The Writer's Calling

WritingLife

I came to writing through vocabulary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simplicity is a beautiful thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How frustrating is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you get your heart back as well?”

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

“Well, well. I feel a pulse.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astrid touched my shoulder with a soft hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your girls are good,” he said.

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

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

“I’m sure it’s quite a story.”

“I suppose.”

“I would love to hear it.”

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

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

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

“You flatter me, Madame.”

Adrianna smiled graciously.

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

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

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

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

“What are you talking about?”

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

“No. She broke it instead.”

The Story Behind Free Flying Press

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I struggle with social media self-promotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, nothing obviously. At least, not directly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where the skydivers come in.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

Robert’s 10-way team in the 90’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Making the Right Choice - Illustrators

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

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

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

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

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

I learn through making mistakes. Lots of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was also impressed with her follow through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the question many of us struggle with.

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

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

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

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

Remember the post, Engaging Characters or Juicy Plot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey y'all,

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

Let's color this email happy, baby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I mention that I love Fairbanks?

Montgomery

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

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

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

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

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

“Surely they are not making love right now!”

       “I think they might be.”

       “With all these people around?”

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

       “It certainly looks like they are.”

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

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

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

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

       I turned around.

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

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

       “Hmmm…” Astrid murmured, pressing deeply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

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

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

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

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

       “And he is no quieter,” she concluded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ecstatic Dance is a practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But my experiences have been enough to satisfy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Why Do We Write?

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Why do we write?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is the Critical Mass? On the Road #12

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Hey y'all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Montgomery

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

 

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

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Writer’s block hits in so many different ways.

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

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

But I do find it interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She's a Victim of her own Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

When the Rhinos F*ck the Cows

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An acquaintance of mine from Portland shared an article her husband wrote about finding one’s voice as a writer. Since he’s published and I’m not, and he is a very nice man, I read it and a line in there reminded me of the most extremely short-lived job I ever held in my illustrious career of job-collecting.

Since this was commission-based, I made no money at this. Promotions in Motion was the worst of the worst sales jobs. We went door to door at various businesses, ignoring “no soliciting” signs to interrupt people at their work to sell them something they don’t need. The vast majority of the time, we were told no anyway. Fortunately, most people were pleasant about it but it was still embarrassing.

I don’t even remember what we were selling, but I vaguely recall a promotion for an obscure comedy club. I trained for two days and decided to bail. My first trainer had been a stripper before this job. She was pretty cool and I had fun while I trained with her. The next trainer was nice enough, but he had a lot to say about our POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world.” He spent the entire drive back to the office trying to convince me to stick it out with a psychological head-trip of “It’s not easy being a leader.” But I’d already figured out that such a job would have been a daily exercise of humiliation where my dignity chipped away to nothing. Later, I met somebody who worked for them for about a year. He said he “made money,” but he also said he worked well beyond the 9-5 time slot, and often went to homes and businesses until 9 at night to make about $1500 a month. (This was in the 90’s btw.)

They didn’t tell me that when they were selling this job to me. 

So how does this have anything to do with the title of the blog or the article my friend’s husband, Johnny Shaw, wrote about finding your writer’s voice? Patience, please, because I’m getting there.

On my first day of training, the former stripper told us about their morning meetings where they get pumped up with a Rhinos vs. Cows cheer. We were the “Rhinos,” of course, and everybody else working a regular job with guaranteed pay and some benefits were the “Cows.”

“Rhinos fuck shit up,” she said. “Cows just graze.”

On my second day of training, I got to experience this for myself. All the door-to-door sales associates were there and the POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world” started the cheer.  

“WHO ARE WE?” he roared.

Everybody made the “hang loose” sign - aka “shaka” in Hawaii - with one hand. Then they defiled this expression of mellowness and peace by putting thumb to nose so their fist and pinky finger made a facsimile of a rhino horn.

“WE’RE THE RHINOS!!” they called back.

“WHAT DO WE DO?”

“FUCK THE COWS!!”

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!”

“FUCK THE COWS!!”

“SAY IT AGAIN!!”

“FUCK THE COWS!!!”

“GREAT! NOW GET OUT THERE AND MAKE SOME MONEY!!”

Yeah. It would have been the wiser choice to bail right then and there, but I’m a firm believer in stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to find inspiration. This was one of those moments. Experiencing the sheer lunacy of people was priceless.

Johnny Shaw’s article made a reference to fucking a cow too, but that was for the sake of artistic merit. If you would like to know how his article triggered this memory when I was young and clueless, check it out here. I don’t know if this experience helped me find my writer’s voice, but perhaps Johnny’s professor would have been gratified to know that such a story was out there.

Tiny Victories and Tremendous Satisfaction

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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!

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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!