The Moment of Truth

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The Sorcerer punched his thigh, watching the girl leave. 

He bellowed through his nose while she took the spiral out of his Caverns two stairs at a time. He had waited for too long to claim this one to allow her to slip away. 

He glimpsed the liquid cloud of second sight. The vial was on the top shelf carved in the eastern wall, resting beside a small cauldron. 

Perhaps he could see something useful.     

He took them both to the table and sat on the sofa, resting his palm where the girl had been. He savored the heat she left behind until the image of her was clear in his mind. 

Then he emptied the vial into the cauldron and closed his eyes. His face smarted from the smoke rising to form a cloud above his head. 

The Sorcerer cast his mind and heard the girl’s labored breathing before he saw her running through the trees. 

She came out of the woods at the river, close to where he had found her the previous morning just as she was about to jump.

This time she wasn’t alone. 

On the other side of the river was the giant gray stallion, the one that ran wild in the Abandoned Valley. Although he was a mammoth among horses, his glossy coat blended with the rising light and the girl didn’t see him until he pulled his head from the water. 

She glowed when she saw him, the radiance in her face surprising the Sorcerer before he remembered that summer when she rode in the Abandoned Valley. 

The handsome young Horse Trainer had always accompanied her on a splendid gray colt. This must be the same animal. 

The girl called out. 

The giant equine looked at her for a moment before turning away. 

As the animal ran for the far reaches of the Abandoned Valley, the Sorcerer saw the crest of the Patron seared into its left flank.

The girl shook her head and turned towards her father’s manor. 

The house was high enough to view the fields, orchards of unborn peaches, and forests of the family estate, as well as the village to the south. 

The manor was backlit by the coming sun, and the household would be coming awake to start the new day. 

The girl stretched her limbs to their limit and fled. 

She didn’t stop until she came to the garden of lilies encircling the house. 

The top bulbs peeked at her from above her head, but the girl had her gaze fixed on the massive door carved from the wood of peach trees. 

With her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, the girl could have been a refugee at the gates of sanctuary.

Then she touched her hair. 

The coil had come undone when she fell in the river, the golden tresses hung loose and tangled to her waist. 

She looked over the stains on her gown and paled, her fingers touching the remnants smeared across her face. When she faced the front door again, the shine dimmed from her eyes. 

The girl took several deep breaths before following the path to the portico. Her hand shook reaching for the knob.

All was quiet when she stepped in.

She made her way down the hall running through the center of the house. 

One door opened to a salon on the west side, while the one on the east was closed. 

At the end of the corridor, twin doors opened to the dining room. 

From the west side, two servants swept in from a second door, which the Sorcerer assumed to be the kitchen. 

Their arms were laden with a basket of steaming bread, a cutting board with a round of cheese, a tray of sliced oranges, and a silver pitcher of coffee. 

They seemed unaware of the girl’s presence, arranging the breakfast at the far end of the table near the lone place setting. 

From the parlor, the rising sun shone through the eastern windows, gleaming along the wooden floors to fade away before the stairs.

The sudden creak in the floor made the younger maid start and look up. 

At the sight of her Patron’s daughter, she spilled the tray of oranges. 

The other servant turned and scowled at the stains on the pristine linen.  She opened her mouth to scold the other, but closed it when she saw who stood just beyond the doors. 

The Sorcerer suspected this must be the girl’s personal maid when the woman curtseyed. 

She looked over her mistress, taking in the ruined gown, unkempt hair and grimy face, and paled more than the younger maid.

The servants looked at each other and back to the girl, all three standing motionless, a temporary tableau of panic until the heavy tread coming down the stairs spurred them to action. 

The older maid hurried to place the tray of oranges over the soiled tablecloth, the younger poured a stream of coffee into a china cup, and the girl turned to meet her father. 

The Sorcerer also held his breath, knowing that what he wanted depended on the Patron’s reaction.   

His boots appeared first as he stepped down from the landing. 

The Patron would be working in the fields again that morning. He was dressed in peasant garb, and there was a permanent cake of mud around the soles of his boots. 

His torso still held vestiges of the formidable strength he possessed when he had claimed this estate as a young man. His large hands were calloused from years of hard work, the mark of a farmer. 

Yet his hands were also those of a nobleman, his fingers scrubbed each day, his nails rounded and clean of dirt. 

The Patron stopped when he saw his daughter, eyes wide with surprise. 

He opened his mouth as if to speak. 

Then his gaze dropped. 

As he took in the girl’s appearance, he flushed and his lips clamped in a tight line. 

He shook his head, flicked his eyes away, and descended the last stretch of stairs, to step past the girl to the dining parlor. His manner was stately when he claimed his seat at the end of the table.

The girl stared after her father, the high color draining from her cheeks.  Her lips trembled and empty swallows rippled down her throat as she fought to regain her poise.   

The maids shifted their regard between their Patron and his daughter.  He said nothing until he had taken a few sips of coffee. 

Then he placed a few orange slices on his plate and reached for the bread, nodding at his daughter with a glance to her maid.

“I think she needs to attend to her toilette.”

“Yes, Patron.”

The rigid features of the older servant relaxed.  She left her position at table to approach her mistress and curtseyed to her again.

“Would you like me to draw you a bath, Miss?”

As the last of the liquid cloud dissipated, the polite smile and empty eyes of the aging lady’s maid faded from the Sorcerer’s mind, yet the well-modulated voice lingered. 

Miss, he wondered, frowning. Miss. 

How strange that her own maid should address her in such a common manner, even if she was the only person in the entire village who spoke to the girl. 

His eyes snapped open. 

He’d forgotten the Patron had never given his daughter a name. 

The Sorcerer of the Caverns leaned back into the pillows of blood red velvet, smiling up at the bright sky at the end of the tunnel. 

She would be back.   

Suckers for Cutsie Poo and Unexpected Good Dates - On the Road #19

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Hey y'all,

Before I get too carried away, let me just say one thing: next time any of you are in Anchorage, you must check out El Tango on Tudor behind the Holiday gas station. 

If you've gone to Hooters, you have definitely gone too far! 

El Tango has a fantastic menu of Latin cuisine - Columbia, Argentina, and Puerto Rico - a very friendly staff, and a small dance floor. 

It's only been there for a year. The location sucks; but if you like your ambience refreshing, then this is the place for you. 

How did I get there?

Last night at the Cook Inlet Bookstore, I was crushed to find that I was one of a cluster fuck of writers. 

Needless to say, the four of us were overcrowded at one small table. So we got another one and two of us sat there. 

I figured I’d stake out the front door in the hopes I’d get more attention. But everybody still herded around the schoolteacher at the other table.

She had a mountain of books and a generous target audience. Her book, “Recess at 20 Below” was full of pictures of her students having FUN in her class and adorable narrative about school life in Delta Junction. 

It was both cutsie poo and Alaskan at the same time.

Meanwhile, I misread a potential fan, Sheila. And I found out she was anything but when I told her the first chapter of Ella Bandita. I included the dirty old sorcerer, the cold-blooded daddy, and the eaten heart. 

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 Sheila scrunched up her face and let me know that she was a fan of the Walt Disney version of whitewashed fairy tales. She also said that she used to have a friend who would have been into my writing because she wrote a lot like me. 

"But she's dead now," Sheila said. 

So heartwarming of her to tell me that. 

Do I sound bitter? Really, I'm not. Even though the night was a dud.

At this point in my road trip, I have had enough successes to not sweat the flops. 

Besides, last night was a quality, if not a quantity, experience. 

I ended up with a date. A good one, too with a nice guy.

Go figure. That practically never happens to me. 

I usually gravitate to the those-I-cannot-or-should-not-even-consider-wanting-to-have types.  

This guy has a steady job, no addictions ( at least, not obvious ones ), courtly manners, a good body, and blue eyes that are awful purty to look into.

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That's how I ended up at El Tango. Because Nice Guy With Pretty Blue Eyes took me there.   

Besides the food and the Argentinian staff, they had a keyboard player whose keyboard created a symphony with every note, and the staff would get up there and sing. 

Since they didn't have the TV screen that enabled bad singers to massacre mediocre lyrics, it wasn't really karaoke. But it kind of felt that way even though the staff were the main singers.  

Most of the songs were in Spanish, so it was very cool. It also helped that they could...oh, sing. 

Hugo, the owner who was from Argentina, played kind of the Latin version of a bluegrass washboard - a weegel ( I don't know how to spell it, and the closest he could come to describing it was a plant, kind of like a zucchini, that's dried and then hollowed out - if you want to know what the hell I'm talking about, go to El Tango and you'll see), while the bartender had maracas.  

I love Latin folk. They really have the happy-to-live mentality down pat. Hugo gave us free drinks, calling us amigos and that we are family. 

"When you are in Anchorage, this is your home."  Hugo said.     

Nothing is perfect, however...

Hugo is a sucker for Celine Dion, because his daughter, Lilly, belted out "I Will Always Love You," and he sat there, looking emotional and teary-eyed.

Lily sang beautifully. I simply don’t like Celine Dion’s music. 

But other than that, the night was awesome.   

I was going to come back on Tuesday. But my good date asked me out again, so…it’s good to explore the possibilities.

I'm coming back to Juneau roughly sometime before I head down to the lower forty-eight by November 1st. 

Does anybody have a housesitting gig or an extra room? 

I rented my place out and I don't know about crashing on my own couch for almost two weeks. 

It'll be good to see the Vagabond - my cat, that is.  And of course, all of you. I’m really excited to see all of you.

Peace, 

Montgomery 

 

 

Overdosing on Narcissism When I Ought to be Writing

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So I’ve gone through a major break up recently.

I usually have my blogs scheduled way in advance - 2 weeks, sometimes a month ahead of schedule. But there’s something about being tossed completely out of my usual routine that has messed everything up.

Since my ex-fiancee and I have hung on by mere threads for a year now, we’ve already had several break up talks in that time. It made my exit plan very easy, because most of the logistics had already been worked out.

Like me being the one to leave my own house until she and her daughter found a new place. I’ve been staying in various places about an hour outside of Portland with 4 cats. What an unexpected freedom drunk. If you’d like to read more about it and see some pictures of my beautiful cats, click here.

Anyhow, what does this have to do with writing? Nothing, at least not directly.

This is life. Life events like these throw writing momentum off like a mofo. Yet life events like these also give us something to write about.

I’ve been on this very peculiar road trip for 5 weeks now. Tomorrow I can finally go home. My ex-fiancee and ex-step-daughter moved out on Friday.

I’ve spent the weekend saging the shit out of my house, and I’m still only halfway done. It’s the most draining smudging ritual I’ve ever endured.

Right now, it’s almost 11 pm the night before this blog is due to drop at 7:15 AM time I’ve scheduled for the past few months.

Trying to take care of my SEO and google rankings, you know, for the long term goal of building up an audience for my blog.

I have been writing, just not on my novel and not on my blog in advance. I’ve been journaling. A lot. Especially after reading “Why Does it Always Have to Be About You?” and following that up with a shit ton of Youtube Videos on narcissism.

And those videos had my scratching my head. A lot of them made me question if I was a narcissist. If it wasn’t for empathy, I probably would have been. I can also handle criticism and have no pride issue with apologizing when I’m wrong.

I learned about covert narcissism. I learned a lot about covert narcissism when one of the life coaches I came across called it something slightly different - shy narcissism. The narcissist who is sullen, depressed, sad, suffers self-doubt, and lacks confidence. That video described my ex to the letter.

Anyway, what does this have to do with writing? Nothing. But it’s all I’ve been thinking about and exploring. Therefore, it gave me something to write about - and in time for my deadline too.

For anybody else who may be suffering similar troubles, here’s the video. Richard Grannon is wordy and goes off on a lot of tangents. But he’s funny and offers a lot of information and wisdom. Another resource I recommend is Dr Ramani. Just google her name and narcissism and she’s all over the place.

Peace


The Unexpected Freedom Drunk

Can you feel the healing vibes of this wonderful place? Catalonia in the right window. She spent a lot of time there.

Can you feel the healing vibes of this wonderful place? Catalonia in the right window. She spent a lot of time there.

So not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about Adventure or Stability in the Writer’s Life. For those who’d like to read about that, there will be a link to that post at the end of this one.

 

Suffice to say, that’s all changed now and that’s given me something to write about.

 

I broke off my engagement and that puts me back in the freedom-junkie phase of life. But this time I’m on the road in a very peculiar adventure. I’m vagabonding on the outskirts of Portland until my ex and her daughter move out of my house. And I have 4 cats with me.

Aengus and Rimsky Korsakitty

Aengus and Rimsky Korsakitty

 

As break-ups go, this may have seemed sudden to my ex. But we’ve been hanging on by a thread for almost a year, and we’ve had many break-up talks in that time. We even negotiated everything from money to who keeps how many cats to me leaving my own house until my ex and her daughter move out, etc. All the logistics discussed beforehand, when it was time to pull the band-aid off cancer it was time. So how “sudden” can this really be?

 

Maybe I’m in pain and I’m too numb to know it. Perhaps I’ll feel it when I’m back home in my house that will be empty of their presence and their things. Maybe then I’ll be overcome with a tidal wave of grief and loss. But I suspect we stayed together far past our natural expiration date.

 

I felt heavy in my heart on waking up every morning for the first week or so, but nothing that I couldn’t shake off within an hour. Other than that, the most notable sensation of each day is relief.

 

I’m more than 3 weeks past that day when I tore off the band-aid holding our relationship together, and the crushing pain of loss has yet to overcome me. If anything, I feel freedom drunk.

Zephyr and Aengus

Zephyr and Aengus

I thought that ridiculous sensation of the post-break-up-freedom-drunk ended with my 20’s. This is different. I don’t feel the euphoric giddiness I savored after extricating myself from a toxic relationship when I was young. But I do feel alive. Many people have told me that I seem lighter since I left. Why wouldn’t I? I finally ended a relationship that lasted too long for all the wrong reasons – on my end as well as my ex-partner’s end.

 

Of course, the first place I stayed helped a lot. It was an absolute jewel, filled with color and light and spaciousness, and oozing with healing vibes I desperately needed. When I got there at Estancia Serenova, I was still in shock. My hostess, Lisa, was so warm and supportive and encouraging that I did the right thing. She also accepted all my cats. That was no easy feat, finding places that were ok with them.

Zephyr

Zephyr

I felt held in that beautiful space, and I stayed there for two weeks.

 

Where I am now is pleasant enough. I’m on a ranch north of Portland. I’ve enjoyed seeing the freaked out fascination of the cats over the sight and sound of horses, far more massive than dogs.

 

But it’s the opposite of the light and spaciousness of where I was before. It’s dark and constricted. I have far less space and the cats are starting to drive me a little nuts with their restlessness. But I can appreciate the yin and yang balance of this change – going from the light and expansive to the dark and constrictive. Healing of hope and renewal and then the reality that growing pains hurt for a reason. That’s where I’m at now. And part of me wants to run back to the space and color and light of Estancia Serenova.

 

And maybe I will. The cats liked it too. They had far more space to run and jump, and they loved going up and down that ladder to the loft.

Rimsky Korsakitty

Rimsky Korsakitty

This is not the most fun I’ve ever had on a road trip. But this post break-up freedom drunk is an odyssey of sorts, this bizarre limbo that is really starting to get to me. As a whole, I feel really blessed. I’m lucky that I’m able to distance myself instead of getting mired in the twisty, gnarly web of push and pull that characterizes the last gasps of a dying relationship.

 

Okay, time to stop now. I’m getting maudlin and gloomy. But this is the first thing I’ve written in weeks. Maybe I’ll return to my novel soon.

 

Link to previous post, click here.

By the way, aren’t my cats pretty?

Catalonia and Aengus

Catalonia and Aengus

Brown Bear Saloon in Indian, Alaska - Population 85 - On the Road # 16

I even had a really nice date while i stayed behind the Brown Bear Saloon in Indian, Alaska.

I even had a really nice date while i stayed behind the Brown Bear Saloon in Indian, Alaska.

Hey y’all,

I have so many vivid memories of the people I met at the Brown Bear Saloon in Indian, Alaska (population 85) along the Turnagain Arm.

As tourism slowed way down in the autumn, I stayed in one of the cabins behind the Saloon for about two weeks. I hoped to take a break from selling and being “ON” for the sake of getting some writing done.

The Brown Bear Saloon was my go-to for morning coffee and dinner, as well as those conversations that kept me somewhat tethered to the human race, and kept the loneliness at bay.

I remember meeting a very kind-hearted woman who had been a bartender since she was 23. She had a pretty face, with sparkling green eyes, and graying hair done in braided pigtails. She didn’t work at the Brown Bear Saloon. She had worked in a neighborhood watering hole for 17 years somewhere in Anchorage.

Restaurant/bar work can really suck people in. Most people work in hospitality as they go to college or figure out what they want to do. I had been one of those, and managed to pull myself out of the hospitality vortex in the nick of time.

This lady admitted she had stayed there too long, was burned out, yet didn’t know what to do beyond starting a hot dog stand. I hope she found her way out of there because she was very gentle with a very peaceful energy.

It’s a dirty business. There’s no shame in it.

It’s a dirty business. There’s no shame in it.

I even had a really nice date while I stayed behind the Brown Bear Saloon in Indian, Alaska. Remember, the population was only 85 people, so this date was pretty remarkable.

I don’t remember my date’s name, which I feel bad about because he was a really lovely man. He had dark hair and eyes, and a cheery round face. He took me to dinner and a movie in Anchorage. The movie, “40 Year Old Virgin,” was a guaranteed icebreaker and we both laughed so hard, it hurt.

Afterwards he talked to me about his new career as a teaching assistant in a kindergarten class, and how relieved he was to no longer be a used car salesman. He said that the profession was every smarmy as reputation had it, and gave me a few pointers of tricks they pulled to make a sale more likely.

“For example, say you go for a test drive and come back to the lot. The salesman would encourage you to leave your purse in the car while you look around, go to the bathroom, etc.” 

“How will that make me more likely to buy the car?”

“Because when you leave such a personal item as a purse in a car, you’re already claiming ownership. They salesman is putting it in your mind that the car is already yours.”

I was speechless, and he nodded.

“It’s a dirty business. There’s no shame in it.”

Of everybody who stopped by the Brown Bear Saloon, the motorcycle day-trippers were the most fun to watch. The bikers were not gangsters. They were Anchorage professionals who loved taking day and weekend trips to zoom their bikes along Turnagain Arm and/or into the Kenai Peninsula.

The last pit stop on their way home was at the Brown Bear Saloon. They were a sight to behold decked out in their leathers and bandanas, laughing and talking, and on top of the world.

The last pit stop on their way home was at the Brown Bear Saloon.

The last pit stop on their way home was at the Brown Bear Saloon.

I sold a book to one of them. I don’t remember his name, but we had a lovely conversation about his fiercely independent daughter. She was only 17, and had been out on her own since she was 15. He said she lived in Sitka, had a great head on her shoulders and already so capable of taking care of herself. He sounded so proud of her.

I had been in Alaska long enough to not be shocked by this. Talk about kicking ass and taking names? Alaskan teenagers are a different breed. They believe they can do anything, and they often prove themselves right. I met a woman whose 17 year old son already had acquired his pilot’s license. While I lived in Juneau, two 17 year olds who weren’t of legal age to vote, ran for the council positions on the School Board. Neither of them won, but that’s not the point.

But the kicker was that 2 years later, after I’d been back home in Juneau for a while, I met the weekend biker’s daughter. Her name is Ashley, and she taught skiing and snowboarding, as well as doing Ski Patrol.

Those are the moments that make all the suffering worthwhile.

Those are the moments that make all the suffering worthwhile.

That year was the best snow year on record in Juneau, and I went snowboarding all the time. In a casual conversation, Ashley said she heard I was a writer, asked about my book what was it called?

“Ella Bandita and other stories.”

Ashley got this strange look on her face.

“I have that book. I read it about a year and half ago.”

“What!”

Ashley then tells me this story of her parents meeting me, “this random woman,” buying my book. They read it, and apparently my heart-eating anti-heroine put them off a bit because they thought main story was weird.

But her parents decided to send it on to Ashley anyway as they had intended.

“What did you think?” I asked her.

“I loved it,” she replied. “My parents said, ‘well, I guess you’re weird too.’ But I thought Ella Bandita was awesome. 

Those are the moments that make all the suffering worthwhile.

And I still miss the small town that is the massive state of Alaska.

Peace,
Montgomery

PS: This piece was written from memory of the 2005-2006 DIY booktour/roadtrip in the Alaskan Interior. To check out previous blogs, click here and here.

 

How to Write When You'd Rather Netflix and Chill and the 15 Steps to Get There.

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You’ve made progress on your novel. You’re on your second draft and past the halfway point. You can’t believe it. Once you’re done with this, the novel will need work, edits, polish, maybe even one more rewrite.

The second draft is coherent in a way that the rough draft was not. The rough draft was a mess. Once you have finished the second draft, you have finally finished a book - a novel that needs work, but still a book.

Then your monkey mind starts swinging through the trees and your ADD goes off the chain. You can’t focus.

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You remember you forgot to pay the garbage bill. Then while you’re on your phone to pay that bill, you see 2 Facebook Messenger notifications, and wonder who is reaching out to you?

You open them only to find out it’s a nudge to say hello to your latest Facebook friend and another is an annoying group chain.

You leave the conversation and scroll through your feed only to find garbage. You wonder why don’t have the nerve to disable your Facebook account because the bastards are violating your privacy anyway.  

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Then you remember that you forgot to pay the frigging garbage bill, and if you don’t pay it today you’ll be charged late fees. So you actually pay the bill, and suddenly, watching your favorite Netflix series sounds like the perfect reward for paying that garbage bill at the 11th hour.

But wait a minute. You haven’t written your pages today. You didn’t write your pages yesterday either, or the day before. You feel the stirrings of panic in your belly and guilt weighing your shoulders down into the I-hate-myself slump.

You lose momentum when you miss writing days. You know every day you miss writing only makes it worse because then the Shame Monster comes to life and laughs in your face.

“Slacker,” the Shame Monster chortles. “You’ll never finish that book. I knew you didn’t have it in you.”

I like happy endings.

So in this version of the story, your will resurrects from the dead and comes to the rescue.

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Step 1) Tell the Shame Monster to go *%$# itself;

Step 2) Grab a notebook and pen.

Step 3) Write every bit of nonsense and distraction you can think of, every random thought that comes to your head. Write freely and keep your pen moving. Write until you feel calmer, more focused. If you want to time yourself, go ahead.

Step 4) Have a light snack. This step is optional.

Step 5) Open your laptop (or typewriter, some people still use these) and get to the last chapter you were working on when you got distracted. Read that chapter out loud.

Step 6) Any awkward places or light editing that comes to mind, go ahead and make those changes. That gets you back inside your story.

Step 7) When you get to the last lines of the unfinished scene, WRITE. Even if your writing is clumsy, KEEP WRITING until you finish that scene or that chapter.

Step 8) If the writing sucks, allow it. That’s what rewriting the next day is for.

Step 9) Have a light snack.

Step 10) Keep writing. If finishing that scene or chapter didn’t bring you to your minimum word count goal, continue writing the next scene or chapter until you have.

Step 11) If your writing sucks, allow it. That’s what rewriting the next day is for.

Step 12) Write past your minimum word count goal. You’ve slacked off and you need to push through that resistance until you’re in love with yourself and your writing again.

Step 13) Once you feel complete, close down your laptop.

Step 14) Do a happy dance.

Step 15) Netflix and Chill without shame.

For more advice on how to discipline that ADD monkey mind, click here.

How to Tackle Setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How in the devil did I come here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do We Write?

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Why do we write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Absence From Writing

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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 Sweetest High Ever!

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“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!