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.
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.
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.”
“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?”
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.