A funny thing has been happening: to my eye, accustomed to sand and T-walls and everything that comes from living in a combat zone, the objects and situations populating my current surroundings appear old and new simultaneously. Old because I've lived here before; new because they look different and more interesting now. I find myself noticing details I would have missed before; I stop and smell the roses and savor moments without thinking about it or without undue effort. On the drive into work this morning for example, the new day's sun rising over the horizon caught my eye and looked wild and beautiful, and I couldn't help but tap my fingers on the steering wheel along with the song from the radio and smile. I'm loving it.
On the writing front, I'm finally back on track--for the most part, I'm write my posts the night before and I am getting around more often (oftener?) to your blogs to see what you all are up to. And everywhere I turn, I see great talent and great people and great things going on. It's pretty great. REALLY!
In other news, I am due to start the first draft of my novel next Thursday. I've been doing research and thinking and character development and thinking and plotting and thinking. I am totally grooving over how the prep process has gone so far, and if you are really nice to me and leave me lots of comments and stroke my ego in a way that only a Worldwide Audience of Blog Readers can, maybe I'll share some 411 about it before the month is out. Maybe.
But first, it is time for this blog's weekly tradition: Friday Link Love, where I point out a few fun, useful, or fun, useful things I've seen around the blogosphere this week, with joke.
I suppose my jokes have gained a well-deserved reputation for their high groan potential, but I should still warn you: today's gem is probably the worst groaner I've ever come across. Since today's joke is longer and groanier than usual, I'll Share the Love first, and you few brave souls willing to wander further into dangerous territory can do so as you see fit.
Up first then is Link Love:
- Scott over at A Writer's Blog had these nifty tips for cutting down your word count during revision.
- James Killick talks about overcoming fear in writing, a topic very near and dear to my heart.
- Heather at See Heather Write talks about the difficulties and struggles of the revision process. I'm not yet at the revising stage, but I will be soon enough--so Heather offers some good advice.
- There were a slew of posts following Nathan Bransford's discussion of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and I thought Claire Dawn's was one of the best--and funniest. Thanks for sharing Claire!
- If you missed Valerie Geary's great interview with Elana Johnson, check it here. Great work to both of these awesome bloggers and writers.
The Tale of the Green Monkey (remember you were warned!)
Jimmy went to spend the night with his friend, Zach. They hung out most of the afternoon in Zach's basement bedroom, playing video games and goofing. After awhile, they got tired of the games and started telling each other stories in that braggadocious style unique to teenagers.
Jimmy wanted to be a professional writer, and had in fact won a prize the year before with one of his short stories. He felt compelled to tell a better story than Zach, and so spun out a long tale involving vampires and demons and other creatures of the night that ended in a epic battle for the future of humanity and for all Life on Earth. Jimmy finished up, sitting back with a devilish grin, feeling like the yarn had been a pretty good effort.
Zach, however, was unimpressed. He said that not only could he tell a better story, but every word he would utter was absolutely true. Jimmy guffawed. He knew Zach was a pretty good storyteller in his own right, and the statement about the story being non-fiction was designed to raise the stakes and improve the story's impact.
After a minute, Zach began an elaborate tale about a race of monkeys who lived in an ivory-leaved tree on top of a crystal mountain, and their King, a green-skinned monkey who was half as large as the others. They were peaceful, and spent their days hanging out in the limbs of the tree and eating bananas and smiling.
But anyone who laid eyes on the monkeys must be warned: don't be drawn in by their calm demeanor and laughing eyes. The monkeys would remain calm and peaceful until one thing happened--someone touched the green monkey. If that happened, then all hell would break loose and the person who did that would live to regret it. NEVER TOUCH THE GREEN MONKEY.
Zach sat back with a grin of his own.
Jimmy shook his head. "That was a pretty lousy story, Zach. In fact, I'd argue it really wasn't a story at all."
"Yeah, maybe you're right," Zach said. "But it's all true."
"Yeah, it is."
Jimmy knew that Zach was making the whole thing up and said so. Zach said Jimmy didn't know what he was talking about. The argument went back and forth and escalated until they were practically yelling at each other.
"Fine!" Zach said at last. "I'll show you!"
Zach led Jimmy over to a closet in the corner. Upon opening the door, Jimmy saw that the closet was full of unusual equipment: machetes, rope, helmets, spiked boots, lanterns and flashlights. Zach directed Jimmy to gear up. The two boys laced up their boots and put equipment on tool belts and in backpacks. Jimmy still thought Zach was pulling his leg until Zach reached up and toggled a switch behind the door frame and a hatch in the back of the closet opened with a vicious hiss. Zach threw Jimmy the "See, I told you!" smile and pulled the hatch open.
Leading the way, Jimmy crawled through a short metallic tunnel, like an air-conditioning duct, until they exited into a darkened cave-like chamber. As they passed into the chamber, a bright flash of blue light engulfed them as if they had passed through one of those trans-dimensional portals Jimmy'd seen on Sci-Fi TV shows. Jimmy popped through to the other side and looked around wide-eyed, waiting for his eyes to adjust. Zach pushed another button at the lip of the tunnel and the sound of the hatch closing behind them could be heard.
"What is this place?" Jimmy asked.
Jimmy lit a lantern and the yellow circle of light illuminated what looked to be the inside of a cave. They traveled along the rocky path, twisting and turning until at last, after twenty minutes, they emerged from the cave into the afternoon light. Jimmy could see that they stood in a sandy alcove with dense jungle all around.
Zach pulled out his machete and walked over to a tuft of jungle vines. "Watch this," he said. He sliced the plants at the base and to Jimmy's amazement the vines grew back to the original height after a few seconds. Jimmy explained that they needed to get through the jungle, and in order to do so, they'd need to chop down the vines and then move forward so the vines would grow up behind them.
Jimmy said OK and they set off. They chopped at the undergrowth and jaunted forward, and the plants grew up in the spot where they'd been standing. After awhile they realized it was kind of fun, and they laughed and challenged each other to see who could go faster. In a half hour, they emerged on a beach.
In the distance, Jimmy could make out an island across the water, crested by a shiny mountain. Zach laughed at Jimmy's wonder, muttered "I told you" under his breath, and walked up the beach a short way until they reached a shallow cove where a boat was pulled up.
After climbing into the boat, they seated themselves and oared their way across the water, the silhouette of the island growing larger until the shadow of it loomed over them. The whole time, Jimmy found himself speechless, and rowed on, feeling like he'd stepped out of his real life and into a strange dream.
They arrived at the island and started off from the beach toward the crystal mountain. It rose high above them, and the summit was wreathed in cloud. The smooth surface of the crystals was slippery, but the spiked boots helped. Jimmy kept looking up as they climbed, and finally, through the misty scud, the shape of a large white tree began to come into view.
At the base of the tree, Jimmy could see everything: the ivory leaves that Zach had described, and there, high in limbs of the tree, a group of perhaps fifteen monkeys, all of whom stared down at the two boys with a kind of lazy amusement.
"But where's the green one?" Jimmy asked.
"There." Zach pointed and Jimmy saw him at last, a blot casting a black shadow at the very apex of the ivory tree. He was tiny. If Jimmy squinted, he could see a vivid odd looking face with a toothy grin looking down at them. The green monkey's eyes followed their slightest movement, beckoning and laughing--as if daring them to climb higher.
Jimmy started toward the tree trunk.
"Where you going?" Zach asked.
"I want to see him."
"This is as far as we go. Remember what I told you: No touching the green monkey."
"But what happens if we do?"
Zach just smiled and turned away. "Come on. Time we headed home."
Jimmy hesitated, then followed Zach away from the tree. They climbed down the crystal mountain, took the boat back across the water, chopped through the jungle, traversed the darkness of the cave, climbed back into the air-conditioning tunnel until they finally pushed through the hatch back into the closet in Zach's room.
"That was fun!" Zach said as he doffed his gear. Jimmy muttered agreement, but he couldn't stop thinking about the tree and the green monkey.
They both agreed they were hungry, so they went off to get dinner, returned to play some video games until it got late, then laid down for bed. The whole time, Jimmy couldn't get the green monkey out of his head, and Zach had to nudge him several times to bring him back from his daydreaming. What would happen if he touched the green monkey? Jimmy wondered, but he knew Zach wouldn't tell him so he kept the question to himself.
They climbed into their sleeping bags after midnight, and soon Jimmy could hear the sound of Zach snoring. He couldn't get the image of the monkeys out of his head. He lay there and told himself to forget it, but every time his mind began to wander toward sleep, that green face popped back up and mocked him.
Finally, since he couldn't sleep, he made up his mind that he was going to go see the green monkey again for himself. He went to the closet and geared up again, and felt around until he found the switch that opened the hatch. The noise of the opening hatch door hissed into the silence; Jimmy looked back half expecting Zach to wake up, but the other boy slept soundly and did not stir.
Jimmy climbed through to the cave, used a flashlight to light his way until he reached the cave mouth, where he stood in the sand and looked out at the jungle. Strangely, it looked like it was daytime, with the sun still high in the sky. Something really weird is going on here, Jimmy thought as he cut the jungle undergrowth with the machete and pushed on toward the beach.
He climbed in the boat and rowed across to the island. The crystal mountain was slippery but after a half hour of climbing, he reached the base of the tree. The monkeys stared down at him, still in the same places they'd been hours before. Their grins were haunting, especially the way the green monkey seemed to know why he was there, seemed to know what he was going to do next.
The spikes in his boots dug into the tree trunk and with some difficulty, he started climbing. As he got to the first of the branches, he could hear the monkeys giggling softly at him. For some reason he felt an odd urge to nod at them as he climbed past, and they nodded back knowingly. Finally, he reached the highest branches of the tree, nearly within arm's reach of the green monkey.
The green monkey stared back at him, a tittering light emanating from his eyes. He was waiting. Waiting for Jimmy. For a brief instant Jimmy thought maybe this whole thing was a mistake, maybe he should have listened to Zach and he should climb down the tree right now and head home. The way the green monkey looked at him gave him the creeps, and looking down below him, down from the tree and the high crystal mountain and the island's sweep of beach and water beyond, an abrupt feeling of vertigo shook him to the core. What the hell was he doing here?
Then, as quick as it had come, the feeling passed. He was being silly. He shook his head, got hold of himself. This was a synch, a piece of cake. After all, he wasn't a wimp. What's the big deal?
Slowly, inexorably, he reached out his hand until his fingers were within inches of the green monkey's skin. The monkey's eyes didn't look down, didn't hardly notice Jimmy's proximity, but stayed locked on the boy's face.
The second he touched the green monkey's skin, an electric shock ran through Jimmy's hand, surprised him, took his breath away, and Jimmy pulled back his hand reflexively. The green monkey began to grow in size, larger, larger, and that horrible grin kept taunting Jimmy, leering at him. Jimmy started scrambling down the trunk of the tree, afraid of what was going to happen next, afraid of what he'd started. The other monkeys shimmied quickly along their respective branches toward the main trunk and Jimmy narrowly missed several of their swipes.
Moving as fast as he could, he hit the ground running and only managed one look back as he launched himself over a crystal outcropping on his way down the mountain. The green monkey had tripled in size, huge venomous looking fangs growing from his mouth, rapier claws sprouting from every finger and tow. Hand over hand the green monkey came down the tree trunk covering the distance in the blink of an eye. The other monkeys fell in behind their King, and Jimmy cursed under his breath.
Jimmy decided to throw caution to the wind and he threw himself feet first down the mountain as if he were tobogganing down a ski slope. The monkeys bounded after, staying right behind him. Jimmy realized if he could get to the water, they monkeys wouldn't be able to follow him. Monkeys couldn't swim, right?!?
He rushed to the boat, pushed it off the beach and rowed with all the strength and speed he could must. The monkeys came up short on the beach and Jimmy started to breath a sigh of relief, until the green monkey plunged into the waves and swam after him, the rest of the monkey horde following in the green monkey's wake.
The small rowboat crossed the distance to the far beach in record time, the sting of exertion burning Jimmy's arms and the backs of his legs. He climbed up onto the beach, the monkeys right behind him. Maybe the jungle will stop them, Jimmy thought without much hope.
He chopped his way through the jungle, slashing like a weed-eater gone berserk. A quick glance back confirmed his worst fears. The green monkey and the others behind simply uprooted the vines and undergrowth, tossing the plants aside in enormous clumps and scampering along in his footsteps.
A dense fear blossomed in Jimmy's chest as he clambered past the treeline and into the cave. By now, the monkeys were only paces behind him and Jimmy swore he could feel the green monkey's breath on his neck, feel his ghastly-happy eyes boring into his skull. The cave floor moved in a blur beneath his feet until he came up to the air-conditioning tunnel. He started feeling around for the switch. Where was it? Where was it?
He kept feeling for the switch with one hand, turning around, feeling their presence in the room, the air going cold, his breaths condensing like icicles in his lungs, freezing his mind. The green monkey towered above, leaning over him. Jimmy couldn't believe his size. He was so tall that looking up at his circus-clown face was like staring at the tops of skyscrapers. Jimmy kept feeling around with his loose hand, but a sinking feeling passed through him like a jolt of electricity.
The green monkey slid one massive hand down from the ceiling, moving it toward Jimmy's chest. To Jimmy, it was like standing in a freeway lane with an oncoming car hurtling toward him. A noise escaped his lips: "Oh, God."
The green monkey's hand flew right in without stopping, and in the last instant, Jimmy was sure he was going to die, sure that he was going to meet his maker right here, right now, in this stupid cave. Why hadn't he listened to Zach? Why had he been so stupid? What a dumb way to die. What a dumb way to do exactly what he'd been told not to do.
But at the last possible instant, the monkey's hand came up short, the end of one massive finger hovering inches from Jimmy's hyperventilating chest. The green monkey ogled him, those terrible eyes still laughing, still sure where this was all going.
Jimmy held his breath, unsure what to do next. Gently, the green monkey touched Jimmy's chest, touched him so lightly that Jimmy found his dread suddenly replaced by a feeling of confusion and surprise.
"What...the....?" Jimmy stuttered.
The other monkeys were laughing at him now, really laughing, openly mocking him. When the green monkey spoke, his dark voice surprised Jimmy even more, and he hardly believed the words that issued from the green monkey's lips.
The green monkey said: "Tag! You're it!"
Stay groovy and have a great weekend!