

Writing Prompts for Fiction and Inspiration for Journaling!

WritingInspiration

It’s been a long time since we’ve put out some writing prompts. Here are a few tidbits of inspiration for those who love to write stories, and those who love to journal. Cole did an outstanding job on these, and I’ve been remiss in getting them out there.

Eventually, I’ll get some writing prompts of my own out there, but in the meantime, here are the last ones that NC Saul did for me. For anybody who’s new, some previous writing prompts can be found here and here. Some memes I had fun making, and that could also serve as inspiration for journaling or fiction can be found here.

Enjoy!

WritingInspiration2-Cole.jpeg
Sounds like a nugget for an exciting fantasy adventure!

Sounds like a nugget for an exciting fantasy adventure!

This is a nice prompt for either journaling or a literary novel.

This is a nice prompt for either journaling or a literary novel.

And another fantasy adventure!

And another fantasy adventure!

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The beauty and mystery of the world is an eternal supply from the Muses.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The beauty and mystery of the world is an eternal supply from the Muses.

Can you weave a tapestry of words about your life?

Can you weave a tapestry of words about your life?

I love me a good travel adventure, and always come up with some amazing stories when I’m following some happy trails!

I love me a good travel adventure, and always come up with some amazing stories when I’m following some happy trails!


Love Story vs. Romance

passion.jpg

So what distinguishes a love story from the romance genre?

Although I’ve gained a new respect for romance novels – which you can read about here - I’m more than a little frustrated that my former assistant put “romance” all over my META data and keywords.

I don’t write romance, and to put that in my META data to increase SEO is false advertising. Anybody who stumbles across my work and mistakenly buys it is going to be really pissed off when they encounter a predatory seductress who’d rather eat the hearts of her conquests than accept a happily-ever-after ending.

So what are the differences between them? These are broad generalizations, but I’ve come up with a few reasons why love stories command respect and romance tends to inspire derision.

If written well, a love story can be considered literary fiction. If we’re going into the classics, a couple of examples are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a love story, as is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. For film, “A Star is Born” is definitely a love story, and so beloved it has been remade over and over again and still makes an impact.

Romance follows a formula and that makes it commercial, even if it is beautifully written. Since I don’t read romance novels, I don’t know who the latest prolific romance novelist is after Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, but I do know both of those women made a fortune off their genres. There are too many rom-coms to list.

A love story often has a slower pace without too many plot twists. Romance is all about the drama of obstacles to these star-crossed lovers. A love story can be set within an ordinary life, or an extraordinary circumstance in an ordinary life; whereas romance tends to be set in exotic times and places. But to me the greatest distinction between a love story and a romance is in the ending.

Romance novels, by their very nature of romantic escapism, have a formula and that formula must have a happy ending. Romance always ends with the man and woman are together against all odds. Since love stories are closer to life, sometimes they end happily – as was the case for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” but not always. It could be argued that “Pride and Prejudice” was an early romance novel because the happily-ever-after ending was not true to life of what the writer, Jane Austen, actually experienced. Marrying within your social class and with an attention to money was a very insurmountable obstacle in Regency England and Jane Austen did not get the guy because her family, although respectable, was not moneyed. Perhaps that aura of loss and disappointment lent itself to the happy endings of her novels, and made them love stories, not romances. On the other hand, “Northanger Abbey” was silly enough to be a romance.

In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine Earnshaw married somebody stable and died young. They don’t necessarily have that happily-ever-after. IN
“Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca stayed with her husband rather than leaving for a sexy photographer.

Love stories can end happily, but they don’t have to. This is probably why they command respect that romance doesn’t. Here’s another blog on the differences between love story and romance here.

One of my early reviews on Amazon about Ella Bandita and the Wanderer declared that theirs was a love story. Not a happily ever after love story, but a love story nonetheless. That is why I’m kind of pissed about romance being in my META data.

My Ideal Reader Profile

ReaderProfile

Reader profile? Most promotional emails for writers are bulls**t, but I just received one from a publicist who specializes in indie authors about creating a reader profile to increase book sales and find my audience – or my “true fans.” She referred to specifics that go beyond the basics, that go beyond “women who have hopes and dreams.’

That got my attention. In the mistakes I’ve made in the last 4 ½ years (this does not include the mistakes I made in the decade before that), some things became crystal clear – especially who my audience was NOT.

I discovered my audience was not who I thought they would be. My audience does not comprise upper-middle class women between the ages of 18-40 who have enjoyed the privilege of fairly stable lives with occasional bumps, wobbles, and unexpected twists in the road. That’s not to say that people in that group did not or could not enjoy my work because many of them have; I’m merely saying they didn’t connect deeply with it.

Technically, my genre is fantasy. But that is not the deciding factor in who is likely to love my work.

Loss has been the defining characteristic of my audience. I was surprised to learn that. Over time, I have found the readers who understood the character of Ella Bandita and who resonated with the stories about her were people who had suffered a lot. Gender, age, education, those didn’t matter so much. I’m not talking about mourning over the death of beloved family members of friends, but the kind of pain that involves the loss of self, parts of yourself, or who you thought you always were.

Have your illusions been destroyed?

Have your dreams been lost or even stolen?

Have you had no choice but to reinvent yourself?

In a nutshell, has Life kicked your ass?

Anybody who has answered yes to any of these questions – and likes to read – is a likely member of my natural audience. Given that Ella Bandita was born from the dark side of my soul, who else would make up my “true fans” but those who were also intimately acquainted with their shadows? My natural audience is made up of individuals who have had to work hard to find their place in this world. They are those who have gone through the hell and come out intact.

This is not to say that somebody who has enjoyed a steady, stable life without trauma wouldn’t like or love my work. Grief comes to us through all kinds of paths. There are many ways to be broken open, and the most avid lovers of books are those who need to escape the unhappiness of their own lives. 

I don’t know if there’s a Reddit thread for this or a Facebook group, but I’d be curious how a publicist would handle a reader profile like this one. I doubt that is what this publicist had in mind. Maybe she could tackle it.

 

 

Novel Excerpt - The Shepherd and the Courtesan

ShepherdandCourtesan.Fantasy

This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m currently working on, working title “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” It’s the 2nd novel in The Ella Bandita stories. Although the photo above is not of the characters, I liked it because they are doing a dance with each other. To see the other excerpt I’ve put in already, click here.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”

The creamy voice of my hostess caught me off guard. But I liked how she sounded. The Courtesan retained the sweet tones of a younger woman.

She stood above me, halfway down the stairs. The candles and crystals from the chandelier cast a warm glow over her lovely features, and her golden eyes sparkled in the incandescent light. The Courtesan was even more breathtaking in person than she was in her portraits.

She smiled and leaned her head to one side when I hesitated to answer.

“May I ask what you’re thinking?” she said. “I adore the way you’re looking at me just now. But your expression is rather singular.”

“I’m wondering how the devil I ended up here, if you must know.”

She chuckled softly.

“The devil may well have had a hand in this. My home is far and away from the natural wilderness where you usually roam.”

My heart ached when she said that. In that moment, I yearned for open space. People and society made life difficult, painful even. I longed for the solitude, for the peace of having only my flock for company. Even though it was snowing hard, I would have given anything to be outside, the cold air stinging my cheeks as I searched for a thick copse of trees near water, listening closely for the soft babbling of a creek that ran beneath the snow. That would have soothed my weary spirit after a day like this.

“Shepherd, you seem distressed. Is there anything you need?”

“Not at all. You’ve been very attentive to our comfort, Madame.”

“Please call me Adrianna,” she replied. “Madame is so priggish. I only allow my Butler to address me as such.”

“I don’t know you to address you by your Christian name.”

The Courtesan smirked, and cocked her right brow.

“There’s nothing Christian about any part of my name. Would you be more at ease with ‘Mi’Lady’ like the other servants? Those are your only choices.”

I paused, knowing how foolish that would be. I was a guest in her Casa, and I had no doubt the Wanderer wouldn’t hesitate at the informal address of her first name.

“As you wish, Adrianna.”

Her smirk broadened to a smile.

“Before I forget to mention it, I ran into your friend. The Wanderer said he would catch up with you in a few minutes. He also said to tell you he didn’t want to interrupt your reverie of my portraits.”

Adrianna smiled impishly, while the heat rose to my face. The Courtesan glided smoothly down the stairs, evoking a sense of leisure with each step until she came beside me. It was a shock that she only stood to my shoulder. I know I’m very tall, and her average height would make her appear diminutive next to me. But with her startling presence, I expected such a woman to be rather tall herself.

Apparently our differences in height didn’t intimidate her, while Adrianna unnerved me immediately. She took my hands and turned me to face her. The gesture was personal, if not intimate. Then Adrianna held my arms to my sides and, with no attempt at discretion, she looked me up and down.

“What are you doing?”

“My dear Shepherd, you’ve had the advantage of seeing me naked at every age, and from every angle for the better part of an hour. I would simply like the pleasure to really look at you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to take in your form for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

“I mind very much. You openly display your portraits and I believe posing nude was your choice.”

She glanced at me and winked, her golden eyes mischievous as she squeezed my hands.

“Please,” she murmured. “Be a darling and humor me, Shepherd.”

She had me so off balance I didn’t have the presence of mind to continue to protest. I nodded reluctantly, and that was all the permission Adrianna needed. There was nothing lascivious in the way she looked at me. She simply examined me as she would for the quality of a gown, the elegance of a piece of furniture, or the beauty of a work of art. Even though I had clothes on, I was exposed, even more naked than Adrianna had been in her portraits.

“How I adore tall men,” she purred. “Especially those who have such lovely, long limbs.”

She ran her hands along my shoulders and down my arms. The intimacy unsettled me - especially from a woman I had only met that afternoon. Yet there was nothing quite like the thrill of a woman’s touch. It had been a long time since I had last enjoyed that. The tingles along my skin made me shiver. Adrianna smiled slightly, her gaze sharp as she continued her appraisal in a buttery voice.

“You’re lean with a strength that is felt rather than seen. Tanned skin may not be the fashion of the Capital, but I love rugged men who weather well.”

She even took my chin in hand. Her grip was gentle, but I flinched. She stopped her assessment, the haze gone from her eyes when she saw into me.

“How uncomfortable does this make you, Shepherd?”

Adrianna still held my chin as she asked.

“Thoroughly uneasy.”

“That sounds unpleasant. Do you want me to stop?”

“I do. But go ahead and finish what you started.”

Her eyes glazed over again as she returned to her examination, turning my face each way.

“Salt and pepper hair becomes you nicely, and I like your brow, Shepherd. You have what I call an intelligent brow, the brow of a man who loves to think and reflect. Do you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“High cheekbones,” she continued. “Beneath your beard, I can see a strong jaw. Straight nose. How fine and chiseled your features are.”

The Courtesan then looked at me, her gaze open and penetrating at the same time. She smiled slowly.

“And your eyes,” she said in a singsong tone. “Clear green and piercing, as if you could see inside my soul. Can you, Shepherd? See to my deepest thoughts and feelings so you can know my secrets?”

“Not at all. But I suspect you can see into mine.”

Adrianna let go of my chin. She threw her head back and roared with laughter. The sudden shift in mood startled me. Her manner of laughing was surprisingly masculine from a woman with an excess of feminine wile. But the mannerism was also familiar. She stopped laughing with same abrupt manner that she started.

“Time has been extremely kind to you,” Adrianna concluded. “You are the most handsome man I’ve seen in a long time.”

Then she brought a palm to my face and stroked my cheek. Her expression shifted to that of wonder, even wistfulness.

“You must have been so beautiful when you were young, Shepherd.”

The sudden tenderness touched something buried deep inside. I struggled to breathe and froze. I couldn’t do anything but gaze into those large, feral eyes.

“I can’t say I’ve ever thought much about it.”

I was relieved when words finally came out of my mouth. Adrianna also seemed relieved, but I couldn’t be sure when she smiled.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she replied. “Isn’t that part of your charm?”

“Are you always so personal with men you just met?”

Adrianna paused for a moment, her hand still resting against my cheek.

“No,” she whispered. “Never.”

Wanna Get Excited About Writing? Talk About It!

ExcitedAboutWriting

A fairly common piece of writing advice is to not talk about your novel while you’re writing it.

I think that holds true when I’m in rough draft, because the unsolicited feedback that often comes when somebody feels they can improve upon your ideas can really psych writers out, or distract us into going in the wrong direction, which ultimately creates more work to correct, if we don’t give up out of frustration.  

But that’s only in the beginning. After a point, it’s incredible how talking about your work can create more excitement for it.

Yesterday, I was working out with my friend, and Laura asked the usual question: “What have you been doing since I saw you last.”

My answer: “Writing.”

That is most of what I’m doing right now.

2nd draft is a slower process because I focus on keeping the details straight, so there is a novel that is done at the end of this. A novel that needs a developmental edit, some rewrites, and polish, but still a finished novel - whereas the rough draft is a mess.

Anyway, she asked me what the story was about, and I told her it’s a triad of love stories involving seduction, fascination, and rivalry.

The Shepherd and the Courtesan are together to tell their stories of Ella Bandita, the predatory seductress who had abandoned both of them. The Shepherd has never gotten over her, and neither has the Courtesan.

The Courtesan’s goal is to know for certain that Ella Bandita is dead. To entice the Shepherd to stay and swap stories with her, she tells him of her transformation from an ugly, embittered, hard-labor peasant named Addie to the glamorous and irresistible Courtesan known as Adrianna the Beautiful.

This is the 2nd novel in a series of 4. Ella Bandita is the central character, however she is not the main character in this particular novel, nor will she be in the 4th.

In this one, Ella Bandita is a secondary character in the background, present only through dreams and memories in the stories the protagonists share with each other.

Through sharing their stories and the time they spend together, the Shepherd and the Courtesan find a chance for redemption and healing, but only if they are willing to let go.

The appeal of this novel is discovering the labyrinth of life experiences that make a human being who they are. The Shepherd’s character is complex, but his solitary life is simple. His relationship with the Woman who would become known as Ella Bandita, Thief of Hearts, is the only unusual circumstance of his life.

The Courtesan’s character is complex with an incredible life story, and at least half the pages in the novel are spent on who she is and how she came to be that way. I suppose this is excessive “backstory,” but I don’t care. Because the Courtesan’s origin story is that juicy. Her stories propel the story forward between the Shepherd and the Courtesan, so it’s staying.

As I told Laura more, especially because there will be plenty of sex scenes, Laura got excited and said she wanted to read it. Of course, her enthusiasm made me want to keep writing the book.

I needed that.

This draft is excruciating became it tests me in an area where I’m weak – patience. So although I would have been unwise to talk about this in the early stages, I found the sweet spot of talking about my work at a moment when I needed some juice to keep writing.

Laura got me excited about a story that I was starting to feel jaded about. That would not have happened if I had not talked to her about it.

So yeah, you writers out there, give it a try so long as you’re not in rough draft.

Writing in Musical Flow

Writing.to.Music

Somebody once told me that if I took the time to learn how to play piano, it would make me a better writer. I think that applies to learning any musical instrument, and frankly, it makes sense. I savor reading anything that evokes a musical pattern in my brain while I’m reading. Some examples for anybody who wants to check out exquisitely beautiful writing are: “Jazz,” by Toni Morrison; just about all of the early work of Truman Capote like “The Grass Harp,” “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” and “A Christmas Memory” – all of these predate “In Cold Blood.”

Years ago, I wrote my breakout story, “Ella Bandita and the Lone Wolf,” to the soundtrack of Amelie. That beautiful, haunting, and romantic music by Yann Tiersen soared through the room as I sat on a bunch of pillows, writing on a wicker occasional table, feeling that excitement when one knows one has landed on something GOOD. “Ella Bandita and the Lone Wolf” was originally written as a fable I could tell in 1½ hours. Since then, the story has expanded to the novel, “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer,” which I tell in excerpts and parts.

Be that as it may, that original story was influenced by the music I listened to as I wrote it. When I read it now, I can still hear the rhythms and melodies of the “Amelie” soundtrack, and all I can think is..

“Wow!”

I did not take Andrew’s advice to learn piano because I don’t gravitate towards that instrument, but someday I might give it a try with guitar. Or something.

In the meantime, I should probably do my final rewrites to music. I’d love for the flow of melody and lyricism to influence my work and make it more beautiful. Wouldn’t you?

So give it a try. I think music also helps with releasing writer’s block.

The Long Absence From Writing

Writer'sBlock

It’s intimidating to get back into a project after a long absence from writing. In my last post, I mentioned the relief I felt finishing the rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” because I’d had writer’s block for years. If you want to read it, you can find that blog here.

That rough draft was difficult because my writing muscles had atrophied, and my abilities had gotten weak. It hurt to write when what I was writing wasn’t good; and for a long time, I didn’t have any faith that eventually, it would be good. But I kept it up and finishing that godawful mess of a rough draft about a year ago was likely the most magnificent achievement of the last five years.

More than twenty years ago, I discovered that I can’t write when I’m in pain. This was the year when my mother suddenly collapsed with a cerebral hemorrhage. She almost died, and if my brother, Robert, hadn’t been at the house to do CPR, she would have. I was journaling every day at that time, and I remember opening up my notebook, putting pen to paper to write about it, and I froze. I made nothing more than dot on that page that day because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. When somebody suggested I write about the pain, I argued that I could do that from a place of remembrance. At the time, it was all I could do to live through it. I couldn’t bear to reflect on it.

Over the years, things happen. Things like betrayal, heartbreak, abandonment, death, and grief, and every time I would take a long absence from writing. I envy those writers who can produce even while they suffer, even when they wake up with anguish and go to bed with despair. I’m sure their writing is very powerful and deeply moving. But to date, I simply can’t do it. For me, suffering blocks productivity. Maybe that will change some day; maybe I will find solace in the fictional story that has nothing to do with what is current in my life, and that will give me an escape.

I have no advice on what to do when things are bad and the writing is blocked, but I can offer some ideas on what to do to shift your energy away from the inertia that grief often brings. Several months ago, I did a blog about changing your habits, which is pretty much how I became productive again. You can read about it here if you like.

But it really comes down to meditation and exercise. If you must choose one over the other, I suggest exercise that has a meditative quality, like walking, running, and swimming – especially swimming. Exercise pulls you out of apathy quickly, and meditation brings you to the inner stillness and peace I believe are necessary for productive creativity.

Then write. Make yourself write even if your writing sucks. You have to do something to get back your momentum. Eventually, your writing will be good again.

The Miserable Task of the 2nd Draft

Writing.2nd.Draft

When I finished the scatterbrained rough draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” I was so relived I didn’t care about the miserable task ahead. That rough draft was a mess, which had taken many months to put to words to paper (or computer screen). But all that mattered to me was that this was the first new thing I had finished after years of writer’s block.

By the miserable task ahead, I mean the second draft. This process of 2nd draft is excruciating. At the same time, it’s also kind of exhilarating. The story – or triad of stories - is actually starting to find it’s shape, and I can see the novel’s potential. That’s it nut just jumbled chaos of words and scene and sloppiness.

I’ve always thought of writing a novel as putting a body together. The rough draft is only the skeleton of the piece, the bones that make the structure. The 2nd draft involves placing the organs – the brain, the heart, the lungs, the intestines and everything else in between, all those things that are needed to make a body function.

The 3rd draft is the skin, hair, teeth, and nails, in other words, refining the structure, plot consistency, character growth, and story arc. The 4th draft is the polish of language, reaching for the gold ring of lyrical beauty, harmonious rhythm of the written words singing in the brain, also know as the facial features of this particular body of work. What color and shape are the eyes and mouth? High cheekbones or jowly jaws? Is the body fat, thin, muscular, average? Is this body beautiful, endearing, homely, or sexy ugly?

Breaking the process of writing a novel down to building a body makes this doable for me. When I’m discouraged and convinced I’m a hack, I remind myself that I’m only building a skeleton. It’s not time for the features of lovely prose yet, so go ahead and let the writing suck. When I want to pull my hair out during the 2nd draft, I push ahead, knowing that when I comb through it the next day rewriting the spleen before reworking the pancreas, that the spleen may not seem so awful with a break and renewed TLC. But once I cross the finish line of a completed 2nd draft, I’m pretty home free.

Because writing gets fun at the 3rd draft and is giddy during the 4th. The 3rd and 4th draft make suffering through the 2nd draft worth it.

So what are some of your tips for slogging through the draft that sends you into orbit? Here is a more detailed blog with practical how-to steps to navigate 2nd draft if you’d like to take a look-see. Personally, I don’t use Scrivener.

https://www.marissameyer.com/blogtype/from-idea-to-finished-step-5-the-second-draft/

Beautiful Naked Woman - Good Way to Start a Novel?

800px-Edouard_Manet_-_Olympia_-_Google_Art_Project_3.jpg

Her beauty was staggering.

I had never seen so much flesh in my life as I did in the massive portraits on these walls.

Standing, reclining, full front on, in profile, her back to the artist, the Courtesan was naked in every pose, her silhouette that of an hourglass.

Her full breasts stood high on her chest, her torso curved to a slender waist above rounded hips, her legs were long and tapered. Her skin was creamy and luminous; and black hair cascaded to her waist.

Her features were noble; hers was the classical beauty of the highborn class.

But her eyes made her unforgettable. Beneath arched brows, her large eyes angled on a tilt and mingled the hues of gold and amber. Her steady gaze held the controlled ferocity of a wildcat.

Such fierce scrutiny replicated in portrait after portrait overpowered my senses for a moment. I turned my back to gather my bearings, only to come back to the incessant pink of the foyer.

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.

That was all I could think about 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 made up 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, the same men who had pulled me and the Wanderer out of the rioting mob, and who had likely 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.

Instead of gaining my balance, the glowing majesty of the entryway stirred the memory from that afternoon, which made me light-headed. I turned back to the paintings.

This time, I found it easier to focus on the portraits lined along the wall north of the wide elegant staircase that cut a dramatic swathe in the center of the foyer.

The woman peered intently at the artist who had painted her. The loving attention to detail made me wonder if the artist had caressed his lover with each stroke of the brush. Carnality and lawlessness emanated from the Courtesan’s portraits.

I could easily imagine a handsome, tormented soul painting with fevered intensity, a creator hopelessly in love with his libertine muse who would only cherish him in the moment. Perhaps they had made love in between sittings?

Before me were nine paintings displaying the glory of a legendary Courtesan in all the phases of her life.

About five years must have passed in between each portrait.

Her features matured and grew more defined with each painting, as she left the plump bloom of youth behind. Her body ripened to her prime, then past it; silver streaked her glossy black hair more and more in each portrait.

Yet in all the paintings, her expression was much the same.

Those golden eyes sparkled with defiance and unrepentant joy. Her generous mouth curved in a knowing smirk.

Had she anticipated her future audience when she posed for her portraits? Did she see past the artist, looking to those who would later gaze upon her?

Her stare was relentless. She dared me to judge her, the scarlet woman who should have been an outcast. Instead, the joke was on the rigid and the proper. And the Courtesan knew it.

How in the devil did I end up here? What a day of madness this had been, I mused as I gaped at the sensuous portraits.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”

 

Novel excerpt from “The Shepherd and the Courtesan,” a work-in-progress by Montgomery Mahaffey

©2019, All Rights Reserved.

The Sweetest High Ever!

Indie.Author.Fantasy

“Artists are envied by millionaires.”

I don’t remember the book where I read this, but I do remember that claim and how gratifying it felt to read that. All flattery aside, this makes sense. Artists are creative and to be creative is to play God. Who wouldn’t envy that?

Personally speaking, I believe everybody is born with creativity. Yet few grow that quality or have that part of themselves nourished enough to have that creative strength throughout their lives.

Creativity is powerful. It is also overwhelming. Because I have found that a deep creative groove carves many paths, one detours to another, which then segues into another…and before one knows it, what was supposed to a straight road has become a labyrinth of various creative pursuits.

How heady is that? And how easy is it to get carried away and get lost and very possibly be left with a plethora of unfinished projects? Way too easy.  

For example, I write original fables and fairy tales. I also enjoy the art of oral storytelling, my own stuff, as well as other people’s, and of course, the myths and folk tales from all over the world. Those two pursuits are very compatible, but I still have to stop writing to practice storytelling, even with my own stuff. Storytelling is not the same thing as reading from a book. It’s a performance, and that alone takes time and energy and repetition before a piece is polished enough to present to an audience. In other words, the path of writing segued into performance art.

When I was on the road with my collection of fables, I stopped in Santa Cruz for six months and came across flamenco dance. I even lived with my flamenco teacher and her husband for most of the time I was there, and was blessed to learn from excellent Gypsy teachers who came to California from Spain. Several months later, I wrote a lyrical piece, “Snowboarding for Flamencos” when I was torn between a flamenco workshop in Santa Cruz and the best snow season in SE Alaska where I lived at the time. Winter was intoxicating, and snowboarding won over flamenco. But the conflict was such that I wrote that piece and recorded, doing flamenco dance steps in a wide variety of footwear, including my snowboarding boots. So that is writing, spoken word, dance, and even music, because I made the cadences of my dance steps into as hypnotic a rhythm that would match the lyrics of “Snowboarding for Flamencos.” This short lyrical piece that was only two minutes long was doable, and very joyful when I finished it. I also used flamenco with another piece I wrote about an ecstatic experience I had on the Oregon Coast while on magic mushrooms. Again, performance art, choreography, dance, and live spoken word. That took at least 2 weeks for me to put together and practice, and if I did it again now, the rhythms would be different because I didn’t film or record it. Again, it’s doable. But I also fantasize about doing that as a book on tape for AN ENTIRE NOVEL. That would likely take a decade. That’s not doable.

So yes, creativity is overwhelming. But what a glory it is when all those segues and paths come together and something gorgeous is created!

That is the sweetest high ever!

Engaging Characters or Juicy Plot?

character-plot.jpg

“Fiction writers are strong in either plot or character - never both and each envies the other their talent.”

So said Margaret Grossman, my favorite writing teacher of all time. Her natural inclination was to write awesome, well-developed characters, the kind of people you’d want to sit down to coffee with and have long, intriguing conversations. But she struggled with finding things for these lovely characters to do.

My natural inclination is plot. I have absolutely no problem making stories up, with lots of plot points, twists, and turns. But it’s connection to the characters that keeps readers engaged with the plot, and I’m sad to say that my characters are often misunderstood and their development criticized. I struggle to flesh out fully actualized people in a fictional world - especially at that time when I worked with Margaret. I also think it’s peculiar, because I am always trying to figure out the psychology of people in the real world, and what makes us all tick. Perhaps all that amateur psychoanalysis has helped. Maybe I’ve improved since then, but criticism around character development is the most consistent when it comes to my writing. Perhaps that’s why I use archetypal types for my characters? Either way, I do the best I can, and sometimes that falls short. In my current novel, both the protagonists are telling their stories from 1st person “I.” I hope that will make a stronger connection between the readers and my characters.

Truth be told, I believe this weakness around character development is a pretty common problem with most indie authors. I haven’t made a formal study of it, but most indie authors whose work I’ve read have 1 dimensional characters as well.  

I wish I could give some sage advice and how-to’s on how to write plot if you naturally write characters, but I’m one of those who doesn’t know how to teach something that comes very easily to me. When it comes to writing character, I say practice.

But another tool that may come in handy is to write up a character sheet describing each of your characters, and then add some of those details in your plot pages.

Name:

Age:

Hair/Eye Color:

Height:

Unusual feature:

Beautiful/Homely:

Biggest Fear:

Greatest Hope:

Primary Motivation:

Likable Quality:

Fatal Flaw:

Quirks:

Best Friend:

Primary Partner/Spouse/Lover:

Secondary Partner/Lover:

What does this character want?

What role does this character play?

Is this character sympathetic and trustworthy?

What is the primary struggle for this character in this story? 

Feel free to add any more details that may help flesh out your characters into a person you’d want to hang out with or the kind of person you’d avoid at a party. It actually helps to list details of each and every character, no matter how minor they are. I don’t always do this exercise, but when I do, I find this tool helps bring characters to life.

And yes, as Margaret claimed, I do envy natural character writers their talent. But at least I have an exciting, juicy plot line to carry the day, and I’m sure some writer somewhere envies my ability to do that.